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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Life During Wartime

Human self-inflicted suffering that heaps contempt on its characters while showing empathy for their pain

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM

"Life During Wartime," Solondz’s latest, is a sequel to and self-reflection of his 1998 ode to toxic family dysfunction, Happiness. While the cast has been shuffled (different actors have stepped into every major part) and the landscape has shifted, the misery is the same. Solondz’s message: People may think they’ve changed, but they really haven’t. Rooting around in the dark corners of suburbia, the morally dyspeptic auteur returns to his look/don’t look aesthetics of drama. Social rot, the erosion of values, hypocrisy in relationships — all his pet themes are on display, with only awkward instances of humor to lighten the mood. Once again we are immersed in the lives of Joy (Shirley Henderson), Trish (Allison Janney) and Helen (Ally Sheedy), three Jewish sisters who have fled the gloomy anonymous despair of the New Jersey suburbs for the sunny anonymous despair of the Florida suburbs. They try to heal the emotional wreckage of their lives while ignoring the impact of their decisions on the people around them. Joy flees her recovering sex- and drug-addicted fiance (Michael Kenneth Williams), Trish seeks to replace her convicted child molester husband (Ciarán Hinds) and Helen has become a shallow, unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter. In the end, "Life During Wartime" never achieves the raw impact of "Happiness." Still, it’s good to see Solondz tempering his worst instincts to find a path toward redemption, no matter how overgrown with desperation it is.

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Get Low

Bill Murray is among the half-dozen greatest character actors working in Hollywood

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, a shotgun-wielding recluse in Depression-era Tennessee. With 40 years of rumors and stories about his past, Felix decides to invite everyone in the surrounding counties to his funeral. With the aide of a droll mortician (Murray) and a woman from his youth (Sissy Spacek), he organizes a one-of-kind event, drawing locals in with a raffle for his timber-rich land. The reason? Felix wants to set the record straight about his life while unburdening himself of a powerful shame. Bill Murray turns deadpan comedy into an effortlessly sublime art. Watching his mustachioed funeral director try to wrestle away a ball of hermit money from Robert Duvall’s grizzled backwoods loner is an exercise in pure acting delight. On the one hand, you’ve got Duvall severely huffing and grumbling his way through a part he’s been perfecting since To Kill a Mockingbird’s plain-spoken Boo Radley. On the other hand, you have the bottomless irony of Murray, whose glib-tongued pragmatism and perfectly timed improvisations redefine the meaning of wry. Their too-few exchanges snap with cagey intelligence, reminding you how much a pair of great actors can bring to even the most modest of movies. Oddly the film is much better film if you leave before the shocking mystery is revealed (it’s not all that shocking or mysterious) in its final 15 minutes.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Long way down

Godard’s ode to a hooker remains a bleak, sexy and heartbreaking work of art

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Part of the brilliant early blossoming of Jean-Luc Godard’s career, My Life to Live (1962) is, like so many great works of art, about a girl. The lady in question is Anna Karina, the most “it” of “it girls,” an immortal beauty who just happened to be the director’s bride at the time. One glance and we know why anyone would be inspired to craft poetry and art and make films in her honor. Her faultless features and huge, with expressive, magnetic eyes, which is fortunate, as Godard often pulls the camera in tight and simply lets it hover over her exquisite gaze. Even her haircut is perfect: a sleek, immaculate, jet-black bob that hipster gals today are still trying to pull off. While the camera adores Karina, Godard’s script is a bit rougher on her, casting her in the role of Nana, a pretty but empty Parisian shop girl descending into prostitution, told loosely in a series of 12 vignettes, punctuated by title cards. Each one finds her in slightly worse peril then the last, which she comes to accept with an existential shrug.

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Restrepo

Riveting, harrowing doc shows the war we ignore

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Without a civilian draft, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become low-rated television shows that perpetually defy the threat of cancellation. And while there is no shortage of documentaries about our struggles in the Middle East, filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger offer an urgent and harrowing insider's view...

