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by Rob Horning

5 Sep 2007

This morning, NPR had an item about the impact of the subprime-mortgage crisis on which real-estate experts were complaining that the pendulum has swung too far too quickly: A few months ago loans were too easy to come by; now they are too hard—bankers now have the temerity to verify borrowers incomes. This was accompanied with the usual trumpet sounding about home ownership as the basis of the American dream, and what about the families? If a middle-class family can’t exercise its god-given right to home ownership, then why the hell do we even have an America for? We were then invited to feel sorry for the families that couldn’t afford median-priced homes in bubble-inflated markets, with no indication given that the lax lending helped foster the high prices in the first places. Instead the implicit prescription was more of the germs that led to the disease in the first place.

To give the matter more urgency, the piece went on to elucidate this chain of reasoning. When the middle class feel as though they can’t afford the half-a-million dollar houses for sale in southern California, they may become discouraged about economic prospects generally, and curb their discretionary spending on luxury consumer goods—an interesting link, because expensive housing isn’t always regarded as the luxury good that it is. This downturn in consumption would then spread throughout the economy, bringing on a recession that would harm everyone. We are already seeing some of this in the ways local governments are being affected by the loss of housing-related revenues, as this WSJ story points out. Lower housing prices mean lower tax assessments, and fewer homes sold mean fewer taxes paid, fewer housing starts mean fewer associated fees collected. You start to see how many people have an interest in prolonging the housing bubble, how deeply perverse the incentives can be as long as people believe the inflation in housing can be contained to housing, where it is offset by generous income tax breaks and the happy possibility of home equity loans.

But whenever I hear about housing woes threatening consumption, I think about my frequent complaints about consumerism and wonder whether I should consider this a good thing, if whether my recent fixation of credit markets is a product of hoping that credit will dry up altogether, forcing a shift in values away from consumption, for which there will no longer be any funds. By that logic then, what I am hoping for is a return of the Great Depression, when people were forced to find other ways to occupy themselves than shopping (and working).

But I don’t in fact hope for that kind of material deprivation, rampant unemployment, and generalized insecurity. One thing worth remembering is that increased consumption is different from consumerism. Increased consumption is a macroeconomic fact inseparable from any kind of growth, even if it is restricted to the population. More prevelant consumerism, however, is a matter of social priorities. What’s needed is a way to divorce prosperity from the ethics of frivolity; to find a way to mitigate the corrosive effects prosperity sometimes seems to have on individuals, making them vain, selfish and insipid; obsessed with developing their own identity and lifestyle rather than contributing anything to their communities, etc.—the typical complaints about consumerism. One could argue that these traits are actually good—the libertarian approach that sees self-obsession as a radical expression of freedom. By this argument, shopping makes our lives meaningful—all those important choices about what to buy that we make and almost take for granted—as opposed to the opposite. Consumerism widens the scope of our ultimate activity rather than narrows it into a channel carved out by corporate interests and conformism and a customary allegiance to what appears to be common sense.

Or one can refute the complaints. Maybe such self-involved and shallow people don’t actually exist and are only posited by the advertisements that are designed to sustain consumer enthusiasm, yet this is belied by the apparent success of such ads (they keep making them and devoting millions of dollars to them) and the theoretical apparatus that has identity being formed by such cultural influences, as in Judith Williamson’s case (critiqued here) that ads function as Althusserian ideological state apparatuses allowing us to define ourselves in a way that is complicit with the economic system they support.

The important question, I guess, is whether economic growth relies on consumerism—whether consumption will only grow at the rate required or in the directions necessary for capitalism (consumption of goods made for profit in order to display status) when consumers are prodded ideologically. John Kenneth Galbraith argued as much in The Affluent Society but many other economists scoffed at that assessment. But one can’t reject consumerist values merely out of being offended by their puerility—one person’s BeerFest is another person’s Hamlet. It seems that the point where one differentiates between consumption and consumerism is where critics of consumerism become enivronmentalists, insisting that sustainability is the basis upon which to restrict growth and develop alternative values.

