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Monday, September 26

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Column Fri Aug 14 2009

District 9, Thirst, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, Lorna's Silence, The Beaches of Agnes and Throw Down Your Heart

District 9

I've seen this film twice now, under fairly similar circumstances in two different cities, and I'm really dying to see this very different take on the "alien invasion" style of film plays to a paying audience that really has no idea just what kind of film District 9 transforms into before your very eyes. I'm tempted to keep this review extremely short. I've said this before about other films, but in the case of this one, I think it's crucial that you know as little going in as possible. What you have seen on the film's various websites and different commercials and trailers is certainly a part of what District 9 is about, but the marketing people for this film have been almost incomprehensibly wise about not showing too much. And what they have shown you isn't even a fraction of the most interesting elements of this seriously well-made science fiction epic that combines politics, social commentary, aliens, extreme cartoony violence, and one of the best classic Hitchcock-ian, wrong-man-pursued plots in recent memory.

At the very least, I can talk about the setup, which has been fairly well documented. This is an alternate version of Earth. The events of District 9 do not take place in the future; they take place here and now... just a different version of here and now. Set in and around Johannesburg, South Africa, the film begins as a documentary about an enormous alien spacecraft comes to Earth and hovers right over the city and does absolutely nothing. Humans being humans, we decide to got cut our way into the craft, and what we find is about a million worker bee aliens with no leadership and a great deal of illness running through their ranks. The South Africans transport the sick and malnourished creatures to the surface, and take care of them like good Samaritans should. Humans put the aliens in makeshift camps in South Africa's District 9, as the rest of the world tried to figure out what to do with all of these aliens. This was nearly 20 years ago.

What's kind of brilliant about South African director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp's feature debut is just how well thought out this universe is and how scarily parallel it is to both his country's system of apartheid and to human nature in general. The aliens are grotesque-looking, insect- or shellfish-like beings (I know none of that makes sense, but it will when you see it), but since they've been around for a couple decades, no one reacts to their disgusting looks at all. There are also plenty of people who understand their language and the aliens seem to understand ours. We don't speak each other's dialects, but there's an understanding. I also like that no two aliens look exactly alike. Some have started wearing a few bits of clothing, or painted things on their bodies. They have slightly different shapes and sizes. So often in movies involving aliens, all of the aliens look alike. Humans don't all look alike, so why should aliens?

But getting down to the nitty-gritty, these aliens (who are never given a name beyond the derogatory term "prawns") are an oppressed people, and, as most oppressed people do, they get angry and begin to fight back. A black-market trade is firmly established, crime is rampant, and when it becomes clear that the aliens are never going to leave, the South African government decides to instigate a policy of forced relocation to somewhere much further away from Johannesburg city limits to what are essentially concentration camps. Enter Wikus van der Merwe (played by South African filmmaker and infrequent actor Sharlto Copley), a field operative for Multi-National United (MNU), who has been put in charge of making sure all of the aliens are given notice as their relocation with as little violence as possible (it doesn't help that he has a military escort). Wikus is an uber-bureaucratic nerd who has been around these creatures most of his life, and seems to have a combination of empathy and contempt for the prawns. While going house to house in District 9, Wikus discovers a cache of alien weapons (not that uncommon in this area), including one device that changes his life forever and makes him the most wanted man in all of South Africa and possibly the world.

In a strange but ultimately wise decision, director Blomkamp decides to go back and forth between a documentary style and more traditional filmmaking. There's a real naturalistic feel to the entire scenario that makes the experience watching District 9 seem just that much more nerve wracking. The way the giant alien craft hovers in the distance of many outdoor shots, the way scientists attempt to weaponize the aliens and their technology (the weapons are devised only work when they detect alien DNA using them), and even just the way the computer-generated aliens seamlessly interact with the human characters. You'll forget in about 15 minutes that you're watching creatures that aren't real.

