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September 07, 2004 - Image 11

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2004-09-07

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, September 7, 2004 - 11A

Period piece romances audiences

By Jennie Adler
Daily Arts Writer

In "Vanity Fair," set in 19th century London,
Reese Witherspoon perfects her British accent
playing the part of Becky Sharp, a governess and
social climber. Amid the war-immersed early

19th century, Sharp marries
and fraternizes to make the
most for herself, ditching her
impoverished roots. Along
the way she attracts a long
list of male followers. But
luckily, Sharp has wit and
will as her best friends that

Vanity Fair
At Showcase
and Quality 16
Focus Features

not only make her the heroine, but also a good
candidate for the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
Based on William Thackeray's juicy and
insightful 1847 novel, writers Matthew Faulk,
Mark Skeet and Julian Fellowes ("Gosford
Park") all try their pens at adaptation, adding
to the pre-existing five plus versions. Thackeray
wrote about spoiled and deceitful - yet enticing
- characters. But, on screen in the 21st century,
the characters are muted and too easily fall out
of character. Faulk, Skeet and Fellowes tease the
audience's emotions with false love and betrayal.
A feast for the eyes, Mira Nair's ("Monsoon
Wedding") direction of "Vanity Fair" offers
heaping spoonfuls of rich colorful decadence
and style. Throughout the film, colors are used as
symbols and moods. Sharp is rarely seen without
her signature red hue either painted on her lips or

accentuating her vixenish figure. Nair adds her
own personal Eastern influences to rigid British
society. The most honest emotion Sharp shows in
the entire film is after eating a chili from India.
Not only do the bright saturated colors stand out,
but the choreography as well - each character
steps with a personality. Close-ups and low shots
are utilized well to show detail in the characters.
There are almost as many shots of high society
stepping out of carriages as there are close-ups
of Sharp's lips.
"Vanity Fair" is a movie made for actors.
Although some scenes seem solely plot driven,
the dialogue and emotional outbursts claim the
two hours. All of the ensemble does a good
enough job being loathesome, but Gabriel
Byrne's ("The Usual Suspects") The Marquess
of Steyne and Jonathan Rhys Meyers's ("Bend it
Like Beckham") George Osborne are particularly
haunting. The social group is so amoral that do-
gooder and believer in true-love William Dobbin
(Rhys Ifans) is nauseatingly dense. The story has
a well-balanced mix of humor and drama that is
embodied by the two old male characters Bob
Hoskins (Mr. Pitt) and Jim Broadbendt (Mr.
Osborne).
Witherspoon is exceptional down to the very
last coy smile. Finally in a mature role, she man-
ages to employ charm and humor to Sharp's
character in just enough subtleties to make her
likable but salacious.
Although Thackeray's novel develops the char-
acters and gets racy while Nair's version seems
PG, the film is never boring and always beautiful
to watch.

Respect my authoritay!

'The Cookout' fails
to stir up laughs

Courtesy of Lions Gate

By Zac Peskowitz
Daily Arts Writer

l
l

Courtesy of Focus Features
A little lower...

New edition of 'Rounders' flops a strong hand

By Adam Rottenberg
Daily Arts Editor
Poker has exploded onto the airwaves
and into homes across the country. In
an attempt to capitalize on this growing
fad, Miramax is re-releasing its Texas
hold 'em classic "Rounders."
The game takes center stage in
"Rounders." After Mike McDermott
(Matt Damon) goes "all-in" and loses
his life savings, he retires from gam-
bling and shifts his focus to law school.
However, when his childhood friend
Worm (Edward
Norton) is released
from jail, he needs Rounders:
Mike's help to win Collector's
enough money to Edition
pay off his debts. Miramax
The film really
takes off once
Mike and Worm begin making their
way through the tables, winning money
from suckers. Interspersed throughout
is dialogue that is both witty and infor-
mative about the nature of cards and its
impact on the characters.
While often humorous, the respect
"Rounders" shows towards the game
creates the appropriate atmosphere for
what could otherwise be a hokey plot.
The movie reinforces the rules and the
skill involved, reminding viewers of the
way poker is supposed to be played and
why the characters are so good at it.
The performances of the actors are
strong throughout. Especially notewor-
thy is John Malkovic as Teddy KGB, the
idiosyncratic Russian who runs a grind
house game. His character is unique
and provides an evil foil for Damon's

