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Elizabeth Stanley, Xanadu's muse, speaks with the SGN
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Lily Armani gets unTucked at Neighbours
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HOT TUESDAY NIGHTS:
Go-go and drag contests heat up the fun at R-Place

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Sixth Bowiemas celebration a glam rock triumph
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Dynamic Electra at Seattle Shakespeare
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14/48 the riskiest theater in town
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Mercy enjoys Pearl Django at Jazz Alley
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Byzantine Christmas music haunting and austere
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VIDEO MSNBC's Rachel Maddow - guests David Boies and Ted Olson as plaintiff's attorneys in Prop 8 trial
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Five-star tours fuel anticipation in 2010
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Preachy Book of Eli a disappointment
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Coming up: BEST OF TRAVEL 2009
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Cera channels Belmondo in Youth in Revolt
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Talking with A Single Man's Nicholas Hoult
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Native Hawaiian artists, Phoenix and Kathy Griffin kick off 2010
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Phoenix, Ke$ha, Spoon, and Matthew Morrison
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Deep Inside Hollywood - Romeo San Vicente
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Book Marks
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Bruckner performance shook the gates of Heaven
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Outrageous and dark Hunter Gatherers
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Tom Ford: A Single Man's other man
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Preachy Book of Eli a disappointment
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Eli (Denzel Washington) thinks he has been walking west for 30 years. It's been about that long since the war that destroyed the known world, and it wasn't too long after that that he started his dangerous trek.

Eli stumbles into a town of murderers and thieves controlled by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man maybe as old as Eli and desperate to find a book he believes will allow him to become ruler of this still relatively new dystopian world. But this loner, Eli, isn't buying what the wannabe despot is selling, and he set

s back out on his journey in a flurry of gunfire and severed limbs with an unwanted companion, Solara (Mila Kunis), by his side. In many ways, Albert and Allen Hughes' The Book of Eli - their first feature film since 2001's From Hell - is a more action-oriented cousin to John Hillcoat's late 2009 effort The Road. Both are set in a world devastated by an unnamed and unexplained war, and both feature protagonists on cross-country journeys that have a profound effect on their respective lives. But where The Road is a dark, depressing and deeply melancholic saga of sacrifice in the face of unavoidable annihilation, The Book of Eli is a tale of redemption trying desperately to be both a thrilling large-scale epic as well as a treatise on faith and forgiveness.

The thing is, neither movie is ultimately all that successful; both having major issues that make enjoying them difficult. But while my concerns regarding The Road had more to do with my familiarity with the stunning Cormac McCarthy novel on which it's based, my problems with the Hughes brothers' latest have more to do with their picture's pacing and tone. For all the talk of its surprise conclusion (a conclusion I personally had figured out early on), writer Gary Whitta's screenplay is surprisingly threadbare. There is very little in the way of meat on this picture's bones, and while I appreciated its points of view, I didn't particularly enjoy being beaten over the head by them.

That is exactly what the directors do, however, and the film turns into a deeply religious polemic that felt like a highly didactic sermon that refused to end. The Hughes want to have their cake and eat it, too, delivering eye-popping action set pieces filled with blood and gore while putting forth Christian philosophies that directly oppose much of the narrative they are surrounded by. Worse, the pair pace things like a funeral march, giving everything so much pomp and circumstance that when the ultimate revelation came, I felt so pummeled it was frustratingly difficult to care.

There is still much to applaud. The cast is universally solid, especially an underutilized Jennifer Beals who makes an indelible impression as Solara's mother and Carnegie's paramour Claudia. Her character is so beautifully written, so multifaceted and hauntingly tragic, I found that I was drawn to her each time the story turned back her way. Beals - an actress I've never particularly cared for - doesn't just rise to the occasion but pole vaults right over it, and only three weeks into a new year I can already say her performance is one I'm going to remember and cherish all the way into December.