And then there's the final third of District 9, which is essentially a non-stop war among the aliens, the MNU military agents and the Nigerian underworld, which runs the black market in the alien district. Oh, the blood does flow spectacularly. In these scenes, Blomkamp shows you his balls, just pulls them out and waves them in your face, and dares you not to be impressed with their steely nature. He has a terrific sense of staging action while making sure things stay clear to the audience. I never lost track of where all the players were in the geography of District 9. It's difficult not to be impressed with the fluid nature of the battle scenes, all shot with handheld cameras that may make those of you unlucky enough to sit in the first couple of rows a little dizzy.

For me, it was the second viewing of District 9 that revealed some nice details in the background. Very few of the effects shots have a spotlight thrown on them. They are meant to blend in with reality and not call attention to themselves by being too big and/or loud. I also love that the film doesn't forget to be fun. Before his life gets completely turned around, Wikus is the film's primary source of comic relief. And Blomkamp doesn't forget to include a slew of "Oh shit!" and "Hell yes!" moments. Above all other things, District 9 is endlessly entertaining. In some ways, Wikus' arc reminds me of the absolute hell that characters in producer Peter Jackson's Bad Taste and Braindead go through, complete with hardcore, brutal, gore-infused violence that will probably make you giggle with excitement more than repulse you.

Per usual, I've said too much, but don't worry there's still so much to discover in the world of District 9. I don't even know why you're reading this; you know you're going to see this three or four times in theaters and then go buy the DVD the day it comes. Yes, folks, it's that good. And I think without anticipating it, I've stumbled upon my favorite movie of the summer of 2009. I love when that happens.

Go to Ain't It Cool News to read my exclusive interviews with District 9 producer Peter Jackson, director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp and star Sharlto Copley.


There's no getting around the fact that Chan-wook Park is not only South Korea's finest filmmaker, but one of the most thoughtful and crushingly honest writer-directors working anywhere in the world. There is nothing more sacred to him than getting to the truth of the characters in his often-horrific plots. Yes, I believe he engages in a bit of button pushing, but he's earned the right to do so because he handles every subject he rips into with a maturity that is matched only by the giddy sense he seems to enjoy at getting away with exposing formerly taboo topic with a certain level of dignity and grace. His Joint Security Area is the first film I ever saw that addressed the status of the relationship between North and South Korea; his vengeance trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy and Lady Vengeance) cover so much fertile ground in dealing with revenge killing, incest and all sorts of juicy stuff. I recently caught up with his take on mental illness, I'm a Cyborg, and That's OK, and absolutely loved it, even as I felt pity for the lead characters. And now we have what might be Park's masterpiece, Thirst.

I never in my wildest dreams would have believed that after Let the Right One In so skillfully rewrote the book on vampire movies that another director would go ahead and not only do the same, but also rip apart the rule book and scatter the pages to the wind. Park has stripped away nearly all of the mysticism, gloss and ego associated with so many vampire stories of late and replaced them with animal sexuality; raw, often ugly, emotion; gruesome, messy violence; and layer upon layer of guilt, thanks to the lead vampire character also happening to be a priest. In this film, the priest (played by The Host's Song Kang-ho) volunteers for medical experiments as a way of hopefully giving back life to unfortunates. Instead, the experimental drug he is given nearly kills him, and he is given a blood transfusion that is infected... by a vampire, eventually turning the priest into a creature that craves blood. Since the priest has no desire to kill other human for blood, he visits the hospital where he sometimes works and sets up what are essentially feeding stations next to coma patients. The priest siphons off small amounts of blood from these patients in the middle of the night — no harm, no foul.

Except things do turn foul, when the priest falls for Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), the wife of a childhood friend. She tells the priest stories about being beaten by her lout of a husband and has the bruises to prove it, and soon the two are engaged in some acrobatic sex, following shortly by gentle begging by Tae-ju to help her get rid of her husband one way or another. One of the great joys of Thirst is watching the slow, sad deterioration of the priest's morality and vows during the course of the film. At his core, he's a good man, but his lust for blood, carnal knowledge, and to be seen as something of a miracle man contributes to his decay as a human.

