The critical buzz on Ladrón que roba a ladrón and The Nines.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Aug. 31 2007 5:16 PM

The Latino Job

The critical buzz on Ladrón que roba a ladrón and The Nines.

Ladrón que roba a ladrón (Lionsgate). A bunch of Latino immigrants, trusting in their invisibility in a casually bigoted Los Angeles, set out to pull off an outrageous heist. This describes the plot of Ladrón que roba a ladrón ("A thief who steals from a thief"), but also the production: As critics note, "the film bears a suspicious, almost lawsuit-worthy resemblance to the Ocean's movies" (Nathan Rabin, the Onion's A.V. Club). So much the better, most reviewers think. USA Today's Claudia Puig fully endorses the caper, writing: "It's not a watered-down imitation or a south-of-the-border remake. It is clever, funny and very entertaining." The movie's political message is played lightly, but the Austin Chronicle hears it loud and clear: "Ladrón is grand Hollywood entertainment for and about a long-ignored culture that's just now starting to sense the potential vastness of its own economic and political influence. To make an intelligent heist film is difficult work; to shoot an entertaining sociological study is near impossible. To manage both at the same time has got to be some kind of minor miracle." (Buy tickets to Ladrón que roba a ladrón.)—Aug. 31

The Nines (Newmarket). More than one critic compares screenwriter John August's (Go, Big Fish) directorial debut to an episode of The Twilight Zone. The film is actually three separate stories, each starring the same leads, in which Hollywood types have spooky existential crises. Turns out they're wrestling with their karma in parallel universes, or something like that. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir likes the movie but dismisses its Big Ideas as lightweight distractions: " 'The Nines' alludes to philosophical or metaphysical profundity without possessing any, which is certainly a successful pop-entertainment mode (Shyamalan, q.v.)." Elsewhere, critics disagree whether this is a "solipsistic, sub–Charlie Kaufman head-trip" (Scott Foundras, the Village Voice) or a "hilarious ontological freak-out" that steers clear of the genre's biggest mistakes (Carina Chicano, the Los Angeles Times). In any case, they agree that star Ryan Reynolds is fantastic. Variety wrote at The Nines' Sundance premiere, "Reynolds gets a chance here like he's never had before … and he's sensational." (Buy tickets to The Nines.)—Aug. 31

Owen Wilson
Owen Wilson

Owen Wilson. The press has all but openly mocked the actor's plea for privacy following his suicide attempt last weekend. This much is unsurprising. More disheartening is the spectacular lack of insight writers bring to the puzzle: Why would such a happy-go-lucky guy be so depressed? Time magazine opines: "Obviously something darker was going on amidst all those flaxen-haired mellow good times."ABC News titles its report "Tears of a Clown." Perhaps these writers have conflated Wilson's on-screen personae with his actual person. As Field Maloney wrote in Slate a couple years back, there's good reason to believe the "Butterscotch Stallion" is a stone-cold genius, and the real brains behind director Wes Anderson's success. His crisis is unexpected and saddening, but the interior life it intimates shouldn't be such a shock.—Aug. 30

None Shall Pass, Aesop Rock

None Shall Pass, Aesop Rock (Def Jux). Ian Mattias Bavitz is a small-town Long Island white boy who grew up to live the dream: He's a bona fide underground rapper, and critics like his new album—which is full of paranoia and erudite wordplay. Pitchfork captures some of its eclectic scope: "[W]hile the connection between demoting Pluto as a planet and Pee Wee's Big Adventure are tenuous to me right now, anyone who fits in a reference to Large Marge and the eye of Cerberus in the same song surely earns extra points in heaven." Neil Drumming gives the disc an "A-" in Entertainment Weekly, explaining that "Aesop could seem a mere syllable-cramming show-off. But after repeated listenings … his dazzling verbal pointillism resolves into clever rants and full-blown stories." And Seattle's the Stranger concludes: "[T]here's a dizzying amount of thought and labor packed into this hour-long disc; it's perhaps best summed up by the call-and-response hook of the opening track: "How alive? Too alive!" (Buy None Shall Pass. Visit Aesop Rock's MySpace.)—Aug. 30

Christopher Walken as Feng in Balls of Fury. Click image to expand.
Christopher Walken as Feng in Balls of Fire

Balls of Fury (Rogue Pictures). The great critical debate of our age: Where on the bad-to-worse spectrum does this derivative kung-fu/sports-spoof comedy fall, with its B-list cast and late-summer, midweek release? Just kidding. Reviewers phone it in, just like everyone else involved with this production. "Can summer please be over now?" moans the New York Times' A.O. Scott. In the Village Voice, Nathan Lee can't even be bothered to write the movie up, offering an "amusing" quiz in lieu of comment. But wait: Claudia Puig polished her USA Today review like a gem: "[T]here's no need to rally for this ping-pong movie."Zing! (Buy tickets to Balls of Fury.)—Aug. 29

Liars.

Liars, Liars (Mute). The shape-shifting indie heavyweights rock harder on this new album, which everyone likes and PopMatters loves, writing: "Each track bears the sound of a confident, secure band of artists who now know they are ready for prime-time, and can weather the onslaught of attention without compromise." The Onion A.V. Club also praises the album's accessibility: "[F]orgoing heady concepts and willful obtuseness— embracing rock music instead of deconstructing it —may actually be the boldest move yet."Pitchfork gives the disc an 8.5, describing the sound: "In essence, Liars is scorched-blacktop biker music played through the art-rock filter of a band that's spent the last few years steeped in the bleak sounds of German new wave and early industrial." (Buy Liars. Visit the band's MySpace.)—Aug. 29

Burning Man

Burning Man. The official theme for this year's Nevada desert arts festival/bacchanal is "the Green Man" (pat yourself on the back at the event's official ecoblog). Valleywag scoffs at the premise, noting that "the only truly green Burning Man is a Burning Man that doesn't take place." In July, Business 2.0 reported that festival organizers are relaxing their anti-corporate, anti-consumer credo to showcase green tech in a kind of mini-expo. And the San Francisco Chronicle recently raised doubts about the event's financial practices—Burning Man brings in about $10 million each year—though the San Francisco Bay Guardian then accused its rival of slipshod reporting. Meanwhile, Gawker trembles at Portfolio's report of Wall Street execs who are also "burners." Read Burning Man blogs from the Las Vegas Sun and the San Francisco Chronicle. Lower your carbon footprint and visit Burning Man virtually with these data sets for Google Earth—or attend in Second Life. Also: the classic Onion send-up.—Aug. 28

Hannah Takes the Stairs
Hannah Takes the Stairs

Hannah Takes the Stairs (IFC). Let's hope this latest film in the buzzed-about indie "mumblecore" movement doesn't make it past limited distribution. In what passes for a good review, the Onion's A.V. Club warns, "Viewers' tolerance for Hannah Takes The Stairs will depend greatly on how much they can stand the characters"—i.e., haplessly narcissistic post-collegiate hipsters navigating work and relationships and figuring out what they want out of life. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir fence-sits unapologetically, writing, "If my endorsement of Hannah Takes the Stairs sounds lukewarm, maybe it is. ... But, for Christ's sake, let's give [director Joe Swanberg] a break. Swanberg has been out of college for four years and all he's managed to do is make three feature films." Despite initial excitement, voice-of-its-generation Gawker pronounced against the film: "There's nothing worse than when actresses try to convey 'quirky and neurotic' by basically acting drunk or stoned all the time and trying to convey 'incredibly naturalistic' by just taking forever to spit out a sentence. Here's a tip, indie filmmakers: sometimes, in real life, people are quite articulate!"— Aug. 27

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