Mar 12, 2007

Cosmopolitan Current Issues


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Britney struggles with rehab


Will the troubled star stick it out with her treatment?

Britney is struggling to cope with life in rehab and her family is worried she may drop out of treatment a source told US publication Us Weekly. Spears checked into the Promises Treatment Center in Malibu, California last month after several failed attempts at rehab.

The troubled star's cousin Alli offered her support over the weekend, staying overnight at the facility on Friday and visiting on Saturday and Sunday.

Britney hasn't left the centre since last Thursday when she headed to a friend's place to pick up a bag of new clothes she'd ordered online from a trendy LA boutique.

The source added, "(Her family) hope that Britney wills stay at Promises for a month, but they're nervous she might not last that long."

How long will Britney stay in rehab before she drops out?

Do you feel sorry for Britney? [source: cosmopolitan]

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Ungrateful Diva Alert


Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson has hit back at American Idol judge Simon Cowell, comparing her experience on the talent show to working at Burger King.

Hudson - who was a contestant on the show in 2004 - was rejected and tipped for failure by Cowell.

When she went onto Oscar success through her role in Dreamgirls, Cowell accused Hudson of failing to appreciate the "big opportunity" her appearance on the show offered her.

But Best Supporting Actress Hudson snaps back, "If I'd been any better at my job when I was at Burger King in my middle teens I wouldn't be here either, so should I thank them too?"

Glossip described JHud perfectly, saying:

Jennifer Hudson is a prime example of what I like to call the Hollywood effect.

Take a perfectly reasonable person and put them in the spotlight, shower their asses with praise, tell them only what they want to hear and watch what happens: instant a-hole.

Should she apologize to Simon? Who cares. More importantly should she extract her head from anal cavity and stop being a conceited bitch? It couldn’t hur

Do you agree?

What do I think? Glad you asked. Being ungrateful for the show that gave you exposure so you could get your Oscar role is pitiful. Jen's gonna have shitty karma if she continues with this holier-than-thou mess. Her shit doesn't smell like roses. It smells like fried chicken and biscuits.[source]

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Film savaged by Hindu zealots opens in India


Randeep Ramesh in New Delhi [ Guardian Unlimited]

Lisa Ray and John Abraham star in Water, directed by Deepa Mehta.

A controversial Oscar-nominated Indian picture has finally been released in the country in which the script is set - seven years after a horde of Hindu fundamentalists forced the director to shoot the film in Sri Lanka.

Deepa Mehta's Water is set in the ferment of pre-independence India and examines the social exclusion of Hindu widows, who are shunned by society after the loss of their husbands.

Hindu fundamentalists in 2000 decided that the movie's plot and its depiction of the appalling conditions experienced by a child-widow on the burning ghats (pyres) of the river Ganges were an insult to the country's dominant religion.

A mob destroyed the film set and burned Ms Mehta's effigy, and the director only managed to get five minutes of reel in the can.

Ms Mehta, speaking to the Guardian at a low-key film preview today, said that the movie was not a "challenge to anyone or any society but a story".

"I had submitted my script to the ministry [of information and broadcasting] in India for approval. It came back fine and the minister from a Hindu nationalist government said it was fine. Then I went to pre-production work and found a howling mob of 15,000 at the set, saying the script was anti-Hindu. We had to give up the movie in India after that."

Eventually, the film was shot in neighbouring Sri Lanka with an Indian cast speaking predominately in Hindi, the language of India's northern cowbelt. Ms Mehta is a Canadian citizen and Water ended up as that country's official entry to the Oscars.

Shown in more than 50 countries, Water has gone on to become one of the most successful Indian language films of last year, grossing $6m in the US alone.

Subash K Jha, one of India's top film critics, said today "What do you say about a film that hits you hard where it hurts the most; so hard that it takes your breath away? [Water can] restructure the way we, the audience, look at the motion-picture experience."

The filmmaker is no stranger to controversy. Water completes a trilogy of movies by Ms Mehta. The first episode, Fire, which featured a lesbian love affair, was banned in India.

The next instalment, Earth, which centred on the bloody madness that seized Hindus and Muslims when the British retreated from the subcontinent, had sex scenes cut by Indian censors and was banned in Pakistan.

"I am a storyteller. I don't set out to provoke reactions," Ms Mehta said.

Special reports

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Win tickets to see Danny Boyle at BFI Southbank


British director Danny Boyle will be on stage at BFI Southbank (formerly the National Film Theatre) in London on Monday March 19 to discuss his latest film, Sunshine, and his career to date. We have three pairs of tickets to give away to the preview screening and interview.

Danny Boyle burst on to the filmgoer's consciousness with 1996's freewheeling Trainspotting, turning Irvine Welsh's novel about a bunch of loser heroin addicts in Edinburgh into a hyperkinetic, epochal award-winning film, pleasing audiences and critics alike.

With screenwriter John Hodge, Boyle unleashed his distinctive storytelling style in such urban comedies of manners as Shallow Grave and A Life Less Ordinary. Since 2000, Boyle has partnered with novelist Alex Garland, adapting the latter's The Beach, and moving into dystopian horror territory with 28 Days Later.

Boyle and Garland's latest collaboration, Sunshine, is a bold leap into the sci-fi thriller genre. The story is set 50 years in the future, when a crew of eight is sent to revive our dying sun, only for the mission to soon unravel.

Following a special preview screening on Monday March 19 at 6.30pm, Danny Boyle will be live on stage at BFI Southbank to take part in a Guardian Interview, discussing the new film and his career to date.

We have three pairs of tickets to give away for the screening and interview. To be in with a chance, just leave a contact number in the box below.

Please provide a daytime telephone number. We will only use it to contact you if you win.

More information, go to The Guardian

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Win tickets to the UK premiere of 300 in London on March 15 2007


300, the chest-thumping, shot-by-shot film adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae, is getting its UK premiere in London's Leicester Square on the evening of Thursday March 15 2007. We have four pairs of tickets to give away.

The story centres on King Leonidas and his vastly-outnumbered band of 300 Spartans who mount a suicide mission against the might of the Persian army in 480BC, an action that would inspire all of Greece to unite against the invaders.

Directed by Zack Snyder of Dawn of the Dead fame and starring Gerard Butler and Lena Headey, the film brings Miller's acclaimed graphic novel to life by combining live action with virtual backgrounds that capture his distinct vision of this ancient historic tale.

The film opens nationwide on March 23, but for your chance to be at the UK premiere on March 15, just fill in the blank below:

Please provide a daytime telephone number. We will only use it to contact you if you win.

Terms and condititions:

1. The competition will close at midnight on Tuesday March 13 2007.

2. The four prizes are pairs of tickets to the UK premiere of 300 at the Vue in London's Leicester Square on the evening of Thursday March 15 2007. No other expenses included.

3. The competition is not open to employees, agents, contractors or consultants of Guardian Newspapers Ltd. or their families or anyone professionally connected with the prize draw.

4. The winner will be chosen at random from correct entries received, the editor's decision is final.

5. Entrants must be resident in the UK and be 18 years of age or over.

6. Guardian Newspapers Ltd. is not responsible for incorrect e-mail or postal addresses or for problems with entries caused by any factors outside our control.

7. Winners will be notified by telephone on Wednesday March 14 2007.

8. Prizes are subject to availability and Guardian Newspapers Ltd. reserves the right to substitute alternative prizes of similar value.

9. Prizes are non-transferable and no cash or other alternatives are available.

10. Third party entries into draw will not be accepted.

11. No purchase necessary.

For more information, click here

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Movie Review: "The Good German"


Details: 2007, USA, Drama, cert 15, 107 mins, Dir: Steven Soderbergh
With: Beau Bridges, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Tobey Maguire
Summary: Based on the book by Joseph Kanon, where a US military correspondent becomes entangled in a former lover's attempt to escape postwar Berlin.

