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January 23, 2006 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-01-23

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Monday
January 23, 2006
arts. michigandaily. com
artspage@michigandaily.com

RThe SchSgan BSiig

5A

. . .... . ............ - - - . . . . . . .. .. ... .. .. ..... .. .. ..

European vacation

Courtesy of DreamWorks

Let's be honest, any words are going to come up short here.

A

MATCH' MADE IN HEAVEN

I f dyou're a junior, probably half
your friends are gone. Snow
piles up in garbage-like heaps
in the south student ghetto and
they're sending you e-mails about
Moorish architecture in Seville or
the coolest bars on the Left Bank.
It all seems a bit fairer in the
movies.
These Americans who
travel to Europe in the
name of wine, culturally
awakened sex, briskly
visited museums and, of
course, a bit of educa-
tion, usually don't have
it so easy. From "An
American Werewolf in
London" to "EuroTrip"
(an underrated comedy if E
ever there was one), the MCG
young American voyag-
ing to the grand continent at least
has to tackle several language barri-
ers and big cultural mistakes before
bagging the old-world beauty of his
choice and returning home.
The trip to Europe has become
the new American rite of passage.
As Cooper (Jacob Pitts, a dead ring-
er for the Puck-like David Spade) in
"EuroTrip" puts it, "our ancestors,
the Puritans, were the prudes who
got kicked out of Europe."
He's kind of right. The natives
can tell us apart as soon as we
arrive. The sneakers. The baseball
hats. The omnipresence of jeans.
The amplified speech. The world
has turned on its head for us. The
old world is new again. Everything
around us is Coca-Cola and Nike
and George Bush. America is so
boring, one would almost want to
get bitten by a werewolf in Europe.
At least you'd be doing as the
Romans did. The new passage, from
America back to the Continent,
might be one of the richest and most
interesting strains for pop culture
in years. How did one single action
- American youths visiting Europe
- produce stoner high school candy
("EuroTrip"), heartbreaking love
("Before Sunrise" and "Before Sun-
set") and, most recently, liver-twist-
ing horror ("Hostel")?
American culture already covered
it in literature (you remember this
from English 239), and film, histor-
ically, does find plenty of fun with

V
zA

American/Europe relationships.
"Roman Holiday" comes imme-
diately to mind, so it's completely
appropriate to call this a second
wave. Every niche of film, as exem-
plified by the diversity of the films
previously mentioned, is getting
filled by Europe-obsessed teens.
Woody Allen's latest,
"Match Point," personi-
fies the young, desperate
America with Scarlett
Johansson's Nola. The
surreally blonde (and
doomed) Nola skulks
around London, bounc-
ing from rich affairs to
borderline employment
all the while refusing
AN to return to America.
ARVEY Her fatal obsession with
Europe kills her; she
looks physically ill whenever she
even speaks of returning to the
States.
Playing with those positions of
outsider/native and new world/old
world, this new crop of Euro-
obsessed films (might as well add
"Chasing Liberty" and "American
Werewolf in Paris" to the mix) usu-
ally ends up revealing the American
characters as clumsy, self-assured
children. Similar in appearance to
our nation's role on the internation-
al stage, perhaps?
The one constant in the films is
the eventual fate and destination
of our cinematic counterparts. For
some, Europe is an inescapable
paradise. Others return home as
quickly as possible, shook to their
core by the outside world. No one
stays the same.
So before you see "The New
World," realize that we're in it right
now, and the only place to go, as
you can probably guess, is back-
ward. We're the new explorers.
For those who are gone already,
and for those who are about to
leave, remember a recent, important
lesson from film: The American
in Europe is still way more foreign
than you think.
- McGarvey is upset because he
only went to Ireland and everyone
looked and acted exactly like him.
Share your European zeal by e-mailing
him at evanbmcg@umich.edu.

