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October 19, 2007 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-10-19

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Friday, October 19, 2007 - 5

Unworthy heir to
a wonderful film

DailyArts Writer
"Elizabeth" was a surprise in
1998. Ushering in the splendid
and outspoken career of Cate
Blanchett, the film presented
an old legend
and made it a
subtly modern
and nuanced Elizabeth:
period picture,
wrought with the Golden
great drama. ge
The Golden At the State
Age," the Theater,
unexpected Quality16and
and surpris- Showcase
ingly hyped Universal
retains almost
everything notable from the
original: the style, the contem-
porary drama, the pomp and
circumstance of a great period
film. Too bad that's it. "Golden
Age" is nothing more than a
series of loosely connected and
well-decorated scenes, slapped
together in hopes that adorers
of the original will show up to
see it.
They probably will. But what
they'll get is an awkwardly
staged and carelessly speedy
impression of a story. Told at
a breathless pace, mashing
together plot points that never
quite amount to anything, this
is the middle two hours of what
should and could have been an
enormous, three-hour movie.
Fitting, too, since "Golden
Age" is ostensibly a look at the
famed queen's middle years.
In what is supposed to be a
period of great difficulty for
her and England, much must
be done. She must fight with
internal powers over religious
involvement, Catholics versus
Protestants. War with Spain is
imminent. The public questions
the Queen's lack of a male heir as
Mary Queen of Scots is banking
on her own son to elevate her to
the throne. Most difficult of all,
Elizabeth is involved in a love
triangle between one of her ser-
vants and the great Sir Walter
Raleigh. It's as exhausting and
crammed, yet loosely connected,
as this last paragraph.

It's hard to distinguish the
fine line between prestige pic-
tures and the over-baked paro-
dies of themselves. They all look
alike, to a certain extent, and
are of wide cinematic interest
- usually.
"Golden Age" becomes a clear
case of the latter. Everyone
speaks in a manner of utmost
importance. Villains are distin-
guished by sleek and darkly lit
presences, complete with slick
hair and raised eyebrows.
Why did Shekhar Kapur, who
also directed the first "Eliza-
beth," even want to make this
movie? Though he retains the
cast and crew of his fabulous
original, there's a total gap in
the material between "Golden"
and its predecessor. At times
incredibly boring, then com-
pletely sensational, "Golden
Age" suffers from its inability to
strike a tone in its narrative and
stick with it.
Blanchett is back as the queen,
and she brings all the thundering
The sound and
outfit of the
first. It stops
frailty she did before, but to no
end. She shows up. She screams.
She giggles. She's basically told
what to do by a psychic. Geof-
frey Rush's pseudo-Cheney aide,
Sir Francis Walsingham, is the
sole character of real interest in
the film, and it's only because he
seems the most reflective and
developed. Wise and old, even
he strains under the pressures
of too much subterfuge and ten-
This is not supposed to an
ironic statement-about political
divination throughout history,
or how things work. It's just
soft-baked texture that's ulti-
mately inconsequential. Great
costumes and set design are one
thing. An involving, well-told
tale is another.

A janitor's tale

You may not understand what's happening, but that's OK

Daily Arts Writer
"Michael Clayton" opens with
quiet layers of dialogue over a
sequence of
visuals that ***
don't seem to
match it. There's Michael
clear urgency Clayton
to the sequence,
but no apparent At Qualityl6
purpose. Before and Showcase
long, we settle Warner Bros.
into it because
there's not much
else we can do, and that's the phi-
losophy that will get you through
the movie.
"Clayton" follows the titular"
character, a corporate law firm's
in-house "fixer," on a four-day
downward spiral as he :tries to .
save his company's defense of
a shady environment company
from a manic-depressive senior
attorney who begins to lose it
when he discovers the truth
about the case. Add to the mix an
impending merger between two

