VIZ. ARTS
Weekly meditations from your humble messenger

Promises, Promises (Eastern Promises, 10/8/07): "I'll start this demurral from David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises with a confession: I was not all that taken with his last effort, A History of Violence, either. Once upon a time, Cronenberg made his name with mordant, sophisticated, utterly satisfying horrors like Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), Dead Ringers (1988), and a surprisingly effective remake of The Fly (1986)—movies that reimagined the tricks and tropes of visceral horror to say interesting things about our precious, precarious mortality. Lately, he's gone suspiciously "mature" on us, turning out conventional thrillers that seem to crave mainstream respectability..."
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Tell Me You Love Me, Julie Delpy (2 Days in Paris; Tell Me You Love Me, 10/1/07): "A friend of mine has taken to referring to French actress Julie Delpy as "that Delpy girl." The phrase was meant to have a perjorative ring ("that dumpy girl"), but with the release of Delpy's starring roles in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and now her own directorial debut in 2 Days In Paris , adjectivizing her surname is starting to make sense..."
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Not So Brave (The Brave One, 9/24/07): "Contact. Panic Room. Flightplan. All are vehicles for Jodie Foster, and all of them are slick productions with solid talent to back up their star. The list is also, aesthetically speaking, about as exciting as a stack of grilled cheese sandwiches—it's hard to remember the last time Foster was associated with a film (The Accused? Nell?) that took any sort of artistic risk. Foster has one of the most stubbornly devoted fan bases of anyone in Hollywood—a corps that would very likely follow her anywhere she wants to go. But instead of developing her talent, Foster looks intent on managing herself into a comfortable retirement..."
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Keeping the Western on Track (3:10 to Yuma, 9/17/07) "The final and complete death of the movie Western has been predicted for years. Like the embers of an old campfire, however, it refuses to die. The success of the HBO TV-series Deadwood certainly helped not only by showing media moguls that Westerns can deliver viewers and buzz, but by proving to filmmakers that it's still possible to do something edgy within the confines of the old genre. To be sure, James Mangold's sharp remake of the 1957 sagebrush thriller 3:10 to Yuma won't alone be enough to get the Western off its gurney. But it should keep its heartbeat going..."
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Spice Girl (Paprika, 9/10/07): "Satoshi Kon's superb Paprika is a reminder of why anyone should bother to make animated movies. To be sure, it's definitely not for kids—at least not for ones in young bodies. Instead, it is the kind of film that Luis Bunuel was referring to when he took a straight razor to a moviegoer's eyeball in the silent classic Un Chien Andalou (1929). Like the work of Kon's countryman Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle), it stretches the limits of what we expect of Japanese anime..."
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Teen Bromance (Superbad, 9/3/07): "The major media have lately caught on to an interesting trend in Hollywood: nobody makes good boy-girl romances anymore. "Who Killed the Love Story?" Time magazine recently asked; a few days later The Times of London explained "How Hollywood Fell Out of Love With Romance." The trickle of viewers who actually saw current romances like Catch and Release, The Ex, and No Reservations can attest to the problem. Indeed, the most successful love stories of late, such as Brokeback Mountain, haven't included women at all..."
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Suicide is Painless (Day Night, Day Night, 8/27/07): ""Suicide is Painless" is the theme song from the Korean War comedy M*A*S*H (1970), but might as well be the anthem of the modern suicide bomber. For there can be no doubt that the speed and finality—and indeed, the painlessness—of blowing oneself up is a big factor in why there is no shortage of volunteers in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere. It's hard to imagine there would be so many takers for such duty if the perpetrators had to, say, light themselves on fire. ..."
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Farewell to the Master (Persona, 8/20/07) "The recent, near-simultaneous deaths of Sweden's Ingmar Bergman and Italy's Michelangelo Antonioni mark the real terminus of film's first century, and perhaps the end of its "classical" age. Though we live in faith that another Fellini, Welles, or Bergman is always just around the corner, there are no guarantees that any artform will continue to replenish itself from some wellspring of fresh geniuses..."
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Gas Bag of Courage (The Balloonist, 8/13/07) "It is often said that journalists write the first draft of history. Thaddeus Lowe, the pioneering inventor and aviator, was perhaps the first notable exception to this rule. Rising in his silk balloon over the killing fields of the Civil War, Lowe instantly got a breadth of perspective—a sense of who, what, and where on a grand scale—that was previously limited to scholars of great and tragic events..."
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Not a Marvel (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 6/25/07): "It's probably not news to anybody who reads this column, but this boy is no fanboy. From here, the explosion of comic/superhero blockbusters from Hollywood doesn't look like something to rejoice, but more like a "fantastic" waste of time. Those who admired Marvel Comics (Spiderman, Hulk, Fantastic Four, etc.) in their original form—as a smart and edgy alternative to DC Comics (Superman, Batman)—can only look with regret at what Hollywood has done to its stable of superheroes..."
