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March 31, 2003 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-03-31

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March 31, 2003



Rock's 'State' lost in confusion

By Joseph Litman
Daily Arts Writer

As headliners on a stand-up tour, Chris Rock and Bernie
Mac would be a peerless combination. As running mates
for national executive office, the comedians are slightly
less formidable.
Both men have their moments in "Head of State" -
particularly Mac, whose time on screen is the film's high-
light. However, the movie is a jumbled amalgamation of
comedic bits and serious points that loses itself in an inco-
herent narrative.
The film portends of its unraveling early on when it intro-
duces Rock's character, Mays Gilliam, a Washington, D.C.
alderman who works in an impoverished region of the city.
After a hard day spent addressing the concerns of his con-
stituents and making mildly insightful jokes about his neigh-
borhood, Mays goes home to his fiancee,
Kim (Robin Givens, "Blankman"), who
proceeds to unleash an overacted dia- Head of
tribe. Givens' outburst is a jarring State
tongue-in-cheek episode that immediate- At Showcase and
ly throws the film off kilter. Quality 16
Mays' life continues to spiral down- DreamWorks
ward until an unidentified major politi-
cal party tabs him as its new presidential aspirant following
the death of its original candidate. Mays quickly takes to the
job, and his character transforms from a regular, denim
jacket-wearing guy to a Sean John-rocking hip-hop head.
The rest of the film occupies itself by exploring what hap-
pens when such a character encounters the political estab-
lishment, epitomized by Mays' uptight handlers. When the
campaign stalls, Mays calls in his brother Mitch (Mac,
"Who's the Man"), to reinvigorate it and serve as his candi-
date for vice president.
Mac plays a role similar to Mitch's. Much of "State" is
only mildly amusing until Bernie emerges in the movie's

Courtesy of Atlantic

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn't belong.


Dirty Dee, you're a baddy daddy lamatal chebby tal
second half. Using his comedic signatures, dismissive can-
dor and intelligent contempt, Mac makes the film's exhaust-
ed plot device work, producing laughs through his repartee
with political elites and talk show hosts
The rest of "State" isn't as funny. Rock, in his directori-
al debut, appears to have been conflicted throughout pro-
duction, unsure whether the film should have been a
poignant lampoon of politics or a loosely organized, over-
the-top variety comedy. Intermittently, though infrequent-
ly, Rock excels at both, yet neither comes to define the
movie and the resulting lack of character and direction
makes the process of watching "State" frustrating. Really,
this movie cannibalizes itself, never allowing either half
of the dichotomy to fully emerge or lend "State" some
needed character.
There is also an obvious racial component to this movie
that is both central and oddly peripheral. As mentioned,
much of the film revolves around the insinuation of a black
man into elite American politics. Yet every time "State"
comes close to really addressing issues of race, class and
root causes, it stops short, never proposing remedies or
fully acknowledging the gravity that such gripes carry.

By James Pfent
Daily Arts Writer
Ann Arbor's hard rock scene is kind of like a good Creed
song - neither one really exists. The lone exception, Tap-
root, has achieved international success the old fashioned
way: By touring their asses off. But when the band was
getting started in 1997, the lack of proper places to play in
town forced the band to travel to Detroit for gigs.
"We started off driving there quite a bit, playing a lot of
the small clubs," says vocalist Stephen Richards. "We did a
lot of shows out in Detroit for the first seven or eight
months before we actually started getting shows in Ann
Arbor and Ypsilanti. Then through contacts and demand,
we finally worked our way into the Blind Pig."
Taproot became regulars at the Pig, playing there "prob-
ably once a month for a good year-and-a-half to two years
before we were signed." According to Richards, it's the
only place in town "that can hold a good hard rock show."
Taproot also utilized the Internet to build a fan base early
on. "We made a full time job of contacting people on web
sites just to get our name out there. We sold a lot of inde-
pendent records, almost 10,000 before we got signed, all
over the world."
In a now infamous story, Taproot signed with Atlantic
after being courted by none other than Fred Durst for Inter-
scope Records. "We made a conscious decision not to go
with Fred because we didn't want to lose control of our
band and our music. We didn't want to become the next
Staind and have him in all our videos," he explains. "Luck-
ily that didn't happen, but we're still kind of known as the
'Fred band' even though that's what we were trying to get
away from in the first place."
In retrospect, the singer sees the incident as having a
mixed impact on their career. "It has brought a lot of atten-
tion our way, some good, some bad ... we're doing things
the way we want to and we're very happy with where we