ALLEN CRAFTS TAUT, LITERATE THRILLER

By Evan McGarvey
Daily Music Editor

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Myers, "Bend It Like
Beckham") is a tennis player. Not a great one, but good
enough to enter into a decently paid life as a country-
club instructor. "Luck is infatuat-
ed with the efficient," the Persian Match Point
idiom goes, and Chris is noth-
ing if not efficient. He befriends At the State
his rich client (Matthew Goode, Theater
"Chasing Liberty"), suddenly DreamWorks
romances and marries his equal-
ly rich sister (Emily Mortimer, "Scream 3") and even
wins over her exceedingly warm and proper, old-money
parents (Brian Cox, "The Ring," and Penelope Wilton,
"Shaun of the Dead").
With an endless backdrop of Italian Arias and
SoHo (the original, mind you) luxury, Woody Allen
crafts a uniquely troubling, suspenseful and magically
brutal, real drama.
The kink in Chris's life is Nola (Scarlett Johansson,
"Lost in Translation"), the onetime fianc6e of his broth-

er-in-law. In one instant, they kiss and begin an affair.
Each encounter becomes more elaborate, Chris hiding
more secrets from his wife over time.
Rhys Myers is the perfect, post-"American Psycho"
amoral male antihero. He's calm about his relationship
with luck but relentless in his pursuit of its proof. Never
wavering in his duties as husband and son-in-law, Chris
becomes this superman, having each bounce of life
come his way. Even when Nola becomes pregnant and
threatens to destroy Chris's idyllic existence at the top
of the social ladder, he remains steadfast in his affinity
for luck. Johansson rests on her still-striking visuals in
a few scenes, and too often her moments of rage come
across as more feisty than vengeful. Chris doesn't look
lucky so much as Nola looks a bit thick-headed.
It's this philosophical, almost Kundera-like plot that
the film pivots on. Does the utter randomness of life
only ensure safety to the profoundly lucky? What is
luck, anyway?
The symbols in the film's argument - the constant
references to tennis, opera and acting - are carried out
with an authoritative calm so convincing (to Allen's
credit) that a seemingly half-lurid potboiler is as prob-
ing as Chaos Theory or the oft-featured Dostoyevsky.
Visually, this is Allen's love letter to Europe. A

Manhattan-bred soul like Allen loves culture, and
visually the film combines the still-dramatic Lon-
don scenery with layered nods in the plot and dia-
logue involving grand Russian novels, Italian opera
and bleak philosophy that feels vaguely both Eastern
European and German.
The speedier sections toward the end, where Chris
gets caught in a jarring cycle of violence, tightly ratch-
ets the pacing. Taking the viewer from the end of the
achingly slow buildup to the climax and unsettling end
in roughly 20 minutes, Allen subtly tweaks the ten-
sion and anticipation as beautifully as any thriller since
Alfred Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief."
Balancing philosophy (not to mention philosophical
voice-over) with the hushed anxiety of a full-bodied
thriller is difficult enough, but to completely satisfy as
well as this film does is more proof that "Match Point"
is easily Allen's best film since "Everyone Says I Love
You." The script doesn't waste a word; even Chris's
half-soliloquies run no more than a few beats.
Whether or not you identify with Chris, Allen makes
a compelling case for the central tenant of modernism:
Life is absurd. But like every other charmed piece of
modernism, it puts a stark twist on that rule: God may
be dead, but luck is very much alive.

Brooks-led 'Comedy'

deeply

unfunny, bizarre and bland

By Kristin MacDonald
Daily Arts Writer
It's an honest-to-God mystery why any legitimate
Hollywood film-production professional would ever
greenlight a star vehicle as plodding,
painfully unfunny and unbearably
artless as Albert Brooks' new film Looking for
"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim Comedy in
World." the Muslim
Brooks, woefully serving triple World
duty as writer, director and star, At the State
could have stopped the title after the Theater
first three words. Warner Independent
Let's start with the plot: The U.S.
government, apparently as inept as
it is austere, contracts none other than Albert Brooks
(playing himself, and doing himself no favors as either
a character or a real-life comedian) to travel to the mys-
tical Muslim world and mine its mysterious natives for
information as to what makes them laugh.
Here's the problem: Brooks clearly doesn't know
what makes good ole' Americans laugh, much less an
entirely different culture. This becomes increasingly
obvious through a standup routine that misguidedly
includes some popsicle-stick puns, uninspired improvi-