by Jillian Burt

5 Sep 2007

Then we heard bangs from away down left down the boulevard, over by the Invalides, and a muffled roar. We looked at the television screen and saw the Eiffel Tower, all lit up. They had set up fireworks so that they began at the base of the tower, exploding in gold and violet around its piers, and then dramatically in gold bursts and haloes, working their way up to the top. As the fireworks reached the top, the entire tower turned on; twenty thousand or so small flashbulbs that had been wired to the tower went off at once, blinking hyperfast. The tiny constant explosions of the little bulbs made the tower look as though it had been carbonated, injected with seltzer bubbles. It was a beautiful sight. I thought of going out to see it firsthand, like a responsible reporter, but it was late—hey, come to think of it, it was after midnight—and anyway, the children were asleep. So we watched the whole thing on TV and were proud anyway, one last virtual CNN experience, but with a living room window open, and the cold air coming in, and one ear at least hearing the muffled bangs of the real thing taking place a few blocks away.
Adam Gopnik. Paris to the Moon.

September 4, yesterday, was the day that George Bush arrived in Sydney. I waited for the time to shift to September 4 in America so that I could listen to a preview of Bruce Springsteen’s new single, Radio Nowhere, available only on Amazon.com for twenty four hours. It was also the day that William Gibson’s new novel, Spook Country, was released in Australia. So I bought it and put aside Paris to the Moon for the moment. Spook Country is set in February, 2006, and one of the strands of the story is surveillance and tracking systems being used for “locative” art pieces.

“How did you get into this?”
“I was working on commercial GPS technology. I’d gotten into that because I’d thought I wanted to be an astronomer, and I’d gotten fascinated with satellites. The most interesting ways of looking at the GPS grid, what it is, what we do with it, what we might be able to do with it, all seemed to be being put forward by artists. Artists or the military. That’s something that tends to happen with new technologies generally: the most interesting applications turn up on the battlefield, or in a gallery.”
William Gibson. Spook Country.

I’m not reporting on the Asia Pacific Economic conference meeting of 21 world leaders that George Bush is attending; I’m living in Sydney and reading about APEC in the Sydney Morning Herald while the events happen in my proximity.

“I believe we are writing one of the great chapters in the history of liberty and peace.” So said George Bush during a brief writing break to have lunch with a collection of Australian military personnel at Sydney’s Garden Island naval base. The President and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped themselves to snags and barbecued corn in the company of hosts John Howard, wife Janette and a very pleased looking Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, who was very attentive to Dr Rice at the salad bar.

I have no context of my own for APEC. I’ve read too much science fiction perhaps, watched too many Star Wars movies and episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation so what I’ve read about the arrival of the world leaders leans towards the fantastic. The American delegation, at 650 people almost twice as large as the home delegation in Australia, seemed like Darth Vader swooping in on the Death Star with his own vehicles and own weapons, and declaring “sovereign immunity” to avoid having local quarantine officials board his plane. Leaders of some tiny nations, New Zealand, for instance were more like Luke Skywalker and his couple of robots hot-rodded from spare parts, flying in on commercial flights and accepting protection from Australian security.

Photograph of Sydney Street during APEC by Dan Patmore

Photograph of Sydney Street during APEC by Dan Patmore

The newspapers and television need chaos and drama but I’ve only seen quiet things, the efficient business of security being handled as if it were event management, the fences and concrete barriers and elaborate system of passes and restricted access reminds me of the fortification of Albert Park Lake, in Melbourne, for the running of the Grand Prix.

by Bill Gibron

4 Sep 2007

It was one of the longest summers on record, and unquestionably the most profitable. Beginning with the first weekend in May and Spider-man’s sweep into thousands of theaters, and ending on the very last day of August with the post-Halloween hissy fits, Hollywood raked in over four billion big ones the past four months, proving once and for all that the moviegoing experience is not dead. The rationale for ‘slumps’ and lazy box office returns is obvious – bad movies and their accompanying vitriolic word of mouth keep potential profits away. Maybe if Tinsel Town could see such an aesthetic forest from its individually marketed and demographically choreographed trees, there would be more imagination and innovation in the artform. Sadly, after seeing the returns reached in 2007, we should be ready for more of the same - blue humor comedies, live action cartoon updates, and sequels, tre-quels, and quadre-quels.

