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Review: Elizabethtown

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Damage control has its place, but there are limits. Telling a gaggle of
critics that the movie they’re about to see will undergo significant
changes before it’s commercially released — that the director and his editor are at this very moment mid-nip, or between tucks, or whatever the hell — is basically tantamount to shoving a one-legged Christian into the center of the Colosseum and informing the lions that he’s just hopping through on his way to the mall. Sure enough, Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown left last month’s Toronto International Film Festival smothered in ignominy — a fiasco, not just a failure, to borrow the film’s own terminology (in the very first line of voiceover narration, no less). A typically picaresque pop-culture safari, suffused with Crowe’s tenderly optimistic sensibility and crammed to bursting with every quirky idea in his notebook and five-star tune on his iPod, it boasts nearly as many inspired touches as embarrassing indulgences; despite what you may have heard, it’s really Not That Bad. (See also: Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar, The Brown Bunny.) But that feeble defense is about the best that even a sympathetic observer can muster.

    Now, critics were supposed to see the shorter, theoretically improved cut of Elizabethtown before writing their reviews, but I hereby confess that I didn’t bother, on the grounds that there is no possible version of this film in which Kirsten Dunst, as the requisite wise-yet-goofy-yet-deeply-vulnerable-yet-smiling-through-it-all überbabe, will not be gratingly, excessively winsome (not really her fault — the character as written is pure geek fantasy), and in which the basic narrative arc, about a free-falling shoe designer (Orlando Bloom) who rediscovers his sense of purpose when he’s forced to go to a small Kentucky town to arrange his father’s funeral, won’t come across as mawkish personal baggage best handled via twice-a-week therapy. Also, I hear that Susan Sarandon’s notorious eulogy, which begins with a random dick joke and concludes with a tap dance set to “Moon River,” remains largely intact, and that our hero still scatters his father’s ashes in front of the balcony where MLK was shot while U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” thunders on the soundtrack. Still, if you’re jonesing for a fix of undiluted C. Crowe romanticism — for example, a giddy all-night phone conversation that nails the rare, febrile connection forged between two people who desperately want to kiss each other but have to settle instead for one earnest confession after another — Elizabethtown is the only dealer around. Just one word of advice, though: When you hear “Free Bird,” bolt. It was almost over anyway. — Mike D’Angelo

Review: Where the Truth Lies
As a twentysomething, blond female interviewer of celebrities, I was appalled by the portrayal of twentysomething, blond female interviewers of celebrities in this hilariously bad Atom Egoyan flick about a ’70s investigation into the breakup of a ’50s comedy duo who may or may not have murdered a young woman. Or maybe not so much appalled as deliriously jealous. Specifically, I want to know what I’m doing wrong. Unlike this film’s heroine, I don’t have a huge book deal, which leads me to have hot sex with Kevin Bacon and a drug-addled three-way with Colin Firth and a woman dressed up like Alice in Wonderland. Maybe I need to wear more backless halter pantsuits and do that Brittany Murphy-in-8 Mile lip-glossed pout this film’s star has nailed? I’ll never know, because my interview with Kevin Bacon was canceled by his publicist.

    So I will ask the world my Kevin Bacon questions:

    1) Are you disappointed now whenever you’re interviewed in real life by celebrity reporters who don’t wear off-the-shoulder shirts and smoky eyeshadow?

    2) You’re naked a lot in this movie. Thank you. Do you have a special pre-orgy-movie diet?

    3) Sorry, but I didn’t buy that Colin Firth’s character got laid less than yours did. Remember that lake scene in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice? Yowza.

    4) When I saw Atom Egoyan movies as a teenager, I thought they were deep because they were so Intense and Sexual, but watching this one I had an epiphany: Hey, wait a minute! This stuff is just trash! Seriously: that graphic five-person orgy scene that ends with a voiceover saying it never really happened?! WTF?

    5) Do you like my new pantsuit? — Ada Calhoun
Review: Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque
Next time you see a film that touts itself as a “restored print,” shed a tear for Henri Langlois. Quite possibly the only giant in film history who was not a filmmaker, a studio boss or a critic, the co-founder of the Cinematheque Française was for decades not only a mascot for European cinephilia but also a seminal figure who saved every piece of celluloid he came across, at a time when film preservation wasn’t considered a worthy pastime. Indeed, his preservation of thousands of canisters of film during the Nazi occupation of France is reason enough to secure a place in the history books.

    But anyone who thinks that Jacques Richard’s exhaustive documentary is just a movie about an alpha film geek would be missing the big picture. As the meeting ground for the New Wave filmmakers and the burgeoning French youth culture of the late-’50s and ’60s, the Cinematheque was a place where the Seventh Art reached the pinnacle of its social and political significance. Indeed, a government attempt to replace Langlois in 1968 spun out of control, leading to the infamous riots that set the entire continent ablaze. More than anything, Richard’s documentary is an attempt to document a time when art had an explosive bond with society. It seems like a million years ago. — Bilge Ebiri
Review: Nine Lives
An occasional director on Six Feet Under, Rodrigo García brings pluck and ambiguity to his second feature, an often moving set of nine interconnected anecdotes about women (played by the likes of Robin Wright Penn and Sissy Spacek) battling the past and present in an emotional steel-cage deathmatch. Lisa Gay Hamilton steals the show with a performance so volatile it renders the gun she wields superfluous. As the characters struggle against relationships gone wrong, they provide few laughs, but by no means see Nine Lives on a first date, unless you plan to take your relationship cues from William Faulkner. — Peter Smith
Review: Innocent Voices
A strong contender for the Foreign Language Oscar, this mind-blowing biographical film concerns an eleven-year-old boy named Chava who’s caught in war-torn El Salvador during the early ’80s. A civil war has erupted between the country’s conservative government and a civilian militia made up of long-haired, revolution-minded, Che Guevaras-in-training. The Salvadorian government recruits boys at the age of twelve, so Chava’s family awaits his birthday with trepidation. It’s easy to see why director Luis Mandoki was recently named Amnesty International’s Filmmaker of the Year. — Adam Kaufman
Date DVD: Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection
Sure, it’s fun to dig up some underrated classic, but there’s something to be said for the sure thing, especially on a date. So if you’re anxious, make the safest of safe bets: the Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection. After all, there’s a reason couples in contemporary romantic comedies are always curling up together to watch the last few minutes of Rear Window or Vertigo. It’s comforting to watch the most terrible things unspool in a clockwork manner. (Hitchcock’s controlled style may be the opposite of dating, which is always messy.)

    You won’t get North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder or To Catch a Thief in this set, but you will get solid restorations of fourteen films by the master: Vertigo, Psycho, Frenzy, Rope, The Birds, Shadow of a Doubt, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, Topaz, and others. And, yes, it’s packed with extra features, but skip those. This is a DVD set built for those late nights when you want to cuddle up in front of a movie that’s familiar but suspenseful enough to keep your date wide awake. — Logan Hill



 
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