interesting, the track really falters dur-
ing the more romantic and dramatic
moments of the film. Additionally, these
poker players offer tips on how to play
the game better in a series of vignettes,
which isn't worth the work for viewers
to fight through the clunky menus.
There is a featurette that goes behind
the scenes, but it doesn't offer that much
new or exciting for viewers. In addi-
tion, the picture and sound quality are
markedly improved over the previous
release.
"Rounders" is a solid movie that does
its subject justice. It may only be get-
ting the special-edition treatment as an
attempt to cash in on poker's popular-
ity, but this edition is a huge upgrade
over the previous release. Though not
entirely satisfying, at least Miramax
tried to do something a little different
with the extras by putting actual profes-
sional card players into the DVD.

In an attempt to lend a measure of
authenticity to an otherwise ersatz
production, "The Cookout" is book-
ended by touching images from a fam-
ily's photo album. The film strives to
be a meditation on the importance of
family, but falls far short of its goal,
devolving into a hash of shopworn
premises, stilted
performances and The Cookout
saccharine music. A
Todd Andersen, At Quality 16
played by Storm Lions Gate Films
P in a debut per-
formance, is a basketball star at Rut-
gers who wins himself a $30 million
contract as the freshly minted No. 1
draft pick. Despite pledging to remain
humble, Andersen quickly parlays his
newfound wealth into a Mercedes M
Class, a nubile girlfriend, a home in a
New Jersey subdivision and an Eng-
lish butler who can cook up a mean
helping of soul food. Ensnared at the
vortex of stardom and wealth, Ander-
sen loses his moorings. The film pro-
ceeds to veer off in a fit of sententious
preaching on the merits of familial
devotion and respect for one's roots.
Eventually, Andersen's family of
eccentrics will remind him what real-
ly matters in life and save him from
the temptations of fame.
The entire production looks and
feels like a sitcom that an undisci-
plined director simply forgot to termi-
nate after a half hour of running time.
The quirky family members lack zest
and the script relies on retread stereo-
types. Needless to say, stoner cousins,
senile grandparents and backwoods

bumpkins populate the ranks of the
Andersen clan. The script has a few
jokes that might elicit a grin, but fails
to venture off to the land of the laugh
out loud. The acting consistently dis-
appoints and the film falls back on a
tortured plot device and an uncon-
vincing rendition of a tyro hustler by
Ja Rule to reach its climactic scene.
But what "The Cookout" lacks in
script, acting, directing and soundtrack
it more than makes up in a surfeit of
scatological humor. The script is pep-
pered with mordant one-liners like
"that don't smell like feet, that smells
like ass" and zany plot twists like the
time two stranded motorists get a lift
from a manure salesman. This brand
of hilarity provides little comedic
punch to an already thin script.
In the film's most serious disap-
pointment, three extremely capa-
ble performers - Queen Latifah,
Tim Meadows and Danny Glover
- all contribute lackluster efforts.
In a performance that channels the
gopher-obsessed Carl Spackler of
"Caddyshack" fame, Queen Lati-
fah plays a megalomaniacal security
guard with an unhealthy fixation on
the subdivision's rules and regula-
tions. Tim Meadows struggles to
inject an iota of believability into his
role as Uncle Leroy, a conspiracy the-
orist who believes his experience fail-
ing the bar exam 14 times has granted
him expertise in the field of jurispru-
dence. Danny Glover gives a dada per-
formance as a judge with a penchant
for marijuana and classical music. It's
impossible to blame the trio for their
inability to enliven the film when they
are given such tired material to work
with. Their failures stand as monu-
ment to the hopelessness at the center
of "The Cookout."

Professional athletes at their finest.
protagonist.
Whereas the previous DVD was a
lackluster effort featuring no special
features, the new edition takes advan-
tage of the pop-culture sensation that
competitive poker has become. In addi-

tion to an engaging commentary track
with the director, screenwriter and
Norton, there is an additional feature-
length commentary with four profes-
sional players. While their thoughts on
the actual card playing in the movie are

Movie: ****
Picture/Sound: ****
Features: ***

a *1

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