8D - The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition 2006
By Kristin MacDonald
Daily Arts Writer
"Why is the American government the best
government in the world?"
When his precocious
son posits the lamest Thank You
of fourth-grade home- For Smoking
work questions, Nick Fox Searchlight
response puts a new
twist on patriotism: "Because of its end-
less appeals system."
Naylor (Aaron Eckhart, "Erin Brockov-
ich"), the pleasantly rakish hero of "Thank
You for Smoking," is the ultimate in mixed
morals: a public spokesman for and perpet-
ual defender of Big Tobacco. No wonder he
admires the appeals system - his product,
as he freely admits, kills almost half a mil-
lion Americans a year. It's his job to keep
this industry's image publicly afloat.
And Naylor is quite good at it. "Michael
Jordan plays ball, Charles Manson kills
people, I talk," he shrugs, and there is
indeed an undeniable thrill in watching
him work. But though he boasts a public
notoriety he (justifiably) places on par
with that of Genghis Khan, Naylor's infec-
tious likability proves to be his greatest
selling point, and the charismatic Eckhart
makes for a deft casting choice.
With his aggressively all-American
good looks, Eckhart practically radiates
confident machismo - deep tan, blonde
hair, bright, unblinking blue eyes and the
widest slice of winning-white smile ever
to launch a sales pitch. How telling that
the kingpin of modern snake-oil salesmen
should be the visual embodiment of the
textbook American dream.
"Thank You for Smoking" never roundly
condemns Naylor for his task; rather, it exposes
the humor that the position exists at all. Once
a week, Naylor meets for snappy dialogue and
a greasy bar dinner with his fellow public foes
and best friends (Maria Bello, "A History of
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
"You know, that saggy, Joe-Camel-eyes look can be fixed for you, too, with a little blepharoplasty
- I know a great plastic surgeon."
who happen to be spokesmen for the other two hero's job. Her accusation that Naylor is
most derided, mass-marketed products in the a "yuppie Mephistopheles" brings to light
nation: alcohol and firearms. Together, the the weakness of his only moral defense
three create the most cheerful triumvirate of - that he's got a mortgage to pay, too.
vice since the witches of "Macbeth" Does Naylor even buy that rationale? "Smok-
This same acerbic sense of humor slyly ing" doesn't settle for defending lobbyists as
guides and elevates the whole film. The film's valiant protectors of the consumer's "free-
first fifth plays like a quick sitcom clip, and dom of choice." Nick Naylor is, after all, just a
while the film may lag in spots, its 92 min- talker. What about the larger system of govern-
utes skim rapidly over an incredible variety ment, with those appeals courts and paperwork
of terrific characters - J.K. Simmons ("Spi- loopholes he manipulates with such skill?
derman's" cigar-chomping editor) as Naylor's "Thank You for Smoking" ends up
blustery, disloyal boss, Robert Duvall ("Sec- tongue-in-cheek toward both sides. A little
ondhand Lions") as a mint-julep-lovin' South- sign hanging above the lobbyist trio's cor-
ern-gent tobacco tycoon and Sam Elliott ("The ner booth boasts an American flag and the
Big Lebowski") as a grizzled Marlboro Man words, "We have the best government money
gone sadly to seed with lung cancer. can buy." It's a sentiment that makes for the
"Thank You for Smoking" thankfully film's darkest, and most compelling, touch.
keeps up its winking humor, though it
gamely turns with the arrival of a flirty ****
reporter (the miscast Katie Holmes, "Bat- _
man Begins") to a hard questioning of its - This story originally ran Apr. 5, 2006.
editors keep apolo-
gizing to me.
They say they're
sorry for giving me all these bad
movies to review, but, like, they
have to take the good ones since,
you know, they're the editors.
They're just ... more important.
And they hope I
So I lower my
eyes a little bit. I tell
them it's no big deal.
I gesticulate as if,
I'm shooing away a
and I say,"Nah"
I'm pretending to
up pretty well as a
martyred peon. In DAVI
their eyes, I am a Ec
defeated but valiant
critic - a loyal goat writer that
chokes down all their cinematic
leftovers and vomits them back
up on a big sheet of newsprint.