Of the 35 films SE&L sat through this summer – and we did miss a couple along the way (sorry Mr. Brooks, No Reservations, and War) – finding 10 worthy of making the grade was actually not that hard. Indeed, many of the picks practically begged to be mentioned. In general, the determination for inclusion in based on the ‘carry over’ syndrome. If a movie moved us, touched us, intrigued us, inspired us, entertained us, angered us, or surprised us in such a way that we ‘carried over’ that sentiment for days, sometimes weeks after seeing a film, it’s passed an important test. A critic can view up to a dozen movies in a week, and differentiating between them all can sometimes be as simple (or better yet, simplistic) as a gut or kneejerk reaction. But when they remain in your mind, when you constantly find yourself replaying scenes and revisiting ideas that the storyline or characters inspired, it’s an omen that can’t be ignored. They function as mental place cards in a mind overflowing with performances, images, and words. So when SE&L began it’s basic backwards glancing, we remembered the experiences we had during these hot, humid days, and the ones still stationed in our brains got the call up.

For the 10 films selected here, two are going to cause an uproar. Populist opinion – something we tend to sidestep in favor of actual film analysis – has confirmed that a pair of our choices chaffs the average mainstream member of the audience in ways that demand unreasonable retribution. Granted, you may feel free to take umbrage with anything we champion or chide, but this is not some kind of last word consensus on creative spark or motion picture ingenuity. It’s just opinion, albeit one based on a perspective of decades, not mere years, and several thousand, not a couple dozen, film going experiences. You may not agree, and that’s fine. But to quote Monty Python, the automatic nay-saying of someone else’s point is not an argument. It’s mere contradiction. If you disagree, put your opposition where your anonymous messageboard moxie is. Give us your Top 10. Let’s see how they match up.

In the meantime, here’s SE&L’s choices for the Best Films of the Summer of 2007:

#10 Transformers
Second only to Rob Zombie in poisonous fan boy hate, Michael Bay is not a bad director, just a soulless and scattershot one. Luckily, he finally found the proper project and a warehouse full of computing power to pull off this amazing technical tour de force. Sure, the same old Bay-isms apply: wimpy characterization; overly busy compositions and framing; a failure to connect to the audience on an emotional or esoteric level. Yet Transformers managed an amazing feat. It brought an expert level of surplus spectacle back to the big screen where it rightfully belongs.

#9 Rescue Dawn
Christian Bale is rapidly becoming the best actor in the business, as his stellar performance here definitely indicates. In a season exploding with all kinds of expensive eye candy, writer/director Werner Herzog goes directly for the throat. This is a thinking man’s Great Escape, a typical recitation of the German filmmaker’s main themes – man vs. nature vs. man and his own nature. With equally amazing turns from Steve Zahn and an unrecognizable Jeremy Davis (who definitely deserves an Oscar), and Herzog’s matter of fact filmmaking, this was a resplendent respite from all the popcorn product.

#8 The Bourne Ultimatum
Paul Greengrass does is again – proving that nothing drives high powered action better than a director with a vision. In this case, the handheld chaos created as our hero finally reconnects with his past is beyond belief. Among the many sequences that stand out, Greengrass stages a foot chase across the rooftops of Tangiers, leading to one of the greatest, most brutal fistfights in cinema history. For those who found the second film too kinetic, this one will also blow your socks off. We end up with an excellent ending to a wonderfully inventive espionage franchise.

#7 Hairspray: The Movie
Here’s perhaps the big surprise of the Summer – a mannered musical of the John Waters’ PG classic that had no business being brought back to the silver screen – and every moment of it worked brilliantly. If anyone ever doubted John Travolta’s song and dance chops (oh, what short memories we have), his last act teardown as Edna Turnblad during the final show-stopping number should be reminder enough. Add in the breakout buoyancy of newcomer Nikki Blonsky and Adam Shankman’s old school directorial style, and you’ve got the makings of some fantastic feel good fireworks.

#6 Halloween 2007
In what will be the first of two gasps from the typical movie going mentality, this reimagining of John Carpenter’s slasher epic is not the abomination the Net heads make it out to be. Instead, it’s perhaps one of the best examples of pure horror ever created. Argue over his choices for a young Michael Myers’ backstory, and complain that the slice and dice was too rapid fire and brutal, but that’s the point of this entire film. We no longer live in a slow, suspenseful world. Reality is in your face, as is this amazing movie.