law firms the case could destroy,
a large debt Clayton has to pay,
problems with a deadbeat broth-
er, a strained relationship with
his son and a host of unscrupu-
lous business people, and "Clay-
ton" has a lot of ground to cover.
The film is most loftily about
right or wrong and, most impor-
tant, recognizing the difference
between the two. But because
"Clayton" has no original ethi-
cal core to measure its famil-
iar narrative arc, the study of
moral ambiguity and the stream
of deceit that runs through the
film's veins never really provoke
much beyond the obvious.
The draw of "Clayton," then,
comes from the actor who
embodies its protagonist, George
Clooney, who elevates the film
a io more ways than one. Not only
will the face of America's movie-
star golden boy bring in a fair
amount in ticket sales, Clooney's
real-life persona lends a sense of
purpose. Surely a man (Clooney,
not Clayton) who jets around try-
ing to save the world and injects

Hollywood with a needed dose
of class is here for a reason.
Watching him, we hardly want to
admit that we're confused. If we
don't get it, it's us, not the movie,
because, after all, Clooney's the
lead, and so there must be a tan-
gible message.
The hard truth: When you're
spending most of your time try-
ing to figure out what the hell is
going on in the story, it makes it
hard to identify with the charac-
ter's journey.
Still, once you've filled in some
of the blanks - even ifit's Ad-Libs
style, where your own answer
is as good as screenwriter and
director Tony Gilroy's (he wrote
the "Bourne" movies) - you find
you're watching a deft movie that
deserves some respect. Clooney
is only one of a many actors who
give commendable performances
(Tom Wilkinson, as the unstable
attorney, is totally riveting). And
with the exception of a few mis-
steps (the inclusion of three par-
ticular horses, for instance), the
film moves at a brisk pace that

keeps us tense for the next devel-
Gilroy's dialogue deserves
particular attention. Between
the soliloquy-style rants of
Wilkinson's Arthur and the nat-
ural delivery of dry humor and
intense resolve from Clooney, we
really believe we've been trans-
ported into the world of big-time
New York law. And Robert Els-
wit, the film's cinematographer,
continues to solidify his reputa-
tion as a director's dream. Where
his camera is of consistent move-
ment in P.T. Anderson's films, or
of unobtrusive observation in
"Good Night, and Good Luck,"
in this film it camera mimics the
script's structure, the weight of
the character's words and the
flow of their prospective arcs.
My advice is simple. If you're
going to see this movie - and you
should because, if nothing else, it
will exercise your brain - don't
sweat the details. This is one of
those movies where the "why"
is not nearly as important as the


Horses keeps
intensity, not
For the Daily
With lineup change can come musi-
cal change, and such is the case on Band of
Horses's sophomore full-length Cease to
Begin. When Mat Brooke
left the band in 2006 to
devote more energy to his
other project (and Band of Band of
Horses's labelmate) Grand
Archives, the band lost the Horses
songwriting partnership of
Brooke and Ben Bridwell Cease to Begin
that dated back to the late Sub Pop
'90s. 2006's Everything All
the Time broke through
as an acclaimed work, and Cease to Begin
retains the core melodic rock elements but
lacks that album's power.
With guitarist Brooke gone, the band
compensates with more diversity of instru-
mentation. On "The General Specific," the
raucously strummed acoustic guitar is pres-
ent but the piano is the focal point, even
soloing near the end. The instrumentation
of "Marry Song" completely leaves the gui-
tar out and is limited to light drums and the
resonating hum of an organ. Other songs, like
"Ode to LRC," keep the guitar driving the
tune but still depend on organ and piano to
fill out the sound.
There is also an increased prevalence of
country twang. Possibly a result of the band's
relocation from Washington to the members'
South Carolina roots, hints of crossover's
common offenders, like steel guitar and banjo
on Everything's "Monsters," are expanded on
songs like "The General Specific." The beat
is a group of people stomping and clapping,
conjuring a rowdy bar for the acoustic guitar
and piano to joyfully lead.
The more peaceful "Marry Song" features
a trio of Bridwell's voices crooning in har-

