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November 01, 2006 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-11-01

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The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - 5A

She's a
Daily Arts Writer
It is May 1997. Tony Blair (Michael Sheen,
"Underworld") has just become Labor Prime
Minister in a landslide
election. Progressive and ****'
beloved by the British, he
heads into office with the The Queen
support of a nation, much At the
to the quiet and some- Michigan Theater
times catty chagrin of Miramax
Queen Elizabeth II (Helen
Mirren, "Calendar Girls"). Despite Blair's muted
predilection for nobility, the reserved queen is
widely considered his foil. Elizabeth may have
been ordained by God, but Blair was ordained by
Britain. Their relationship is awkward at best.
Through behind-the-scenes interactions,
Stephen Frears's masterful "The Queen" pits
the two personalities against each other in the
wake of Princess Diana's now-iconic death.
While Blair foresees the legacy of Princess Di
(even referring to her as "the people's prin-
cess"), Queen Elizabeth prefers to keep matters
private. It's a family death, even if Diana was no
longer royalty.
"The Queen" is above all a drama of personal
tragedy made all too public, but its quiet sense of
humor elevates it above the level of wall-to-wall
drama. A comedy of manners, it baits snobs with
more subtle slobs as the royal elite struggles with
a changing British people and vice-versa. Early
on, Elizabeth mocks Blair's wife for curtsying to
greet her: "It's so shallow," she says. We laugh

The royal lady passes royal gas. Just look at the woman behind her.

because in our eyes, the curtsy is an expected
greeting for the Queen, and seeing Blair's wife
perform it compared to the rest of the nation ...
there's no difference. The Queen merely dislikes
it because Blair's wife is doing it.
But the queen's dry jab is made under her
breath and only to her personal aid when no
one else is around. She addresses her dogs with
far more attention than her nation. (Following
Diana's death, she refused to make a formal
statement, which became an infamous call-
ing card to the waning monarchy.) Just as she
demands few questions of her public, she offers
few answers to theirs - not because she can't,
but because she shouldn't have to. It's part of
being queen. But Elizabeth doesn't quite realize
how much the public's conception of "queen" is
Both Blair and Elizabeth must prepare for
political change in the midst of the era's tumult.
In a fantastic, understated performance by
Sheen, Blair is depicted in a sense as an eager
everyman - he reviews his speeches in his
favorite soccer jerseys - but also equally intel-
ligent. He is the progressive voice of his political

generation, but not at the expense of the crown.
And as Queen Elizabeth II, Mirren gives
perhaps the finest performance of her career,
the sort that gets the awards talk going months
before anyone has ever seen it. Known for roles
of restrained emotions ("The Cook, The Thief,
His Wife & Her Lover"), Mirren channels Eliza-
beth precisely and deliberately. Surrounded by
prestige, well-trained corgis, demure cloth-
ing and all things stuffy, Elizabeth is a woman
of extreme self-control whose rightful Oscar
crowning may be in sight.
With Frears's deft direction ("High Fidel-
ity") and an astute script from Peter Morgan
(who also has "The Last King of Scotland" in
theaters at the moment), "The Queen" is accom-
plished filmmaking in its every aspect.
Wonderful nuances (Sylvia Sims's batty
Queen Mum offers her own hilarious com-
mentary) and real news footage (employed in
refreshing non-tabloid fashion) meld the film
into a work of uncommon power and intel-
ligence, executed with the attention to detail
and emotional resilience that would only befit
its subject matter.