#5 The Simpsons Movie
Since the Web has been predicting the demise of this show since Season 7, it’s hard not to relish in how laugh out loud classic this cinematic stop off really is. Matt Groening and the gang literally stepped up their game when bringing America’s favorite family into the celluloid domain, and the earnest ecology storyline shows that the creators have lost none of their verve. On par with South Park and Aqua Teen Hunger Force in showing how animated television can make the successful transition to a larger comic canvas.

#4 SiCKO
Michael Moore sees the big picture better than any other documentarian working today. Granted, he tends to showboat, and misses minutia for the sake of his stances, but there’s no denying the angle and authenticity of its approach. This is perhaps the most important movie he’s even made, which accounts for the impassioned potshots taken at his fact finding abilities. Just because a discussion fails to mention your particular points, or all other thoughts or theories on a subject, doesn’t make the conversation invalid. Moore is making a much larger statement here, the kind of wake up call we desperately need.

#3 Knocked Up
With this part profane, part poetic comedy masterpiece, Judd Apatow has finally arrived. He’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s directly tapped into the new post-millennial form of funny business, a cavalcade of cleverness that draws on any and all humor happenstance to derive its embarrassment of risible riches. But what puts this wickedly witty enterprise over the top is the solid storyline that deals in interpersonal issues and romantic perception with humanity and heart. Destined to reside near the top of the list come end of the year considerations.

#2 Sunshine
Here it is – the second sigh of disbelief from seasoned Summer film fans. As if championing the new Michael Myers wasn’t bad enough, here’s Danny Boyle’s brazen riff on 2001/Solaris via Event Horizon one step away from the top spot. The reason for such a placement can’t be proven in a small overview blurb. Instead, the Trainspotting savant puts his aesthetic prints all over a narrative that asks the season’s most important question – what would you do, personally, to save all of mankind? How you answer says a lot about your reaction to this masterpiece of a movie.

#1 Ratatouille
Along with Apatow, Brad Bird confirmed his genius status with this grown up flight of fancy. While The Iron Giant and the well named Incredibles illustrated his animated movie panache, this remarkable tale of a tiny rat and the bumbling boy chef he leads to greatness stands as the summer’s greatest achievement. Not only does the film look fantastic (Pixar, if anything has IMPROVED since Finding Nemo and Cars), but the narrative has moments of artistic bliss that simply blow you away. Destined to be a genre classic, one wonders what’s next from this potent production partnership.


**********

Worth a Mention
Here are a few other offerings that failed to make the big list proper. For whatever reason, their merits do indeed require pointing out:

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Proof that Gore Verbinski is one of the most accomplished directors working today. Love or hate these buccaneer blockbusters, but it takes a rare motion picture visionary to make this kind of cornball material work. Ignore the confusing storylines and simply enjoy its overpowering epic sweep.


*****

1408
Want subtle scares instead of bloody gorno workouts? Think all horror has to be abattoir amplified flesh feasts? This sinister Stephen King adaptation, offering an excellent performance by John Cusack, proves that dread can be accomplished even without a heaping helping of arterial spray.


*****

Hostel Part II
Probably the second most hated movie of the summer, and equally misunderstood. This non-carbon copy of the first film is everything a real sequel should be – that is, a 180 degree reset of the entire Hostel concept. The results are evocative and enthralling.


*****

Fido
Sadly, many moviegoers didn’t get a chance to see Andrew Currie’s freaked out social commentary. Using zombies as a symbol of non-conformity and change, and setting the story inside a crass, conservative ‘50s suburbia, this director delivered the allegorical goods.


*****

Superbad
This one barely missed making the Top Ten, and the reason is simple – the arrested adolescence offered by our pair of misguided policemen. The rest of the movie is magic, capturing how real teens talk in ways that should remind everyone of their own misspent youth.


**********

The Worst
And now, the bottom of the barrel, the cinematic scrapings that reek of lame scripts, poor direction, bad acting, ill-conceived conceptualizing, and all around motion picture mediocrity. While there are a few films missing from this list (like Lindsay Lohan’s I Know Who Killed Me…how prophetic), the five titles here are representative of the filmic funk that soiled the Cineplex this season:

#5 El Cantante
Jennifer Lopez screams for two hours. Unless its part of some well deserved death throws, it’s not worth it.