Of all the favourite movie classics in all the towns in all the world, they walk into mine. With their great big ironic hobnail boots. Director Steven Soderbergh and his leading man, George Clooney, have cooked up a monumentally misjudged, self-regarding and emptily cynical take on 1940s thrillers in general, and Casablanca in particular, by making a glossy pastiche noir set in the shattered ruins of 1945 Berlin. Clooney is the lantern-jawed American reporter, attached to cover the Potsdam conference, who stumbles upon a murder and an establishment cover-up; Cate Blanchett is the local shady lady with a secret and Tobey Maguire is the creepy American soldier who's way out of his depth.

Soderbergh uses the historically correct lighting, the right lenses, the accurate camera movements. He even closes with a "will-she-get-on-the-plane?" scene at a remote airport, which frankly looks as if he is trying for a completely humourless version of the last scene from Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam. Soderbergh has all the technical bells and whistles ... but where's the heart? The script is simply muddled and boring, with nothing like the original's passion and its compelling idealism and romance, all of which are sullied with fatuous condescension, largely by dropping in equally mismanaged references to The Third Man. Cate Blanchett should be brought to justice by some military police force for those ridiculous contact lenses that make her look as if someone's stuck two liquorice allsorts into her eye sockets. And that voice. She can make amends by standing over Ingrid Bergman's grave and announcing: "I raygredd zat I zpeurk een zis zully mogg-Erropin agzend."

Clooney plays Jake Geismer, a journalist who is, by implication, of stoutly decent German-American stock. He is embedded - as we now say - with US army personnel, so he appears throughout in uniform. Never at any time do we see him actually doing any journalistic work, and the unearned military prestige of that uniform gets very irritating after a while. Tobey Maguire is Cpl Tully, his unscrupulous driver, who is the violent boyfriend-cum-regular-customer of a beautiful prostitute, Lena (Blanchett) who mysteriously appears to have known Jake in Berlin before the war.

It all looks like the kind of 1940s movie we know and love. But there's an added level of nastiness. There's the c-word. Women get punched in the stomach. Added to this is an ostentatious and anachronistic debate about whether there are any good Germans at all, and whether the whole country, not just top Nazis, should be put on trial: inspired, I very much suspect, by Daniel Goldhagen's 1996 book Hitler's Willing Executioners.

It just looks like one big film-school pose. Clooney and Soderbergh co-produced Todd Haynes' brilliant Douglas Sirk update-pastiche Far From Heaven, and they may have intended something similar here. But Haynes's film honoured its original with real passion and it stood up on its own terms. The Good German is culpably feeble and detached, especially considering that the original was released in 1942, and conceived far earlier: when the future of the world actually was at stake and Hitler's defeat far from cut and dried. Bogart and Bergman really did look as if they were in love; Clooney and Blanchett look like they can't wait to get back to their respective trailers.[source: The Guardian]

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Movie Review: "Becoming Jane"


Details: 2007, UK/USA, Drama/Romance, cert PG, 120 mins, Dir: Julian Jarrold
With: Anne Hathaway, James Cromwell, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox
Summary: The story of Jane Austen's youthful romance with a lawyer, said to be the template for Mr Darcy.

Lovers of Jane Austen may wish to look away from the newspaper during the following sentence, or even pop into an adjoining room and strum out a lively air on the spinet. This speculative biopic of Jane Austen's love life features a scene in which the author's father, the Rev Mr Henry Austen, snuggles down to perform an act of oral love upon his lady wife, Jane's mother. Played by Julie Walters. With the cares of so many children, it was perhaps the only intimacy he considered prudent. This moment is enough to give you an attack of the vapours, as is the icky superciliousness of that pun in the title. There is a persistent undertow of tweeness that never entirely goes away: it is a picture whose mannerisms have been learned from other Austen adaptations - but learned assiduously and effectively.

Anne "The Devil Wears Prada" Hathaway plays the lead, and although she's far too pretty in the role, isn't half bad, and the whole thing does not have the unremitting naffness of the recent Beatrix Potter extravaganza, starring the nose-wrinkling Renée Zellweger. The movie wistfully amplifies Austen's real-life flirting with the young Irish lawyer Tom Lefroy into a fully-fledged secret romance, complete with marriage plans. Lefroy is played by James McAvoy, coiffed and kitted out like a classic Regency buck - and in fact is made to look a little like the portraits of the young Prince Regent. McAvoy's Tom meets-cute with Jane: the arrogant metropolitan gadabout sneers at Jane's country ways and ingenuous prose, before falling for her. It's not a bad performance, and he has a nice rapport with Hathaway, whose accent is more or less in position. James Cromwell plays Jane's father as Prince Philip Lite.

The very idea of Jane Austen with a broken heart may be thought vulgar and pedantic by her modern readers, and the way the story pans out is not convincing. But it's amiably intended. Perhaps the time has come for Anne Hathaway to bow to destiny and play the wife of England's greatest poet.[source: The Guardian]

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Movie Review: "Inland Empire"


Details: 2006, Rest of the world, cert 15, 172 mins, Dir: David Lynch
With: Grace Zabriskie, Harry Dean Stanton, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Laura Dern
Summary: According to director David Lynch this is about "a woman in love who is in danger". No one else seems very sure.

Down the rabbit hole... Inland Empire

The great eroto-surrealist David Lynch has gone truffling for another imaginary orifice of pleasure, with results that are fascinating, sometimes very unwholesome, and always enjoyable. His new film can best be described as a supernatural mystery thriller - with the word "mystery" in 72-point bold. A Hollywood star called Nikki Grace, played with indestructible poise and intelligence by Laura Dern, accepts the heroine's role in an intense southern drama about adultery and murder, working with a roguishly handsome leading man (Justin Theroux) and an elegant British director (Jeremy Irons). But to her bafflement and then terrified dismay, Nikki discovers that the script is a remake of a lost, uncompleted Polish film, and that the project is cursed. The original lead actors died, as did the poor devils in the folk tale of fear on which it was based.

Acting out the role, in its new Americanised setting, is a seance of evil and horror. One of the rooms on the set turns out to be a portal into an infinite warren of altered states: Nikki finds herself in the first Polish film, or maybe it is that Polish characters and producers from that film are turning up in the second film, or in her real life, which sometimes turns out to be a scene from the film and sometimes something else entirely. There is a disquieting chorus of LA hookers, and often we come out into an imaginary sitcom featuring a braying laugh-track and characters dressed as rabbits. Curiouser and curiousest.

The nightmare goes on and on - for three hours, in fact. But believe me when I say that, though this is familiar Lynch stuff, it is never dull, and I was often buttock-clenchingly afraid of what was going to happen next and squeaking with anxiety. The opening scene, in which Nikki is visited by a creepy neighbour (Grace Zabriskie) is so disturbing, I found myself gnawing at a hangnail like a deranged terrier.

The epic length of Inland Empire is perhaps explained by the freedom afforded by the cheaper digital medium, with which the director is working for the first time, handling the camera himself. Unlike the plasma TV screens in Dixon's, David Lynch is evidently not HD-ready; this is ordinary digital video we're talking about, with all its occasional gloominess and muddiness, and for which the director is compensating by using many big, almost convex closeups. Vast fleshy features loom out of the grainy fog.

Chief among these is Laura Dern's wonderful face: equine and gaunt, sometimes, but always lovely and compelling in a way that goes quite beyond the cliche of "jolie laide". It is either radiant or haunted, and in one terrible sequence transformed into a horror mask that is superimposed on to the male face of her tormentor. These searing images made me think that Lynch is still inadequately celebrated as a director of women, with a sensitivity somewhere between Almodóvar's empathy and Hitchcock's beady-eyed obsession.

