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March 07, 2006 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-03-07

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March 7, 2006
arts.michigandaily. com

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Courtesy o Focus

Courtesy of Lions Gate

et's start with the obvious: "Brokeback Mountain
while a personal favorite, is probably not the best
movie of last year.
Neither, for that matter, is "Crash."
But as even the most casual cinephile could tell you, best
picture does not mean best movie. In the Academy's eyes, to
name a film best picture is to immortalize it, to mark it in
history as the film that most represents the production and cul-
tural foundation the industry is built upon.
In these terms, "Brokeback" was without question the
best - and really, the only - choice to take the award. The
spare, devastating story, the daring performances, the para-
lyzing landscapes: It's all the stuff of Academy dreams, far
outreaching any of the other nominees in all conceivable
aesthetic facets.
How, then, did "Crash" pull one of the biggest upsets in
Oscar history?
Logistically speaking, it was timing. "Brokeback" came
on very strong very early, hitting its stride mid-January and
fighting off the inevitable backlash before the nominations
were even announced at the end of the month. "Crash," on the
other hand, had nowhere to go but up after a quiet, early-sum-
mer release and wildly mixed reviews. It gained buzz right as
"Brokeback" steadily lost it.
But that's not very interesting, and besides, it goes far
beyond that. Pundits will no doubt place much of the credit
for the "Crash" upset on the fact that the film struck a chord
with the greater American moviegoer (not least of all with
the huge number of L.A.-based Academy voters). Of course,
"Brokeback" is just as socially relevant as "Crash" and more
effective in its attempt to get a clear, coherent point across, but
sometimes, the most articulate person in the room loses out to
the one who yells the loudest.
Granted, "Crash" is an important film, and has individual
moments of startling power, but its pageant of shallow, often
painfully contrived cross-sections (many of which fall to slop-
py closure) in its final third misses the mark on too many fronts.
"Brokeback" has a concisely pointed, gorgeously crafted story
at its core that builds to a cumulative emotional effect rivaling
any American movie of the past decade. "Crash" made waves,
but "Brokeback" is here to stay.



T he tagline for one of the most controversial movies in
recent memory and newly anointed best picture "Crash"
reads: "You think you know who you are. You have
no idea." Suddenly becoming the film everyone loves to hate,
"Crash" has come under fire for everything from overt ignorance
to artistic ineptitude and sophomoric storytelling.
Perhaps the film is an acquired taste; it's so up-front and brash
that most viewers are left stunned the first time around. Still,
anyone who believes "Crash" is artistically unworthy of winning
best picture award is deluding himself. Its fractured storytelling
serves its purpose equally as tactfully as the smooth strokes of
"Brokeback Mountain." Racism is ugly and, like it or not, it still
exists. This is a story that can't be told in a beautifully colored,
picturesque film. The blunt, harsh cuts in "Crash" are necessary
to its story, and are utilized to perfection.
Each year, with scarce exceptions, every nominee (and even
four to five unnominated films) deserve to win the award.
"Crash" is not one of the rare exceptions. Behind its cover of curt,
perhaps near-sighted portrayal of subjects involved in a routine
carjacking, lies a powerful message about the specter of racism
that remains the most controversial issue in America.
The best of films challenge notions about our society we take
for granted, and "Crash" is no different. It's contrived and not a
strictly real-world depiction of how prejudices may play out, but
that's beside the point. Regardless of how we may feel about what
"Crash" has to say, it's impossible to deny that it's among the most
introspective films in recent memory.
Now I liked "Brokeback Mountain" and wouldn't have
been disappointed if it won, but I admit, I didn't want it to.
"Brokeback" was a beautiful film, but what exactly is its
great contribution? Homosexuality is hardly a new theme
in Hollywood. Of a hoard of socially motivated films,
"Crash" most brazenly embodies an issue America con-
tinues to struggle with. This isn't to say "Brokeback" had
nothing to say, simply that "Crash" has more insight into its
respective flashpoint issues.
But the best characteristic of "Crash" is that it boldly takes on
America's fascination with the belief that the days of racism are
gone. It's a different film than "Brokeback" and a comparison is
only marginally fair. Yet as long as they are in the same category,
"Crash" is the most worthy film.

