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Review: Elektra

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The latest film adaptation of a Marvel Comics series is
not as bad as one might expect. Sure, the action is dull, the story
arc predictable, the morality clichéd and the acting laughable.
But something saves Elektra from the superhero scrap heap. It’s not director Rob Bowman, who inflicted us with the unfortunate X-Files movie. It’s not Jennifer Garner, whose great emotional range takes us from the depths of deadpan to the ecstatic heights of sarcastic and deadpan. It’s not even Terence Stamp, who is actually a real actor. No, Elektra‘s saving grace comes from its team of writers — specifically, Zak Penn.

   Penn, the director of the clever Werner Herzog mockumentary Incident at Loch Ness, has managed to infuse his characters with something rarely found in genre flicks — a sense of flawed vulnerability. The movie’s main heavy pathetically hungers for his father’s affection. The young martial-arts prodigy with superpowers struggles with her desires to “just be a normal kid.” Elektra herself is haunted by memories of a murdered mother, abusive father and unrelenting O.C.D. All these character’s internal struggles succeed at being at least somewhat involving.

    Also, the film’s supervillains are a lot of fun, if somewhat underused. There’s a man whose tattoos come alive and attack his victims (for convenient scorekeeping, he’s named Tattoo), and a woman whose very touch spreads sickness and disease (named Typhoid). As for Garner’s skimpy outfits, they’re not worth the price of admission. In spite of all the cleavage, Garner never comes off as anything close to sexy; she’s too wooden and detached to earn our empathy or lust.

    Still, the movie is better than it has to be. In the final showdown, Elektra and her nemesis battle in a room where more than a dozen white sheets swirl majestically through the air. It’s a scene that nods to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. Of course, it never achieves the level of beauty found in those films, but hey, at least the production designer tried. If only Garner could say the same. — Nic Sheff

Review: Coach Carter
 Early in this new Samuel L. Jackson vehicle, we are presented with some surprising facts about urban life. It turns out that living in the inner city is tough, what with all the drugs, gang violence, and teenage pregnancy. Public schools are bad — most kids end up dropping out, wasting away their lives in dead-end jobs, or going to prison. It’s a shocking portrait, to be sure. But as though that weren’t groundbreaking enough, Coach Carter goes even further, daring to tell the story of an underdog high-school basketball team that must come together under the mentorship of their tough-loving new coach.

    Yes, this is all exciting, cutting-edge cinema, complete with stirring rap music and slow-motion shots of the team strutting together down the court.

    Samuel L. Jackson’s performance is, well, loud. Almost every line is delivered with the fervor of his Eziekel 25:17 speech from Pulp Fiction, whether the situation warrants it or not. The fact that the movie is based on a true story is of little consequence; the dialogue is strictly Hollywood. One of the basketball players is teased because he can’t read, but in the next scene he has no problem holding his own in an eloquent conversation about the importance of going to college. And in the end, everyone has a grand speech to deliver about the value of teamwork and the joys of education. These are all important sentiments that could use more screen time in
American movies. Vive la cinematic revolution! — Nic Sheff
Date DVD #15: Putney Swope
 

Coming
to DVD this week: a whole lot of films that weren’t so good the
first time. Shyamalan’s Village wasn’t even haunted; the
Mel Gibson-produced vengeance flick Paparazzi had less
blood than The Passion; and John Sayles’ political satire Silver
City
didn’t so much bite into a Bush-like politician as gum
him like a senile lover.

    So skip the new releases altogether. At times
like these, you need a back-up. And like a swinger with a stocked
liquor cabinet, today’s dater needs a DVD shelf lined with films
of a quality vintage. It can’t all be Criterion Collection (too
obvious), or kung-fu (too risky): to diversify, add the underrated, overheated 1969 cult
classic Putney Swope.

    Billed “The Truth and Soul” movie and advertised
with an upright middle-finger and the slogan “Up Madison Avenue,” it’s
the best film Robert Downey Sr. ever directed through his cocaine
jitters (even better than his sorta-Christian Western Greaser’s
Palace
). It’s the kind of film you want to beg Dave Chappelle
to remake. Through a racist twist of fate, the token black employee
(Arnold Johnson) at a stodgy all-white advertising firm ends
up in charge. He renames the firm “Truth and Soul, Inc.” — and
turns the firm into a media revolution, selling products with
sex, preaching for-us/by-us revolution, and screaming, “It’s
Got To Have Soul!”

    The fake ads alone will crack up any date: There’s a hysterical
spot for a zit cream called “Face-Off” in which an interracial couple sings
a ballad about clean-complected fucking. But
my favorite is an ad for Lucky Airlines, scored to a hilarious sitar: one
blessed passenger scores a lucky airplane ticket, and gets to frolic
with stewardesses (let’s just say The Man Show got to the slo-motion-boobs
joke at least thirty years too late). Overall, the film packs more quotable catchphrases
and memorable setpieces than satire’s seen in years.

    Which is, of course, a good reason to watch it with a date:
all those punchlines can be your own private jokes. — Logan Hill



 
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