As for the film's look, while the washed-out monochromatic photography isn't original, that doesn't make it any less terrific. From a purely visual aesthetic, Don Burgess' (Enchanted) cinematography and Gae Buckley's (He's Just Not That Into You) production design are sensational. Combine their work with Atticus Ross' (New York, I Love You) ethereal score, and the effect is utterly hypnotic.

It should be pointed out that Albert and Allen do not make bad movies, but other than their 1993 debut Menace II Society, they just don't seem to be able to make complete ones. Their scripts always seem like they are only halfway there, not as fully formed or as completely fleshed-out as they should be. Yet they are always well-acted, beautifully photographed, and filled with indelible moments. They are intriguing and fascinatingly imperfect curio pieces, movies you sit in the theater longing to be better than they sadly are.

That is the case with The Book of Eli. I never wanted to leave my seat, never felt the inclination to be anywhere else other than where I was. All the same, I kept hoping and praying the film would do something to make my being there feel more than just passably tolerable. I wanted it to wow me, to show me things that took my breath away while giving me a story worthy of approval. But this never happened. For all the Hughes' efforts, in the end, disappointment was the only thing the pair was able to get out of me.


Cera channels Belmondo in Youth in Revolt
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Youth in Revolt
Opening January 8


Michael Cera is a terrific comedic actor with superb timing. He wields the pregnant pause like a samurai slices warm butter. And just when you think his career has been compromised beyond repair due to typecasting as the awkward teenage nice guy he goes and channels Jean-Paul Belmondo in the better than average teen romp Youth in Revolt.

Nick (Cera) is sixteen, a budding intellectual, and the product of California suburban malaise. On a trip to Northern California, Nick falls for Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), the pretty blonde offspring of the worst kind of born again Christians (i.e. ones that live in double-decker trailer homes).

The teenagers find they have a lot in common. Namely, a love of literature, Frank Sinatra, and everything French, especially French movies. They also share a healthy disdain for their parents.

As Nick heads home to suburbia, he realizes the only way for the lovers to be together is to get his dad a job in Ukiah and get kicked out of his mom's house. But Nick is too nice, too morally centered, to do the nasty kind of stuff a kid must do to get kicked out. Thus Nick's alter-ego Francois Dillinger, a suave car thief with an evil streak and no capacity for remorse, is born.

Okay, Cera doesn't capture the extreme sexual energy that Belmondo oozed onto the screen in 1960. I mean, how could he? Belmondo's fast talking car thief is the sexiest male character ever to grace the cinema (and I stand by that superlative).

Still, Cera takes a fun turn as Francois, alter ego to nice guy teen, Nick Twisp, and he takes a baby step toward playing a different character than we saw in Arrested Development, Superbad, Juno, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. He's also pretty cute in skinny white Euro-trash pants and sockless white loafers.

Portia Doubleday may have the best actor name I've heard in a while, but she gets eclipsed by Cera and the ensemble of veterans including Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, Fred Willard, and the ever irascible Steve Buscemi. Doubleday is fine; she just has little to do other than be a pretty prick-tease who dreams in French and can't make up her mind between two vastly different boys.

High praise goes to the bevy of veterans in flat thankless roles. They make the most of what they're offered. Willard had me rolling as the aged pinko commie activist who aids and abets illegal immigrants. His tripping on mushrooms scene should go down in history. Buscemi is always fun to watch in everything he does. We haven't seen enough of him lately and I'd prefer to see him in better material, but he takes what could have been a cliché and turns it into something more.

This is a decent film that's a tad bit smarter than most in the genre (hey, two characters know who Jean-Paul Belmondo is). Cera is a great actor within his narrow element and could be interesting in other roles as he gets older. For now, I encourage him to make a bazillion dollars doing as many insipid teen flicks as he can line up before that cherubic face grows whiskers and lines and his shtick starts to look like Woody Allen redux.


