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February 14, 2005 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-02-14

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10A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, February 14, 2005


Courtesy of Magnolia Films
The ninth rule of fight club is: neat-4 rope armbands for everyone!
Martial arts dynamo
makes strking debut

By Jeffrey Bloomer
Daily Arts Writer
"Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior" is
exuberant action
escapism - a OngBak: The
gloriously enter- . .h
taining m ovie Thai Warrior
that offers equally At the Showcase
pleasurable bouts Magnolia Films
of campy plot and
artful ass-kicking.
Though the film aligns itself with genre
conventions and somewhat overstays its
welcome, it knows exactly what the audi-
ence wants and delivers skillfully and
straightforwardly with 107 minutes of
unrestrained martial arts shenanigans.
The film opens in a rural, modern-
day Thai village, which is in shambles
after the head of a religious statue - the
Ong-Bak - is stolen by thieves who
want to sell it to an urban crime lord.
The village elders believe it is the end of
the line for their people until the obliga-
tory young hero, Ting (Tony Jaa), volun-
teers to venture into town and save the
sacred stone.
From there, the film massively shifts
gears, vaulting Ting into a Bangkok
underworld that looks something like
an Asian version of "The Fast and the
Furious." What he lacks in street smarts
(the locals refer to him as "the hick"), he
makes up for in outrageous, martial arts
skill and a keen eye for pissing off all the
wrong people. That in turn maximizes the
number of cans of whoopass he must open
in order to retrieve the Buddhist statue,
which isavery good thing indeed.
Of course, this story takes a backseat to
the film's lead, Jaa, a martial arts dynamo

who seems destined for international star-
dom. Like Jet Li, Jackie Chan and perhaps
even Bruce Lee himself, Jaa is an absurdly
talented athlete who glides through every
frame of the film with marvelous grace.
But unlike his predecessors, Jaa possesses
a talent that is rare among almost all action
stars, international or otherwise: He can
act. In this film, he actually seems like a
man fighting for the honor of his people,
and not just some action movie pawn who
awkwardly stumbles from one fight scene
to the next. Jaa is already an accomplished
stuntman, and with the help of this film,
he could emerge as a new star of martial
arts cinema.
Despite Jaa's personal triumph, though,
much of the credit for the film's success
is owed to its fight choreography and the
way these elaborately constructed scenes
carry the story from battle to battle. In
one particularly impressive sequence,
Ting runs from a gang along a city street
and effortlessly dodges every obstacle
imaginable - all of which is real stunt
work done by actual people without any
digital effects. The rest of the film fol-
lows suit, turning what could have been
a series of silly action contrivances into
one thrilling sequence after another of
pure balletic skill.
Nevertheless, "Ong-Bak" is not a total
triumph over the conventions of stan-
dard action flicks. It covers little new
ground and indulges the familiar, thinly
plotted martial arts formula, but it has
uncommon energy and vitality thanks
in large part to Jaa, the film's heart and
soul. Beyond his performance, though,
the highly competent production team
makes "Ong-Bak" worth seeing in its
own right, bringing down the house in all
of its joyously campy, graphically violent
and cheerfully understated glory.

"OK, listen. If I catch you humming 'Summertime' again, I'm gonna have to smack you."


By Amanda Andrade
Daily Arts Writer

After slumming hard in progressively idiotic sum-

mer bombast, Will Smith has
finally succumbed to the most
natural forum for his ebullient
charm - romantic comedy.
The vehicle in question, "Hitch,"
would be a fine showcase for
Smith's considerable on-screen
charisma if only it relied on

At the Showcase
and Quality 16
Sony Pictures

two meandering plots in lieu of one solid story.
Intriguingly, the myriad geeky men Hitch strives
to help are always after women absurdly out of their
physical attractiveness league. That's okay, of course,
because all of these men are actually enamored by their
ladies' "personalities" rather than their supermodel
good looks. Although maybe that's less surprising con-
sidering the New York of the film is the city in which
average-looking women just don't seem to exist.
But what the movie misses in gender sensitivity, it at
least partially recoups in a reluctance to build on racial
stereotypes. It's a noble effort, especially when so many
scenes between James and Smith are veritable invita-
tions for the kind of sophomoric sitcom-level cheap
shots that Smith has built a pretty tidy career around.
It's refreshing to see the gifted comedian rise above it.
Echoing that decidedly nice-spirited side of the film
are the performances from both male actors. Smith has
a breezy, affable, old-Hollywood charm that resonates
in most of his scenes. James is the real surprise, holding
his own and maintaining a sympathetic performance.
The actresses in the film, however, are almost complete
blanks. That's not wholly surprising for a movie that
counts among its many revelations: "Whoa, women
are, like, human beings and stuff." Mendes and her pre-
scription cohort are beautiful, sophisticated, suppos-

edly intelligent and always impeccably dressed.
It's not the fault of the actresses so much as the
script, which gives the leading ladies little else to do
but look winsome for their oafish or unstable suitors.
Bisch's screenplay also has occasional trouble relating
the parallel plots, as well as finding anywhere to take
the story. Eventually the climax has to rest on a con-
trived misunderstanding rather than anything organic
or systemic, like say, the fact that Hitch's entire liveli-
hood rests on women sleeping with men they wouldn't
normally touch - a loveable, harmless GHB for the
well-meaning man.
With little success, "Hitch" tries to play on issues of
insecurity, interpersonal trust and a slew of other topics
that are beyond the scope of a formulaic studio comedy.
By tackling the issues in a half-hearted, manipulative
sort of way, the film only ends up with a wildly incon-
sistent tone. One minute it's a light-hearted comedy, the
next a preachy meditation on human vulnerability.
The result is a middling star vehicle, overlong and
awkward. It's pretty reminiscent of a first date, actu-
ally, and those feeling particularly benevolent may
assume that's the point. They may also assume that
Smith is going to personally refund their nine dollars
- it's all the hope that "Hitch" has left once the the-
ater lights go up again.

