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January 24, 2005 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-01-24

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Monday
January 24, 2005
arts. michigandaily.com
artsp age@michigandaily.com

AI i dtan bmU g
RTS

8A

NEW ACTION FLICK HIGH ON VIOLENCE, L

By Jeffrey Bloomer
Daily Arts Writer
It's New Years Eve and a group of police offi-
cers are snowed in at Detroit's defunct Precinct

13, which will close its doors
for good at midnight. All is
well until a police bus car-
rying four convicts veers off
the road and must camp out
at the precinct for the night.
And to make matters worse,
one of the prisoners was for-
merly in league with a group
of corrupt cops who will stop
him from getting to court.

Assault on
Precinct 13
At the Showcase
and Quality 16
Rouge Pictures
at nothing to keep

victs in order to ward off the crooked cops, but
inevitably, their collaboration causes more prob-
lems than it solves.
The film is stylishly directed by Jean-Fran-
gois Richet, a French filmmaker making his
English-language debut. He shows considerable
skill, opening the film on a sharp, gritty note
and embracing the hard violence inherent in the
story, instead of shying into PG-13 territory.
Ultimately, though, the insipid material betrays
his efforts
One problem may be that the foreign-born
Richet is confused about the conventions he
seems so eager to embrace. As any American
filmgoer will tell you, dialogue in an action film
is of little importance. Why then, do the charac-
ters in this film talk so much? Whether wasting
time pointing fingers at one another or indulging
in excruciatingly flirtatious banter, they engage
in aimless loquacity at great length throughout
the film. Indeed, it would be one thing if they
spoke substantively, but the screenplay by James
DeMonaco ("The Negotiator") is a dim-witted
disaster.
DeMonaco systematically writes his charac-
ters into the most hackneyed corners imaginable.
There is a lewd secretary who exists primarily for
the cops to gawk at, a former undercover officer
who is now an alcoholic desk-warmer and a cool

Courtesy of
u Rogue Picture
"Mention
'Taking
Lives' again
and I'll do
to your face
what I did
to these
blinds."
_OW ON QUALITY
and calculating gangster who hides crossword
puzzles inside his Bible when he goes to church.
This is not to mention the film's racial politics,
which speak for themselves: Almost every offi-
cer in the film is caucasian, while the prisoners
comprised of three blacks and a Latino.
Most disappointingly, the overqualified cast
does surprisingly little to improve upon the
material. Ethan Hawke's lifeless and languid
portrayal of a troubled cop pales in comparison
to his Oscar-nominated work in the far supe-
rior "Training Day," while Maria Bello, as his
ill-fated love interest, takes a disappointing step
back from her breakout work in last year's "The
Cooler." Still, the most frustrating and off-kilter
performance comes from Laurence Fishbourne,
who seems to have no idea that he isn't in "The
Matrix" anymore. You half expect that at any
moment Morpheus will whip out his fancy sun-
glasses and start mock-philosophizing all over
again.
Despite its flaws, "Assault on Precinct 13" is
admittedly a visually engaging and reasonably
entertaining movie - a cut and paste action flick
that takes a familiar template and embellishes
the details nicely. But The movie is ultimately,
little more than aimless narrative overdrive with
no meaningful destination in-mind. It is a movie
with nothing to say, and yet it won't shut up,.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
"Wait, these instructions don't say anything about a dog."
Acting shines in
sweet Engagement

By Lindsey Bieber
Daily Arts Writer

I

horrors of World
War I in director
Jean-Pierre Jeu-
net's "A Very Long
Engagement."
The film centers
on the journey of
Mathilde (Audrey
Tautou, "Ame-

A heartwarming story of hope and
devotion leads viewers through the

A Very Long
Engagement
At the Michigan
Theater
Warner Bros.

