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REVIEW: A Prairie Home Companion

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Screenwriters are justifiably irritated by the directorial possessive
credit, which nowadays gets parceled out even to no-account hacks
(“A film by who?”). But I suspect that even Garrison Keillor himself,
looking at the new film adaptation of the landmark radio variety
show he’s run for nearly three decades, would have to admit that
this really and truly is Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion.
Altman doesn’t merely impose his trademark style upon the project,
stealthily gliding the camera among the large ensemble and encouraging
the actors to deliver their lines in a kind of scatterbrained simultaneity;
by virtue of being eighty-one years old, the recent winner of an
honorary Oscar (generally the kiss of death, though Paul Newman
is still hanging on), and so frail that the bond company demanded
that Paul Thomas Anderson hang out on the set as his understudy
lest he suddenly kick, he also succeeds in swiping the subtext.
For this is the tale of A.P.H.C.’s (fictional) final performance,
with all and sundry gracefully and stoically saying their farewells
even as both a Texas “axeman” (Tommy Lee Jones) and a literal angel
of death (Virginia Madsen) wait in the wings.

   You’d have to be pretty hardhearted not to find such nakedly morbid ruminations
poignant on some level; there’s no question that A Prairie Home Companion would
be an oddly appropriate final film, should Altman never muster the strength to
make another. Still, that extra-textual frisson, in and of itself, doesn’t make
a masterpiece, and on the whole this is fair-to-middling Altman (and Keillor),
with priceless bits (like John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson as Dusty and Lefty,
a singing cowboy duet enamored of Bazooka Joe-style humor) nestled side by side
with egregious clunkers (Kevin Kline’s maladroit Guy Noir; the whole dopey angel
business). Nor was I ever quite able to get a handle on the tone, which is somehow
at once grave and slight; it’s a bit as if someone had surgically grafted parts
of The Seventh Seal onto one of those sprightly musical revues that
flourished in the mid-1930s. At the end of the movie, you’re not sure whether
you’ve attended a fabulous party or a slightly dreary wake. — Mike D’Angelo

REVIEW: The Omen
The OmenAll
things considered, it could have been a lot worse. Director
John Moore’s remake of Richard Donner’s 1976 horror classic,
in which an American ambassador (Liev Schreiber in the new
version, Gregory Peck in the original) realizes that his
young toddler is quite literally the spawn of Satan, stays
reasonably faithful to the original while providing enough
updated shocks to keep things moving briskly along. That
hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement — it isn’t — but
in a world where Hollywood has been pillaging films from
the horror canon (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 13
Ghosts
, etc.) and gussying them up with fancy F/X and
overzealous direction, there’s something to be said for a
big-studio horror flick that doesn’t dumb things down even
further. It’s a thin line between fidelity and veneration,
but if The Omen works, it works because director
Moore brings an assured and surprisingly graceful sense of
style to a story with which most viewers will already be
familiar.

   That’s not to say that The Omen is some kind of classy picture that’ll
win prizes. (The original’s script was nominated for a WGA award.) Indeed, at
times the relatively serious approach works against it: Julia Stiles’s hapless
performance as the titular brat’s mother might not seem out of place in your
run-of-the-mill shlock-job — I doubt Ali Larter would have fared much better — but
she strikes a campy note here while struggling through the despair of realizing
her son is trying to kill her. Schreiber seems a bit better suited for his part — perhaps
because he’s already done the rounds of the Scream movies and understands
that tone is everything. While it would be silly to make any great claims for
what is essentially a semi-efficient genre pic, when a genre has been this debased,
it’s hard not to crack a smile. — Bilge Ebiri
REVIEW: Crossing the Bridge
Crossing The BridgeAlexander
Hacke plays in Einstürzende Neubauten, an industrial
band generally known for appearing to have wandered off the
set of Sprockets. I remember watching, as an impressionable
thirteen-year-old, a documentary about them (Strategies
Against Architecture
perhaps? History does not record)
with a bunch of other black-clad children. In one scene,
the lead singer murmured a description of a dream he’d had
about going into his kitchen and pulling strands of something
from the sink. “Instantly,” the subtitles read, "I knew
it was my DNA." This revelation was followed by a song
clip of the singer announcing "Das… sind doch meine… DNS
moleküle!
" while his bandmates pounded on
a bunch of metal pipes in the background. I think they might
also have been on fire.

   Sadly, the German documentary Crossing the Bridge, which follows bassist
Hacke on a trip to Istanbul to gather recordings of Turkish music, lacks such
entertaining theatrics. Interesting in subject but meandering in pace, Crossing
the Bridge
sees Hacke reverentially taping a wide — too wide — swath
of Turkish musicians, from teenage rappers to former action movie stars to eighty-something
divas. Some of them are cool, some of them sound great, but the effect is less
than the sum of its parts. We never spend enough time with any one musician,
or even one style, to get a real sense of artistic intent. As a result, Crossing
the Bridge
is intermittently interesting, but unlikely to blow any thirteen-year-old
minds. — Peter Smith
DATE DVD: Entourage, Season Two
EntourageFrom the occasional
late-night whorehouse documentary to its current polygamy drama, HBO
has always helped the sexes to understand each other. Sex
and the City
was a peephole through which men could study
a world of high heels and handbags, of zipless fucks and sentimental
regrets. If the show’s brand names and women’s-magazine puns
were lost on men, at least it made a certain set of female
consumption habits seem less threatening: those
gals were having so much fun! Now HBO’s Sex-and-the-City-for-Men, Entourage,
is engaged in the same inter-gender diplomacy from the other
side (Season Two is out this week on DVD in anticipation of
the show’s third season, which kicks off June 10). With this
crew of ridiculous guys from Queens, who love each other and
know nothing but how to have a good time, HBO has written a
love letter to all the lug-headed, guy’s-guy, sports-loving,
skirt-chasing player-doofuses out there. If you’re dating one
of them, this could bring you two closer together. These guys,
like Samantha, Miranda and pals, splash through the party and
dating pool of their city (in their case, Hollywood), but the
show’s really about their buddy-bond. Their
relentless pursuit of courtside tickets and flat-stomached
dates is suggests that
there’s never really been any great mystery to ass-and-sports-obsessed
guys — which is to say, most of us. As such, it’s brilliant
propaganda for the male species; use it on a doubter.Logan
Hil
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©2006 Nerve.com.