Meeting Malkmus
T met Stephen Malkmus on prised mostly of parents and 826
Sunday night. Stephen Malk- volunteers - that he would forget {
mus, Pavement frontman and the words to a certain song; he
songwriter who was the main rea- did. He filled the dead space with
son I thought going through high slurry na-na-nas instead. Malkmus
school in the '90s like Angela Chase played Pavement favorites like "We
would have been superior to my Dance," and rambled on about Ray-
actual experience. And, ah, I mean, mond Carver, how 1989 is a very
Crooked Rain, Crooked Carver time as is this year
Rain? Too good. (true).
During our entire As he wandered off-
conversation I could stage he told the crowd
not stop gaping at his he'd run into them later,
open fly. Or how much "over there," perhaps "at a
he looked like Jeff Fox- kegger because Haloween
worthy. starts early inAnn Arbor."
After a wobbly, semi- What the fuck.
coherent solo set at East- KIMBERLY I mean,I don't think it's
ern Michigan's Pease CHOU possible to describe how
Auditorium, Malkmus bizarre the whole thing,
- along with Dave Eggers, Found and how incorrigibly stoned he
magazine's Davy Rothbart and a seemed. It was crazy.
few semi-famous others - made After my ungraceful approach,
his wayto the Corner Brewery on we ended up discussing Tigers and
Cross Street for 826michigan's Mets baseball for some time, as
Revenge of the Bookeaters after- well as the high points of Potbelly
party. sandwiches ("the oil and vinegar is
My friend and I walked in late the best part") and his view from
after 15 minutes of beleaguered his hotel room on the 14th floor
navigation through downtown of the Campus Inn. I don't know
Ypsilanti, right behind Malkmus exactly what I was expecting - for
in his tapered jeans, Mets cap and him to just spout a lot of indie rock
ironic facial hair. The indie EMU verbiage, maybe. I tried to invite
kids were already forming a small,
electric wasp-cloud near him. We
went in for the kill. His fly was open.
First of all, don't be fooled by the
sexy confidence that radiates from W ide and gaping
my headshot. I'm fairly awkward
when it comes to meeting people, like a mouth.
especially those who I know of and
those who I admire. I can't initiate
conversation. I make lame one-lin- him to a party near my apartment;
ers and attempts at jokes. I fidget. he asked if it was one of those
But chatting up Malkmus rock-music frats. The other indie
wasn't something I anticipated as kids had gotten to him earlier, and
daunting. His earlier performance already invited him elsewhere.
was awkward enough: Malkmus There was a band playing, they told
shuffled onstage with a mousy him. He told me he was worried
green scarf around his face, clutch- it was one of those deals where
ing an iBook (which he may or douchebags would just bother him
may not have read lyrics off of) about indie rock.
and a paper plate (where he may or
may not have written his set list). - E-mail Chou at
He warned the audience - com- kimberch@umich.edu.

Off and
on "Guide'
falls short
DailyArts Writer
"A Guide to Recognizing Your
Saints" opens on a blurred frame,
and the unfo-
etec *

Fumbling with 'Scissors'

suits an
ing the
close o
push far
you like
is appr
out that
In the
of "Mean
the retu
hood kid

movie. ACGuideto CostyofirstLook
is a Recognizing Somewhere deep in his imagination, Spaceman Spiff explores the galaxy s depths.
jumble Your Saints - gang warfare, friends' untimely one of the film's most emotionally
hts and At the State deaths, sex and drugs and all the charged performances, despite a
s, pull- Theater trappings of street youth. penchant for walking around with
viewer First Look The film's younger generation his shirt open. Seemingly self-
nly to tries so hard to act grown up that assured (but only pretending to
too soon. Its intensity hits it disregards adulthood's conse- be so unaffected and unattached),
a bat to the stomach, which quences. Monty even encourages Antonio ends up ambivalent toward
opriate, considering the them to do so, acting mostly like a his brother's death, and Tatum's
of times its characters dole buddy than a father until Dito dares raw intensity suits the charac-
exact same punishment. to disobey. Dito knows more about ter perfectly. When a train crash
gritty New York tradition life on the streets than his father; kills his brother, the glimpses of
n Streets," "Guide" follows he needs to leave Astoria. But when Tatum's face through the glass are
rn of grown-up neighbor- Dito tries to communicate this to heartbreaking.
I Dito (Robert Downey Jr., Monty, accusing him of not listen- In fact, the entire movie is
ing, Monty replies, "I'm listening heartbreaking, and for two rea-
to you. Listen to me." Monty is deaf sons: Chiefly, it's a story of how
to Dito's cries for help, and Monty things don't always just change,
bert Downey, disowns him when Dito takes off much less get better - unless you
for California. do something about it. When Dito
down and out. Dito's father and friends have returns home, his former girlfriend
such a profound effect on his life still sits on her windowsill and his
at else is new? that "Guide" wisely doesn't focus friend still lives with his mother
on him alone. Rather than resign its (and even still stoops to sneak out
side characters to the margins, the her car). Dito has moved on, but life
movie goes deeper, allowing each in Astoria has not.
ss Bang Bang") to Astoria, to break the fourth wall intimately But the movie's few flaws hold
rk, after a 15-year absence. and confess their worst fears to it back. Too many subplots cloud
k to convince his ailing and the camera - an effect that allows the main action, alluded to only
father, Monty (Chazz Pal- the viewer to come so emotionally in quick cut-away shots and dis-
"In the Mix"), to go to the close to the characters that their tracting from the heart of Dito's
. Present day overlaps with each new hurt strikes home. story. Despite some gut-wrenching
hbacks as the events lead- And Dito's revenge-bent friend performances, "Guide" takes on
e departure of young Dito Antonio has a lot of hurt. Chan- too much, and finally resolves too
aBeouf, "Holes") unfold ning Tatum ("She's the Man") gives little.