Such is the setup for "Assault on Precinct 13,"
and if the premise sounds familiar, it is likely for
one of two reasons. First, the film is a remake of
John Carpenter's 1976 classic of the same title.
Otherwise, it probably rings a bell because it's
one of the most recycled action movie setups in
existence - a group of good guys get trapped
inside a small space and must fight off a group of
bad guys who want to get in. Granted, "Assault"
mixes up this tired conventions by specifying
that the good policemen must work with con-

lie"), a 20-year-old girl suffering from
polio. She is determined to find her
fiance, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), who
is believed to have been killed in com-
bat. The story begins with Manech
and four other imprisoned soldiers
being sentenced by their own army to
certain death in no-man's land for an
attempt to escape the trenches of the
front lines. However, corrupt politics
and underhanded military leaders keep
Mathilde and the families of the other
men from knowing the real condition
of the five disgraced fighters. Told
mainly through flashbacks, the film
follows Mathilde's relentless search
for the truth as the young woman jour-
neys across war-torn rural Frauce.
The grotesquely detailed accounts
of men shooting off fingers and limbs
are quite a shock in the film's opening
sequence. Jeunet displays the atroci-

ties and horrors of trench warfare in
gory battle scenes equivalent to "Sav-
ing Private Ryan." But once the initial
wave of graphic violence subsides,
the story takes a much softer road,
exchanging bombed-out battlefields
for flowering landscapes and breath-
taking coastal views.
But scenery is not the only spectacu-
lar aspect of this film. The charismatic
acting of Tautou keeps the viewer
tuned in for the film's lengthy running
time. Mathilde's facial expressions are
all the communication needed to give
this subtle, beautiful film life. The
moments of witty humor interspersed
lighten the emotional load, balancing
the immense weight of the sober, war-
time events.
The foreign names and places can
be somewhat overwhelming for the
non-French speaker, but the story still '
remains clear. The film engages the
viewer so intensely with its captivat-
ing characters and unique story that it
is impossible not to remain engrossed
and immersed until the credits roll.
The surprise ending is a trite clich,
but the last scene is perfectly open-,
ended, leaving room for doubt and
speculation. This original twist on
the romantic drama is refreshing and
leaves the viewer with an overwhelm-
ing sense of satisfaction. ery4onge
Engagement" is not just a tidy romance
film, but one that combines many
genres to cre te a well acted and su
prisingly different kind of love story.

Desai finds the 'Way'
in Mexico with novel

By Deepa Pendse
For the Daily

Anita Desai is a writer of German
and Indian origin whose previous
work seems heavily influenced by
her ancestry. "The Zig Zag Way,"

however, is a
clear depar-
ture because its
roots find soil in
Mexican history.
Desai focuses on
Mexico's silver
mining indus-

The Zig
Zag Way
By Anita Desal
Houghton Miffin

try, treating it with personality and
depth. The author creates thought-
provoking analysis of a people who
may not be considered often.
The story is a chronicle of self-
discovery that also gives the reader
an honest look at contemporary
Mexico. Desai vividly portrays how
Catholicism and pagan worship can
meld together. She also deals with
the cultural annihilation of Mexico's
indigenous people, a topic similar
to the plight of American Indians.
Desai writes about the Huichol,
whose native lands are invaded by
foreigners; missionaries and tourists
have intruded upon their cultures
and traditions. The author's por-
trayal of the decay of the Huichol is
profoundly saddening.

Desai exposes her characters'
personal histories without any cen-
sorship, yet throughout the tale she
manages to keep their humanity
intact. Her evocative prose softens
the characters' faults. The main
character is Eric, a despondent his-
torian fresh out of graduate school,
working on his thesis. He follows
his girlfriend to Mexico, but before
leaving, his father tells him that he
was actually born in that country.
Investigating this matter further,
Eric soon discovers a link between
a silver mine and his past. His trav-
els into an old mining village near
Mexico City become the basis of
this book, and through them readers
learn about his family's mysterious
past. It is through Eric's eyes that
Desai unfolds a rich and colorful
nation.
Desai offers her story as a mosaic
from many perspectives rather than
a simple straightforward narrative.
Each character has his own past, and
from them we also learn a part of
Mexican history. In Desai's descrip-
tion of one of the central characters,
Dona Vera, the author's German
influence is visible; she revisits the
theme of German Nazism. Desai
connects the different narratives in
"The Zig Zag Way" to each other
with startling ease, and the story
unfolds with natural and smooth
progression.

