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November 14, 2006 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-11-14

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, November 14, 2006 - 5

"OK. Now I'm a crying mime, talking on a phone and stuck in a box.

Lost in translation
ENSEMBLE DRAMA CROSSES BORDERS TO EXPOSE CULTURAL BARRIERS

By ELIE ZWIEBEL Kikuchi) has little to do
Daily Arts Writer "Babel," her story help
tfirritu's film: the expi
Alejandro Gonzalez Inairritu ("21 Grams") gility in light of failed in
doesn't just make entertaining movies - he Miscommunication
directs thought-provoking "Babel," and while thi
epics. In both "21 Grams" the film's languages, it1
and "Amores Perros," sev- when two characters fa
eral stories initially appear Babel same tongue. Richard c
unrelated only to turn out At the his fellow tourists' anx
irreversibly linked. In Showcase and an off-road Arabic tow
"Babel," Ifirritu contin- Quality 16 sobriety and loyalty le,
ues that method of story- Paramount vantage sorrow. And Chieko jus
telling, only this time his herself to her friends o
three separate tragedies are connected on a unfortunate target of
global scale. Each main character c
Susan and Richard (Cate Blanchett and Brad they are left speechless,
Pitt), an American couple vacationing in Moroc- to express themselveso
co, suddenly find themselves in the midst of standing listener.
tragedy when Susan is abruptly shot while driv- There's also a ques
ing through the countryside. Though the inci- throughout "Babel" - h
dent is immediately called a terrorist attack, the the time to act rational
true culprit is just a youngboy - a goat shepherd could tragedy have b
who wanted to prove his shooting accuracy to and writer Guillermo A
his brother. The likely repercussions of firing at cerned themselves with
a tour bus apparently never crossed his mind. isfying resolutions, ass
Meanwhile, Susan and Richard's nanny, "Amores Perros."
Amelia (Adriana Barraza, "Amores Perros"), is fiarritu skillfully u
caught between her occupational duties to the making the most of the
vacationing couple's children and her desire to schools of acting for s'
return to Mexico for her son's wedding. Amelia positions. While Pitt dr
finally decides to bring the children with her to inspire pity when cr
across the border, only to encounter trouble re- his young son, Kikuchi
entering the United States. Escorted by Santia- sense of drama when str
go, her hot-headed nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal, Tokyo. Inirritu contra
"Y Tu Mama Tambidn"), Amelia ends up in the streets with extended sh
hands of the border patrol. boys enjoying a forcefu
Finally, across the Pacific, a deaf Japanese bare desert mountain to
high school student explores her sexuality and wasteland that is the pt
the streets of Tokyo. Though Chieko (Rinko tituted northern Mexic
FILM REVEW
'Harsh Ti mes,
feeble measures
By IMRAN SYED oria) had made in liftingthemselves
Daily Arts Writer out of a delinquent life.
* -There's no doubt life was unfair
Our country is now entrenched to Jim, but the film's one achieve-
deeply enough in an unpopular ment is remindingus thatthe great-
war that pop- est struggles in life are ones we
culture ref- * *I bringupon ourselves. Thanks to the
erences to it horrors he saw in the war, Jim has
have become Harsh Times a mental disorder that costs him
commonplace. At the his LAPD opportunity. Owing to a
Sure, the war Showcase and childhood spent on the streets, he
against ter- Quality 16 has a drug problem, which causes
rorism will MGM him to fail his drug test for a post
one day have in the Department of Homeland
its classic cinematic translations Security. But despite these personal
(just as Vietnam had "Apocalypse drawbacks, he's given a chance at a

o with the actual plot in
s reveal the essence of
loration of human's fra-
teraction.
lies at the heart of
s theme applies across
becomes most poignant
ail to relate even in the
an't adequately dismiss
xiety about traveling to
n; Santiago's lies about
ad directly to Amelia's
st can't seem to express
:r family, becoming the
devastating isolation.
omes to a point where
either because they fail
or are denied an under-
tion of rash judgment
ad the characters taken
ly and consider others,
een avoided? Ifidrritu
rriaga have never con-
h happy endings or sat-
seen in "21 Grams" and
nites an eclectic cast,
ir different nations and
tome provocative juxta-
aws on showy theatrics
ying over the phone to
demonstrates a subtler
rolling casually through
sts the bustling Tokyo
hots of the two Tunisian
al gale atop a beautiful,
ap, and finally, the social
olluted and highly pros-
o. The clips come fast,