Inland Empire is, as with so many of Lynch's movies, a meditation on the unacknowledged and unnoticed strangeness of Hollywood and movie-making in general, though I am bound to say that it does not have anything like Naomi Watts's marvellous "audition" scenes in Mulholland Drive. The director's connoisseurship of Hollywood, his anthropologist eye for its alien rites, are however as keen as ever.

Lynch is entranced by the straight movie-making world: he loves the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - something awful happens here on Dorothy Lamour's star - the rehearsals, the shooting, the cutting and printing and checking the gate, and he loves the spectacle of actors walking contemplatively beside enormous sound-stages, for all the world as if they are in Singin' in the Rain. Yet he finds something exotic and bizarre in it; these qualities are not superimposed on normality, however; he finds the exoticism and bizarreness that were there all along.

Because watching movies is a bizarre business, and a movie creates its own world, in some ways more persuasively cogent and real than the reality surrounding it, Lynch positions himself in the no man's land between these two realities and furnishes it with a landscape and topography all his own. Nobody else brings out so effectively the hum of weirdness in hotel furniture, in Dralon carpeting and in smouldering cigarette butts in abandoned ashtrays. His music and sound design, with echoes and groans, are insidiously creepy, though only once does he gives us the signature Lynch motif: the slow vibrato on an electric guitar chord.

He establishes a bizarre series of worm-holes between the worlds of myth, movies and reality, with many "hole" images and references, which culminate horribly, and unforgettably, in a speech from a homeless Japanese woman over Nikki's prostrate body about a prostitute who dies on account of a "hole in her vagina wall leading to the intestine". It is a gruesome but gripping image of how the vast, dysfunctional anatomy of David Lynch's imaginary universe is breaking down and contaminating itself. This gigantic collapse is perhaps the point, and the film-versus-reality trope is simply the peg on which to hang a gigantic spectacle of anarchy with no purpose other than to disorientate. It is mad and chaotic and exasperating and often makes no sense: but actually not quite as confusing as has been reported. Even the most garbled of moments fit approximately into the vague scheme of things, and those that don't - those worrying rabbits - are, I guess, just part of the collateral damage occasioned by Lynch's assault on the ordinary world. How boring the cinema would be without David Lynch, and for a long, long moment, how dull reality always seems after a Lynch movie has finished. [source: The Guardian]

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The Best Movie of The Week


Inland Empire
In which David Lynch leads us through the wormhole to who-knows-where. This warped and wild work kicks off with a tale of a cursed film script, then proceeds to take in Polish gangsters, LA hookers and a perplexing 'rabbit sitcom' complete with canned laughter. Inland Empire is very long, very dark and constantly confounding. But it is unlike anything else you will see this year.

Hot Fuzz
Nick Pegg is the go-getting London copper who finds himself dropped into the heart of sleepy Gloucestershire, Nick Frost is his gallumphing, day-dreaming sidekick ... and Hot Fuzz is pretty much where it's at; a wry, funny, genre-spinning Britcom and just another recent highlight of a national cinema turned suddenly interesting again.

Notes on a Scandal
This stealthy adaptation of the Zoe Heller novel makes for a psychological thriller that Hitchcock or Chabrol would be proud of. Cate Blanchett is the hippy-dippy London teacher who is fatally undone by an all-seeing obsessional colleague (Judi Dench). Blanchett is fine but it's Dench who steals the show.

Letters from Iwo Jima
Clint Eastwood's companion piece for Flags of Our Fathers views the conflict from the Japanese side. This is a sombre, quietly harrowing portrait of the loss and waste of war; a memorial in monochrome.

The Science Of Sleep
Michel Gondry's spy autobiographical feature casts Gael Garcia Bernal as the hyperactive fantasist who has trouble separating his dreams from his humdrum reality. It's a fresh, quirky and wildly inventive fable that nonetheless comes tinged with sadness.[source: The Guardian]

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Norah Jones comes clean on how she landed film role


Crossover artist... Norah Jones has made her film debut. Photograph: Jacques Brinon/AP

Norah Jones tumbled into her first acting role in Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights, she admitted this week.

The singer-composer revealed that when the Hong Kong director summoned her to a meeting she thought it was to discuss music for the film. "Then he asked me if I wanted to be in a movie, and I said, 'I love film. I'd love to try it, but I don't know if I can act,'" Jones is quoted as saying on "And he said 'Ah, you'll be fine.'Jones plays a woman who goes in search of herself during a journey across America and encounters a string of memorable characters along the way.

The film is a strong candidate to receive its world premiere at the Cannes film festival, scheduled for May 16-27. Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, and David Strathairn complete the key cast.

Jones said she got the jitters when she realised the star quality on board, but by then the die had already been cast. "It was too late to pull out. If it doesn't work, though, I hope I can always go back to my day job." Her latest album, Not Too Late, was No 1 in the Billboard album chart recently.[source:The Guardian]

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Porn actors do it for Catalan


Giles Tremlett in Madrid

The Catalan regional government has decided to fund a series of blue movies after deeming them useful for spreading the Catalan language.

The grants of £10,000 to a local film-maker are for what he described as women-friendly erotic films called Laura is Not Alone, The Memory of Fish and The Sea Isn't Blue.

The actors embark on numerous sexual adventures, including those of a "religious, faithful and hardworking" middle-class girl who has regular weekly meetings with a stranger and is introduced to, among numerous other things, lesbian sex. The movies are marketed as "erotic films for women", with male director Conrad Son claiming that one, about a male executive, is "for women who want to understand us".

Both Son, a separatist sympathiser whose website boasts that he offers "sex in Catalan", and the regional government claim the films are not pornography.

Son has argued that as an experienced producer of pornographic films he was well placed to judge whether they had gone over the limit. The existence of plotlines and the "non-explicit" nature of the sex scenes meant they were artistic rather than pornographic, he said.

Spain's conservative ABC newspaper accused Catalonia's Socialist-led coalition government and the separatist Catalan Republican Left party (ERC) of sinking to new depths. "To publicly fund pornographic films ... borders on misappropriation of taxpayers' money," it said.

Separatist politicians backed the Catalan filmmaker. "Any normal language is able to penetrate the most obscure places," Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira, the ERC leader, told ABC.


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[source: the guardian]

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Angelina Jolie deeply affected by her work with refugees


In a new interview with Newsweek, Angelina Jolie comes off as thoughtful, caring, and deeply moved by her over six years of work as a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She says as her film schedule brought her to places where refugees were suffering like Cambodia she started to learn about the dire situations that people were in and wanted to help however she could.

Angelina approached the UN herself and said that they were a bit incredulous at first, but gave her a chance to help. She she didn’t want pictures taken of her work with refugees and that it took her a while to allow photographers to come with her. She usually travels alone to the field with just a photographer.

This interview was pretty moving to me, and includes a very touching photograph of Angelina holding a 7 year-old boy tied to a tree. He was just three when he went missing in Dafur for two days while his village was bombed, and was never the same since. He now lives with his mother and four siblings in a refugee camp in Chad. His mother keeps him tied up so that he won’t run away or hurt himself.

Angelina said that there are always people who will criticize her, but that her work speaks for itself and she can’t let negative opinions keep her from helping people:

When did it occur to you that you could do something about this directly? Did people approach you or —
I approached them. I think they thought I was a little crazy.

When was this?
Six years ago. I was very nervous to call the U.N. agency at the time. I [was] considered a rebel in Hollywood. At the time I was also a bit of the wild child. So first I went to Washington [to the UNHCR office] and I sat with everybody there and said, “You know, I know you don’t know me. You might have heard things about me… And I don’t want to bring negative attention to your agency. If you could just help me, I’ll pay my way.”

