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April 12, 2010 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, April 12, 2010 - 5A

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Monday, April 12, 2010 - 5A

Film critics of
the world, unite!

'Vincere' marches on to victory

Last fall sang the praises
of the new-and-improved film
review show "At the Movies" for
sacking empty-headed critics Ben
Lyons and Ben
Mankiewicz
in favor of the
knowledgeable
O and entertain-
ing A.O. Scott
and Michael
Phillips. I was
excited to once "
again enjoy the ANDREW
show thatcgot LAPIN
me into movies,
. and I proudly
proclaimed that the program had
found its Hollywood ending.
Smash cut to right now, and
that's been replaced by something
more akin to a New Hollywood
ending - you know, the kind of
the "Easy Rider" or "Apocalypse
Now" variety, where the death
of an icon becomes the symbol
for the death of an era. "At the
Movies" was canceled on March
25, after over three decades
on the air. When the news was
announced I'm sure Roger Ebert
himself, who's been mute since
2006 after undergoing surgery
for thyroid cancer, suddenly
regained his voice and whispered,
"The horror ... the horror ...."
Excessive? Not if you listen
to the ever-dwindling circle
of people who are still able to
claim full-time jobs as film crit-
ics. The art of film criticism is
dying, they say, and some feel it's
already dead. The public doesn't
want serious discussions about
the movies anymore. The pub-
lic doesn't want any discussion
about movies at all.
Well, if the practice of criti-
cism as we know it today is dead,
then it's time for a rebirth. Just
as past generations of revolution-
ary filmmakers used to demand
creative resurgences in their art,
I think it's time for the critical
community to do the same.
In 1962, a group of young Ger-
man directors signed the Ober-
hausen Manifesto, which called
for a new style of German feature
film following the collapse of the
old model under economic stress.
"The old film is dead. We believe
in the new one," they said, and
they meant it. And so, in the same
spirit, I would like to present:
The Film Critic's
Manifesto
We, the critics of tomorrow,
recognize that there has been an
erosion of the classic traditions
and values that old-fashioned
film critics used to hold so dear.
We know that hardly anyone is
watching "At the Movies" these
days, and that the slow and pain-
ful death of printed news has
eliminated the need for each
publication to distinguish its own
unique critical opinion.
We are also aware that Roger
Ebert is planning to launch a new
film review show, which he prom-
ises on his website will "go full-tilt
New Media." We remain skeptical
of the promise that this alone will
suddenly cause people to find film
criticism relevant again.
But at the same time, we recog-
nize the need for film criticism to
continue in some form. The box
office is an absolute powerhouse,
and the act of moviegoing still
dominates our culture. More and

more films, both large and small,
are fighting every week for a spot
in the public consciousness. The
ability to sift through this mas-
sive entertainment conglomerate
YOU CAN'T
SPELL
SUMMER
ARTS
WITHOUT
ARTS.
E-mail shemma2010@gmail.
com for information on apply-
ing.