IN CONCERT Go to kerrytownconcert-
Ride that housecom for scheduling infor-
At Kerrytown Concert House MUSIC
Prices and times vary: see Unexceptional
It's a gathering some of the folksy indie, all
most out-there music you've the way through
never heard and probably never
heard of. But that's a good thing,
because now you can.
There's an embarrassment of Phosphorescent
variety, as there is every year, Pride
at the ongoing "Edgefest" at the Dead Oceans
Kerrytown Concert House. You
have until tomorrow to catch at Phosphorescent's Pride i
least one of the many bands, a folksy indie and little more.
symposium or even the parade There are no exceptiona
on Saturday (bring your own tracks, only the same rhythm
instrument and join in, kids). vocal style, instruments an<
The Concert House itself is mellowed emotion. All eigh
a quaint venue - even quainter songs melt together with Mat
than the modestly charming thew Houck's soft whine tha
Canterbury House up the street tells of prairies and wilderness
- and if you're going to listen to inflected with gentle harmonic
free (in the experimental sense) and maracas. "Wolves" is per
jazz, this is the place to hear it. haps its strongest moment,
It's called "Edgefest" for a darkly picturesque ballad abou
reason. Regardless of your pre- fighting animals: "They're tear
ferred music genres, there is ing up holes in the house / Tear
ample opportunity over the next ing their claws in the grounm
few days to find something new / Staring with blood in thei:
or simply expand your musical mouths / Mama they won't le
contextual wisdom - plus, I'm me out."
sure you could pick up a few buzz If this stuff would normall)
words like "harmonic" and "con- be your venue, get Iron & Wine'
templative studies" to drop non- recent The Shepard's Dog. Both
chalantly at a party. And even if albums have an earthy, folk feel
you don't pick up a CD or join a ing to them, but the latter offer
mailing list, the performances more than Pride's mindlessl)
are a major part of Ann Arbor's pretty, monotonous sound.
diverse music scene. KAREN STASEVICl
It's all right. Read about Regina Spektor and Nickel Creek
at michigandaily.com.


Pretty much what you'd except from a group of guys who call themselves "Band of Hor


mony and constantly raising the pitches at
the end of phrases, giving a Western feel to
it. Whereas on Everything Brooke might have
done backup vocals, the layering of Bridwell's
reverb-drenched voice can distract from the
A band
adrift in a
midtempo ocean.
music instead of add to it.
On the whole, Bridwell's voice is the same
high pitched howl that has drawn constant
comparisons to My Morning Jacket's Jim
James. Bridwell details everyday goings-on
with lyrics about small town life and love and
loss, all incorporating the idea of sight.
"Ode to LRC" combines all of these themes,
beginning with him putting his "focals" on
to read some stories, "and all is calm." He
mentions a dog that used to come there to

eat, but mourns, "That dog he don't come
around anymore / No, no, the dog is gone /
The dog is gone." This somber tone changes
when Bridwell ecstatically concludes, "The
world is such a wonderful place / La di da."
The lyrical change of story to plain observa-
tion is evident elsewhere on the record, as is
Bridwell's abandonment of words to opt for
nonsensical harmonic sounds.
Fortunately, the band doesn't forget that
harmonic sound and thunderous guitar-
driven rock are not mutually exclusive. The
album's opener, "Is There a Ghost," begins
with bare vocals and guitar till the rest of the
band soon joins in, beating the same note as
they crescendo into one rapid, furious sound
for Bridwell's voice to soar above. "Island on
the Coast," on the other hand, features the
band rocking while all playing very different
on these tracks and others, Band of Hors-
es preserves the chemistry and intensity of
Everything, but it's too often weighed down
by unremarkable, mid-tempo music that nei-
ther reaches the quiet intimacy nor the con-
centrated rock of that album.

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