Courtesy 01 Rogue


By David R. Eicke
Daily Arts Writer

The release of "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" only a
few days before Oscar Sunday makes
for a fascinating juxtaposition. Dave
Just as all the daintily dapper Hol- ae
lywooders are icing out in their Cartier, BChappelles
just as they're slipping their bony hips
into burgundy satin or tightening their At the Showcase
silken ties, just as they're rehearsing and Quality 16
their acceptance speeches and wonder- Rogue
ing exactly what Joan Rivers will say
about their shoe selections this year, Dave Chappelle and
director/deity Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spot-
less Mind") have released an undeniably vivid illustration of
what a real party should be.
Chappelle invited his favorite singers and rappers from
around the country to perform at a random outdoor venue
in the middle of Brooklyn. The featured performers are
socially conscious artists like Kanye West, Common, Mos
Def, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, Dead
Prez and even a reunited Fugees - clearly those who tend
to avoid rapping about their rims, sexual heroics and dental
ornamentation. Bits of the actual concert are tastefully inter-
spersed throughout the narrative of the days leading up to it,
as Chappelle travels home to Ohio where he invites .several
of the locals to the Brooklyn brouhaha.

Another side of Chappelle emerges over the course of
the film as he interacts with everyone from the white-bread
Ohioans to the historically black Central State University
marching band and inner-city kindergarteners. While still
adhering to his ridiculous antics and retaining his comic
synergy of just-woke-up drawl and spastic obnoxiousness,
he manages to peel back the corner and reveal a little bit of
a conscience. Chappelle seems to have a genuine desire to
unite New Yorkers and Ohioans, blacks and whites, famous
and pedestrian, and the attempt at unity is nice to see in an
ideologically fissured United States.
While Chappelle keeps his politics subtle and coated with a
thick layer of jokes, the performers he's chosen have no qualms
about higher-amplitude opinions. West's rendition of "Jesus
Walks" (featuring the CSU band that Chappelle imports from
Ohio), for example, raises arm hairs. Monologues from Lauryn
Hill and Wyclef Jean in the film's final minutes are enormous-
ly powerful, and the performance from the little-known (but
Chappelle favorite) Dead Prez is particularly sharp and edgy.
Gondry is able to capture all this dazzlingly with his signa-
ture realist camera work and shot selection. His genius lies in
the ability to use what he has available to its absolute fullest
potential: the sunlight just as it's careening off a polished cym-
bal or the colorful clothing of an undulating crowd. His work
infuses the film with the artistry and the pulse it needs to be
taken seriously, but not too seriously.
The only problem with the film is its title, which smacks of
"The Blue Collar Comedy Tour" or "Soul Plane." It's funny
as hell, but there's more to it - a heartbeat and a backbeat, a
mind and a mission.


ABC can't find sitcom success

By Michael Passman
Daily Arts Writer

The creators of the new midsea-
son replacement "Sons & Daugh-
ters" would like you
to believe they've Sons &
crafted a new genre Daughters
by combining the
dysfunctional fam- Tuesdays
ily sitcom with par- at 9 p.m.
tially improvised ABC
dialogue. Sadly, that
show, "Arrested Development," was
just kicked off network TV.
Instead, "Sons & Daughters" comes
through as a watered-down version of
something you've already seen before.
Set in a humble Ohio town, the
ensemble-driven comedy focuses on
typical sitcom father Cameron Walker
(former stage actor Fred Goss) and
his extended family. Thrillingly, in an
attempt to piggyback off the critical

success of "Arrested," the show tries
to develop a wide array of characters,
each with their own eccentricities.
And this ends up as the show's critical
flaw: There are simply too many char-
acters that do almost nothing for the
show. Many of them seem as though
they exist only as comedic foils for the
small number the interesting ones. For
a show that promotes power in num-
bers, few characters have a shaped,
unique comedic substance to carry
part of the load.
In the pilot, Cameron's stepfather
Wendal (Max Gail, "Barney Miller")
expresses his interest in separating
from Cameron's mother Colleen (Dee
Wallace, "ET.") after 25 years of mar-
riage. Cameron's sister Sharon (improv
vet Alison Quinn) and her husband Don
(fellow improv regular Jerry Lamber)
have troubles of their own as they are
in a sexually defunct marriage that gar-
ishly resembles that of Tobias and Lind-
sey Funke from "Arrested."
Ultimately, the show derives too

much of its material from marital
difficulties, money problems and the
generation gap with characters and
actors not fresh enough to put a new
spin on dead issues.
ABC hoped to make the show
the comedy staple it's been missing
for so many years, and incessantly
promoted the show. But even that
rings false - this is really more of
a dramedy than pure comedy. How-
ever screwed up these people may be,
they do seem to care genuinely for
each other and try to elicit sympathy
from the audience.
In this, the show's creators have
crafted characters with some traits
viewers can identify with. Perhaps
executive producer Lorne Michaels
("Saturday Night Live") is trying
to provide the masses with charac-
ters they can gravitate to - some-
thing "Arrested" hasn't done - but
because of this, the characters lack
the deep-rooted absurdities that the
show needs to bring it home.

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