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February 08, 2010 - Image 8

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8A - Monday, February 8, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

The heart of the Oscars .

"And then the talent agent says, 'Nicolas Cage is a really good actor.' "
Cage goes cra y

'Bad Lieutenant' remake
reiterates Herzog's
talent for dark humor
By ANDREW LAPIN
Senior Arts Editor
There's something admirable in the
way Nicolas Cage just goes balls-to-the-
wall insane in every single one ofhis roles
today (his vocal
work in "Astro *
Boy" possibly being
the lone excep- Bad Lieutenant
tion). Cage hasn't
let critical derision Port of Call
or audience apa- New Orleans
thy affect his act-
ing decisions, even At the Michigan
though those deci- First Look
sions led hinn to
star in "Knowing."
Clearly, the inimitable Werner Herzog,
director of such man-on-the-brink films
as "Fitzcarraldo" and "Grizzly Man," saw
something he admired in Cage's ability to
bring the crazy to mainstream cinema..
And this must have been what led him to
cast Cage in his in-name-only remake of
Abel Ferrara's 1992 anti-establishment
cop movie "Bad Lieutenant."
Ilere's a nifty sleight-of-hand this
filn pulls before our very eyes: With its
sweeping shots of a ravaged, post-Katrina
New Orleans and a seemingly hard-boiled

murder mystery, this new "Bad Lieuten-
ant" walks and talks like a mainstream
police drama. But by the time Cage's Ter-
ence McDonagh is hallucinating igua-
nas and cutting off an old lady's oxygen
supply, you'll know the film is anything
but mainstream. This stuff makes "The
Departed" look like "Kindergarten Cop."
Herzog and screenwriter William Fin-
kelstein (TV's "NYPD Blue") are careful
to include only as much plot as is neces-
sary to keep adding fuel to Cage's luna-
cy. The opening scene finds McDonagh
uncharacteristically risking his life to
save a drowning victim. He spends the
rest of the film paying for this random
act of kindness with insufferable back
pain that gives him an addiction to Vico-
din. After his promotion to lieutenant,
McDonagh takes on an investigation into
the murders of five Senegalese refugees
and secures drugs from perps on the side
to both pay off his gambling debts and
share with his prostitute girlfriend (Eva
Mendes, "The Spirit").
This isn't one of those movies in which
we're helplessly watching a straight-and-
narrow guy spin his life out of control
as he succumbs to the evils of addiction.
Herzog is too dismissive of human nature
to make a film about a downward spiral;
to him, everyone is already at the bottom,,
spiraling in place. Neither he nor Cage
is interested in creating a drug addict
the audience will feel sorry for. So we
see McDonagh ingest the highest-grade
cocaine, let off crack-possessing girls on

the street in exchange for sexual favors
and light up a blunt in front of a prime
suspect (but not without offering him a
hit, of course).
There's nothing redeeming in
McDonagh except the unrestrained
glee he takes from getting away with it
all. And we're laughing right along with
him. Here, at last, is a worthy successor
to "Scarface," and when McDonagh com-
mands a stooge to keep riddling a dead
drug lord with bullets because "his soul
still dances," it's an instantly iconic scene
that begs to be quoted a la "Say hello to
my little friend!"
But for such a dark comedy of excess,
it's surprising that the film ends with
something approaching restraint. The
closing shots are more optimistic about
the futures of McDonagh and the sins of
humanity than a film directed by Herzog
has any right to be. Is this - pardon the
pun - a cop-out? A result of pressure
from the studio? An admission by Her-
zog that he can't even maintain inter-
est long enough to properly finish his
vision? Whatever it is, the ending pulls
off another muddling sleight-of-hand on
the viewer.
One thing's for sure: Now that Cage
has restored some of his reputation by
getting a better director to film his bug-
eyed antics, he's free to keep up his reign
of insanity through another batch of bad
movies. That is, once he's settled all of his
recent lawsuits. Hey Cage, a birdie says
there's money in New Orleans real estate.

