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September 07, 2004 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2004-09-07

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September 7, 2004
arts. michigandaily.corn
artspage@michigandaily. com

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By Ian Dickinson y \
For The Daily su p

'Sweet Land' lives
up to author's work

The American assault on foreign movies contin-
ues with "Wicker Park," a bland remake of the 1995
French thriller, "L'Appartement," that somehow
manages to upend "Exorcist: The Beginning" as the
worst film of the year.
Josh Hartnett stars as a young and engaged
investment banker who falls back in love with Lisa,
a Czech dancer played by Diane
Kruger, who left him two years Wicker Park
earlier under ominous circum-
stances. After some question- At Showcase
able detective work, Hartnett and Quality 16
finds an apartment thought to MGM
be Kruger's, only to find that
it belongs to a different Lisa, a shy, clingy nurse
played by Rose Byrne. Confused, Hartnett contin-
ues to search for Kruger, pushed by flashbacks to
uncover the truth about her disappearance.
"Wicker Park" is essentially a neutered "Fatal
Attraction," without the sex and violence that
make the roman-
tic thriller genre
viewable. Preten-D
tious throughout, APA T1
the film unveils the
main characters' 'HRILLER 'W IC
supposed artis-
tic significance
through montages featuring Hartnett taking pho-
tographs, Kruger dancing and Byrne acting. Omit-
ting the tried and tested aesthetics of the genre to
instead exploit art to clarify the characters' intel-
lectual depth is a puzzling move that backfires.
The characters in this film are fundamentally bad
people. Hartnett is a whiny yuppie who abandons
his fiancee (Jessica Pare) for a woman who left him
two years earlier. The other characters in the film
share similar traits of selfishness and disregard
for others, which are never acknowledged or used

By Bonnie Keliman
Daily Arts Writer

Not many authors think stories
about matters like murder, kidnap-
ping, abuse, cults and insanity are
sweet and can make their readers
agree. Then again, E. L. Doctorow
is not just another writer. Doctorow,
the author of influential novels like
"Ragtime" and "Billy Bathgate," has
collected five of his short pieces for

Never say, "I'll be right baaaaack..."

this latest work,
"Sweet Land Sto-
All of the sto-
ries in the "Sweet
Land" collection
feature characters

Sweet Land
By E. L. Doctorow
Random House

to director Paul McGuigan's ("The Acid House")
advantage. No characters seem to have any signifi-
cant or redeeming qualities and therefore there is
nothing at risk by the end of the movie.
While the characters' coarse personalities dis-
solve the emotional impact of the climax, the
absence of any action also hurts the film's potential.
Even the arguments in "Wicker Park" are dealt with
indirectly. During every conflict, one of the charac-
ters withdraws to the background or addresses the
situation passively. A mysterious man stalks Kruger

and shows up on several occasions without explana-
tion, but never does anything and vanishes just as
randomly as he appears.
These incongruities attest to how poorly "Wicker
Park" was made. The plot is simply incomprehen-
sible and senseless. Not once does Hartnett pick up
the phone and call Kruger or her dance company and
nothing is explained in real-time. Instead, McGuigan
opts to tell the bulk of the story in flashbacks. The
cinematography relies on many hackneyed shots of
long and dark corridors, accompanied by bad ambi-
ent music, to set mood. Neither Byrne nor Kruger
has any chemistry with Hartnett, and all three put in
sub-par performances. Matthew Lillard, who plays
Hartnett's friend, is the film's one saving grace, pro-
viding decent comic relief throughout. At one point,
he tells Hartnett that love "makes you more inarticu-
late than usual," which should have been a clue for
the filmmakers to abandon the project outright.

make his stories seem oddly normal.
Although his tales feature strong
narrative voices, he always keeps a
calm and dignified distance from the
terrible events he relates. This rises
from Doctorow's clean, matter-of-fact
prose. Despite this straight forward
manner, the author's voice still man-
ages to shine through with compas-
sion. Even as he describes unsettling
events, he manages to write with a
subtle, wry sense of humor. Adding
to the intentional distance between
reader and event, he never directly
describes the darkest proceedings in
his stories. The author simply sug-
gests a terrifying action through care-
fully selected details before describing
their implications.
Although his plots aren't always
the most original, Doctorow's abil-
ity to get inside the minds of the
five distinct characters in his stories
demonstrates a strong imagination as
well as a superior understanding of
human nature. He tells these charac-
ters' stories with compassion, bring-
ing out their most human traits. All
of his characters struggle with the
universal emotions and ambitions that
haunt most of humanity. Doctorow
specifically deals with the American
dream of improving one's station in
life, especially when a person's cir-
cumstances force him to take drastic
measures. Doctorow writes in a way
that makes "Sweet Land Stories" an
easy and pleasurable read.


who live on the outskirts of society.
"A House on the Plains," for example,
comes to life through one widow's
dim-witted son. His mother routine-
ly seduces and then kills men just
for their money. In another story, a
young woman wants a child so badly
that she steals a baby from the hos-
pital and convinces her boyfriend to
pretend she is the true mother. The
rest of the stories run the gamut from
a young abused girl who ends up
being too beautiful for her own good,
to the warped logic behind a cult and
the mysterious death of a 6-year-old
Despite his dark plots and twisted
characters, Doctorow manages to



Art-punk four-piece falls flat on third release 'Winchester Cathedral'

By Alexandra Jones
Daily Weekend Editor

aficionado likes will, at some point in
their careers, drop a record that's inex-
cusably lame, superlatively mediocre

It's a damn shame, but sometimes
really good bands - bands that have
gotten and deserved respect, awards,
good record sales -make bad albums.
It's happened to Bob Dylan, The Roll-
ing Stones and Elvis Costello. So
unless you're really into one-hit won-
ders or a huge Beatles fanatic, just
about any band the average music

and/or unbearably
Clinic has its
share of lame
and mediocre
traits, but their
third album Win-


two years later, utterly fails to inspire
interest, feeling, anything with its
moody, abstract lyrics, its post-rock/
electronic fusion or Ade Blackburn's
guttural vocals.
Opening track "Country Mile"
starts with an annoying intro with
high-pitched, accelerating beeps and
clinky swirls from wind chimes, the
worst percussion instrument ever.
Velvet Underground-esque guitar
leaps in to save the track, and for
a minute or two, you're happy. But
"Country Mile" just sort of sits there,

Blackburn's desperate vocals singing
mushy lyrics barely distinguishable
from the song's bland, grayish sound-
scape. "Falstaff' sticks out as the best
song on the album, but that's not much
of a distinction for a collection of sad,
tired material like this.
The next track, "Circle of Fifths,"
begins with a grooving acoustic piano
hook, but soon falls into the same
uninspired formula as its predecessor.
This dull pattern goes on for pretty
much the entire album. Winchester
Cathedral is an entire album of filler,

of throwaway tracks jumbled togeth-
er and constructed without regard to
larger shape.
It's disappointing to hear a band
with a distinct, powerful sound hit a
slump like this. Their debut, Inter-
nal Wrangler, is instantly affecting,
more powerfully dark yet still musi-
cally uplifting; in short, it's a fantas-
tic album. The same basic elements
that constructed Clinic's previous
works make up Winchester, but a very
important, numinous something is
missing from its construction. Truth-

chester Cathedral falls squarely into
the latter category. Their formula,
one that worked well on 2000's Inter-
nal Wrangler and Walking with Thee

fully, albums like Winchester Cathe-
dral aren't really worth writing about
except to dismiss them



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