More entries in the Holiday Ticket Stub rush!

* Syriana -- Despite its strong similarities to Traffic (same production team), this densely packed fauxcumentary of the global oil-terrorism complex still packs a serious wallop. Cutting briskly between four plotlines, the film traces the consequences of poverty, political will, and unchecked corporate greed in the final years of the oil economy. The four main characters are well drawn and united in being dwarfed by these larger forces -- particularly Mazhar Munir as a young Pakistani worker in the mideast oil fields who is shunted into a fundamentalist madrassa after losing his job thanks to a shady corporate merger. At every turn, idealism and the hope of reform are thwarted by a multilayered smog of corruption. By the last frame, you'll want to ditch your car by the side of the road and/or move to the moon. Points off for laughably minor female roles, and a brutal sequence of poor pudgy George Clooney being horribly tortured and beaten. Still, it's worth seeing: what does it say about our country that the most serious foreign policy analysts may be in Hollywood these days? Reminds me of Tom Morello saying that he learned more about US intervention in Central America from The Clash's Sandinista than by watching the evening news. Word. (A-)

* RENT -- A holdover from Thanksgiving, finally went to see it for Ladies Movie Night. In a word, meh. I was fanatical about the Broadway show way back a decade ago...but like so many things from the 90's, including me, the concept hasn't aged perfectly. RENT the show was a rough-edged masterpiece, a florid rock opera in a cynical post-Phantom of the Opera world, drenched in AIDS sorrow and youthful verve in equal measure. The songs hold up very well onscreen -- the walls of the movie theater literally reverberated -- but then, how could they not? They are the essence of and the best thing about the show -- plenty of RENTheads have only experienced it through the cast album! The acting runs from decent right down to flat, unfortunately, with Jesse L. Martin (of course) and Rosario Dawson at the top, probably due to their experience off the boards. Taye Diggs manages to come off waxen, though he plays the dull yuppie heel, and his live wire (real-life) wife, Idina Menzel, is nothing short of grating, a theater geek gone mad in front of a camera lens. They all have great pipes, but chugging through lyrics like "In the evening I must roam, Can't sleep in the city of neon and chrome" just doesn't work as well in the "real world" of the movie. And therein I shall place my blame -- director Chris Columbus, already renowned for his ability to suck the life out of beloved artworks, badly misjudges the material here, playing up the background settings (including some truly ludicrous location work) more than the songs. RENT could be staged in a cardboard box and be powerful. Here it seems...trivial, despite being at least 30 minutes too long! Even as a nostalgia trip back to a more innocent version of New York, it doesn't quite hit the mark. (C)

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