I'11 admit that I was one of those
people annoyed to see "The Blind
Side" among the Best Picture con-
tenders when the Oscar nominations were
announced last week.
And I'll also admit I had
many other issues with
this year's Oscars, from
Sandra Bullock's inclu-
sion to the Academy's
decision to expand the
supposedly most pres-
tigious categoryto ten ANDREW
movies. There's an audio LApIN
recording of my col-
leagues and I on The Michigan Daily's web-
site that can attest to these feelings.
But since that recording I've been ask-
ing myself: Why all the snark and con-
tempt? Maybe I just geta guilt complex
when I rant about my favorite pastime.
I was furious that "The Reader" robbed
"The Dark Knight" of its spot last year. But
looking back on that a year later, it seems
ridiculous to get so worked up over the
"lack of love" for a movie that grossed over
$500 million in the United States alone. I
have a feeling we'll be doing some similar
soul-searching around this time next year,
and I hope we realize that our love for the
movies shouldn't be dependent on whether
a bunch of old fogies in Los Angeles share
our opinions.
I'll let you guys in on a little secret: I
liked "Crash." And "Juno." And "Slumdog
Millionaire" and "The Curious Case of
Benjamin Button." I don't think the Acad-
emy was wrong to nominate any of them,
despite the backlash they all faced sooner
or later. At one point or another, maybe you
felt that way too.
The movies themselves haven't changed
since they were first released with zero
awards to their name. For the most part,
our perceptions of these movies only
change once the studios in charge of them
(read: not the filmmakers themselves)
decide to spend lots of money and go all
Max Bialystock on little-old-lady Acad-
emy voters. And just as these voters can
be swept onto a film's bandwagon with a
couple of well-timed cocktail parties, so
too can us filmgoers be swept away by an
anti-Oscar mindset.
We like to sit around and talk about
how irrelevant the Oscars have become,
as though we'd know exactly how to make
them relevant if the Academy would only
give us complete free reign of the awards
process. We don't know. If you think you
know, you're wrong: You know only how to
make the Oscars relevant to you.
The Oscars are now just as relevant as
they've always been; they mean something
to those who enjoyed the nominated films,
just like every year. They're a nice little
capper to the annual film cycle. Sometimes

the people you like get to take home little
gold men. Sometimes they don't. Then the
cycle begins anew. But if Oscar didn't mean
anything, these debates wouldn't even
happen anymore. The fact that we still get
worked up over the inclusion of movies like
"The Blind Side" automatically proves the
validity of the ceremony, as opposed to,
say, the collective shrug of the public when
"The Hangover" won Best Comedy at the
Golden Globes.
Am I sucking all the fun out of the tried-
and-true art form known as bitching and
moaning (of which I am a master)? Look,
if you want to walk up to people looking
forward to the Oscars and tell them they're
wrong, that the ceremony's credibility has
gone completely out the window and that
the only way the Oscars can redeem them-
selves is by bludgeoning Sandra Bullock to
death on live TV, go ahead. But I think it
would be better for all of usinvolved, film
fanatics and casual audiences alike, to sim-
ply treat the ceremony as great entertain-
ment and nothing more. We'll all be alot
happier that way.
Ten Best Picture
nominations may not
be so bad after all.
"Great entertainment" isn't the same
thing as saying the Oscars are meaning-
less. The AFI Awards are meaningless.
The Oscars are the glue that holds the
art of filmmakingtogether, which isn't as
bold of a claim as you might think. Studios
bankroll the production of quality movies
like "Up in the Air" in the hopes of win-
ning Oscars, and when you take away that
prize potential, you're left with lowest-
common-denominator panderers instead
of legitimate works of art. Again, movies
can exist as thought-provoking produc-
tions outside of the realm of the Oscars,
and the ceremony itself can exist as a night
of glittery indulgence without the films
themselves. But you need both elements to
keep the film industry alive.
So let's all put aside our differences and
take the pre-Oscars opportunity to actu-
ally do what this ceremony was designed to
have us do: see some movies. Because at the
very least America has now been given 1
new movie recommendations instead of just
five, and if you want to follow Hollywood
enough to debate awards, you owe it to
yourself to see as many of those as you can.
Lapin wants to be relevant to you.
To let him know your likes and dislikes,
e-mail him at alapin@umich.edu.

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A Chorus will
sing you to sleep

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Tresspassers will be shot on site, 256 times!