Soon the priest and Tae-ju embrace both their insane sexual urges and their blood lust. Maybe more than any other recent vampire film, Thirst shows us just how truly messy ripping open a person's throat can really be. This film skimps on nothing as a bloody exercise and an emotional typhoon that builds upon the priest's guilty feelings for becoming murderer and turning someone else into one (unlike the priest, Tae-ju can't wait to start killing once her transformation is complete). It's rare to see a horror film of any kind with this kind of character development and depth, and Thirst has both to spare. The movie is also visually rich, thanks to Park's regular cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, who adds a cold, raw feeling to every seen, but also knows when to allow color (usually red) to enter this world with striking results.

Aside from one or two short dead spots in the middle of the film, making it feel a touch overlong, Thirst is damn near perfect at every turn. There's a sequence in which some visitors come visit the new couple, where Tae-ju's infirm mother-in-law is attempting to communicate that the two vampires have killed her son. It's unreal how much tension is built up in this sequence, which is punctuated with an eruption of unprecedented gore. It's pretty tasty, and the film is magnificent. It opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

To read my exclusive interview with Thirst director and co-writer Chan-wood Park, go to Ain't It Cool News.


And then there are those times when you just have to not only trust me, but also trust what you know. For example, when you hear someone tell you that there's a new film coming out from master animation director Hayao Miyazaki, you know that one of the things you will set aside time to do in the near future is go see it. If that isn't your natural instinct, then there's something wrong with the way you live your life, simple as that.

At the age of 68, Miyasaki-san is still cranking out hand-drawn storyboards for every one of his movies; there was a time not so long ago when he was personally responsible for animating huge sections of his own movies (rather than simply turning his storyboards over to his team of animators). But just as important as the process he uses is the end results, which have been a series of the most visually and thematically creative works the animation world has ever known: Nausicaä, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle. The man doesn't work fast, but when he puts out a new film, you need to just stop and see it.

His latest work is Ponyo, a films certainly aimed at a much younger audience, about the friendship formed between a young goldfish girl (voiced by Noah Lindsey Cyrus) and a human boy named Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) who lives with his parents (Tina Fey and Matt Damon). When the goldfish is stranded on the shore, Sosuke rescues her, names her Ponyo, and promises to look out for her forever. Ponyo's very human-looking father Fujimoto (Liam Neeson) is feverishly looking for his daughter (we find out her real name is Brünnhilde) and sets about unleashing the power of the seas to find her. Ponyo has decided that she wants to transform into a human and fall in love with Sosuke. You see, sometimes you just have to go with it and not think about things too much. It all makes perfect sense when you're sitting there watching it.

There are elements to this film that will have your jaw on the floor, the tsunami sequence being the primary example. Miyasaki envisions the tremendous waves not as water but as giant fish all clamoring to get wherever they're going as fast as possible. It's one of those classic "you have to see it to believe it" moments. It's a spectacularly realized moment in a film filled with so many such scenes. Miyasaki might be the only director who can find the beauty in a small town being completely swallowed by flooding. Watching the ocean's largest sea creatures swim down the city streets is pretty cool, I'll admit. He also somehow manages to make a retirement home seem like the ultimate place to hang out, which is exactly what Sosuke does as he's talking to elderly women voiced by the likes of Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin and Betty White.

The film continues on as Ponyo helps Sosuke look for his missing mother and the elderly women, all of whom disappeared during the flooding. Oh, and the moon is dangerously close to the earth, causing even more flooding, so that has to be set right as well with the help of Ponyo's sea goddess mother (Cate Blanchett). And for about 100 of the greatest minutes you're going to have this year, you're going to enter a world in which imagination is the most valuable commodity, and that's a far less frequent occurrence than you might realize. Ponyo is quite simply a reason to celebrate. From the hand-drawn animation to the use of color to the fine voice cast (directed for the English-language version by head of Disney Animation John Lasseter), Ponyo is perfection. But that should come as no surprise to those who have been watching and loving Miyasaki's work for decades. Ponyo is getting the widest release that one of Miyasaki's films has ever gotten in the United States, so you really don't have any excuse not to check it out.

