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Review: The Break-Up

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If
someone told me that the release of The Break-Up was
some kind of sociological experiment, I wouldn’t be
surprised. Certainly, anyone who is aware of this film, starring
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston as a couple who break
up and refuse to leave their nice pad, probably thinks
of it as something along the lines of The 40-Year-Old
Virgin
or Wedding Crashers, a wacky high-concept
guy comedy with a chick-friendly heart. And it
is, for the first half — sort of. The earliest sign that
this movie might not be the movie you think it is does come
early on — the fight that leads to the actual break-up
is surprisingly dramatic and heartfelt. But then it settles
into a pretty keen comedy groove — Vince gets to act
like the rakish boor we know and love, Jen tries to make
him jealous by parading her immaculately toned, expertly tanned
assets around the apartment, and they’re supported
by a fine comic bench (Jon Favreau, Judy Davis, Jason Bateman
and an unbelievably awesome Vincent D’Onofrio). Done
deal, right? Breakout comedy hit of the summer, right?

   Not quite. By the time the third act rolls around, and we’ve
geared ourselves up for the contractually determined sentimental-but-lighthearted
finish, something strange happens. It turns out that The
Break-Up
really is about a break-up, and a pretty painful,
gut-wrenching, and (gasp) realistic one at that. The game
supporting cast disappears, Vince’s carousing and joking
begin to ring hollow, and Jen gets tired of the chase. We’re
left with two sad souls who, maybe, weren’t meant to
be. The tonal shift here is striking, and although director
Peyton Reed pulls it off confidently, he’ll probably
still leave some viewers behind. Indeed, The Break-Up shows
some signs of tampering, as if it began life as a more independent-minded
comic drama, became more high-profile when it acquired that
heavy-hitter cast, then became an even bigger deal when that
cast acquired their real-life baggage (Aniston separated
from Jolie-struck husband Brad Pitt and wound up romancing
Vaughn during production). To Reed & co.’s credit,
they’ve retained enough of the film’s odd mix of
comedy and tragedy to make it a fascinating bit
of summer counter-programming. What audiences will actually
think is another matter. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: District B13
District B13Some
movies, regardless of their quality, beg to be seen simply
because they got there first. Cinephiles of the early ’50s may
not have been salivating for a film called Bwana Devil,
but many turned out anyway, just to see what this 3-D business was
all about. Likewise Becky Sharp (three-strip Technicolor), The
Robe
(CinemaScope), C.H.U.D. (cannibalistic humanoid
underground dwellers), etc. I have no idea whether there’s an established "first
martial-arts film," but District B13,
a lively French import about a cop and a convict who team up to
locate a stolen nuke, is almost certainly the first motion picture
built around "parkour," an extreme sport that combines
Olympic vaulting with an urban obstacle course. Entire set pieces
are little more than eye-popping demonstrations of uncanny human
agility, with the "actors" bouncing off of concrete as
if it were vulcanized rubber; as with last year’s Ong-bak,
much of the thrill derives from our knowledge that these are real
stunts, not computer-assisted gimmickry. You will believe a man
can fling his body through a narrow trellis at a dead run.
   Set
in the near future, District B13 also benefits from a
political worldview so bracingly cynical that it might have seemed
ludicrous had recent events not largely confirmed it. (The film
was made in 2004, well before Katrina and France’s banlieue riots.)
In order to secure and disarm the stolen nuke, rogue cop Damien
(Cyril Raffaeli) and escaped con Leïto (parkour founder David
Belle) must penetrate the titular "gated community," as
the French government has solved its ghetto problem by simply building
a wall around the undesirable elements and letting them fend for
themselves. At times, the script, co-written by Luc Besson, gets
a little self-righteous with this angle, and on the whole District
B13
could have used more scenes of vaulting and/or ass-kicking
and fewer impassioned monologues about human dignity. (Remember,
these are athletes, not actors.) Still, see this now and you’ll
be able to affect a blasé, been-there attitude when parkour
(reportedly) turns up in the pre-credits sequence of the next James
Bond flick. — Mike D’Angelo
Review: Coastlines
CoastlineA
curiously engaging sequence in the middle of Coastlines,
Victor Nunez’s first film since Ulee’s Gold, concerns
the methodical restoration of a beat-up old Mustang. The
finished product is a lot like the movie — an old framework
that still purrs. Neither flashy nor dull, neither rushed
nor lethargic, Coastlines is a truly old-fashioned
drama, rendered with pleasurable calm. It’s the kind of Saylesian
character study we could always use more of, whatever the
pleasures of experimentation. Tiptoeing backwards toward
adulthood, ex-con Sonny (Timothy Olyphant) returns from prison
and attempts to claim money owed him by his former accomplices.
At the same time, he lusts for an old flame now married to
his best friend. These soapy plotlines could both play as
melodrama if they were mishandled; arguably, the ending seems
overly upbeat even though it’s handled well. But for the
most part, Nunez and his cast (including a quietly excellent
Josh Brolin) display a cool mastery — the same straightforward
craft that Sonny employs in fixing up that Mustang — with
results both poignant and deeply enjoyable. If only movies
this ordinary were more ordinary. — Peter Smith
Date DVD: Jezebel
JezebelUnless
you want to try a little I’ll-be-the-Bandit-you-be-Smokey role-playing, you will find it easy to resist the charms
of Smokey & the Bandit, new on DVD. If so,
you should try The Bette Davis Collection
Vol. 2
,
which includes Marked Woman, The
Man Who Came to Dinner
, Old Acquaintance and What
Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
, plus a nice documentary
about her diva life, and my favorite Bette Davis
film, Jezebel. For this great big Southern epic,
Bette Davis only took the role (which would later win her
an Oscar) after passing on the role of Scarlett O’Hara — partly
because the overacting ham Errol Flynn was set to play
Rhett. Dumb mistake? Not at all: there’s something even
more reckless and raunchy about her turn here, in a very
similar Southern romance from William Wyler that was one
of cinema’s greatest blockbusters — well, at least
before it was obliterated by Gone
With the Wind
.
But Davis gets to wear her wild dress to the ball anyway.
It may not be made from her recycled curtains, but it’s
a flouncy fire-engine-red number that she defends, to the
consternation of her banker suitor, like this: It
is 1852, dumplin’, 1852. Not the Dark Ages. Girls don’t
have to simp around in white just because they’re not married
.
Oh no they don’t, dumplin’.Logan Hill

   

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