MAG
From Page 5A
In this aspect, the managing
of objectives and the teamwork
those objectives require, "MAG" is
almost brilliant When you have a
disciplined, organized squad with
a competent squad leader direct-
ing players toward challenging
but achievable goals, "MAG" is
a blast. There's nothing else out
there quite like it; the teamwork
necessary to get anything done in
the more advanced scenarios cre-
ates an atmosphere of camaraderie
rarely seen in video games. Sure,
there are plenty of two to four
player co-op games out there, but
to feel like you're working in sync
with more than 100 other players

is really, really cool. The defeats
are more bitter, and the victories
much, much sweeter, accented by
the hoots and hollers of your fel-
low soldiers.
Unfortunately, matches that
actually demonstrate that kind of
teamwork and organization are
painfully rare. Far more common
are 100 to 200 lone wolves, killing
the first thing they see and getting
killed immediately afterward. And
having to re-spawn back into the
game after death is no picnic; there
can be up to a 30-second delay and
there's a good chance the player
will start on the far reaches of the
map, sometimes a full minute or
more away from any action. That
may not seem like a lot, but try
spending 12 minutes of a 30-minute
game waiting to actually play the
game. It's no fun.

And that's not the biggest prob-
lem. This first-person shooter's
flaw is that the first-person shoot-
ing just isn't that fun. The controls
are clumsy, the aiming feels awk-
ward and the weapons are dull.
The character customization tries
to address some of these problems
with perks for leveling up, but even
after hours and hours of gameplay
the issues aren't resolved. You can't
help but wonder if bothering with
"MAG" is worth it when there are
other titles out there doing the
same thing, but better.
That being said, if the idea of
teamwork on such a massive scale
intrigues you, give "MAG" a try.
But if you're going into this title
expecting "Modern Warfare 2"
multiplied by 20, you're setting
yourself up for one hell of a disap-
pointment.

By BRIAN FLAHERTY
DailyArts Writer
Ever since The Album Leaf
toured with Icelandic icons Sigur
Ros, the band has
established itself*
as perhaps the
closest American The Album
equivalent to its
expressive, oth- Leaf
erworldly coun- A Chorusof
terpart across the Storytellers
pond. The Album Sto
Leaf's fifth and SubPap
latest record, A
Chorus ofStorytellers, is a strange
and sublime set of instrumental
compositions.
For the last decade, The Album
Leaf has been a collaborative
project of its driving force and
chief instrumentalist, Jimmy
LaValle. He came loaded for bear
with A Chorus, the group's first
album with a full band, recorded
near Seattle with veteran musi-
cian Ryan Hadlock (Blonde Red-
head, Stephen Malkmus and the
Jicks) and mixed in Iceland with
producer Birgir Jon Birgisson
(Sigur Ros).
After many months of editing,
A Chorus places itself squarely in
the tricky sphere of instrumental
indie - the realm where a band
relies on the strength of its shim-
mering keyboard melodies, spac-
ey drum lines and atmospheric
harmonics to engage listeners.
Spare lyrics occasionally grace
a few of the album's tracks, but
vocals aren't the defining sounds
on the album.
The new record comes across
soothing, somnolent and bright.
Harmonious piano arrangements
and sweeping strings make for a
hypnotic, dream-like experience
that, for the most part, doesn't
disappoint. Just be sure not to
listen to it while studying at 2
a.m., because it's sure to cocoon a
fatigued listener into sleep.

LaValle delivers consistently
throughout the album but gener-
ally doesn't step outside his com-
fort zone,.yielding little in the
way of clear standouts. After the
first few songs, it's pretty easy to
guess the formula for the album's
songs: start with a repeating
piano or drum line, fold some
subtle and intricate melodies over
it and build up to a conclusion
with a pleasant solo at a higher
tempo. Like those cookies grand-
mas bake for holidays, the record
always tastes good but isn't espe-
cially shocking or fresh.
The main stumbling block for
the album is that the airy tracks
occasionally drone on. "Fall-
ing from the Sun," for instance,
repeats virtually identical melo-
dies and vocals in numbing cir-
cles. Redundancy within songs
isn't necessarily noticeable in
most of the album's tracks, but
can get quite irritating when it
does appear.

A Chorus sounds an awful lot
like The Album Leaf's last two
records, which isn't bad news
because Album Leaf has shown
it can routinely produce strong
instrumental albums. There are
differences between A Chorus
Album Leaf
creates another
satisfying yet
safe album.

and previous albums - the new
album is altogether sleepier and
less tense - but LaValle sticks to
the musical forms he knows and,
for the most part, does well. Fans
may cross their fingers for albums
that are edgier and take risks, but
LaValle's formula still works.

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'And I shall name this island, Blurryland!'

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