I spent the next year and a half going to, first, two camps in Africa, and then Pakistan and Cambodia. And with no cameras and with no press and had the opportunity to have this great education before I spoke at all…. I was transformed in such an amazing way.

But you do have photographers following you now.
It took me a while to agree to do it. I guess I saw that so many times the picture comes before the knowledge and the substance and I certainly didn’t want to do that to myself or the organization. And also, I really just was shy. I was shy about sitting on the floor and talking to a woman and having a camera take a picture because I thought it was making less of my conversation with her. But… I was changed by the faces of the people I saw. “It is something that I am incapable of describing…those faces and that place and those people. And so I think it’s just—let the people speak for themselves through the camera. And if I can draw you in a little because I’m familiar, then that’s great. Because I know that at the end you’re not looking at me, you’re looking at them.

I think it’s fair to say people start out by looking at you, Angelina.
As long as they end up looking at them, that’s the point.

Do you worry about people who say this is celebrity tourism?
I don’t know if anybody saying that has spent the last six years of their life going to over 30 camps and really spending time with these people. I can’t care. At the end of the day, I’m sure a lot of criticism could keep a lot of people from doing this kind of work…

If someone had a direct criticism of my opinion on the issue, if someone had a direct criticism of the image shown because they think it hurts somebody then I will take that into consideration. But there are a lot of people that simply have an immediate gut reaction and they just don’t want to combine artists with foreign policy. And hey, I understand. I get it. I know where you’re coming from. And to each his own. … You know, I was more shy when I first went into a camp that other field officers would not want me there.

You were worried that you’d get in the way.
Yeah. That’s why I brought no media, it’s why I sat back. That’s why I just helped them load things. And if I felt that I was ever getting in the way, I wouldn’t do it. Because I do care about the opinion of the aid worker, I do care about the opinion of the refugee. I care less about the opinion of the person who’s never been in the field but has an opinion about celebrity.

Do you still go with so few people? I can’t believe you take no one with you…
I take no one. I [go] by myself on a commercial plane and into the field with my backpack….

When you got there, what were the people saying about their situation? There are several photographs with this boy tied to a tent pole, and there’s also another photograph of a group of women near some tents, and one of them has her ankles chained.
The first time I saw that in the camp [it was] obviously really shocking. They are people who are traumatized by the bombing [by Sudanese government forces attacking villages in Darfur] and by war. The old woman may have had some dementia before. The reality is there are one or two aid workers for every 2,000 refugees. The same with the doctors, the therapists. The basic need there [is] to just try to keep these people safe. To keep the tents up in all the sand storms, try to get the food distributed and basic health-care needs. The [chained] woman started to beat her daughter with anything she could find. She kept hearing voices of the people yelling at her. So she feels constantly under attack. I’m no therapist, so I don’t understand all the details. But when I did try to talk to her, she seemed pretty rational. But then she started aggressively telling me that I had to stop them from putting snakes on her. And for the people to stop yelling at her and for the bombs to stop dropping.

And the little boy?
The little boy was a normal 3-year-old [now 7] who disappeared for 48 hours after [his village was bombed]. I can only imagine what he saw. Sure he saw death. And when found, he was found in a state…

As a first reaction you want to remove [the rope]. But the mother, she has four other kids, she’s by herself. Therapists visit him, but if [he’s] left alone he will disappear or bang himself. I talked to him for like half an hour and just kind of looked at him for a long time before he touched me and there was a little boy in there who was open to a kind sound.… There’s a normal little kid right there, but he’s got a look of fear. He’s nervous to touch. And you can feel that need for safety. The mother unfortunately can’t not go work for the other children and can’t sit with him all day long and hold him, which is probably what would do some good. But what he needs is probably some serious therapy. [There are] lots of children like him there. Lots of victims of war. [It’s a] whole other thing that you usually don’t get to address because they have to be so focused on the basic needs of survival. These are the many other casualties of the kind of war that is happening in Darfur.

Angelina said she was distraught when faced with so much suffering, and that she finds it overwhelming at times. She said “The first two years I cried constantly like a woman does,” when the interviewer asked her about it.

She also said she loves it in her new hometown of New Orleans, and that it’s a great place for her children, but that much work remains to be done post Katrina.

To me, this interview is in contrast with her pre-pregnancy talk with Ann Curry. As rude as it sounds, I wasn’t too blown away by her Dateline Interview before she had Shiloh and she came off as a bit insincere to me at the time. It was likely that she was just defensive over all the speculation around her upcoming birth.

I was skeptical of her due to the contrast of her extreme wealth and the entire hotel she booked up in Namibia with the povery-striken people she posed with. There also were a lot of stories at the time about her heavy-handed security staff and head bodyguard Micket Brett beating the shit out of people and threatening their lives.

Her security goons continued their rough ways while she was filming in India, and after a highly-publicized incident at a school where anxious parents were threatened and racists insults may have been used, she seems to have pulled in the reins and to have put a stop to their thuggish tactics.

Now that Angelina’s security staff has calmed down and she’s been seen out at events and walking in New Orleans with her children and Brad, it seems like public opinion is favoring her again. After reading this article, I’m reminded that she’s only human and was motivated by a desire to protect her family. She does so much more for charity than most celebrities, and it seems that she also wants to protect the fragile people she truly seems to care about.

You can help refugees by giving to the charity Angelina mentions in her interview, SOS Kinderdorp.

Thanks to Oh No They Didn’t and Soulie Jolie for the pictures and story.


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Marine porn star update. Borat, human rights abuse victim. Plus: Timberlake tries to save Britney?


Kaplan to the rescue? Rick Kaplan, former head of both CNN and, until last summer, MSNBC, has been hired by CBS to take over as executive producer of "The CBS Evening News" in a bid to bring up Katie Couric's ratings. The New York Post reports that Couric's ratings are down slightly -- by 120,000 viewers -- from her predecessor Bob Schieffer's numbers a year ago. (Page Six)

Turkey bans YouTube: On Wednesday, a Turkish court ordered that access to YouTube be immediately blocked from Turkish Internet because of videos on the site allegedly insulting former Turkish leader -- and founder of the modern Turkish state -- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Visitors to the site are now greeted by a message saying "Access to this site has been blocked by a court decision!" (left), and the head of Turkey's largest Internet provider told reporters on Wednesday, "We are not in the position of saying that what YouTube did was an insult, that it was right or wrong. A court decision was proposed to us, and we are doing what that court decision says." The offending video is reportedly part of a "virtual war" that Greeks and Turks have been waging on YouTube recently, posting increasingly offensive videos. A poster tells Boing Boing that the video that spurred the ban "had a picture of Ataturk, his eyes bulging out, talking about how he's gay, insulting himself, talking about how all Turks are gay, etc." (Boing Boing, the Age)

Borat, human rights abuse victim: The State Department's annual global human rights abuses report, released on Wednesday, includes a chapter devoted to Kazakhstan's abuses. Among the country's other offenses -- for instance, the murder of Kazakhstan opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly -- the State Department notes a crackdown on the freedom of speech: "The government deemed as offensive the content of a satirical site controlled by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and revoked the .kz domain." (Defamer)

White noise ... Apparently trying to prove there's literally nothing he can't do, Justin Timberlake is rumored to be trying to save Britney Spears' career, putting "his reputation on the line," according to an insider, by convincing Spears' label, Jive, not to drop her. (Socialite Life) ... Lance BassSimon & Schuster imprint Simon Spotlight Entertainment announced on Wednesday that it will publish Lance Bass' (right) autobiography about "his life, his music and his sexuality," to be titled, of course, "Out of Sync." (Associated Press) ... Cameron Diaz may have been recently linked with Tyrese Gibson in Los Angeles, but spies in New York tell Page Six that Gibson has been playing "kissy-face" with model and actress Melyssa Ford recently. (Page Six) ... R.I.P. Captain America -- the superhero, who has been fighting crime since 1941, was gunned down by a sniper in the series' latest issue, released on Wednesday. (N.Y. Times)


