It's time for a big TicketStub catchup around here:

* Thank You For Smoking -- Aaron Eckhardt steps up to leading man status in this dark yet gentle satire of the tobacco lobby circa ten years ago. He plays Nick Naylor, the shameless goldenboy spin doctor for Big Tobacco (embodied by a drawling, julep-sipping Robert Duvall), who unapologetically excels at his job and embraces a "Yuppie Nuremberg defense" of it: "I do it for the mortgage, like anybody else." But things get a little trickier when his bright young son tags along on his business trips, and he falls prey to a fickle young journalist [Kat(i)e Holmes] and a pack of antismoking zealots. The film deftly skewers both the corporate shill machine and the self-deception of those who drive it, but it wasn't as harsh or bleak as I expected -- in the end Nick makes a convincingly likeable antihero. Extra points for Rob Lowe as a hilariously faux-Zen Hollywood power player. (B)

* Christine Jorgensen Reveals -- Boston's Theater Offensive snapped up a limited run of this unusual show, and the day Kim & I went it was nominated for an NYC Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience -- and so it was, and gorgeous and moving too. Christine was a megacelebrity in the late 50's, by virtue of her being born George Jorgensen in the Bronx, serving in the Army, and then traveling to Denmark for sex reassignment surgery. Five years after returning to the US and launching a successful nightclub act, she made a "party record" with Nipsey Russell, an hour of answering all manner of personal, banal, and improbable questions ("Do you have a love mate?"). The show takes that original audio track and places actor/creator Brad Louryk, in full blonde bombshell mode, on a simple set lip-synching along impeccably to Christine's poised answers. Like a lot of things in life, it starts out odd and jarring, but after a few minutes you feel it's utterly normal. The show is layered with all kinds of subtle lessons on celebrity, identity, and self-acceptance -- if only Oprah and its ilk were this sophisticated! (A+)

* Neil Young: Heart of Gold -- Nat and I walked down to the Capitol Theate, and for $7 got front row tickets to a Neil Young concert! This small, well-crafted film showcases Young in his element -- surrounded by longtime friends and collaborators, performing new work and old favorites, and baring his soul through song in the most unassuming yet piercing way. Shot on one night at Nashville's storied Ryman Auditorium by none other than Jonathan Demme, the film manages to zoom right up close and capture the twinkling eyes and furrowed brows of the musicians, without seeming staged or intrusive. I'm so glad we went to see it in a theater -- on DVD the music would still be great but you'd lose that live audience feel. Features a fantastic close-up of the "Harvest Moon" broom. (A)

* Friends With Money -- I finally caught the latest Nicole Holofcener movie and, as I expected, she's done it again. I've never seen more believable characters onscreen -- not necessarily likeable, but so ordinary in their bumbling, petty way, it makes you think you might bump into them sometime at the Santa Monica farmer's market. If only you lived in L.A... and had an L.A. figure, bank account, wardrobe, low-grade depression, job working from home, and messy marriage. That describes three of the four women of Friends to a tee, and Jennifer Aniston plays the odd one out, Olivia the aimless, potsmoking teacher-turned-housecleaner. Reprising her role in The Good Girl (wherein she unwisely bedded Jake Gyllenhaal, just like Catherine Keener in the last Holofcener flick, Lovely & Amazing, what are the odds on that?), Aniston shows she does have a set of acting chops -- you can't fake it up against Keener, Joan Cusack, and Frances McDormand, folks. The plot revolves around this set of women friends (exactly how and when they met is irritatingly never discussed, just like on Sex and the City) and their respective troubles with work, ageing, men, and most importantly money, the unspoken stressor and stress-reliever of consumer-capitalist American life. It's no accident that the wealthiest couple has the most satisfying sex life here...but are they the "happiest"? Keener and McDormand struggle with a crumbling marriage and perimenopause, respectively, but in the end they seem quite happy too. It's Aniston who hits the jackpot with a sweet, mysterious guy in the end, after putting up with the most bullshit. So what's the lesson -- live simply so that others may simply live? Hardly -- Holofcener is deeply apolitical, and the movie enjoys its brand-consciousness and "aspirational" lifestyles rather than critiquing them. It's more like the end of It's A Wonderful Life, the richest gals in town are the ones with good friends. Awwww. Extra points for McDormand's awesome freakout in an Old Navy store! (A-)

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