*****

#4 Underdog
Jason Lee does a decent dog’s voice. The rest of the movie meanders between pointless superhero stupidity and uninspired kiddie comedy.


*****

#3 Shrek the Third
Further proof that, once you anthropomorphize something, it’s bound to come back and bore you to death.


*****

#2 Mr. Bean’s Holiday
Physical comedy is almost impossible to get right. Rowan Aktinson’s take on the comic category confirms such a stance.


*****

#1I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Anti-gay put downs snuggle awkwardly with “can’t we all get along” language. The result is an insult to both comedy and civil rights.

 

by Jason Gross

4 Sep 2007

It’s so easy to pick on the ruler of the roost but some companies just deserve it.  After being an underdog for so many years, Steve Jobs has led Apple to the top of the media pile by dominating paid downloads and that neat little white rectangle device that plays digital files.  Now as they ready a big announcement for Wednesday (will they finally nab the Beatles into iTunes?), I start to wonder about the day that will inevitably come when Jobs’ media presentations won’t be big news.  It might happen sooner than we think.

by Bill Gibron

3 Sep 2007

Okay, we’re ready. The bib is in place and the rising bile has been settled. We’re prepared for our plate of humble pie, and can’t wait to gobble down that big steaming bowl of crow. Unlike other film sites that strive to be all knowing and omniscient, we’re capable of admitting when we’re wrong. We try to read the tea leaves Tinsel Town tosses us, but the heady aroma can occasionally intoxicate our sensibilities. At the beginning of the Summer, SE&L predicted that the following five films would be the season’s most specious – Live Free or Die Hard, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Underdog, and The Invasion. In the realm of uncovering crud, it was a glorified gamble – especially when you consider that Summer in general is a time for just such predicable popcorn pabulum. Still, we gave it a shot, and are ready to take our misguided medicine. 

In retrospect, we did fairly well. Based on an overall tally of critical and commercial accounting, we were four out of five. Only Live Free managed to be a straightforward success. Now, before you get into a snit and start spouting statistics and box office returns, there is more to a flop than mere finances. No, a movie can be artistically bankrupt, or so slight that it warrants very little cinematic consideration or merit. By taking into consideration consensus, plus perspective, it’s clear that our helping of humility will be on the decidedly small size. Granted, the one we missed was about as big a bungle as one’s motion picture savvy can take, yet the remaining rejects argued for our crackerjack clairvoyance. And remember – this is not a rundown of the season’s best/worst. That will be coming later. So save your Spider-man venom and Halloween hate for another couple days.

Instead, let’s revisit each choice individually, to see how psychic – or stupid – we were:

Live Free or Die Hard
Box Office Returns: $134 million domestic/ $354 million worldwide
Rotten Tomato Rating: 80%
SE&L’s Prediction – Off by a Couple Million Miles

We got this wrong. Dead wrong. And in retrospect, there was really no excuse for our lack of insight. We bought the buzz. We drank the messageboard Kool-aid on the PG-13 parameters, the poorly realized script, and the lack of faith in Len Underworld Wiseman. And we got punked. Hosed. Hoisted onto our own prophetic petard. At the end of the day, this may not have been the old school actioner everyone hoped for, but it was a dazzling update on the franchise, and a stellar selection of stunt set-pieces. Heck, even Kevin Smith was good. In some ways, this rock-‘em sock-‘em reinvention could be the beginning of Die Hard 2.0. If Willis is willing, it would be interesting to see other directors take on the Mclane vs. Mayhem formula.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Box Office Returns: $131 million domestic/ $274 million worldwide
Rotten Tomato Rating: 36%
SE&L’s Prediction – Bordering between exaggerated and exact.

If ever a series was saved by the introduction of a novel new character, it would be this sloppy sequel to the equally unimaginative F4 original. Nothing about this retake corrected the problems of the past – Reed Richards’ abilities still look CGI fake, Johnny Storm is just a jerk, his sister Sue is a cipher, and The Thing resembles a bad amusement park character. But thanks to the T-100 tendencies of the title entity, we wind up with a film that’s almost half good, instead of all bad. We predicted a catastrophe, and instead, only got a genial piece of junk, watchable, and not a complete waste of time. Audience and critics seemed to disagree with such an assessment, however. Still, here’s hoping the Surfer only project sees the light of day.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Box Office Returns: $115 million domestic/ $123 million worldwide
Rotten Tomato Rating: 14%
SE&L’s Prediction – Right on the Mediocre Money