Talking with A Single Man's Nicholas Hoult
by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

In A Single Man, George (Colin Firth) is a man grieving for the loss of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode). On the day the film takes place, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), a student of his, starts paying attention to George, chatting him up and eventually seeking him out at home, where the two men develop a bond that may become sexual. Hoult spoke about his role, working with Tom Ford, and skinny-dipping with Colin Firth.

Gary Kramer: What attracted you to the role of Kenny?

Nicholas Hoult: I liked his outlook on life. As I read [the script] I got a sense of Kenny and his voice. I hadn't read the book when I read the script.

Kramer: What do you think attracts Kenny to George? This is a bit of an inappropriate student/professor relationship&.

Hoult: It's an intellectual thing. Nobody understands Kenny, or thinks on his level. He thinks there is a connection with George. He's striving for that [bond], and there are undertones of sexual curiousness. He wants to connect with George who [is mourning] a connection with someone.

Kramer: Do you see Kenny as George's savior?

Hoult: He's a guardian angel. He is someone who is interested in George, and the only person who picks up that something's not right with him. He looks out for him. Kenny is an acute observer of character. It can be seen that Kenny's naïve and that he does not know what he's doing, or he is out to seduce George. People can take what they want from the film.

Kramer: Do you prefer doing period pieces like A Single Man and your previous film, Wah-Wah? How do you create a character that is far removed from your life and your experience?

Hoult: [Laughs.] I'm not a fan of technology and how it's all advancing. I'm nostalgic. I do research to learn about the environment, no matter when it's set. I do like doing period pieces.

Kramer: What kind of research did you do for Kenny?

Hoult: I started a week before filming began. One of the key things was the book The Power of Now, about not worrying about the past or fretting about the future, but living in the present. A lot of the [details] are in the script. You don't have to say George is lonely sitting in glass house to know that he is.

Kramer: What about doing an American accent? It's said that British actors can do American accents well, but Americans can't do British ones well. Though Julianne Moore acquits herself quite nicely in the film.

Hoult: It's tough to say. I don't know. Did it sound right? I didn't have any complaints. The accent comes with the character. I talk in it all day. I find that if you worry too much about it, you start to get into trouble. You can't think about it in the moment.

Kramer: You were dressed fabulously in the film. What did you think of the costumes? Were they close to your dress sense/style?

Hoult: [Laughs.] The costumes were fantastic. Kenny is very light - he's a shining light/guarding angel. I don't think I could get away with all the white [he wears] with my pale skin. I'd look like a snowman.

Kramer: You are also undressed fabulously in the film. What can you say about doing the nude swimming scenes?

Hoult: I don't find it awkward in the moment. The awkwardness comes when they say cut and you're yourself again. It's like normal life, the moment is fabulous and after it passes, it's awkward. For the skinny-dipping scene, the water was very cold. I got ash in my eye on the third take, so we stopped filming. Colin thanked me, because he didn't want me to go back into the cold water.

Kramer: Speaking of Colin, how did you work with him on the relationship between your characters?

Hoult: The process between Colin and I was very natural. If you plan too much it feels like you are manipulating the audience. The contrast between them was great - you can feel George is attracted to the vitality in Kenny.

Kramer: What was it like working with Tom Ford?

Hoult: Tom was obviously, very precise [in] the script. We shot it in 21 days. He had a great vision, and understands how to portray this. It's so personal to him. It's a love letter to his partner, Richard Buckley. You can feel the passion. He had a perfect method of helping out the actors and letting them be free to experiment - take a different emphasis on a line, or a look or a beat. He wasn't in over [directing].

Kramer: You have an exchange with George about life's little gift. What do you appreciate in life?



Hoult: I take from the film, what George is experiencing - that he is noticing things more vibrantly than normal. I try to pick up things you take for granted, and appreciate the little thing in life, such as the sense of smell. Smelling the roses, as it were.

© 2009 Gary M. Kramer






 
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