CK in2uBlogno-scenty: Thirteen years after it released CK One, the mega-selling fragrance that, for some, embodied the essence of the mid-'90s grunge era, Calvin Klein is trying to capture the scent of the blogging, texting "technosexual" (a word the company coined and trademarked) generation. Hence the fittingly texty name of the new scent: CK in2u. A line from the press materials: "She likes how he blogs, her texts turn him on. It's intense. For right now." As the New York Times reports, though, not every Internet geek is going to be turned on by the scent's base play for tech cred. Gothamist food blogger Youngna Park tells the paper, "I just imagine kids putting on cologne to sit behind their computers. That's really weird," while founder Zach Klein (no relation to Calvin) says, "Abbreviating in2u like that is lame, to put it simply." ("How to Bottle a Generation," N.Y. Times)


Right-wing gay porn star redux: In his piece today for Salon ("Porn Free"), Fox News darling and Columbia student blogger Matt Sanchez -- whom we reported on yesterday -- writes about his past: "We have all done things we don't want advertised, and many of us may have identities we've outgrown, but the truth is, most of us haven't strayed far enough from the run-of-the-mill to rate more than a bit of whispered gossip from a snubbed co-worker. There are others of us, however, like me, who have the kinds of résumés that can keep everybody around the office water cooler smirking for days." He says, though, that his porno past led to his conservative present: "I started off as a liberal but I progressed to conservatism. Part of that transformation is due to my time in the industry. How does a conservative trace his roots to such distasteful beginnings? I didn't like porn's liberalism."

Buzz Index

; )

"Apple Unveils New Product-Unveiling Product" (The Onion)


Shakespeare for dummies: Kevin Kline has the lead role in a new Public Theater production of "King Lear," but Times theater critic Ben Brantley, while admitting Kline is "an actor of a high order," is driven to desperation "trying to find something nice to say" about the play. Calling it "Lear Lite," he writes, "I have sat through worse productions of Shakespeare's most devastating tragedy than the one that opened last night, directed by James Lapine. But I have never seen one that left me so utterly unmoved or that seemed so perversely out of touch with the play's soul-wrenching depths as this whimsical storybook interpretation." ("Howl? Nay, Express His Lighter Purpose," N.Y. Times)


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Pulitzer finalists leaked? Salma Hayek pregnant and engaged? Plus: The word on this week's movies.


Another Brady baby? A few weeks ago, NFL star Tom Brady got a surprise from ex-girlfriend Bridget Moynahan when she went public with the news that she's pregnant and the baby is his. Now he might be a daddy two times over: A Brazilian gossip site is reporting that Gisele Bündchen may also be carrying Brady's baby, now more than two months along. Brady started seeing Bündchen not long after splitting with Moynahan, whom he'd been with for almost three years. (Deadspin,,,

Leaked Pulitzer finalists: This year's Pulitzer juries spent three days at Columbia University this week making their votes for finalists, but as Editor & Publisher reports, their selections were leaked almost as soon as the voting ended. The true finalists won't be announced until April, but E&P has compiled its list of best guesses based on the leaks here. (Editor & Publisher)

White noise ... After rumors surfaced this week that this year's Van Halen concert tour was called off because of guitarist Eddie Van Halen's alcohol problems, the musician entered rehab on Thursday, telling fans, "At the moment I do not feel that I can give you my best. That's why I have decided to enter a rehabilitation facility to work on myself." (People) ... Salma HayekSalma Hayek (right) is reportedly pregnant and engaged -- the father and future husband is French businessman François-Henri Pinault. (Perez Hilton) ... "Prison Break" actor Lane Garrison was charged Thursday with felony vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence in Los Angeles for a crash in December that killed a 17-year-old who was riding with him. (E Online) ... Suge Knight, head of rap label Death Row Records -- once home to Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre -- has announced that he's planning to shut down the company, saying, "We shouldn't be constantly feeding negative energy to these kids. You can get rich with the devil's money, but you can only be happy with God's money." (Page Six) ... Kate Winslet has accepted a "substantial" settlement in her libel case against the British magazine Grazia for a story that alleged she was seeing a doctor for weight-loss treatment. (BBC News)


Is your blogger on the take? According to the Los Angeles Times, "Thousands of bloggers are writing sponsored posts touting such diverse topics as diamonds, digital cameras and drug clinics. The bloggers are spurred by new marketing middlemen such as PayPerPost Inc. that connect advertisers with mom-and-pop webmasters." Our favorite example in the story is one Derek Cisler, 32, a "corporate trainer" in Missouri, who "often weighs in on NASCAR and his beloved Green Bay Packers at" his blog, Original FB42's Ramblings. He's not paid for that. But when he "copped to an old 'Days of Our Lives' habit, confessing that he 'got sucked in during the Marlena-possessed-by-the-Devil days,'" the Times reports, "a soap opera website paid him for that mention." The ethics of blogging for dollars is a pretty contentious one, with blog entrepreneur Jason McCabe Calacanis (co-founder of Weblogs Inc.) saying, "PayPerPost versus authentic blogging is like comparing prostitution with making love to someone you care for deeply. No one with any level of ethics would get involved with these clowns." The Federal Trade Commission has cautioned that bloggers also must disclose these connections. But Tim Draper, a PayPerPost stakeholder, defends the practice, comparing it with product placement in movies. "You put an ad inside the text and it's more of a subtle way of advertising," Draper says. "It doesn't take away from the blogger." (Los Angeles Times)

Buzz Index


The host with the most: It's been a long while since there was this much excitement over a monster movie. South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho's "The Host" arrives today already drenched in praise. As we noted earlier this week, the New Yorker's Anthony Lane hailed the film as "a thing of beauty, yet that is what it is: a perfect mixture of the silly and the grave." Salon critic Andrew O'Hehir says it's "the most satisfying monster movie in many years," and calls it "a vivid, anarchic picture that's high on old-fashioned thrills." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times likens it, in a strange way, to "another recent horror film, the one in which a newly thawed alien with a giant brain delivers apocalyptic warnings to humanity about its imminent future. I'm talking of course about the documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth' ... 'The Host' is a cautionary environmental tale about the domination of nature and the costs of human folly, and it may send chills up your spine."

Many against "300": This weekend's other big opening, "300," is likely to rack up sizable numbers at the box office, but don't count on it to have staying power. As Salon's Stephanie Zacharek writes, the movie, "even with its impressive vistas of computer-generated soldiers, is just a throwaway epic." Times critic A.O. Scott spares the bloody blockbuster even less: "'300' is about as violent as 'Apocalypto' and twice as stupid." And Dana Stevens at Slate condemns the movie outright: "If '300' ... had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside 'The Eternal Jew' as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war."[source]

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Heather Graham: Fun Is Her Middle Name


By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer

Heather Graham just wants to have fun.

Over coffee in the lounge of a hotel just off Dupont Circle -- where the actress known for bubble-headed roles in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" and "Boogie Nights" had alighted to promote "Gray Matters" (see review on Page 33), a romantic comedy about a woman who realizes she's gay after falling for her brother's fiancee -- it soon becomes clear what the guiding principle in her life is.

No, not Transcendental Meditation, which Graham has practiced ever since filmmaker buddy and meditation advocate David Lynch turned her on to it during the actress's 1991 stint as an ex-nun with a troubled past on Lynch's TV series "Twin Peaks." Her twice-a-day regimen is not just profoundly relaxing, she says, or even a way to tap into what Lynch has described as an ocean of bliss, but, more important, "fun."

Reading reviews of her work . . . eh, not so much.

