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’Pokes peek

January 13 - 19, 2006

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’Pokes peek
Heath Ledger scales Brokeback Mountain

"Controversy" sells tickets, as long as it’s not controversial. Such hot-button films as the recent Syriana and the upcoming Munich purport to take on tough issues but in fact merely tart up generic fare with innocuous pretenses. Brokeback Mountain, the "gay cowboy movie," has built up a saucy reputation, moving the suddenly prim Madonna to declare it "shocking." But by the time viewers realize that it has less sex than the average PG-13 movie about heterosexual love, they’ll be drawn to it as a tearjerker. Credit a consummate performance by Heath Ledger and limpid, unmanipulative direction by Ang Lee for the year’s most affecting romantic movie.

Figuring, no doubt correctly, that more people will identify with loss than with gay lust, Lee gets the icky parts over quickly. Not only is it the love that dare not speak its name, it doesn’t speak at all. The film’s opening five minutes present a wordless mating dance as cocky kid Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a worried-looking Enn




Rake’s progress

January 6 - 12, 2006

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Rake’s progress
Casanova dabbles in farce and feminism

Casanova (Heath Ledger) has cleaned up his act in Lasse Hallström’s engaging romantic-comedy version of his life; he’s tamed the debauchery down to a tepid but bawdy R and learned to respect women and family values. As we’re shown in the introduction, where the crapulous roué pens his memoirs by candlelight, the seduction we’re about to see was not one of those recorded in the final cut of his 3700-page Histoire de ma vie. Those interested in the real deal might want to check out Fellini’s 1976 extravaganza with Donald Sutherland; a comparison of its overripe ennui with Lasse Hallström’s post–American Pie puerility here tells a lot about what’s happened to sex in the cinema over the past three decades.

Hallström, in fact, seems to have gone even farther back for his inspiration: Tony Richardson’s 1963 Tom Jones. The sly and sleek Ledger starts his adventures in a very Albert Finney way, pulling up his trousers and grabbing his boots as he flees discovery in




Giving good offense

January 13 - 19, 2006

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Giving good offense
What type of girl is Sarah Silverman?

Sometimes Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic isn’t as funny as it is fascinating — and confusing. Who is that girl up there? You could say she’s a slut ingénue, but, "blue" as she is, Silverman doesn’t really play slutty. As she’s the first to tell you. One of her older jokes in Jesus Is Magic goes: "I was licking jelly off of my boyfriend’s penis, and all of a sudden I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God! I’m turning into my mother!’ "

There’s an emblematic slice of the Silverman persona, the casual, in medias res set-up, the matter-of-fact revelation of sexual kinkiness, and then the reversal: the nice Jewish girl out shopping at Lohmann’s with her mother meets Jenna Jameson. All delivered with sweet-faced bewilderment. The mother joke meets the blow-job joke. What could make kink more square, the liberation of naughty behavior more deflating? You’re cutting loose with the jelly and Jimmy’s boner and you realize you’re wearing a mom mask.

Silverman has been everywhere in the




Politics as usual?

December 30, 2005 - January 5, 2006

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Politics as usual?
Or will Hollywood cover the issues in 2006?

Conspiracy, corruption, catastrophe — politics and world events sure can be exciting. Even the mainstream news is taking an interest. All the same, it’s lagged well behind the movie industry, which last year addressed drug cartels (The Constant Gardener), the arms industry (Lord of War), the First Amendment (Good Night, and Good Luck), the oil corporations (Syriana), and the war on terror (Munich). Admirable but perhaps not prudent. Hollywood’s focus on real-life problems might explain one of the biggest box-office dips in ages. Daunted by this downturn, will filmmakers turn away from relevant subjects and return to tried and true sequels, remakes, and out-and-out fluff? Or will they persist in their brave path, at least until the pre-Oscar limbo is over?

JANUARY

The worst-case scenario — politically speaking — is the Third Reich. Dennis Gansel’s Napola — Elite Für Den Führer | Before the Fall (January 6; all dates,




Walking the indie line

December 23 - 29, 2005

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Walking the indie line
The ten best films of 2005

Star Wars and Batman and Harry Potter and Narnia and King Kong may have made the big bucks in 2005, but for the most part it was indie and low-budget films that made the biggest impression. Here’s my Top 10:

1 LAST DAYS | In Gus Van Sant’s transcendent film, a death watch over a musician much like Kurt Cobain, Michael Pitt’s Blake is a ghost in his own house. Although the place might be inescapable, the time spent there is fluid. Van Sant cuts up the narrative and pastes it together with repetitions, sometimes from different points of view. Like the camera always drawn back to the house of doom, the editing returns to some moment of truth. The shotgun to the head? Don’t be so sure. Near the end, Blake sings: "It’s long, lonely journey from death to birth." Viewers will agree, and some will find it worth the trip.

2 Avner’s list

December 23 - 29, 2005

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Avner’s list
Spielberg takes on terror and revenge in Munich

What is it with Steven Spielberg and flashbacks? In Saving Private Ryan, an ancient soldier recalls Omaha Beach in grisly detail; the problem is, he wasn’t there. In Munich, the kidnapping and massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Black September during the 1972 Olympics unfolds with harrowing precision in the recurring nightmares of someone who saw it only on TV. A remarkable accomplishment, since none of the victims survived and the actual events took time and painstaking analysis to unravel. Whatever their value as a cinematic device, such flashbacks don’t inspire much confidence in historical accuracy or psychological insight.

Of course, their purpose is not to illuminate but to manipulate, to reduce the irresolvable issues surrounding a horrible truth into a comforting platitude. A buzz word like " home, " which is repeated in Munich with the relentlessness of a mantra or an interrogation. Home is where Avner (Eric Bana), a marginal Mossad agent, sees the broadcast




GRANDMA’S BOY

January 13 - 19, 2006




TRISTAN & ISOLDE

January 13 - 19, 2006




THE CONSTANT GARDENER

January 13 - 19, 2006

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THE CONSTANT GARDENER
Universal



RED EYE

January 13 - 19, 2006

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RED EYE
DreamWorks



SARABAND

January 13 - 19, 2006

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SARABAND
Sony



TRANSPORTER 2

January 13 - 19, 2006

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TRANSPORTER 2
Fox



Hidden agenda

January 13 - 19, 2006

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Hidden agenda
Caché plays forbidden games

CACHÉ | Written and directed by Michael Haneke | With Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Benichou, Annie Girardot, Walid Afkir, and Lester Makedonsky | A Sony Pictures Classic release | French | 121 minutes | AT THE Kendall Square Cinema IN CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

When David Lynch plagued a married couple with covert videotapes in Lost Highway eight years ago, he knew people would be creeped out. Today, such surveillance meshes unnoticed with the fabric of everyday life, as it does with unsettling formal wit in the beginning of Michael Haneke’s Caché.

Credits run over a single shot of a nondescript door front on a Parisian side street, a shot typical of security-camera surveillance. Voices squabble in the background; then a cut reveals that the image is playing on a screen within the screen, part of a tape sent anonymously to Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche). Such images ordinarily provide bourgeois citizens with a sense