Visit Ain't It Cool News to read my exclusive interview with Ponyo director Hayao Miyazaki.

The Time Traveler's Wife

Does it seem normal to sit through a movie adaptation of a beloved romantic novel adapted by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Ghost and still feel nothing when it's all over? It probably isn't normal, but it is exactly how I felt after watching The Time Traveler's Wife, based on Audrey Niffenegger's story of Henry, who has been time traveling since he was a boy, and Clare, who has been in love with Henry since she was a little girl. The only things is, they didn't know each other when they were kids. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As helmed by Flightplan director Robert Schwentke, The Time Traveler's Wife opens up an almost endless array of thought-provoking questions about the subject of hopping forward and backward in time, how much you should tell your past self about what is to come, and what the burden is on friends and loved ones when the trigger and duration of your time travels are not under your control. Eric Bana is as sympathetic and handsome a man as you are likely to meet as Henry, who, as a boy, is there at the moment of his mother's accidental death and is advised by a future adult self to keep it together because no one else is going to adequately help him do so. When his father (Arliss Howard) turns to drinking to help him get over his unbearable depressions, Henry must rely on himself (and apparently future Henrys and past moms) to get through his painful childhood.

The first time we meet Clare, she's a young girl planning a picnic in a meadow on her family's vast grounds. From behind some foliage is a naked man asking for her blanket, and eventually Henry emerges to begin their relationship. He knows that eventually he and Clare (played by Rachel McAdams as an adult) will marry and he essentially plants the seeds in her young mind to make sure that happens. The one aspect to the film's time travel science that I really liked is the correct belief that a traveler can't change the past, even if they try to. Henry is simply setting the stage for what he already knows will happen. What I found kind of unusual is that the adult Clare quickly begins to resent Henry disappearing for sometimes weeks at a time, even thought some version of Henry often arrives to fill in or at least pop in to say hello. She knew exactly what her life would be like married to someone with Henry's seemingly uncontrollable condition. It reminded me of people who move into a condo near Wrigley Field or a house near O'Hare, and then complain about the noise.

The advancement and complexities of this relationship is not without its merits and depth. And it's also interesting to whom they reveal Henry's abilities. I also liked how Henry prepares for each new jump (he can't time travel with clothes, so he often has stashes of clothes in different locations; other times he steals clothes). And while each of these nuances add up to something vaguely interesting, I still wasn't moved emotionally by any of it. There's something missing from both the film's soul and its timeline. From early on the story, I got the sense that Henry was being played as a version of Jesus. We know about his early childhood, and we find out about his adult years, but we never truly get a sense of the formative years. How did he train himself physically if people in the new time spot him naked and running away. When did he learn what triggers these jumps? How does Henry seem to know exactly when and where to land — is he capable of some sort of control over his abilities? Don't know, never discussed, not important. Discuss! We never see Henry as a kid going back a few years to visit his mother. If ever a kid needed that ability, that kid was Henry.

So what's missing exactly? First off, where's the sense of wonder that this fucking guy can travel through time? Clare I get, because she's had most of her life to get used to idea, but everyone Henry tells is a little startled at first and then gets used to it immediately. The character of the father seems grossly underwritten. One day the two men are at odds; the next they are like best buddies. I realize that the curse of adapting any novel to the screen is losing some of these points, but this particular one stood out in my mind. The list of issues could go on and on.