something - anything - more than its marquee star
to make the movie worthwhile.
The setup is straightforward enough: Alex "Hitch"
Hitchens (Smith) is a date doctor who teaches fumbling
men how to woo their dream girls. One particularly
desperate client is Albert (Kevin James, TV's "King of
Queens"), a CPA in love with his classy heiress client,
Allegra. Eva Mendes ("2 Fast 2 Furious") plays the gos-
sip columnist assigned to cover the medication-moni-
kered celebrity, and turns out to be the girl Hitch can't
seem to crack. Screenwriter Kevin Bisch apparently felt
the obvious theme of relationship complexity warranted

'U' Museum of Art surveys twentieth century



By Andrew Klein
For the Daily 4
In 1935, Pablo Picasso said, "There
is no abstract art. You must always
start with something." This elusive
and often undefinable something is
the subject of the University of Mich-
igan Museum of Art's newest exhibit
"Surfing the Century," running from
Feb. 5 to May 15.
The eclectic exhibit is an arrange-
ment of early and modern works from
the last century, unexpectedly juxta-
posed, creating an engaging visual
comparison. Grouped together in the
exhibit's main viewing room are two
beautiful Tiffany candle holders and
two pieces of Pewabic pottery, which
came out of the Detroit School of Art
circa 1900. The visually stunning
sculpture, "Flight of Night" by Paul
Manship, sits opposite the action
photographs of Barbara Morgan and

Aaron Siskind. In the same main
viewing space, works bye Detroit
painter Tyree Guyton are juxtaposed
with abstractions from the '50s by
Mike Toby, Adolph Gotlieb and Mil-
ton Avery.
Leaving the
wonderful mix Surfing the
of mediums in Century:
the main room Twentieth-
behind, the Century Art
viewer enters At the University of
the exhibit's sec- Michigan Museum of Art
ond room and
is immediately
immersed in the geometric and illu-
sionist art of the 20th century, loosely
termed "minimalism." The dizzying
"Mercurius in the Vessel,"by Rich-
ard Anuszkiewicz, with its startling
illusion of depth using bright, clash-
ing colors, is almost painful to the
eyes, but it is easily the most capti-
vating work in the section.
Moving away from the art of geom-
etry, Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup
I, Green Pea" leads viewers into the
area representing the school of Pop
Art, described by Curator Sean Ulmer
as a "reaction to Abstract Expression-
ism." "Napoleon Standing Next to a
Chair" by Larry Rivers and "Manet's
Olympia" by Mel Ramos, both draw
on famous Classical works as inspira-
tion while adding their own contem-
porary spin. These two pictures create
a wonderful window into the art world
created by the New York School in the
mid-20th century.
"Stiff Box 12" by Lucas Samaras is
an intense rendering of iron to create
a dichotomy of violent edges and soft
curves. Immediately following is the
extremely popular "LOVE" by Rob-
ert Indiana, considered by Ulmer as
an "iconic image of the '60s." The
series of literature-based works by


UMMA curator Sean Ulmer discusses a work from "Surfing the Century."

Glen Ligon entitled "Untitled (I Am
An Invisible Man)," as well as Indi-
ana's, nicely fit in with the theme of
incorporating the written word into
contemporary American art.
It is in the second half of this sec-
tion that is the most intriguing part
of the exhibit. The series of photo-
graphs that include Alfred Stieglitz's
"The Steerage" and Robert Frank's
racially charged "American Flag in
Brick Wall" provide a contrast to the
surrounding natural landscape with
their representations of America's
urban cityscape. Stieglitz's piece is
considered an icon of photography
with its perfect contrast of the upper
and lower classes aboard a trans-
Atlantic ocean liner.

It is apparent in the second half
of the last room that photography
is the strongest facet of the exhibit.
The Ansel Adams piece, entitled,
"Moonrise over Hernendez, New
Mexico," is stunning in its natural-
ism, and it is juxtaposed brilliantly
with German abstract expressionist
Emil Nolde's watercolor landscape.
There is also "Manassas #28" by
Sally Mann, which is a captivating
rendering of the famous Civil War
battleground. The last work in the
exhibit, also by Mann, is entitled
"Virginia," and is, according to
Ulmer, "a resurrection of techniques
that are 100 years old," and thus a
suitable ending to the exhibit with
its contemporary setting and dated
Overall, this exhibit is "very much
a celebration of the pluralism of
the 20th century," said Ulmer. The
viewer should keep in mind that this
exhibit is "a reflection not just of art
movements, but of man's thought."
The Vietnam Protestors

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Master of Arts in Government and Politics

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