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Review: Days of Heaven

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Although he had already earned serious critical respect with his 1973 debut Badlands, it was the opening minutes of Terrence Malick’s 1978 masterpiece Days of Heaven that marked the director as someone with a decidedly odd sense of narrative. In just a few quick cuts, we see a young man named Bill (Richard Gere) working in a Chicago steel mill get in a fight with his boss, possibly kill him, run off, and flee by train with his young sister (Linda Manz) and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) to the undulating wheatfields of Texas. Any other film would have provided some strained narrative explanation for why the altercation happened, why they fled to Texas of all places, why these characters were together in the first place. Days of Heaven doesn’t even give us dialogue. In Terrence Malick’s world, this is just something that happens.
    There are plenty of reasons to admire Days of Heaven: It’s visually gorgeous (with cinematography by Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler), it sounds great (Ennio Morricone did the heartbreaking music), and it’s atmospheric. The tale is simple and moving: Upon learning that the rich farmer they work for (Sam Shepard) is suffering from a fatal illness, Bill and Abby hatch a plan to have her marry the dying man, with predictably tragic results. But the most unique thing about the film is Malick’s strangely ethereal worldview — murder and duplicity can come with a subdued, casual matter-of-factness, while the way the wind blows through a girl’s hair can change several lives. The result is a film that’s massive in scope and yet clocks in at a little over ninety minutes; where years pass by in a second, and brief moments reverberate endlessly. It’s a mixture of the Romantic and the Olympian: This is a film that feels everything deeply, while acknowledging that all this will one day pass from the Earth. It’s also one of the best movies you’ll ever see. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: Kinky Boots
Joyeux NoelThe truth is, you’ve seen this movie before: Ostensibly fact-based account of enterprising Brit souls who, despite the joyless nature of their milieu (middle-aged matrons from rural Yorkshire, unemployed steelworkers from Sheffield, etc.), find success and redemption by letting loose and getting a bit racy (e.g., baring all in Calendar Girls, or becoming male strippers in The Full Monty). Kinky Boots provides almost no new twists to this formula. Reserved Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) inherits his family’s struggling Midlands shoe factory, and gets the idea of branching out from traditional men’s shoes to the titular transvestite fetish boots, uniquely designed to support a man’s weight. His inspiration? A flamboyant London drag queen named Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who moves into town, helps design the boots, and teaches the locals a thing or two about tolerance.
    Julian Jarrold’s film is a pleasant trifle, and a lot less condescending than one might think. That’s probably worth something right there. But what really distinguishes Kinky Boots is Ejiofor’s performance, which simultaneously conveys both brash abandon and a curious, sweet-natured reserve. Despite several showy musical numbers, Ejiofor brings a quiet, hard-edged vulnerability to the part — we sense very early on that this is a haunted man. As a result, Kinky Boots earns our involvement in its narrative. It might not reinvent the formula, but this film gives a good idea of what it looks like when done right. — Bilge Ebiri

DVD Review: Thank God It’s Friday
Joyeux NoelIn this age of cynicism and suspicion, with the war in Iraq escalating and Katie Holmes’s gestation seemingly indefinite, sometimes we are too quick to lose our judgment in the name of entertainment. We see the new DVD release of Thank God It’s Friday with a big glittery picture of Donna Summer on the cover, read the name “Jeff Goldblum,” and decide not to ask any questions. For example, Questions like, will this movie have more than a dozen characters, each with his own plot line? Will this movie be full of painfully offensive ethnic stereotypes? Most importantly: will this movie, set in one night in a California discotheque, have mind-blowing dance sequences? It might seem like a no-brainer that a disco movie featuring The Commodores, Debra Winger and Jeff Goldblum would be worth the watch. Unfortunately, Thank God It’s Friday is neither excitingly theatrical nor endearingly campy. And incidentally, the answers to the above questions are Yes, Yes, and — aside from a two-minute interlude in which the Leather Man car-dances in a way of which Tawny Kitaen could only dream — No. — Ali Moss
Date DVD: Fun With Dick & Jane
Dog Day AfternoonIf you’ve been to the multiplex lately, you probably suspect that we’ve entered the Dark Age of American comedy. From Ashton Kutcher to Jimmy Fallon, Matthew Mcconaughey to Orlando Bloom, chisel-chinned comedians with leading-man aspirations have done their best to ruin the genre with penny-ante vanity. Likewise, pretty girl Sarah Jessica Parker has taken the genre down a peg or two with Failure to Launch and The Family Stone. And now, like some rough beast slouching into Hollywood, the victim-complex comedian Rob Schneider is back in Benchwarmers, a dull sports comedy that isn’t half as funny as either Deuce Bigalow.
    So-called date movies have gotten so painful to watch that comedy fatigue has set in. This is why you probably skipped Fun With Dick & Jane this winter. More to the point, we’ve all been burned by Carrey before &#8212 Bruce Almighty, anyone? &#8212 which is why it’s such a surprise to see him hitting on all cylinders again in this ridiculous post-Enron farce. Out on DVD this week, it’s an all-too-rare chance to get your giggle on. Carrey and Tea Leoni play two suburban yuppies who lose their jobs, their Cuisinart and nearly their McMansion before turning to bank robberies and Starbucks stick-ups. Carrey’s spastic improvs &#8212 whether with a water sprinkler or in a spoof of Dog Day Afternoon &#8212 showcase his slapstick at its best, while Leoni barely bridles her mad-lady act and the two spin madly out of control. Check it out; you’re not likely to laugh harder in the multiplex anytime soon. — Logan Hill

   

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