sation and even a ventriloquism bit. Brooks the director
apparently recognizes the comedic incompetence of his
onscreen alter ego, but it's never made clear whether
the self-mockery is fully intended. Even if it is, what
useful purpose could such self-humiliation possi-
bly serve? The joke winds up flat and lifeless - an
unfunny American comedian fails to find comedy in
the Muslim world not because of any ingrained cultural
differences, but merely because he doesn't know what
comedy is to begin with.
Indeed, this poor, mangy comedy, promoted by its
posters as a timely attempt to bridge a few culture gaps,
dissolves into a meaningless and even tasteless ending
which has Brooks unconsciously burning those bridges
instead. We never find out what makes for comedy in
the Muslim world; we never even find out if there's a
difference. Brooks only ends up revealing one thing
- that bad comedy is universal.
A stream of poorly executed madcap adventures ensue:
In street interviews, Brooks discovers that "Polish jokes
work everywhere." A band of shady Pakistani standups
sneak Brooks over the border for a late-night gig around
their campfire. Even Al-Jazeera tries to rope Brooks in
to a TV sitcom about a white man living in a New Delhi
apartment complex (with a title that translates roughly
to "That Darn Jew"). Brooks also treats the audience
to an excruciating running joke with his Indian office
assistant, who, while bright, suffers from what's clearly

Wouldn't it all be so mch funnier if Borat did it?
a mournful ignorance of sarcasm - a grievous wrong
which our hero promptly rights by teaching her comedy
via bland, academic definitions.
All right, all right, maybe a few laughs do come
through, if only as textbook cases of the audience laugh-
ing at the movie, as opposed to with it. When Brooks
hits the stage early on for his standup act in a blind-

ingly white Punjabi pantsuit, one of my fellow theater
patrons had already mustered enough contempt to snort
aloud (accurately) that he looked just like a "Pakistani
Liberace."
Enough said. Bottom line: If you're ever out looking
for anything, and this film is any indication, don't send
Brooks to find it.

Film series explores social justice and voice

By Anthony Baber
Daily Arts Writer
Artistically and vividly celebrating the life and
achievements of civil rights leader Martin Luther King,
Jr. is a daunting task for students.
But it can be done.
This January, a series of Uni- F.O.K.U.S.
versity events seek to do just that. Film
The theme for January's program Screenings.
is "Breaking the Silence," giving a Tuesdays at
voice to issues that otherwise would 7:30 p.m.
go unheard.
In an effort to share these voic- Free
es with the campus community, At the Hussey Room,
-Michigan League

"We wanted to choose films that were a part of
the arts and tied with the MLK theme of 'Break-
ing the Silence,' " said F.O.K.U.S. co-founder Alma
Davila-Toro.
Despite original plans to only screen one movie for
the month, Davila-Toro and partner Atiba Edwards
chose a bigger idea and made it a
monthlong event. "Thesed
"Film in general is an art dire
form and these directors have have broug
brought voice to a story no one
has heard and that we need to to a story n
hear especially in the month
of the MLK Symposium," has heard o
Davila-Toro said.
'Ph- -f -f antri hunwe. need or

'C
1
II

Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids;' last year's winner
of the Best Documentary Oscar.
In the documentary, an American woman teaches
photography to children of women working in brothels
in the red light district of Calcutta, India.
After the movie, a discussion was led by Residential
College freshman Emma Raynor.
"There's been discussion as to if the
4ors woman helping the children really had
ht voiCe the right to change these kids' lives,"
Raynor said.
o one "She knows she can't control
their choices (or their) parents'
nd that choices, but she can do something
,,ir that will positively affect them
len'r_ r aht ith "

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