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Steamy Twangy (Black Snake Moan, 6/18/07): "Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan got its first-run theatrical release earlier this year. It landed with a thud, earning less than $10 million at the box office despite the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, the guy that helped that other snake movie, Snakes on a Plane, gross four times as much. There's no accounting for taste: if you can get past the preposterous premise, get past the porn title, get past Justin Timberlake in the cast, and somehow get on Brewer's wavelength, Moan is far more appealing than a plane full of snakes..."
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The Long Goodbye (Away from Her, 6/11/07): "Where the other feature in town directed by a young female newcomer, Adrienne Shelly's Waitress, displays an almost unbearable lightness, Sarah Polley's Away from Her is no souffle. In fact, Polley's film represents the kind of mature drama—we're talking pensive, Bergmanesque intensity here—that Hollywood has completely abdicated and even independents rarely risk. In short, it is a miracle. "
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Slice of Life (Waitress, 6/4/07): "Waitress is such a pleasant trifle it's hard to believe it's somebody's last artistic testament. Writer/director Adrienne Shelly first came to prominence as an actress in a series of highly overrated Hal Hartley films (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust). Along with TV (Homicide, Law & Order) and stage work, she had been lately transitioning to behind the camera. As anyone familiar with the tabloids is aware, Shelly was found dead in her West Village office in 2006, an apparent suicide at age 40..."
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A Showgirl Goes to War (Black Book, 5/28/07): "Paul Verhoeven is one of the great conundrums of modern movies. At his best, he's produced some of the better genre entertainments of his generation (in science fiction, the smart Robocop, prescient Total Recall, and so-campy-it's-cool Starship Troopers; in sex thrillers, the brilliant The Fourth Man and infamous Basic Instinct). Though Verhoeven's storytelling never lacks momentum, the chilly Euro-ambiguity of his moral vision can sometimes stray into the seedy..."
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More Anarchy in the UK (28 Weeks Later, 5/21/07): "Sometimes it does seem as if the green movement is a race between a healthy sense of responsibility and misanthropic self-loathing.Very much in the latter category is Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to Danny (Trainspotting, The Beach) Boyles' 2002 zombie-thriller 28 Days Later..."
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Between Fact and Fiction (The Hoax, 5/14/07): "Not infrequently your humble reviewer screws up, wasting his time writing about mediocrities when better fare is available. Lasse Hallström's The Hoax is case in point. This is one of the best films I've seen so far this year, and was at Cinemapolis for weeks until it left last Friday. Fortunately, in the age of DVD no movie ever really goes away. So run, don't walk, to your video store or Netflix queue and see this one..."
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Fun with Guys with Guns (Hot Fuzz, 5/7/07): "Recent events in Virginia and Iraq have put Guys With Guns back on the agenda. The Bureau of Justice reports that over the last 28 years, more than 91% of gun-related murders in the US were perpetrated by guys. Almost 83% of the victims were also guys. If Guys with Guns were a new product being tested for safety today, their makers would be laughed out of court. If the problem was conceived like any other social issue in America, there would be an official "War on Guys with Guns." And so, while a light-hearted spoof like Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz provokes its share of laughs, the laughs now have a decidedly hollow ring..."
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Check in Any Time You Like (Vacancy, 4/30/07): "The slick, smug Disturbia may rule at the box office, but it's not the creepiest feature at the multiplex these days. That would be Nimrod Antal's short (just 80-minute) nightmare, Vacancy. Antal (Kontrol) hails from Hungarya place better known for its paprikash and its baffling language than for the quality of its thrillers. ..."
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Disturbia or Amnesia? (Disturbia, 4/23/07): "Clive James has published a book this year called Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. D.J. Caruso's Disturbia probably isn't in it, but the flick serves as a good example of cultural amnesia. For how else can we explain trying to get away with releasing a movie based so obviously on the classic 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Rear Window without crediting the original, front and center?"
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Relatives and Other Monsters (The Host, 4/16/07): "There's exactly a half-century between the original Japanese Godzilla (1956) and The Host, Joon-ho Bong's cool new South Korean monster movie. The films are worlds away in tone and style, but they have one thing in common: the horror is triggered by the Americans. Godzilla was awakened by a nuclear test, and the chimerical "host" by a toxic chemical dump ordered by a US army doctor. Monstrous hell-spawn may come and go, but it seems the outsized arrogance of the Americans is immortal..."
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Putting the Laughs on Ice (Blades of Glory, 4/9/07): "Tom Cruise's stardom was built on a string of movies with the same story. In this script, Tom is a "natural" at some vocation (jet pilot, pool player, race-car driver, bartender) but also a loose cannon. After suffering a setback, the arrogant kid learns a little humility, which ultimately allows him to excel even more. Recently, Will Ferrell has emerged as Cruise's comic shadow, playing a dim-but-cocky anchorman (The Legend of Ron Burgundy), a dim-but-cocky race-car driver (Talledega Nights), and now a dim-but-cocky figure skater in Blades of Glory..."
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