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Bust a move

Unless you're a Happy Meal-wielding tween, you should probably step off

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM

The story centers on rich white guy Luke (Rick Malambri), who uses a loan from his parents to convert a grungy Brooklyn loft into a safe haven for a polyglot crew of dancing outcasts with big dreams, nonsensically called “the Pirates.” Luke feels these kindred souls were “Born from a Boombox,” and he’s shooting a documentary about it, though he’s too shy to share it. Enter hottie Natalie (Sharni Vinson), who gets Luke to lower his guard and start psyching the gang up to win the underground “World Jam” contest, and the prize money needed to pay the back rent. After a bunch of preliminaries, it all comes down to a requisite showdown against an evil dance troupe, the Samurai, who look so tough in their puffy shoulder pads.

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The Other Guys

Buddy cop mockery that works

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Perpetually pissed-off New York police officer Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) has been demoted to desk duty, partnered with Allen (Ferrell), a milquetoast forensic accountant. Their entire police division lives in the shadow of two supercops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who are known for their over-the-top, property-destroying arrests. When the ultra-macho cops die in a hilariously surreal act of buddy-cop bravado, Terry and Allen get their chance to shine as detectives. It’s Lethal Weapon meets Abbott and Costello.

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Message to Michael

Poetic tribute to Michael Jackson isn't all sequins and fedoras

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Detroit poet-musician David Blair's vision of pop icon Michael Jackson isn't the fedora-tipping, sequined kind. It's more about a lonely, abused child trying to fall asleep in a strange place, trembling in fear of the snap of his father's belt. The first two lines of the opening poem "Into Darkness"...

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Final Countdown

From global annihilation to dirty bombs, our nuclear fears remain

Posted By on Wed, Aug 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Just when you thought global warning, jihadism and the impending zombie apocalypse had rendered atomic doomsday scenarios passé, along comes Lucy Walker's cinematic editorial about how the possibility of nuclear attack: Terrorists want the weapons, the technology is easy to build or acquire, highly enriched uranium is poorly guarded, and security at our ports is completely impotent, not to mention how flocks of geese, a malfunctioning computer chip, and even the rising moon have put the superpowers within a hair's breadth of nuclear annihilation.

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Dinner for Schmucks

Paul Rudd plays Abbott to Steve Carell’s too-spastic Costello

Posted By on Wed, Aug 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Paul Rudd is the slow-burn master; as Tim, a mild-mannered office drone with executive aspirations, he’s tasked with holding the picture together when it starts spinning off the rails, which is fairly often. With his even-keel persona, Rudd plays Abbott to Steve Carell’s spastic Costello, where a calming influence is sorely needed. This is Carell at his most grating, making Michael Scott look like the prom king; he’s pushing his trademark mix of geeky charm and straight-up obnoxiousness beyond reasonable limits. Carell is Barry, a meek, windbreaker-clad doofus, an IRS agent schlep who’ll apologize when Tim accidentally hits him with his Porsche. From this meeting, the two become a pair, though neither really knows what he has gotten himself into. Barry is a menace, interfering in every aspect of Tim’s relationship and career; he becomes so irksome that the impending dinner-party ridicule is too easy a fate. Steve Martin’s influence has never been more obvious in Carell: Barry is socially clueless, but smart enough to be devious, and his “talent” — making cutesy historical dioramas with embalmed mice — is both endearing and creepy.

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Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

You have to strive for that kind of failure

Posted By on Wed, Aug 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM

For those keeping score: German shepherd Diggs (voiced by James Marsden) is a fearless police dog who has trouble following orders. He’s recruited to become an agent for an elite team of canine spies called DOGS (the wit of Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich’s script never ceases to amaze). Partnered with seasoned agent Butch (Nick Nolte making a house payment), the two discover that the evil, ugly-as-sin feline Kitty Galore (Bette Midler) has developed a weapon that will turn dogs against their owners. Forming an alliance with MEOWS (Mousers Enforcing Our World Safety), a clandestine feline outfit, Diggs must overcome his hatred of cats while working alongside Catherina (voice of Christina Applegate). But no shitty kids’ flick is complete without a jive-talking Step-n-Fetchit sidekick, which in this case is a pigeon voiced by Katt Williams. To call this sequel unnecessary would be both obvious and irrelevant. The box-office success of 2001’s Cats & Dogs guaranteed its return. Still, you’d think after pulling in more than $200 million worldwide (sickening, isn’t it?), Warner Brothers would’ve put a little cash into script development, voice talent, CGI effects or even a couple of decent jokes. Instead, they’ve released this cheap-looking piece of crap, layering on barely noticeable 3-D effects to jack up ticket prices.

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