God, how AWFUL was this abortive pretend comedy? How smug and stupidly misguided. Even if it wasn’t based on some crappy Paul Hogan hokum (guess the courts may end up deciding that) it sure feels like something ripped out of Crocodile Dundee’s derrière. Don’t let the appearance of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor’s name on the screenplay fool you. Rumor has it their script was flushed by Sandler and his staff in favor of more anti-gay slurs. If Mel Brooks taught us anything with film’s like Blazing Saddles, it’s that you can be crass and politically incorrect, as long as you’re smart and satiric in the process. Here, all we have is deplorable dopiness. Even though it barely breached the $100 million mark, that’s no indication of actual success. We believed it would embarrass, and humiliate it did.

Underdog
Box Office Returns: $37 million domestic only
Rotten Tomato Rating: 13%
SE&L’s Prediction – Accurate, if not exactly fair

It’s clear that after a month in theaters, families aren’t flocking to see this misguided update of the cartoon cur – and the reasons are rather obvious. Disney does its usual toothless job of trying to jerryrig this one note joke into a clever superhero spoof. Even worse, they decided to desecrate the good name of the original animated show along the way. Frankly, the film’s not THAT bad. It’s soulless and silly, but the Jason Lee voiced beagle is actually kind of cute. The House of Mouse could have made their own take on the subject matter, scuttled all the Underdog referencing, and come out with a decent little diversion. Instead, they were hoping to corral some of that dwindling Baby Boomer cash by tapping into some manner of negligible nostalgia. SE&L smelled a dog – and we were more or less right.

The Invasion
Box Office Returns: $12 million domestic/ $13 million worldwide
Rotten Tomato Rating: 20%
SE&L’s Prediction – Right on the Mediocre Money

It’s never a good sign when a movie is retooled by reshoots. Adding insult to obvious injury, the original director of this dung didn’t get to foster the fixes. Such a bifurcated approach, accented by a dismal take on some otherwise potent allegory fodder, resulted in one lax, lumbering movie. Nicole Kidman is completely wrong for the role of agitated outsider. She’s more ice queen than activist. Daniel Craig is relegated to playing possum, and the rest of the cast is practically non-existent. Even worse, there’s no real villainy here. The aliens don’t have a master plan beyond rendering everyone on Earth benign. After that, their motives are meaningless. So loss of emotion is our clash catalyst. Not the greatest reason for a war of the worlds. Figuring this would fail was obvious – by how much is still amazing.

Sorry We Didn’t Warn You
Looking back, especially with the tentative 20/20 vision of such hindsight, SE&L slipped up and forgot to mention a few apparent atrocities in the making. While we apologize for failing in our early warning ways, we can still step up and do a little backseat driving. Had we been in our right mind, and remembered that entire list of Summer’s specials, we might have had these half-baked hunks of cinematic sludge as part of our previous piece. But again, we dropped the ball, so kindly give us a break. This trio of tripe should have been part of the prognostication:

Rush Hour 3

Perhaps we gave Jackie Chan too much credit. Maybe Chris Tucker’s cultural disappearing act clouded our memory of his motor-mouthed mediocrity. It could also be a case of Brett Ratner redeeming himself with decent efforts like Red Dragon and X-Men: The Last Stand. Whatever it is, SE&L let this one slip under the radar, and we’re the worse for wear because of it. This atrociously unfunny effort has officially killed the buddy pic.

Shrek The Third

Maybe we missed the memo, but when was it announced that the Shrek franchise was about to become the Lord of the Rings of the retarded. This never ending series is starting to show some major wear, and this uninspired middle act is a perfect illustration of such slippage. Lacking anything close to context, it’s just a bunch of riffs and pop culture references tossed together, treading water until Part 4 comes along.

El Cantante

If she hadn’t done so before, Jennifer Lopez has formally destroyed her remaining box office credibility. This misguided biopic of salsa superstar Hector Lavoe decides to forego its central subject to focus almost exclusively on the musician’s manic wife, played in full shrew mode by you know who. Lopez is so stifling, so prickly and problematic that you wish it was her character that was doomed to die. Marc Anthony was actually good. His supposed better half proved poisonous.

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