Asked about the mixed notices given her sitcom "Emily's Reasons Why Not" (canceled a little more than a year ago after a single, ignominious airing), Graham says she doesn't pay attention to stuff like that. "I don't want to read what random people think about me," she says. "It just doesn't sound fun."

Her dream sitcom to watch? "Sex and the City," the defunct HBO series some have called the model for "Emily's Reasons." Sure, it was a groundbreaking and taboo-busting show for its time, but it was also you-know-what. "There was nothing represented in the media or culture," Graham says, "where there was a woman's story in the way that I could relate, and still be fun" -- there's that word again -- "for me to see these women talking about."

As for how she picks her roles, "I just kind of go with what's fun," she says.

Like, for instance, a script she has been developing for herself about the notorious Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of 1911, a long-standing project she hopes to get into production by 2008. "I'm sooo obsessed with that story," says Graham, who has recently become interested in producing vehicles in which she can star. "I've been working on that script for years. It's just really fun."

Hold on a second. A movie about an industrial disaster in which 146 New York City garment workers perished is fun?

"I think that there's something beautiful about a story about tragedy," Graham explains. "Because it's about a fire that was a huge tragedy and a lot of women died, but also how it was the birth of this beautiful thing that happened, which is that all these laws were passed that protected all the workers, that sort of outlawed sweatshops and [created] safety laws."

Okay, so maybe we misjudged her hidden depths.

Graham insists that she has, like everyone else, a "dark side." That, like the late-blooming lesbian she plays in "Gray Matters," her life has not been without a struggle to accept who she is. "I think I identified with it in a weird way," she says. "The idea that it was a story about a person learning how to trust themselves and learning to enjoy and celebrate who you are."

In Graham's case, much of that has certainly had to do with her choice of career and the sometimes risque roles she has taken, a path that long ago put her at odds with her conservative upbringing, leading to a much-publicized estrangement from her parents, which Graham prefers not to discuss. "I hate to violate their privacy by talking about them in a magazine article, whatever, a newspaper," she says.

She wasn't always so circumspect. "I know," she says, "I just decided it wasn't that nice." She says she regrets the loose lips exercised in some of her earliest interviews, given at 18 or 19, when she started acting (Graham turned 37, by the way, three days before the day we spoke).

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"When you do it when you're a teenager, you're like, 'Blah, blah, blah, my parents. Blah, blah, blah, this,' and 'Blah, blah, blah, that.' And then it becomes a story, and you're like, 'Oh, do I really want to publicize this?' You think, 'No.' "

What Graham wants to publicize at the moment is the message of tolerance and self-acceptance she believes is espoused, but not hammered away at, by her newest role, which she believes everyone -- gay or straight, celebrity or nobody -- can relate to. "It's like, people can judge your life and say, 'Oh, why do you have this difficulty with your parents?' or 'Why did you do this thing that I read about?' You have to reach a place in yourself where you go, 'People are going to says things about me. People are going to write derogatory things about me.' And I mean, who cares? That's hard to get to, that place."

Another place that's hard to get to, according to Graham, is a world without sexual double standards. That's something the actress, in the parts she takes and in her new role as producer, would like to change.

"Where's the funny comedy about being a woman, and sexuality, and what they think, and what they feel, that's more out there than just 'I want to be married' and 'How can I meet the right guy?' It's so ingrained that we're used to, like, 'Oh, there's Will Ferrell, there's Adam Sandler, there's these guys.' Where's the female equivalent? There is none, and that's sad."

So is Graham angling to be the next Sarah Silverman, the pretty and potty-mouthed star of "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic" and now her own TV show? Does she want to change the world as a power-player producer of feminist films, both serious and silly, that will turn the patriarchy on its head?

"There's a part of me that really wants to do that," Graham says, "and there's a part of me that just wants to be happy. I would like to feel that the system could change, but at the same time I don't want to be miserable in life. I just want to do the things I like. I'd love for that to happen, and in the meanwhile, I just want to" -- wait for it -- "have fun."[source]

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Recently Released DVDs and Videos


The following is a list of recently released DVDs and videos. All capsule reviews have been taken from The Washington Post's Weekend section.

"Borat" (R, 89 minutes): Borat, played with seamless disingenuousness by Sacha Baron Cohen, has come to America to make a feature-length documentary for the people of his home country (played by Romania). His tour of America begins in New York -- where Borat mistakes a hotel elevator for his room and later meets with a group of feminists ("Give me a smile, baby, why the angry face?"). But soon he's on his way to California and then through the South. As Borat cuts his wide and occasionally vicious swath, no petard goes unhoisted, a spectacle that delivers squeals, howls or at least low-level chuckles. The movie is a perfect combination of slapstick and satire, a Platonic ideal of high- and lowbrow that manages to appeal to our basest common denominators while brilliantly skewering racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and that peculiarly American affliction: we're-number-one-ism. Contains pervasive crude and sexual content, including graphic nudity, and profanity. DVD Extras: Deleted scenes; featurettes.

"Confetti" (R, 94 minutes): This faux documentary is about a wedding magazine that enlists three couples to compete for "Most Original Wedding of the Year." Written and directed by Debbie Isitt, it resembles the hit BBC series "The Office" and "Extras" in its up-close-and-poisonous vérité style. It even stars one of the best-loved actors from "The Office," Martin Freeman, here playing a bridegroom whose fiancee (Jessica Stevenson) dreams of a wedding by Busby Berkeley. The other two couples are nudists and fiercely competitive tennis players. As they prepare for their big day, they are helped along by wedding planners who, as gay men, can't legally marry but prove to be the most loving couple of the lot. Isitt cheats a bit with the contrivances, and the movie is an exercise in mostly unfunny bickering and bad behavior. Still, the climactic scenes possess an irresistible charm, as each wedding turns out to be just perfect. Contains nudity and profanity. DVD Extras: Alternate endings; video diary entries; trailers.

"Fast Food Nation" (R, 106 minutes): This film offers a thinly fictionalized structure affixed to some serious meat industry reportage originally by Eric Schlosser for a book of the same name. The film dramatizes Schlosser's findings, assigning his discoveries to personalities in and around hamburger culture. The story is set in Cody, Wyo., where the film chronicles intersecting lives within a giant meatpacking installation in that beautiful western city. Looking like something out of Dickens's smoky, slummy London, this hellish plant ingests cattle at one end and churns out billions of little red disks of meat-like product at the other. But the movie is weak and works far better as journalism than as drama. Contains profanity, sexual situations and authentic footage of slaughterhouse operations. DVD Extras: Director and writer commentaries; featurette; animated shorts; photo gallery.

Also on DVD March 6: "The Full Monty: The Fully Exposed Edition"; "Hawaii 5-O: The Complete First Season"; "The Ernest Hemingway Film Collection"; "Let's Go To Prison"; "Literary Classics Collection"; "Peter Pan: Platinum Edition"; "Revenge of the Nerds: Special Edition"; "South Park: The Complete Ninth Season"; and "Stargate Atlantis: Season 2."

February 27

"Conversations with God" (PG, 109 minutes): This is a dramatization of Neale Donald Walsch's bestseller of the same name, a chronicle of the author's journey from homelessness to a spiritual awakening that resulted in -- ain't life grand -- a million-dollar book contract. Clearly, millions have found Walsch's New Age message of self-forgiveness and unconditional love a rewarding one. Henry Czerny portrays Walsch in a story that begins with the author on a fancy book tour and flashes back to the pivotal moments of his life. There's nothing particularly objectionable about the film (other than its inert movie-of-the-week structure) until Walsch takes his God-spokesman role too far. Suddenly, the platitudes that have seemed like harmless bromides take on the sinister tone of a guy selling snake oil. Contains thematic elements, some profanity and a brief accident. DVD Extras: Trailers.