But here's the interesting angle to The Time Traveler's Wife: once they introduce the character of Henry and Clare's time-traveling daughter, the plot got way more interesting. Henry lands in her life when she's about 10. In the present day, he and Clare are struggling to have a child, but she has a string of miscarriages, which they believe is the fetus actually traveling out of the womb. The 10-year-old daughter, Alba, seems to lighten everything because they know eventually they will successfully have a child, and she'll be sort of remarkable. Without spoiling too much, the way having this incredible girl in their lives both as an infant and the older version of herself that comes back from the future to teach her younger self about the ways of her world, is pretty moving. And the most engaged I ever was watching this movie was in scenes involving Alba.

I wasn't bored by The Time Traveler's Wife, mainly because Bana and McAdams are two very watchable actors who sell even the sappiest dialogue. Still, when Clare accepts Henry's marriage proposal by saying, "Yes, a thousand times yes!" I thought I would dry heave so hard and so often that my chest muscles would explode. I'm even having trouble pulling together this review, because I had almost no connection to anything going on in this movie. It's as if the filmmakers attempted to keep a cool distance between these characters and the audience, and it simply kept me from caring. That said, it seemed pretty clear from the sniffles during and applause after the screening I went to that many people were touched by this film. I applaud the film for trying something different with the romance genre, but when you stand a film like this along side (500) Days of Summer, for example, there's no comparison. And so I must deny Eric Bana his hat trick — after two quality summer works (Star Trek and Funny People), he ends the season on a flaccid dud.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

I'm going to level with you, seeing a film like this makes you really appreciate the level of sophistication at which Judd Apatow works. As weird as that statement sounds, there's finesse to the way his actors tell dick jokes that is miles above the manner in which everybody else works in the R-rated comedy realm. I'm not even saying that these other, non-Apatow films aren't funny here and there, but Apatow seems to have a filter. He knows when four-letter words will be at their most effective and when they are just crass. As much as I ultimately enjoyed The Hangover, the characters tended to fall back on "fuck" so often, it stopped being funny and started being repetitive. Or worse still, watch (if you dare) The Ugly Truth, a movie that hasn't got a clue when crude is funny and when it's just plain dumb. So now we have The Goods, which I would place just a peg below The Hangover, but miles above The Ugly Truth on the comedy meter (which I just invented). The film's plot is almost invisible, with the emotional depth of a wading pool that's been sitting out for a week in the blazing son. However, the strength of many of the comedy performers kept me laughing about 75 percent of the time, and that's not bad.

Jeremy Piven stars in The Goods as Don Ready, not a car salesman in the strictest sense, but a guy who other car salesmen call in when vehicles aren't moving the way they need to. In the case of this story, James Brolin's Ben Selleck calls in Ready and his crew, which includes Ving Rhames, David Koechner, and the scene-stealer Kathryn Hahn, who uses nasty sex talk to make her sales. It goes without saying that I never tired of watching her do her job well. Ready and his team blaze into Selleck's California town ready to move cars over the 4th of July weekend and save the dealership from financial ruin. The heroes and villains in The Goods are painted in extremely bright colors, and the father-son team of Alan Thicke and Ed Helms are like a couple of magpies waiting to pick on the scraps of whatever is left of the dealership when the Selleck family loses it. In a weird device that I never really bought, Selleck's daughter (Jordana Spiro) is engaged to Helms' character (whose other job is being in a boy band). Naturally, Don Ready not only wants to save the dealership; he wants to save young Ms. Selleck.

The Goods moves at an almost frantic pace, barely allowing the characters or us time to breathe between gags, which might work to its advantage since some of the gags aren't that funny, and we aren't given much time to reflect on the duds. Still, I expected something a little bit more satisfying from director Neal Brennan (a co-writer with Dave Chappelle of Half Baked and a writer-director on many episodes of "Chappelle's Show"), especially with this above-average cast of talented comic actors, including Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle, Craig Robinson, and a cameo by one of the film's producers (I'll let you look that one up yourselves). I suppose the biggest problem I had with the movie is that it's wildly uneven. Anything that takes us aware from the salesmen and women doing their job seem peripheral and not especially engrossing. The love story angle is laughably bad, except I wasn't laughing, nor was I moved or convinced that this relationship would survive five days after the movie ended.

