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January 04, 2007 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-01-04

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.comh

Thursday, January 4, 2007 - 5A

* De Niro leaves CIA
history pic to wolves

Robert De Niro's "The Good
Shepherd" is probably one of the
mostpolished,
clean and *
sterile period The Good
productions Shepherd
ever made.
The Oscar- At Showcase
winning and Quality 16
actor's second Universal
(and less suc-
cessful) attempt at directing - his
first was the coming-of-age fable
"A Bronx Tale" - the film is disas-
trously overlong, thin on action,
empty of emotion and downright
devoid of any sense of purpose.
Despite its obvious potential,
it's hard not to think "the untold
story of the birth of the CIA" was
best left buried.
The film is among the handful
of productions this year to cast
top-notch actors across the board,
yet achieve almost nothing ("All
the King's Men" comes to mind).
It stars Matt Damon as Edward
Wilson, a young man whose life
was given to the creation of the
organization we know as the Cen-
tral Intelligence Agency. A strap-
ping young Skull and Bonesman
fresh out of Yale, Wilson leaves
his pregnant wife (Angelina Jolie)
behind him in America to serve
the nation's covert interests in
wartime Berlin.
He returns home after the war,
but is immediately recruited by
General Bill Sullivan (De Niro) to
the nascent CIA.
As he is enveloped by wary
seclusion and a constant compul-
sion for secrecy, the young man's
destruction begins. His life never
again exists outside of the cold
hallways of Langley (which don't
literally exist until the end of the
film), and he becomes just another
soul sacrificed in the impalpable
name of national interests.
In its pacing, mood and expec-
tations of the audience, the film
is really not unlike De Niro as an
actor - detached, unapproach-
able and always a step ahead
(you know, "you talkin' to me?").
It wants to show us how a life of
undercover government service
takes a toll on an individual soul,

to make us feel the desperation
and emptiness that inevitably
comes with constant paranoia
when voices approach. But even to
portray these things, we need to
see character and humanity, if for
no other reason than to just show
what is lost. "The Good Shepherd"
offers no such outs.
Damon's character isncompletely
removed from humanity, and thus
he's impossible to feel for. He's
stone-faced and blank, and even
though he struggles inside, emo-
tion is something we're trained to
never associate with him. In a film
that makes the breaking of a man
under an overbearing system its
main theme, that hardly seems the
way to go.
In its 2-hour-40-minute run-
time, the film meanders back
and forth between approximate-
ly three different time periods
- Wilson's days at Yale, his time
in Berlin and Washington in the
1940s and finally the lead up to
and aftermath of the Bay of Pigs in
Great actors, great
premise - not-so-
great movie.
the 1960s.
The transitions get to be con-
fusing, not because distinctions
aren't made, but because the audi-
ence simply becomes too numb
to make any type of effort to sort
the story out. Indeed, even after
Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy
Crudup and Michael Gambon have
their say and the plight of Edward
Wilson is completely told, it's still
hard to take anything away from
the film.
"Shepherd" has the air of some-
thing big and seems to forever tee-
ter on the brink of revelation, but
never gets to the point. There isn't
a solid beginning or end here, just
bits and pieces that are well shot,
yet rarely imbued with any imme-
diacy.
De Niro has been hinting heav-
ily that he'd like to make a sequel
to the film and finish the story, but
this really isn't a beginning worth
following to the end.

Say it loud: Daily Arts pays tribute to James Brown.
It's difficult to summarize the life and
accomplishments of James Brown in a
manner that could actually do the man
and his music justice. There simply is too much
to mention, too much to devote whole para-
graphs, chapters and books to. His music is
irrevocably entrenched in American culture,
from the all-night diner's jukebox to hip-hop
sampling. Along with Little Richard, Sam
Cooke and Ray Charles, Brown was part of an
enormous transition in popular music, combin-
ing gospel traditions with R&B, mixing in rock
beats and crossing racial barriers.
The best eulogy for Brown, who died Christ-
mas Day of heart failure, must involve actually