"A Good Year" (PG-13, 118 minutes): "Under the Tuscan Son of 'Sideways.' " That's one way to think of this unfathomable adaptation of Peter Mayle's novel. Unfathomable because what on paper looks like a sure-fire formula -- France, romance, wine and Russell Crowe -- falls as flat as a bottle of corked Bordeaux. Crowe plays Max Skinner, a high-powered London broker who inherits a chateau and vineyard in Provence. When the harried exec travels to France to sell the property, he crosses paths with all manner of characters. Crowe runs the emotional gamut from bored to perplexed to just plain miserable in a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor comic. Contains profanity and sexual content. DVD Extras: Director commentary; behind-the-scenes; trailer.

"The Heart of the Game" (PG-13, 98 minutes): This documentary about a first-time basketball coach who takes a girls' high school team from obscurity to the state championships combines nonstop action with an absorbing story to become a classic on par with "Hoosiers" and "Hoop Dreams." It's set in Roosevelt High School in Seattle, whose girls' basketball team hasn't exactly burned up the boards. The coach -- a college tax professor named Bill Resler, decides to moonlight as the team's coach out of a love for the game and a belief in women's sports. There are the initial David-and-Goliath victories, the squabbles, the sweat, the tears, the joy. And then there's Darnellia Russell, who possesses the intuitive physical genius of a great player; when her story takes a twist and she's barred from playing, the film acquires an unexpected depth and urgency. Filmmaker Ward Serrill followed the team for seven years, and that commitment paid off: With only a couple of exceptions, he was on hand for the most pivotal moments in the extraordinary story of the Roughriders and the lives of its players. Contains brief strong profanity. DVD Extras: Director commentary; production interviews; deleted scenes; making-of featurette.

"Stranger Than Fiction" (PG-13, 105 minutes): Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) keeps hearing a voice in his head. It belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), an English writer who just happens to be writing a novel about a character named... Harold Crick. This is the movie's best gimmick: that Harold can actually hear Eiffel. She seems deeply aware of his dull personal life, and even worse, in her final chapter she plans to . . . kill off the character! The only thing keeping the real Harold alive, apparently, is her creative indecision as she figures out how to get rid of him. We nearly lick our lips, anticipating the intriguing resolutions ahead: how Eiffel invented Harold, for instance, or what mysterious psychic destiny brought these two together. Unfortunately -- or not, depending on your perspective -- the filmmakers seem to have their minds on some other movie. Contains some disturbing images, sexual content, brief profanity and nudity. DVD Extras: Deleted and extended scenes; producer and writer commentaries; featurettes.

"Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny" (R, 93 minutes): Jack Black and Kyle Gass bring characters they created for the HBO program "Mr. Show With Bob and David" to the big screen with mixed success, depending on the age, gender and degree of inebriation of the filmgoer. Black plays the wannabe rocker JB, who is kicked out of his Midwestern family's house and comes to Los Angeles to embark on a career as a rock god; there he meets Gass, whose hobbies include busking, getting high and inflating his own failed career as a guitarist. The movie is nominally about how the men's band, Tenacious D, got started and found fame and fortune by stealing a guitar pick made out of the devil's tooth. It's really an excuse for extended scatological gags, in-joke cameos and self-referential songs that both lampoon and celebrate rock at its most ridiculously grandiose. Contains pervasive profanity, sexual content and drug use. DVD Extras: Director and actor commentaries; music videos; featurettes; trailers; deleted scenes. More new released DVD click here

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300': A Losing Battle in More Ways Than 1


By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer

Go tell the Spartans that their sacrifice was not in vain; their long day's fight under the cooling shade of a million falling arrows safeguarded the West and guaranteed, all these years later, the right of idiots to make rotten movies about them.

The story has been told and will be told again as long as there are tellers and listeners, because most people get it. Even kids get it. But "300" -- the new cartoonified version of the hard day's work at the Hot Gates on the coast of Greece, where 300 stood against a million-man march of Persians--is clueless.The theory of Spartan greatness argues that the Spartans bought time with blood, and allowed the other Greek city-state armies to slip away and fight another day and eventually triumph. Thus this frail bloom we call Western civilization continued to survive in the rocky Attic soil. And thus we speak English, not Farsi, and trace our government back to a neighbor of Sparta's. The argument also dramatizes a continuing reality in democratic societies that, while it's nice to have Athenians around to invent government and theater and the sandal, every once in a while it's necessary to dig up some Spartans to get in real close and bayonet the bad guys right smack in the guts.

"300," alas and to its shame, makes no argument at all. It's entirely an overblown visual document with an IQ in the lower 20s. It doesn't even bother to mention the strategic context of the Battle of Thermopylae or to follow the story through to its end at Salamis, where the Athenians sent the Persian minions to meet Mr. Jones at the bottom of the Aegean, and drove the Persian Big Boy Xerxes back to his harem where he ultimately perished on an intriguer's knife. Meanwhile, the Greeks went on to invent the rest of history.

Instead, we get a Spartan culture that seems notable primarily for one thing: the invention of the ab machine. You never saw so many six-packs in one place outside of a Budweiser warehouse! So the movie isn't set in history or in time but in some dank, feverish swamp of the imagination that betrays its comic book origins (it's based on the graphic novel by "Sin City's" Frank Miller). Some of the problem is a result of the technical: Like Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City," the movie is one of those computer-painted jobs, in which real men do real stuff in a big blue room, and then digital artists invent a world around them, which can be manipulated, tweaked and turned to infinite perversity. Who can care about history when you can spend a hundred hours tuning a geyser of Persian blood until it resembles a tulip opening on Mars?

There's also trouble in the staging: The action is all showy and stylized, never quite realistic, in a kind of van-art gray-brown patina. The director, Zack Snyder, hasn't a gift for kinetic action and the battle choreography is stilted. He overdoes the slow-mo until it becomes comic and the whole package aestheticizes violence, leaching its meaning, distancing us. There's nothing like the horror of the close-in stuff in "The Seven Samurai" or "Zulu," to name two great battle movies.

Anyway, the film begins with -- and ends with, and uses pretty much as a one-man band -- Leonidas, the king, played by brawny Scotsman Gerard Butler, who has enough charisma to pull it off. (He's a lot better than Richard Egan in 1962's campy "The 300 Spartans," I'll tell you.) He bellows and struts and declaims -- he once played Attila! -- and he looks good in spandex and velvet.

After establishing Leonidas as a stud among studs (he looks like he's got a seven-pack!), the movie gets to its setup: the arrival of Persian emissaries to warn the Spartans to give up or face annihilation. The movie plays it one-on-one, Sparta vs. Persia to the death, and the Spartans make the gathering storm inevitable by kicking the Persian emissaries down a well. So much for diplomatic immunity.

In Snyder's conceit, the Persians represent effeminate decadence. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) looks like Geoffrey Holder in a photo by Helmut Newton. There's an androgynous quality to all of them, as if their secret mission is to blur the sexes and turn the Spartan studs into women; it's unsettling and undoubtedly effective, though it would probably bring a smile to Ann Coulter's lips.

As for the masculine Spartans, they could be NFL wide receivers. But . . . oh, endless, fascinating coils of life! -- they're also kind of gay. The movie has an unmistakable homoerotic undercurrent, ripe as the smell of sweat in a locker room. All those hard Nautilus-tortured bodies, gleaming, greasy, smeared with blood, those sinewy arms, the vein patterns, as the camera notices things about the male body that John Ford would find scandalous.

Quickly enough, Snyder gets us to the action. The Persians land on a Greek beach a million strong but the only way to the heartland is through a narrow pass. That is where they will run into Spartan bronze. In the tight confines of the pass, when the men are face to face, it's pretty equal. Only 300 Persians at a time are able to try the Spartan line, so we get war as Ohio State football; three yards and a cloud of blood.