I would consider myself a Jeremy Piven fan. I watch "Entourage" loyally every week, but I've dug the guy for years, going back to his memorable runs on "The Larry Sanders Show," "Ellen" and the original incarnation of "Cupid," as well as films like Very Bad Things, PCU, Grosse Pointe Blank, Old School, Smokin' Aces and RocknRolla. Piven is very much in Ari Gold mode in The Goods, but slightly nicer and more disturbed, and it suits him. But about half the time, it feels like he's delivering lines to the balcony. When he dials it back, Piven is unstoppable. Unfortunately, this is not the film to see Piven really do his best work, although you will undoubtedly laugh at a lot of what he's up to here. In the end, I can't quite recommend The Goods, but if in 9-12 months or so, you catch it on cable, you could stumble upon worse films to watch.

Head to Ain't It Cool News to read my exclusive interview with The Goods star Jeremy Piven.

Lorna's Silence

And the winner of the Film with Perhaps the Ickiest Storyline of the Year might just have to go to Lorna's Silence, a co-production from Belgium, France, Italy and Germany about Lorna, a beautiful Albanian woman (Arta Dobroshi), who concocts a plan to open up a snack food store with her boyfriend in Belgium. She's not a citizen, so they come up with a scam whereby she seduces and eventually marries a drug-addicted Belgian man (Jeremie Renier) who loves her so much that he kicks drugs to better himself for her. But the plans calls for Renier to die from a drug overdose, leaving Lorna a citizen and free to marry a Russian mobster, who is willing to exchange citizenship for lots of cash for her snack bar. Get it? I know it sounds confusing, but the truth is Lorna's Silence is really powerful stuff as it examines the lives of people with few or no social qualms about screwing over (or killing) anyone they have to to get what they need.

Lorna is not without heart, and eventually the weight of all of her decisions begins to wear her down, especially after she finds out she's pregnant with the drug addict's child and her husband-to-be wants her to get rid of the pregnancy before they get married. Lorna's Silence is loaded with a dozen or so really heart-dropping moments that just sit in the pit of your stomach and fester. The film's final act gets a bit strange, but it becomes clear that Lorna is looking for some kind of atonement for what has happened to her husband and the willing part she played in his demise. The film is full of complicated emotional issues, dashed dreams, and new ones born. Dobroshi is remarkable, not just for her natural beauty, but for displaying such naked despair alongside an ice-cold exterior when such a persona is called upon or more appropriate. Lorna is one of the complex characters you're likely to see in a film this year, and while I was grateful to watch her operate from a distance, I would never want to meet someone like her.

This is a great work of substance that, unfortunately, opens today at AMC Piper's Alley Theatre. You know I hate this theater with a passion, but I'm still recommending that you check out the film while it's playing on the big screen.

The Beaches of Agnes

I originally saw this film in March as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center's European Union Film Festival, so this is a rerun of my original review.

My knowledge of the films of French director Agnes Varda (now 80 years old) going into her lovely, self-made look at her history in film was pretty sketchy. I've seen Cleo 5 to 7, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Vagabond, The Gleaners & I and maybe two or three others. I'm sure while I was watching these films that I had no idea they were all made by the same women who came into her own as one of the key players in the French New Wave movement, which consisted of works that were fast, cheap and slightly out of control. The Beaches of Agnes is something of a moving, breathing scrapbook look through Varda's artistic and personal achievements. She not only moved in social circles with all of the key players in the New Wave movement (Godard was one of her great friends), but eventually she and husband Jacques Demy moved to California for a time as Hollywood attempted (and largely succeeded) to corrupt them artistically.