are. I'm sure Fred has other things on his mind by now"
Taproot quickly put Durst out of their minds and
jumped headlong into the recording of their debut album,
Gift. "We did the first record in six weeks. The goal was to
have it released for Ozzfest 2000, our first major tour. We
just ran through it really quickly. We had been playing all
those songs when we were a local band playing the Blind
Pig, we didn't write anything new while recording." Sin-
gles "Again and Again" and "I" were minor successes on
radio, but Gift's quarter million in sales came mainly from
relentless touring.
In November 2001, the band returned to the studio to
record their follow-up, Welcome. "We're really happy with
the new record," Richards states enthusiastically. "We
spent nine months on it." And it shows. Welcome is a giant
artistic step forward for Taproot, trading muddy guitars
and bad rapping for smooth vocal harmonies and crisp
"Poem," the album's first single, has done quite well on
radio, but the band doesn't overestimate its impact. "A lot
of people especially that work at radio say it's a full-blown
hit, but I definitely don't think it affected our record sales
much," says Richards. "We've sold more records sooner
this time, which I guess has a lot to do with the single, but
its not like we've blown up." Rather than concern them-
selves with air play, Taproot continues to focus on the road.
"'Poem' is doing pretty well and hopefully 'Mine' (the next
single) will do well, but we're doing what we did on the
first record. We've spent a lot of time on the road already;
this is probably our third or fourth tour since the record
came out. We've been hitting the road pretty hard.",
That road doesn't often bring Taproot back to their
hometown. "We don't have many opportunities to play in
Ann Arbor. We usually end up playing Detroit since that's
where the bigger venues are. We're from Ann Arbor, but
Detroit is still the hometown crowd because family and
friends are there."

'Russian Ark' a history in one shot

By Jeff Dickerson
Daily Arts Writer
Alexander Sokurov's "Ru:
is a mesmerizing, flowing to
sia's prized Hermitage muse

Petersburg that
elegantly summa-
rizes the last three
centuries of Russ-
ian history. What
makes "Russian
Ark" such a tri-
umph, however, is

At theI
not its su

bous filmmaker had to cheat as his
camera could only hold eight min-
utes of film. "Russian Ark" doesn't
need to cheat to maintain a single
shot throughout its entire run-time
ssian Ark" thanks to the use of digital video
ur of Rus- instead of film.
eum in St. "Russian Ark" was made possible
by recent advances in digital video
technology, specifically a break-
Jan Ark through Sony high definition camera
Michigan that has a picture quality equal to
heater that of conventional film. The cam-
ring Media era embodies the best of both worlds
for Sokurov, as it combines high
ubject, but image quality with a long shooting
nute-long time. While the technology used to
composed create "Russian Ark" is indeed
ing it the impressive, the real feat was organiz-
'cinema. ing the event and, somehow, pulling
a film in it off without a hitch.
one and in Sokurov and his crew were only
ith Hitch- allowed one day to film in the muse-
t the bul- um, so the cast and crew had to

rehearse for months in order to get it
perfect for the actual day of the
shoot. Unfortunately, the first two
attempts failed due to technical prob-
lems, but the third time was indeed
the charm.
The choreography of Sokurov's
camera and the hundreds of actors is
simply remarkable considering the
slim margin of error they had to work
with. Cinematographer Tillman But-
tner breathlessly follows a 19th cen-
tury French aristocrat through dozens
of lavish rooms, pausing briefly to
capture every moment of artistic bril-
liance of pre-Soviet history.
"Russian Ark" is one of those rare
films that coalesces a virtuoso tech-
nical feat with a provocative look at
the past - an ultimate amalgamation
of style and substance. From a tech-
nical standpoint alone, "Russian
Ark" is one of the most memorable
cinematic events in years.

its style. The entire 96-mi
trek through Russia's past is
of a single shot - maki
longest shot in the history of
The idea of constructing
a single shot is not a new c
fact dates back to 1948 w
cock's thriller "Rope." Bu

One desert,
two 'Ge s'
By Todd Wese
Daily Arts Editor
Gus Van Sant's transition from "Find-
ing Forrester" to "Gerry" marks one of
the grossest shifts in filmmaking histo-
ry. For "Good Will Hunting" director
Van Sant, it is a return to his independ-
ent roots and away from the formula-
following, money-loving joke he
became, as seen in Kevin Smith's "Jay
and Silent Bob
Strike Back."
Few recent films Gerry
have come close to At the Michigan
the challenge Theater
"Gerry" puts on Think Film
the viewer. It's like
Van Sant invented the perfect test for
the question: Are you a patient
man/woman? If you are, then the won-
derfully unique "Gerry" may pay off in
the end, but you may also hate it as
there seems to exists only two common
reactions to the film: love it or loathe it.
However, a film that can elicit such pas-
sion certainly deserves credit for at least
being a distinctive piece of filmmaking,
so directly opposed to convention and
mainstream reception, as illustrated in
its diminutive use of dialogue and the
failure to provide either main character's
name besides the nickname Gerry.
Gerry No. 1 (Matt Damon) and
Gerry No. 2 (Casey Affleck) first
appear on-screen silently driving on a
desert highway, a gentle piano accom-
panying the ride. Their backgrounds
and eventual destination - a desert
wilderness trail and the vague "the
thing" representing some type of rock
formation - are scarcely discussed, in
avoidance of traditional film backstory.
The two Gerries quickly wander off the
path, play a racing game and find them-
selves lost in the massive desert that
surrounds them.
Here, what you'd expect to happen in