Meanwhile, and for reasons not historical but purely dramatic, the script cuts back to the capital, where Leonidas's wife, Gorgo (Lena Headey), is holding the fort against cut-and-runners led by leering Theron (Dominic West of "The Wire"). The politics here are strictly BYO: Are the cut-and-runners Democrats betraying Leonidas-Bush as he fights the scum of the East, or are they moderate Muslims betraying Leonidas-Osama as he fights the scum of the West? You get to make that call.

But a bigger question remains, and that's why? Why this movie? It's kind of a ghastly hoot, but it flees from history and it mocks men who gave so much, and while I suppose it does no harm, it also contributes nothing. It's a guilty unpleasantness. I just think some moments, when history turned on guts and bronze, deserve more than a comic book.

300 (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for revealing costumes and battle gore.[source]

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Mar 10, 2007

New Movie Review: "300"


The world may wonder which character in this computer-generated extravaganza is President Bush's stand-in -- but that's the wrong question to ask.

A recent, characteristically beard-stroking New York Times article pondered the way reporters at an international press junket for the computer-generated extravaganza "300" -- an adaptation of comics guru Frank Miller's 1998 graphic novel about the 480 B.C. battle of Thermopylae -- zealously attempted to read the movie as a metaphor for George W. Bush's war on Iraq. Is the movie's Persian potentate Xerxes, a megalomaniac who considers himself both a god and a king, supposed to embody W.'s hubris? Or is Leonidas, the Spartan ruler who led 300 valiant Greek soldiers against a zillion-man Persian army, the real presidential stand-in?

In the movie, a Greek naysayer tells Leonidas, "I know your kind too well. You send men to their slaughter for your own gain," and I could hear critics across the land, trawling for scraps of political topicality, scribbling madly in their notebooks. But you'd have to be Reed Richards to find firm contemporary parallels in "300" -- no mere mortal should stretch that far. The movie's terms are unapologetically comic book, with all the good and bad that implies: You've got a bunch of noble warriors outnumbered by bullies. It's not hard to know which side we should be rooting for.

The bigger question to ask about "300" is why, for a supposedly rousing tale of heroism, it's so curiously unaffecting. Directed by Zack Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead"), the picture, like the earlier Frank Miller adaptation "Sin City," is a blatantly unreal-looking blend of computer graphics and live action. But even within the context of its aggressively artificial visuals, "Sin City" -- which was directed by Robert Rodriguez -- still acknowledged its debt to classic film noir cinematography. Its shadowy textures and chiaroscuro contrasts may have been coaxed to life on a computer screen, but in their own way, they honored classic filmmaking conventions, even as they evoked the stark woodcut quality of Miller's artwork.

"300" is a movie set in the past -- about 2,500 years in the past, to be exact -- but it feels like a purely modern creation. Like "Sin City," "300" combines live action with digitally created backgrounds. But the picture is, weirdly, both vivid and flat: Its color tones, ranging from cool green-grays in some scenes to sepia splashed with black-red in others, are so carefully calibrated that they come off as sterile. The picture faithfully mimics the mood, color and compositions of its source material. (The book "300" was written by Miller and Lynn Varley. Miller is also one of the movie's executive producers.) But it lacks the rugged vitality, and the dynamism, of Miller's drawings. Miller's "300" pictures leap off the page; on the movie screen, they roll over and play dead.

The actors (including Gerard Butler, of "Phantom of the Opera" fame, who plays Leonidas with grave stiffness) march around in package-enhancing skimpy outfits, and their skin glows. But the film has a poreless, waxen quality, as if all sensuality had been airbrushed out of it: The actors struggle valiantly to take hold of their characters, but deep down they know they've donated their bodies, and their faces, to science.

In places, "300" -- which was written by Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon -- is so audacious that it scales the heights of high camp. The movie opens with a back story, as one-eyed warrior Dilios (David Wenham) spins the tale of how King Leonidas grew up to be such a brave warrior and leader: Deformed or otherwise inferior Spartan babies are killed at birth; but the sturdiest young males are trained in combat from an early age, and Leonidas excelled at twisting the limbs and cracking the heads of his little opponents. The grown-up Leonidas has earned the respect of his kingdom and the love of his take-no-prisoners Spartan spitfire wife, Gorgo (Lena Headey). But one day a Persian messenger shows up, stirring up trouble. After consulting an oracle -- a seminaked redhead in a filmy gown -- Leonidas realizes Sparta must defend itself against the Persian threat. He assembles an army of 300 fearless, highly disciplined volunteers and heads out to drive back the enormous Persian army, although his bold decisiveness is challenged by Spartan statesmen Theron (Dominic West), who'd prefer to negotiate for power than fight for it.

"300" marches forward with an almost insane degree of authoritativeness. Spartan he-men spout declarative sentences like "Only Spartan women give birth to real men!" and sneer at their fellow city-staters, the Athenians, calling them -- with straight faces -- "boy lovers." Then they don battle garb consisting of leather Speedos and flowing deep-red capes; when the fighting starts, they add helmets and strap-on shinguards, but their pectorals, and the rippling contours of their washboard stomachs, remain exposed, Village People style. In one scene, Leonidas watches as a young soldier demonstrates his spear-chucking prowess: "Fine thrust!" he says, nodding approvingly. It's an obvious nugget of comic-book homoeroticism, but Snyder doesn't let himself, or his actors, have fun with it: The movie stays well inside its closet of self-seriousness.
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The battle footage here features lots of guys jabbing one another straight through with spears, as well as one zinger of a decapitation. All of this is accompanied by spurts and sploodges of highly art-directed black-red blood. The violence in "300" is stylized almost to the point of tastefulness, but don't worry: There's plenty of tackiness to go around, and I'm still not sure how much of it is intentional. Xerxes (played by Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro), dressed in a shimmery frock of chains and jewels, makes his appearance on an art-deco parade float, borne on the shoulders of Persian slaves. There's a throne at the top and a movie-palace staircase leading down: His silver eye shadow glistening in the movie's highly artificial light, he shimmies down those steps like a pre-code Gloria Swanson -- something tells you Gorgo isn't the only queen in town.

But in this most manly Spartan universe, Xerxes must also be a symbol of homoerotic evil, a fact that becomes dazzlingly clear when a Spartan hunchback named Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan) drops into his lair. Ephialtes has begged Leonidas to let him fight; Leonidas, citing Ephialtes' physical weakness, declines, suggesting, instead, that he could carry food and water to the soldiers. Wanting none of that sissy stuff, Ephialtes stomps off, and is lured to the dark side by Xerxes, whose palace is a den of hot lesbo action and amputee go-go dancers.

Scoping out the scene around him, Ephialtes can't believe his bulging eyes. Xerxes tells him that if he'll swear allegiance to Persia, the most sensual pleasures imaginable will be his; to prove it, a few of Xerxes' comely slaves rub their bejeweled nipples against Ephialtes' barnacled hump -- an admirable bit of ingenuity on their part, considering some of them don't even have arms.

The scene is one of the rare moments in "300" when Snyder lets himself go straight over the top, acknowledging that really, after all, this stuff is supposed to be fun. But it's too little too late. Some of my colleagues have expressed the fear, not wholly unwarranted, that movies like "300" -- pictures made largely on computers -- are the wave of the future and will eventually supplant conventional filmmaking. I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon: "300" may make money, but I doubt even the least discriminating yobbos on the planet would want every movie to look like this. We go to the movies to see people who look like us -- they may be better-looking versions of us, but their humanity is still the selling point. "300," even with its impressive vistas of computer-generated soldiers, is just a throwaway epic. As Xerxes' unacknowledged patron saint Swanson once said, "We had faces then." Until further notice, we still do. [source:]

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