The documentary isn't about talking heads and film clips. The highlights for me were walking the very narrow alleys around Varda's home, where so much of the film on her early films took place because there was a 100-foot power cord that went into her home, and that was the only way to power the lights. Her immediate neighbors and local storeowners often appeared in her films because they were always around. And when she started having children, guess who ended up in her films? In fact, her son Mathieu Demy has been a top actor in France since the late 1980s. Varga uses the recurring theme of furniture and empty picture frames on a beach (the same beach she used in her first film, La Pointe Courte) as a way to structure her look back in life. It's fun watching her discover an old box of artifacts long thought lost. I'm sure people more familiar with Varda's work will eat this stuff up. She's an avid collector of anything having to do with the works she's made, and very few long-taped boxes are left unopened during the course of this extraordinary film. I used the movie as the means to collect the names of Varda's films that I still haven't seen. Either way, this is a terrific look at a life lived to its fullest. The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.

Throw Down Your Heart

It's really tough for a music documentary to let me down. In fact, the less I know about a musician or musical trend or event, the more likely I am to be curious and fascinated by a film on that subject. I know virtually nothing about the banjo-playing Bela Fleck. I don't know how popular the guy really is, whether he sells out venues that seat 50,000 or whether he struggles to fill a 500-seat house. I just knew that the idea of a banjo-playing white man going on a journey to several cities in Africa to investigate the history of banjo in that continent (where an early version of the banjo was first invented) sounded mildly intriguing. I liked the idea that a possibility for culture clash would make way for the blending of two very different sounds as Fleck visits some of Africa's greatest singers and players and attempts to insert his instrument into traditional African music.

The resulting music is actually quite lovely and perhaps even the stuff of legend. The problem I had with Throw Down Your Heart is that Bela Fleck might be the dullest man to ever play any musical instrument. Most of the film, Fleck is agreeable, smiling, saying very little of substance to any of the musicians with whom he is interacting. He just grins at his hosts, nods his head, and plays a little banjo here and there, and that's it. Not that I had expected building tension on inherent drama in any of these situations — musicians tend to be a pretty friendly bunch — but give me something that shows the man has some curiosity about who he is playing with and what he is playing. I should have known I was in trouble when one of the primary sources for interview material with Fleck is an old NPR interview. Time for me to roll over at hit my snooze button, I guess.

Throw Down Your Heart

I spent most of my time watching this film trying to muster up any kind of enthusiasm for the man at the center of the journey. Getting excited about the musical possibilities and the all-too-brief lessons on modern Africa was less difficult, but holy smokes was Fleck an agreeable stiff. If you can handle his utter lack of personality, the film itself might be an enjoyable experience. And if you're a Fleck fan, he'll be doing a special performance on Saturday, August 15 at 8pm — An Evening with Bela Fleck. Join Bela Fleck for a special screening of the film at the Music Box Theatre, followed by a mini-set and Q&A. Advanced tickets for this single performance are $20 and can be pre-ordered at Ticketweb.

By the way, you can now follow me on Twitter should you be so inclined.

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Len / August 14, 2009 4:25 PM

RE: The Time Traveler's Wife. I found the setup in the book interesting but had trouble finishing it because I found the characters so unlikeable, I didn't know why I should care. Reviews have been poles apart on whether the actors have chemistry or not. In any event I was looking forward to the movie because of the Chicago locations. But I read somewhere that most of it was filmed in Toronto. Was any of it filmed here? How much?

Len / August 14, 2009 4:28 PM

Re: The Time Traveler's Wife. I found the novel difficult to finish because I found the characters so unlikeable. Reviews are mixed as to whether they have chemistry in the movie. In any event, I was looking forward to the movie because of all of the Chicago locations, but I read a note somewhere that much of it was filmed in Toronto. True? How much and what was filmed here?

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

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By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
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Kasia Kay Gallery
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Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
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Pop Up Art Loop
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The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
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The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
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Theatre in Chicago
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Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
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Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
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A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
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Editor: Nancy Bishop,
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