THE CULT OF CATE BLANCHETT
She's wasted in "Babel" as a West Coast wife in
distress, but Cate Blanchett has proved among the
most prolific and gifted actresses of her generation.
Hertwo other projects opening later this year:
"The Good German" (Dec.15, limited): Post-World War
It Berlin. George Clooney. Steven Soderbergh. Black and
white. People are already going crazyover it.
"Noteson a Scandal" (Dec.25, limited): Judi Dench as an
old-woman quasi-stalker going after Blanchett's sleeping-
with-a-student schoolteacher? Awesome.
illustrating how these scenes take place simul-
taneously in one world.
While sociopolitical themes of cultural com-
munication and international relations play
a back-seat role in "Babel," Inairritu doesn't
raise any social critique much different from
last year's "Crash." Despite the welcoming and
hospitable locals, the tourists along Susan and
Richard's trip fear their Moroccan surround-
ings. Border patrol harasses Santiago for what
appears to be no other reason than that he is
a Mexican with American children in his car.
Although extended beyond the Los Angeles race
riots, the racism in "Babel" sheds no new per-
spective on cross-cultural bigotry.
In the biblical story of the tower of Babel,
a deity creates the languages of the world by
altering the tongues of men trying to build a
tower to the heavens. The men, frustrated with
their sudden inability to understand one anoth-
er, fall to fighting, and the tower crumbles. Just
as its title insinuates, "Babel" is an expose of
how toxic faulty communication can be in our
increasingly global society.

Why 'Studio 60'
can't keep up
A t the beginning of this TV episode.
season, there was one show The success of"Heroes" is
that people couldn't stop hardly unexpected considering the
talking about: NBC's "Studio 60 wild fanfare surrounding ABC's
on the Sunset Strip." A drama set similarly arresting "Lost." But, the
behind the scenes of a "Saturday floundering viewership of "Studio
Night Live"-style sketch 60" is harder to explain.
show, it seemed to have it We shouldn'tbe surprised
all: strong writing from that a show that requires
one of the best in the thinking about red/blue
business (Aaron Sorkin, America, the Christian
"The West Wing") to win right and even the United
admiration from critics Nations isn't a fan favorite,
and star appeal (Mat- but there is a place on tele-
thew Perry, Amanda IMRAN vision for such a show.
Peet) to attract the aver- NBC marketed "Studio
age viewer. NBC touted SYED 60" extensively, having only
the expensive endeavor acquired the show after a
as proof of its return to prime- heated bidding war with CBS. But
time relevance, following years of for all its dedication to the show's
post-"Seinfeld" languishingthat success - despite lackluster rat-
dropped the network to fourth ings, NBC recently opted to buy a
place in overall ratings at the end of full season - the network seems to
the 2005-06 season. have gone about selling "Studio 60"
So who could have predicted in the wrong way.
that a show as earnest, polished and Much like "The West Wing,"
sophisticated as "Studio 60" would Sorkin's high-headed themes inevi-
have trouble staying afloat after tably bring in more sophisticated
its first few episodes? Actually, in viewers, making the show profit-
the age of diverting boilerplate like able despite poor ratings. But for
"Survivor," "24" and "The O.C.," "Studio 60" to truly sue.ceed, it
we shouldn't be surprised that a would have to get average viewers
show that asks audiences to bring to switch over from "Monday Night
their brains alonggets immediately Football" and "CSI: Miami," a tall
overlooked. order even for established shows.
Watching "Studio 60" for even Part of the reason for the success
a few minutes proves that no show for "Heroes" is that it faces weaker
in memory managed to squeeze competition, and "Studio 60" could
as much dialogue into its every benefit similarly from a less com-
sequence - and it's not just empty petitive timeslot.
chatter, either. Based on the ironic NBC had originally planned to
premise of one network placing air "Studio 60" Thursdays at 9 p.m.,
artistic content above money, every but, fearingthat the new show
moment is steeped in the bickering would get pounded in that timeslot
and bargainingthat go into pro- by "Grey's Anatomy," "The O.C."
ducingthe late-night satire within
the show. For the most part, the
satire is superb not only because of
Sorkin's ability to be poignant in his America wants
writing, but also his brazen willing-not
ness to be so. explosions,
But while the show's streak of
social criticism and cultural per- -
ceptiveness is what endeared it to
critics, it's also the basis for its stag-
gering viewership. Every moment and "CSI," the network backed off
of the show is ripe with wit and and moved the show to its current
critique, so much so that casual slot (Mondays at 10 p.m.). In the
viewers become immune to itcvery process, however, "Studio 60" was
quickly. And after this immunity left with another disadvantage.
is achieved, it difficult to think Because "Heroes" and "Studio 60"
of "Studio 60" as anything other have entirely different viewerships,
than an overblown motor-mouth the unlikely pairing leaves "Studio
of a show that loves itself and its 60" with few lead-in viewers. The
concept of high art just a little too 10 p.m. slot is also too late to garner
much. substantial ratings and the show
Now contrast "Studio 60" would do far better at 8 p.m. or 9
with its lead-in, the new drama p.m.
"Heroes," which features ordinary "Studio 60" was saved from the
people (you know - cops, congress- brink of cancellation last week,
men, cheerleaders) who discover but unless it moves to an earlier
they have super powers. Unabash- time and gets a more favorable lead
edly spouting lines like "save in - like "Law & Order" or "ER"
the cheerleader, save the world," - Sorkin's drama will continue to
"Heroes," in all of its cheeseball generate meager ratings. Consider-
glory, is the intellectual opposite of ing the sputtering start "Seinfeld"
"Studio 60." It has a complicated, endured in its first couple of sea-
even intriguing storyline, but sons before achieving unparalleled
despite all the pseudo-scientific commercial popularity, we should
jargon about evolution, "Heroes" remember that it isn't that art
asks little more of its audience than doesn't sell on television, it's that
to stare in amazement. And every networks don't know how to sell it.
week, itcgets about 15 million people
to tune in and stare, twice as many - Syed can be reached
as "Studio 60" managed in its last at galad@umich.edu.