listening to his extensive catalogue. Dubbed
"the hardest working man in show business"
for a reason, Brown brought his fire to every
record he produced, creating grooves that were
more than the total sum of drums, bass, horns
and guitar. Brown's grooves are totally organic
creations, infinitely compelling in simplicity
and sophistication - no one can resist his beats,
much less the desire to throw out an "uh!" or
"good God!" when the mood strikes.
"I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing
(Open Up The Door, I'll Get It Myself)" and
"Goodbye My Love, Pts. 1 & 2," which can both
be found on Foundations of Funk - A Brand
New Bag:1964-1969, are two iconic tracks that

defy the constraints of popular music. The for-
mer is a political attack entirely removed from
the poetry of Dylan or the straight-ahead rock
of the Rolling Stones. The latter is one of the
greatest funk ballads of all time. Brown made
the groove - the funk-laced, sweating groove
- his own creation, and the fact that he could
deliver such a product again and again is stag-
gering.
Brown isn't leaving this world anytime soon.
Few artists have been or will be able to burn
hotter than he did or play as active a role in the
evolution of music as he still does. His influ-
ence will live for as long as there is music to be
listened to, performed and written.

Rekindled 'Toy Story' skimps on comedy

By CHRISTINA CHOI
Daily Arts Writer
At last, a history lesson that
won't make you fall asleep.
Well, sort of. While "A Night at
the Museum" isn't nearly as hard-
core as the
specials you A N
might come
across on A Night at
the History the Museum
Channel in At the Showcase
the early and Quality16
hours of the 20th Century Fox
morning,
the film does give its viewers basic
facts of the past amid its layers of
skimpy comedy. Who would've
thought that knowledge of Attila
the Hun's interest in sorcery could
be so useful?
Thesetidbitsbecome vital infor-
mation for the survival of Larry
Daley (Ben Stiller, "Meet the Fock-
ers"), the new night watchman at
the Museum of Natural History in
New York - where at night every-

thing in the museum magically
comps to life due to the mysteri-
ous power of an ancient Egyptian
tablet.
Though his aging predecessors
caution that this is no ordinary
job, Larry finds out the hard way,
and his first night is predictably
wrought with surprises. After he's
attacked by miniature Indians,
ridiculed by a mentally impaired
statue from Easter Island and
barely escapes an encounter with
Attila the Hun, Larry is rescued
by a gallant Theodore Roosevelt
(Robin Williams, "Man of the
Year").
Teddy explains that it's his duty
to keep the peace at all costs and
prevent any museum exhibits from
escaping and turning into dust
when the sun rises. Understand-
ably taken aback, Larry grits his
teeth and decides to keep the job
to avoid looking like a loser to his
adoring son, Nicky (Jake Cherry,
"Friends With Money").
The film's plotline is nothing

spectacular, but it revives the con-
cept behind "Toy Story" and suc-
cessfully ushers it into real life.
The result is a seamless work of
video editing that makes a three-
inch-tall cowboy version of Owen
Wilson ("Wedding Crashers")
interactboth believably and effort-
lessly with Stiller, his seemingly
permanent cinematic sidekick.
Wilson's laidback quirkiness
Not quite the
mixed-up files of
your childhood.
steals the film's best moments,
especially in his dealings with fel-
low miniature Steve Coogan ("Cof-
fee and Cigarettes"), a Roman
gladiator with a British accent.
Williams is also cast well as a
Ruff Ryder-era Roosevelt who's
secretly in love with Sacagawea

(OK, so the film shouldn't be taken
too literally). Despite his stock dia-
logue on bravery, Teddy cultivates
Larry's heroic side and shows him
that he's capable of being a great
man - not that this lessonis half as
memorable as the joking reminder
that Williams is just an exhibit
when his wax body is accidentally
chopped in half.
Despite fancy visual effects and
a few chuckles, "Night" is in sore
need of sharp one-liners. Instead
it relies heavily on Stiller's repu-
tation as a funnyman to carry
scenes. This only works to a cer-
tain extent, but without any quick
humor written into the role, the
physical antics grow stale.
Nonetheless, a Hollywood com-
edy with any educational value is
so rare today that "Night at the
Museum" might be worth taking
your little sibling to.
And with its light-hearted tone
and guaranteed happy ending, it
might have just enough spunk for
adults as well.

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See it in '0 r1
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a M HIGANt: CALL (734) 668-TIME is hiring ad designers!'
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