fast dialogue and a focus on the mind
games humans play on each other, Van
Sant takes the opposite approach. The
only game being played is survival, with
the desert's beaming sun taking an
increasing toll on the two friends.
For Van Sant and cinematographer
Harris Savides ("Se7en"), the intended
snail's crawl tempo of actors' move-
ments and the editing is vital to the
focus on the visuals. Damon and
Affleck serve as simple pawns in front
of the camera as the filmmakers repeat-
edly utilize long takes of their slow-
paced walking or stationary meditation
on their situation. Playing with the ideas
of light and time in a fashion similar to
many experimental films, the results are
the most striking images of any film
this year. Shot primarily in California's
Death Valley, the camera patiently cap-
tures the sun's dance of light on the
desert floor and the microscopic feel of
man amid nature's greatest creations.
From time to time, Van Sant spices
up all the film's pretension with bits
of hilarious dialogue, granting view-
ers relief from the seriousness on
enough occasions to keep them inter-
ested in the remarkable events of a
couple Gerries' journey.

Twisted plot runs amok in 'Basic'

By Zach Mabee
Daily Arts Writer

Powerfully subtle and timely plot twists typify
great thrillers. However, when used excessively and
intentionally to confuse audiences, plot twists can be
the Achilles' heel of a thriller. Such is sadly the case
in John McTiernan's "Basic."
This labyrinthine military thriller pairs John Travol-
ta and Samuel L. Jackson in a
web of conspiracy and murder
that eventually leaves audiences Basic
frustrated and exasperated At Showcase and
through dime-a-dozen plot twists Quality 16
that lend themselves more to Columbia
futile improvisation rather than
thoughtful filmmaking. The film's inception has
promise and establishes an intriguing scenario, but
the forced manipulation seriously undermines any
potential that it flaunts.
The story focuses on a routine training exercise -
involving six chosen Army Rangers and their callous
commander, Sgt. Nathan West (Jackson) - gone
awry. All six soldiers fly into a remote Panamanian
jungle and only two emerge alive, one critically

wounded. Col. Bill Styles and his command need
answers before news of this fiasco reaches Washing-
ton; thus, he phones friend/interrogator extraordinaire,
former Army Ranger and current Drug Enforcement
Administration agent Tom Hardy (Travolta).
Travolta provides a fresh wit and energy to the role
of Hardy, a witty developing-alcoholic who is far past
his prime, with an edge that complements the ripe
immaturity of his interrogation partner, Capt. Julia
Osborne (Connie Nielsen, "Gladiator"). The two
pounce on the surviving Rangers, Sgt. Dunbar and Lt.
Kendall, playing good cop/bad cop and searching for
evidence to substantiate their investigation. Initially,
their findings are interesting, as they become aware of
the pervasive enmity amongst the soldiers for Sgt.
West. So one is led to believe that the murder was a
crime of passion and hatred for a cruel commander,
right? Not exactly.
One clue leads to another, and the gumshoes
continue investigating this seemingly endless and
unresolved journey into an abyss of conspiracy and
lies. Their findings come with a severe price,
though: complete and utter disinterest on behalf of
audience members.
Successful confounded thrillers like "The Usual
Suspects" are brilliant in their abilities to operate
within their own limits. They build tension and expec-

Come on Yolanda. What's Fonzie like?

tations and resolve them in a dumbfounding way.
"Basic" attempts to outdo itself in seemingly every
scene, and ultimately, it defeats the purpose.
Jackson's performance as an inhumane drill ser-
geant is just, if not more, convincing than Travolta's.
Furthermore, plot twists aside, the script is well writ-
ten and stages some powerful and funny dialogue.
Nonetheless, the useless plot twists sadly steal the
show. When watching "Basic," one feels as though
the one-time action guru McTiernan ("Predator,""Die
Hard") is almost condescending and patronizing. Peo-
ple can only digest so much in one viewing, and to
bombard viewers with such an array of confusing and
detrimental plot twists is entirely pointless. Hopefully
in making his next film, he will properly shift his
focus from plot manipulation and confusion to feasi-
ble storytelling and logical plot resolution.


02/03 spring season

$10 Rush Tickets on sale 10 am -
5 pm the day of the performance or
the Friday before a weekend event at
the UMS Ticket Office, located in the
Michigan League.
50% Rush Tickets on sale beginning
90 minutes before the event at the
performance hall box office.
A valid student ID is required. Limit two


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