Now," "Full Metal Jacket" and
"Platoon"), but first there will be
failed attempts. Case in point: writ-
er-director David Ayer's "Harsh
Times," a gritty, dark depiction
of one war veteran's personal
destruction.
Christian Bale ("Batman
Begins") plays Jim, a hardcore kid
from South Central who becomes
an Army Ranger and ends up serv-
ing in the Iraq war. Jim's street
upbringinghas alreadyill-equipped
him for success in mainstream life,
and his stint in the war only wors-
ens his social isolation. Suffering
frompost-traumaticstressdisorder,
Jim is turned down for employment
by the Los Angeles Police Depart-
ment and then ironically heads in
the opposite direction, returning
instead to his original life of law-
lessness. Along the way he drags
old friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez,
TV's "Six Feet Under") down with
him, threatening the progress Mike
and his girlfriend Sylvia (Eva Long-

The war in Iraq
has yet to spawn a
classic film.
big-timepositionbythe federal gov-
ernment - it is Jim's own refusal to
change that throws it all away.
The destruction of Jim's spirit
is a quiet, contemplative process in
the film, and his final demise chill-
ingly effective. But even the pro-
found character testament in him
is ruined by a simplistic and unper-
ceptive narrative. After a shocking
opening sequence, nothing signifi-
cant happens to propel forward the
story or its themes. Jim and Mike
drive around, throwing their lives
away, and all the movie can manage
are a few hip-hop themed words of
endearment to the human self. The
plot itself is convoluted and unorig-

Brotherly love or drug deal?
inal; no sequences develop on the
ideas established by the ones that
came before them.
It isn't enough, now or ever,
for a film to simply say, "The war H O M E E5
messed up this poor guy and you
have to feel sorry for him." We the
audience have to love the human
side of that character to feel sorry
for his destruction, but "Harsh
Times" is in too much of a rush to
conclude its winding plot to ever
touch on anythingmore significant.
Jim - despite another instinctive
performance by a buzz-cut Bale
- never rises above the level of a
street thug and, to the audience, his
death would actually be justified.
Consequently, Bale's clever grasp
on a Chicano accent (proving once
again his reputed linguistic prow-
ess) is but an amusing gimmick.
Ayer does give Rodriguez a
little more to work with. Balanc-
ing his criminal side for Jim with
the clean-shaven glazing that Syl-
via (herself a successful lawyer)
insists upon, Mike has a lot more
to lose than his reckless friend. We
might feel a twinge of sorrow when
Mike realizes the error in his ways
(too late), but even this emotional
spike is easy to ignore in a film thatf
creates settings and characters so
easy to despise.

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