and debate the lasting impact of
new and old releases on the medi-
um is just as invaluable today as it
ever was, perhaps more so.
The problem is that, with the
unprecedented degree to which
people can share their opinions
over the Internet, literally every-
one has become a critic. But more
than that, everyone has become
a destructive critic. Snark and
cynicism rule the ways we think
about movies today. Films with
gumption and purpose are
routinely bullied, beaten and
dismissed in pithy asides on mes-
sage boards. Even the so-called
professional critics love to decry
certain mindless blockbusters
and call the public morons for
flocking to them.
We present a new kind of film
criticism, which we would like
to winkingly deem "constructive
criticism." A constructive critic
does not feel a need to "hate"
movies just for the sake of being
contrarian and attracting atten-
tion. Nor does a constructive
critic bow to the whims of the
studios and give vapid, robotic
blurbs for movie posters, because
that would be destructive to the
art of criticism. "A slam-bang
action thrill ride!" does not exist
in the vocabulary of a construc-
tive critic.
Rather, a constructive critic
embraces the new and exciting
while treasuring the old and
timeless. He or she is always
excited to be on the cusp of the
cinematic world and isn't afraid
to trumpet new movies as mas-
terpieces despite any potential
threat to his or her stature. A
constructive critic doesn't fight
new trends like 3-D or pronounce
young, ambitious directors "pre-
tentious." There is one singular
The film critic
revolution
will not be
criticized.
goal in the mind of a constructive
critic: to foster an environment
for the continued discussion of
the film medium as a whole.
And we feel that anyone can
give constructive criticism,
because after all, everyone's a
critic. This is about bringing
film discussion to the masses
so we don't all just become pas-
sive consumers of whatever the
studios decide to throw at us.
This is about Kevin Smith, on his
Twitter account, comparing the
panning of his movie "Cop Out"
to "bullying a retarded kid," and
us realizing that he's a little right
and a lot wrong.
We want to believe in the
power of criticism because we're
better critics than we are film-
makers. We do what we do with
the realization that we all secretly
wish we could be as talented and
influential as the big-shot direc-
tors who have made it in the busi-
ness, though of course they made
it there thanks in part to critics.
With constructive criticism, we
aim to recognize our limitations
and embrace our love of the cin-
ema, now and forevermore.
The old film criticism is dead.
We believe in the new one.

Lapin wants to hear your
constructive criticism. E-mail
him at alapin@umich.edu.

Mussolini's secret lover
is revealed in
erotic Italian biopic
By JENNIFER XU
Daily Arts Writer
Who would have guessed that a biopic -
about Benito Mussolini, no less - could have
turned out so avant-garde? Although it's con-
sistently overshadowed by its
(admittedly) superior Cannes ***
competition "The White Rib-
bon," the Italian film "Vin- Vjincere
cere" still has its strengths.
"Vincere" disregards conven- Atthe
tional biopic mechanisms in Michigan
favor of a taut, yet occasion- IFC
ally overwrought, dramatic
storyline.
"Vincere" - aptly, the Italian word for "to
conquer" - follows Mussolini (Fillipo Timi,
"Saturno Contro") from his induction into the
Socialist Party to the end of his dictatorship,
focusing mainly on his alleged marriage to
shopowner Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno,
"Love in the Time of Cholera"). Dalser famous-
ly bore him a bastard son, Benito Albino, whom
he never acknowledged, though she swore to
the grave that he had signed a marriage license
indicating they had been wed.
By omitting the traditional "this is where he
started" bits, "Vincere" immediately catapults
the audience into the center of the action. The
film is remarkably operatic, with clamoring
swells and swoops in the soundtrack that rival
the likes of "Amadeus." Director Marco Belloc-
chio ("Good Morning, Night") makes skillful
use of old 1930s film reels, masterfully juxta-
posing grainy World War I propaganda with
scenes from the film that flash and fade out of
sunken-eyed victims in mental hospitals just as
the opera voices billow and subside.
Where "Vincere" succeeds most is in explor-
ing the concept of sex as a mechanism of char-
acter. Before Mussolini comes into power, he is
seen subjugating Dalser, foretellingly, in much
the same way as his ascent to his dictatorship.
In one particularly harrowing scene, Dalser

"Ida Dalser? I barely know her."
spreads herself naked on a comforter, having
sold all her possessions in order to fund her
lover's Socialist newspaper. "Say you love me,
just once," the needy Dalser begs. In true fash-
ion, Mussolini responds by violently pressing
his lips against hers, obscenely ravishing her
naked body. The image fades out, and a troop of
advancing soldiers marches across the screen,
preliminarily connecting the bedroom to the
battleground before the historical events hap-
pen.
Yet the problem with "Vincere" - as with
all biopics - is that it comes off as quite one-
tracked, essentially focusing on Mussolini's
pathway to power through his character and
personal relationships. Once the dictator leaves
the film halfway through, following his aban-
donment of Dalser to a mental institution, there
is fundamentally no more film. The audience
is left to deal with Dalser's theatrics in the
absence of a powerful male figure.
As a pure Mussolini biopic, the melodrama
would have worked wonders. As an Ida Dalser
one, it's a bit too much, as Mezzogiorno

