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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saltlick

Angelina Jolie is almost mystical in her ability to draw your attention; oh, there’s some fighting too

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Salt is proof positive that Angelina Jolie is as much a movie star as she is an actress. Her bee-stung lips and comic-book bad-girl sultriness aside, Jolie has a ferocious charisma that consumes everything in its path. So all-encompassing is her persona that even Leiv Streiber, who stands twice her size, fights to be noticed on the screen beside her. While Salt implausibly suggests that a 110-pound beauty can kick the shit out of a room full of secret service muscleheads, Jolie convinces you that she can. And that’s the least implausible scenario this Reagan-era-style action flick puts forth. It’s the 1980s all over again, as Soviet stalwarts activate long-dormant sleeper agents in an elaborate plot to assassinate the Russian and American Presidents and nuke Mecca in order to incite a Muslim holy war against the United States. Jolie is a super CIA operative who is revealed to be one of the double agents. Or is she? The script is less successful at hiding its intentions than Jolie, who goes on the run to either enact her nefarious plot or thwart the architects behind it. At stake? Her gentle spider-loving husband, who appears on screen almost as long as one of her wigs.

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The City of Your Final Destination

An aptly lush but below-the-numbers yarn

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM

James Ivory proves he’s lost without his partner Ismail Merchant (who died in 2005) with this tasteful adaptation of a well-heeled novel. Sure, there's sultry cinematography, a wealthy family struggling with quiet dysfunction, even Anthony Hopkins, but this directionless, uninvolving affair suffers from too much taste and too little drama. Omar Metwally is Omar, a Ph.D. candidate in literature determined to write a biography of Jules Gund, a mysterious author who wrote a single celebrated book about his German parent’s move to Uruguay. Rumor has it that Gund was working on a second novel when he committed suicide, leaving behind his family to tend to his vast South American estate. Denied permission to write the biography by Gund’s trio of heirs, Omar is browbeaten by his overbearing girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara) to go to Uruguay and convince them to change their minds. Once there, the family allows Omar to stay at their remote home out of courtesy, and the grad student tries to win them over with his puppy-eyed charm. The main obstacle is Gund’s icy and seemingly immovable widow Laura Linney. But, wait, her sway over Gund’s gay brother (Anthony Hopkins) and young mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is slipping. Omar seizes — well, not exactly seizes — gently prods the others into helping him secure permission … until a bee sting puts him into a coma and most of his problems are inexplicably resolved. Seriously.

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All hail the pint

A debauched clan of Belgian mullet-heads backdrop a heatfelt comedy

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM

The film casts a knowing squint on a particular breed of Belgian rowdies, a grungy European equivalent of rednecks; loutish, hard-drinking party animals, convinced that the finer things in life come in a pint glass, or at least as the result of draining a few dozen of them. The protagonist is young Gunther Strobbe (Kenneth Vanbaeden), a bright kid unlucky enough to be raised in a family full of drunken degenerate gamblers, thieves, layabouts and hoodlums, with funny nicknames like “Beefcake.” Gunther’s dad and raucous brothers are generally a clan of mullet-headed cads on a perpetual rampage. Occasionally the clowning starts to spill over into violence and real peril, revealing buried emotional geysers. Just as the chaos begins to tire, the film flash-forwards to the present and sees Gunther as an adult struggling to break through as a novelist, which lends The Misfortunates a warm richness and bittersweet finish.

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Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

A gloriously shot but elegantly empty chamber piece

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM

This film attempts to understand the Coco Chanel’s artistry through the gauzy lens of fleeting romantic dalliance, in this case with fellow future-thinking provocateur Igor Stravinsky. The unlikely lovers meet at the disastrous 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s radical avant-garde ballet The Rite of Spring, where enraged French patrons just about ripped out the seats out of the Théâtre Des Champs Élysées. Where others heard only atonal dissonance, the ever-progressive Chanel heard the exciting sounds of a kindred modern artist. While there is scant historical evidence of a fling, Chanel did eventually become a patron for the brooding Russian composer, and invited his entire family to come stay at her villa outside Paris in the spring of 1920. From here, the film, based on a 2002 novel, speculates that the dour musician and the predatory stylist had a torrid affair, right under the pale nose of his loyal, tubercular wife, effectively played by Yelena Morozova. But who cares?

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Altered states

DiCaprio and co. manipulate thematic fetishes like a dream of Mission Impossible envisioned by Phillip K. Dick

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM

"... the smallest idea is a resilient virus, it can grow to define or destroy you." — Cobb from Christopher Nolan's Inception Puzzle boxes and psychological defect are Christopher Nolan's stock and trade. From Memento to The Prestige to The Dark Knight, the writer-director has cleverly constructed and explored an...

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Unmarried with children

A nontraditional couple lives the hurts, regrets and joys of any loving family

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Director Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids are All Right is an exceptional film that pulls off the trick of making the ordinary extraordinary by spinning a tale of a wholly nontraditional family into something utterly universal. Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) are a longtime L.A. couple in the midst of a...

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Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam

Muslim punk rock and an author's bizarre ride into the homeland

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Life imitates art. Surely few know that better than author Michael Muhammed Knight. Raised Irish-Catholic, Knight was but a teen when he embarked on a soul-searching trip to Pakistan to make sense of his busted, abusive home life. He converted to Islam and, in 2003, wrote and published the book...

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P-Star Rising

Pre-teen rapper with a knee-bending adult world on her shoulders

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Are you ready for an incisive, gritty and heartbreaking movie about the career of a pre-teen girl rapper? Didn't think I was either, but P-Star Rising is as engrossing and inspiring as its kickass heroine, proving that big surprises can come in unassuming packages. The film follows the bumpy four-year...

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cyrus

Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly give depth and weight to comic neurosis

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Seven years after his divorce, film editor John (John C. Reilly) is still a wreck. Hidden away in his featureless apartment, he has all but given up on social interactions. Prompted by his ex (a mostly wasted Catherine Keener) to attend a hip party, he fumbles his way through one clumsy interaction after another. Then he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), who not only saves him from an embarrassing bout of drunken karaoke, but shows genuine interest in him. Holy crap! John can’t believe his luck; after a few promising dinners, he meets Molly’s 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Unfortunately, mom and son have developed an unhealthy relationship based on profound and mutual separation anxieties. Worse, Cyrus is conniving and jealous, hell-bent on stealthily sabotaging John’s newfound chance at romance. When Cyrus is good, you marvel at what the Duplasses and their cast have pulled off. When it stumbles, its limitations are all-too obvious.

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Despicable Me

Too sweet and not sour enough, Carrell and his mutant Twinkie minions still entertain

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a suburban-dwelling, third-tier evil mastermind whose recent exploits have failed to excite the criminal underworld. Worse, Vector (Jason Segel), a younger, geekier upstart, has set the bar for nefarious deeds by stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza. Why? Who knows? Despicable Me’s world is a nonsensical mirror image of The Incredibles, where super villains struggle to upstage one another for no apparent reason. With his reputation and bank account on the line, Gru concocts a plan to steal North Korea’s shrink-ray gun, miniaturize the moon, then demand an outrageous ransom. Unfortunately, Vector swipes the gun and hides it away in his impenetrable fortress. Desperate to gain access, Gru adopts a trio of cuter-than-cute orphans in order to sell Vector his favorite Girl Scout cookies while he sneaks in unnoticed. Adventure (in 3-D!) ensues.

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