Although Desai's descriptive nar-
ration fully engrosses the audience
in the her story, it fails to make an
emotional connection between the
reader and the character. Eric's angst
at "his increasing loss of faith in his
own studies" is simply perceived but
not felt. She writes the story as if
her characters are encased in a snow
globe. The reader can only watch
and misses the rich world of empa-
thy that forms between the reader
and the story.
"The Zig Zag Way" is Desai's
14th book, and her literary prowess
is impressive. Her artful storytelling
seems to be an innately individual
quality. "The Zig Zag Way" is a
wonderfully refreshing novel that
gives a unique perspective of Mexi-
co through a very human story.

Ani DiFranco
caters to her
established fans
By Jerry Gordinier
Daily Arts Writer
The most dangerous time in any man's television-
watching career is channel-surfing. Between football
and poker lies the most deadly of
threats: The Lifetime TV Movie.
If met with this fate, you will find Ani DiFranco
a predictable, drawn-out narrative, Knuckle Down
always ending with male antago- Righteous Babe
nists imprisoned and women hug-
ging through plenty of tears. Ani
DiFranco's latest album, Knuckle Down, plays out in
much the same way.
It's hard to put a label on DiFranco, an independent
in the truest sense of the word. Leaving home at the age
of 14 and starting her own record company at by 20,
Righteous Babe Records, she's an earnest feminist and
self-proclaimed bisexual.
Releasing hundreds of original songs on more than 14
albums and self-pressed tapes, her latest effort is one in
a long line of cries from a folk artist gone awry. She has
a voice and insists on using it.
An album, however, may not be the right place.
DiFranco uses the overwhelming message of the album
to discount her limited abilities. Vocal range seems to
be the least of her concerns, as her indignant voice leads
to lackluster songs.
On the album's title track, "Knuckle Down,"
DiFranco plaintively proclaims, "This is my cowgirl
alter-ego riding on her barroom bull / Dripping with
the sweat of irony as the cowboys whoop and drool."

The song comes off as a bittersweet lecture and noth-
ing more.
The most notable aspect of this record is the infusion
and layering of punk and classical guitar styling. Like
the woman herself, the smooth picking and progressions
take on an almost violent quality.
On "Lag Time," furious taps give way, to subtle,
peaceful harmonics; DiFranco, who has played guitar
since the age of nine, knows her way up and down the
neck. Accompanied by standing bass and violin, there
is a minimalist harmony throughout the album. DiFran-
co's estrangement from so-called societal standards
turns simplistic melodies into the haunting, almost eerie
diatribe "Parameters."
There is no question that DiFranco is fighting for
a noble cause. She believes in her message. Yet, the
album is not universally palatable. DiFranco's rhetoric
is something listeners will love or hate even before they
hear the music.
There is an audience that will be outraged. There is
an audience that will respond well.

0l

Comedy legend Johnny Carson dies at 79

Tlail-7 Art

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Johnny Carson, the
quick-witted "Tonight Show" host who became a
national institution putting his
viewers to bed for 30 years with
a smooth nightcap of celebrity
banter and heartland charm,v
died yesterday. He was 79.
Carson died early yester-

ward, said a former associate who spoke on condi-
tion of anonymity.
The boyish-looking Nebraska native with the dis-
arming grin, who survived every attempt to topple
him from his late-night talk show throne, was a star
who managed never to distance himself from his
audience.
His wealth, the adoration of his guests - par-
t:-A _I. +I ,,, ...< a,.,, _ n _ - vh - ' - a c h

"I was his last guest, and it was one of the most
moving experiences of my life. He had it all. A little
bit of devil, a whole lot of angel, wit, charm, good
looks, superb timing and great, great class," Midler
said in a statement.
His generosity to up-and-coming comics who
got their big break on "Tonight" was lauded by Bill
Cosby and others.
"1.1..'... , e r nila Cnr the P kaniaanti

01

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