screams obscenities, psychotically flinging let-
ters onto the ground and generally raising havoc
among the ward. Her performance is powerful,
but her character is simply neither interesting
nor sympathetic enough to carry the film by
herself. Viewers can't identify or sympathize
with Dalser's overtly masochistic tendencies,
and her hysterics get a little old.
Also, those who did not grow up during the
age of Mussolini might not be able to feel the
full force of the causality between the dictator's
private history and his public persona. "Vin-
cere" is a distinctively Italian film, and Ameri-
can watchers might get the feeling that they're
missing out on something. One can't help but
feel that, had the cultural context been there,
the film would have been rendered more potent.
If the first half were taken in isolation, "Vin-
cere could be applauded as a greater film, por-
traying the gripping story of a dictator ravenous
for all aspects of power, sex and love. While the
second half isn't terrible, it falters tremendous-
ly in contrast, gradually and destructively los-
ing steam with every second it goes on.

Austin unleashes a garage band of 'Hippies'

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choose
But hey
motive:
blissful
ties in

By EMMA GASE can just let that shit burn." Mor-
DailyArts Writer bid? Maybe. Extremely catchy and
energetic? Absolutely. By the time
ge-rock fans need not fear the bridge comes along, we're just
enre falling by the way- waiting anxiously for the next
anytime rowdy and booze-fueled chorus
No, sir. of the singer pleading, "Please!
Austin, Please! Please! / Put me out."
seems Ouch.
churning Harlem Though the album lingers a
ire aspir- Hippies few more tracks than necessary,
sic guitar Matador listeners are rewarded with its
than Uni- penultimate track. "Pissed" is
of Texas a punk-leaning treat delivered
Austin's with flippant humor and snark
festival was flooded with the likes of which haven't been
o-fi guitar-touting whip- heard since the Buzzcocks's "Oh
ppers, but one stands as the Shit!"
inner. Harlem, the latest of Like most garage-rock bands,
rage young'uns, continues Harlem obviously takes some cues
nguish itself from its coun- from '60s underground compila-
s with the curiously named tion Nuggets, but it eschews that
ct Hippies. album's psychedelic flourish.
ay be strange that a band Hippies's 16 tracks could prob-
songs rarely exceed two- ably have been whittled down to a
half minutes and have a respectable dozen, but that doesn't
punk influence would negate the fierce energy of nearly
to brand its album Hippies. every song. 'The shared vocals
y, why question the band's of Michael Coomer and Curtis
s when it churns out 16 O'Mara are the perfect balance
.ly brief hook-infused dit- between drunk and charismatic,
40 minutes? There's barely providing just the right amount of

cOURTESY OF MATADOR
Cowboys and Indians: not as fun as they expected.
debauchery and pop mastery. The everything on Hippies: A frantic
band's hear-the-room recording punk shriek-fest on "Scare You,"
style creates an endearing inti- some slow ominous jamming on
macy; it's like you're sitting in a "Prairie My Heart" and an ode to
basement watching them jam to '60s bubble-gum pop on "Be Your
one microphone in the middle of Baby." And with another song
the room. titled "Gay Human Bones," what
Harlem gives a little taste of more could you want?

enough time to grasp the fran-
tic melody and sing-a-long
chorus in tracks like "Number
One" before they are over in a
quick (and enjoyable) minute-
and-a-half.
Hippies starts strong with
opening track "Someday
Soon." The lyrics describe a
person literally on fire. Said
person would like a glass of
water to put the presumably
scorching fire out, to which the
singer replies: "I say no / You

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