Daily Arts Writer
Personal memoirs about turbulent childhoods have
been en vogue of late, and when Augusten Burroughs's
novel "Running with Scissors"_
was released in 2003 it blew the
competition out of the water.
Both outrageously funny and Running
incredibly heartbreaking, the with Scissors
book vividly captures the experi- At the Showcase
ences of Burroughs's tumultuous and Quality 16
youth as he navigates between an
alcoholic father and a mentally Sony
unstable mother, finally ending
up in the custody of a bizarre doctor named Finch. As
faithful as the film is, itretains little of the nuance that
made the book so engaging.
The story begins in the early '70s when Augusten
(Joseph Cross, "Flags of Our Fathers") is just a little
boy trapped in a war between his feuding parents.
After they divorce, he's left in the custody of his moth-
er, Deirdre (Annette Bening, "Being Julia"), a manic
depressive and aspiring poet.
Deirdre is consumed by her desire for fame (some-
thing she shares with her son), and as she slowly drifts
toward mental derangement she grows further apart
from Augusten. On top of this, Augusten's fed-up
father, Norman (Alec Baldwin, "The Aviator"), won't
return his phone calls. Augusten is sent to live with Dr.
Finch (Brian Cox, "Match Point"), Deirdre's psychia-
trist, who ultimately ends up adopting him, much to
Augusten's horror.
At Finch's house, Augusten is introduced to a fam-
ily that renders "dysfunctional" an understatement.
There's Agnes (Jill Clayburgh, TV's "Nip/Tuck"), the
dog-food-eating matriarch Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow,
"Proof"), the elder daughter who made a stew out of
her dead cat after it called to her from the grave and
finally Nathalie (Evan Rachel Wood, "Down in the

Valley"), the youngest daughter, who wants to use
electroshock therapy on Augusten for kicks. The most
bizarre member of the family, however, is Dr. Finch
himself, who arbitrarily prescribes pills and looks to
his bowel movements for divine messages. With all of
the antics going on in the Finch household, it's amaz-
ing that Augusten actually survived his childhood at
. The movie is helped along by a uniformly strong
cast, with the unfortunate exception of the lead. While
Bening and Joseph Fiennes ("The Great Raid"), who
plays Augusten's middle-aged boyfriend, turn in espe-
cially good performances, Cross never seems to find
his character and ends up overshadowed by his more
experienced cast members.
Remember the book?
Yeah. Neither does this
Augusten simply lacks characterization. While it's
clear that he is very different from other children his
age (he wears suits with clip-on ties and obsessively
polishes his allowance coins), the film never explores'
the reason for his eccentricities or their implications.
The novel certainly has more space to explore each
characters' background, but the adaptation underrep-
resents the novel to the point of fault.
Without the anchor of a strong main character,
"Running With Scissors" can't balance its comedy
and pathos, the two elements that made the book so
compelling. The movie instead focuses on the come-;
dic side of Augusten's life, leaving the tugging of the
heartstrings to the 11th hour.
This new ending, like the movie as a whole, ulti-
mately comes up short.


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