But I know something they
I know that while my noble-
winged editors may walk out of
"Munich" with a new awareness
of historical goings-on and
maybe a bright-eyed, synecdochic
understanding about the concept
of terrorism in general, I walk out
of "Underworld: Evolution" with
a grin borne of my liver and the
beginnings of an erection. My
editors think they're enlightened.
They're actually depressed. I, on
the other hand, am quenching
my Freudian thirsts. One word,
So, needless to say, when the
Oscar nominations came out,
I was completely taken aback.
Where is "Saw II?" Where is
"Cry Wolf?" Where are all my
movies? Obviously, the people
choosing these films, unlike
me, care nothing for their
malnourished, frozen loins. They
can't sleep at night. They toss
and sweat, thinking about racism
or terrorism or McCarthyism or
the life of Truman Capote. And
then when they do sleep, they
have to deal with most unnerving
nightmares: Heath Ledger
charging naked through a black-
and-white television studio with a
loaded bazooka and a cigarette.
Meanwhile, I'm dreaming of
a Jessica Alba in a bikini. She's
chewing on little clay pieces of
Wallace and Gromit and grinding
quite naughtily with Usher. I sip
my drink through a twisty straw.
I don't know how the other half
does it: such a dismal existence.
So here is a list of nominees
for those who aren't afraid to
cater to their Dionysian whims
- for those who'd rather watch
something blow up than have
their consciences marred by
Best Picture: "In the Mix"
This film not only satisfies our
primal needs for intricate gunplay
and hot Italian women, but also
our need for pop-and-lock. Usher
Raymond is a god among men,
and each member of his eight
pack should be deified. I will
do that right now, and you can
use this article as a reference.
Starting left-to-right and
top-to-bottom: the God of
Pyrotechnics, the God of
Large Firearms, the God
of Sustained Arrhythmias,
the God of Orgasm, the
God of Elaborate Tattoo Art,
the God of Lingerie, the God of
Steak and the God of Manual
Best Actor in a Leading Role:
The world could not have asked
for a better alien killer. Let's give
him some real guns
and send himto Mars.
For our protection, of
Best Actress in
a Leading Role:
Did anyone see
D R. Lifetime
Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan
might have fast hands and wicked
roundhouse kicks, but do they
have waxed chests? Nope. Belgian
accents? Nope. Only Jean-Claude
speaking community with the one-
two-three punch of world-class ass-
kicking, Western European charm
and the ability to do the splits on a
kitchen counter without busting out
of his boxer briefs.
I hope that my luck continues
in 2006. I hope that "bad mov-
ies" will remain "bad movies."
I hope that my dreams can stay
pleasant - that my editors will
still be thrilled to wallow in
their guilt and depression. I will
keep my mouth shut. I will just
eat my extra-buttery popcorn,
watch some sweet decapitations
- This column originally
ran Feb.23, 2006.
A cinematic Match' made in heaven
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 Match Point
enter into a decently Dreamworks
paid life as a country-
club instructor. "Luck
is infatuated with the efficient," the Per-
sian idiom goes, and Chris is nothing if
not efficient. He befriends his rich client
(Matthew Goode, "Chasing Liberty"), sud-
denly romances and marries his equally
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, sus-
penseful and magically brutal, real drama.
The kink in Chris's life is Nola (Scarlett
Johansson, "Lost in Translation"), the one-
time fianc6e of his brother-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-"Ameri-
can 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 idyl-
lic 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 venge-
ful. 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 ran-
domness of life only ensure safety to the pro-
foundly lucky? What is luck, anyway?
The symbols in the film's argument - the
constant references to tennis, opera and act-
ing - are carried out with an authoritative
calm so convincing (to Allen's credit) that a
seemingly half-lurid potboiler is as probing
as Chaos Theory or the oft-featured Dos-
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 London scenery with lay-
ered nods in the plot and dialogue 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 ratchets the pacing.
Taking the viewer from the end of the ach-
ingly slow buildup to the climax and unset-
tling end in roughly 20 minutes, Allen
subtly tweaks the tension and anticipation
as beautifully as any thriller since Alfred
Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief."
Balancing philosophy (not to mention phil-
osophical 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 eas-
ily 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.
- This article originally
ran Jan. 23, 2006.