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Movies: in review


145;Thank You For Smoking&

falls just short of great satire


Thank You For Smoking&

is billed as a satire, meaning irony or caustic wit are used to expose or attack human vice and folly. Certainly, were we to make a list of human folly, cigarette smoking would be somewhere near the top.

What greater human folly than rolling up a dried and shredded tobacco plant (with additives and nicotine boosters) in white tissue paper, lighting it on fire, and then drawing the smoke deep into your lungs. The smoker does this with the foreknowledge that nicotine is as addictive as heroine, and the smoke will eventually turn his or her lungs into charcoal briquettes. And not to forget the collateral diseases (begin with the heart), which can be terrible and often terminal.

Cigarettes are called coffin nails and cancer sticks. Often by smokers themselves. Scientists refer to them as nicotine delivery systems. They make people smell like ashtrays, are costly, the ashes burn holes in perfectly good clothing, and turn teeth the color of, well, tobacco leaves. And yet, somehow, the manufacturers have persuaded folks that smoking is, well, suave. Adult. Sexy. Ultra cool. How did that ever happen? Why would reasonable, thoughtful people force nicotine-filled smoke into their lungs and, despite all the coughing, learn to tolerate what the body wants to reject? Human folly.

So to make a movie from the point of view of a tobacco lobbyist should have been a hoot. There&

s a lot of folly to go around. Especially the folly of Nick Taylor (Aaron Eckhart), the Big Tobacco spokesperson, and his two best friends, Polly Bailey (Maria Bello), rep to alcohol manufactures, and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), rep for gunmakers. They refer to themselves as the M.O.D. Squad (Merchants of Death), and argue, seriously, about who has the highest body count. Cigarettes trump guns or alcohol in terms of total annual death, Taylor insists, using a tone that he might adopt if selling a successful weight-loss program or the health benefits of broccoli

At times &

Thank You For Smoking&

is funny. But it is also strangely empty. Even vacuous. What it amounts to is a series of vignettes that have been strung together so that the characters can banter back and forth, saying outrageous things as if they were the norm.

This film could have been a nicely rendered black comedy had the writers taken the character of Taylor seriously, rather than simply portraying him as a shallow, thoughtless hustler who uses his gift for gab to sell to one and all &

even an elementary school class &

on the idea that you can&

t really judge cigarettes until you&

ve tried them. Preferably long enough to give nicotine a chance to work its magic. Sadly, Taylor never confronts himself or the wake of human tragedy that Big Tobacco leaves behind. He merely sails along, the film seeming as empty as Taylor.

Satire is hard to do well. The trap for most satirists is exaggeration, what is often referred to as going over the top. If the caustic wit goes too far it drops into the abyss of silliness, which will rob the narrative of its impact. It&

s a precarious balance that is difficult to achieve and sustain. &

Thank You For Smoking&

makes a valiant attempt, but doesn&

t quite get there.


145;The Real Dirt on Farmer John&

offers a story of redemption


The Real Dirt on Farmer John&

will open Friday at the Varsity Theatre, and will run through May 4. Presented by Coming Attractions Theatres and Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF), the proceeds from the Friday night screenings, at 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., will directly benefit the nonprofit AIFF.

This documentary, which uses footage gleaned over 50 years, is quirky, original and entertaining. It tells the story of John Peterson, farmer, artist and innovator who grew up and still lives today on the northern Illinois family farm, purchased during the depression, and farmed by his father and uncle and then left to him.

The life of Peterson has not been a straight line, but instead a journey filled with side trips, debt, peppered by decisions that almost resulted in his losing the land that he so dearly loves.

In the opening shot of the film we see Peterson walking across the brown, muddy soil of his farm. He pauses, kneels down, and takes a handful of the rich, caked dirt into his hands, squeezes it through his fingers, and then bites off a clump, chewing it slowly, looking around as if for a condiment &

The soil tastes good today,&

he says. He then lists the many things he loves about farming. &

I love pushing iron through the soil, the machinery, and the feel of weather.&

And so much more.

He also loves writing, creating, and the inherent drama of working the land. Viewpoints that were cultivated when he left the farm for a time and attended Beloit College, nearby. John stepped from the conservative world of the heartland into the full-blown sixties at Beloit and he embraced the seductive counterculture completely. For ten years the farm became a sanctuary for those who thought going back to the land and enlightenment were synonymous. At the end of the decade he found himself alone, the denizens of go-with-the-flow gone, his neighbors suspicious, and deep in hock to banks and even a loan shark. His only option was to sell off land, eventually reducing the farm from 300 acres to a nugget of 22 acres. In stark contrast to those early years on the farm &

recorded by his mother, Anna, shooting super 8 home movies, and used to great advantage in the film &

his life was now bleak, his options few, and he sinks into a paralyzing depression.

While the film is about loss &

of an idyllic way of life, of relationships, of family, of land &


The Real Dirt on Farmer John&

is also about redemption. John finds his way back to himself and the farm (albeit after a detour to Mexico). He defies all odds and manages once again to transform the Peterson farm: He turns it into one of the most successful Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) farms in the U.S.

Tickets for the benefit screenings are available now at the Varsity box office. For current AIFF members, $5.25 and $7.25 for the general public, with no other discounts for the benefit screenings. More information can be found at ashlandfilm.org.



An overworked executive persuades his wife and children to give up their Hawaiian vacation for some &

family bonding&

on a cross-country RV trip. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (&

Men in Black&

); Starring Robin Williams, Jeff Daniels, Cheryl Hines, Kristin Chenoweth.

PG for crude humor, innuendo and language/102 min.

American Dreamz

On the morning of his re-election, the President decides to read the newspaper for the first time in four years. He begins reading obsessively, re-examining his black and white view of the world, holing up in his bedroom. Frightened by this turn of events, his Chief of Staff pushes him back into the spotlight by booking him as a guest judge on the television ratings juggernaut, the weekly talent show &

American Dreamz&

. Written and Directed by Paul Weitz (&

In Good Company&

, &

About a Boy&

) Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Klein, Willen Dafoe.

PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references/108 min.

Akeelah and the Bee

A precocious eleven-year-old girl from south Los Angeles has a gift for words. Despite objections from her mother, Akeelah enters spelling contests, supported by others in her community. Her aptitude earns her the opportunity to compete for a spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Curtis Armstrong.

PG for some language/112 min.


When a colleague is murdered, the Secret Service agent in charge of the investigation comes under suspicion himself when he's blackmailed for his affair with the First Lady. Crime drama based on the novel by Gerald Petievich. Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Kim Basinger.

PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality/108 min.

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown

The Ice Age is coming to an end, and the animals are delighting in a melting paradise of water parks, geysers and tar pits. But when Manny and friends discover that a glacial dam is about to break and flood their valley, they must warn everyone and figure out a way to escape the coming deluge. Voice talents of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Dennis Leary, Drea de Matteo, Queen Latifah.

PG for some mild language/91 min.

Scary Movie 4

They're back, this time with send-ups of &

War of the Worlds&

, &


, &


, the &


films, &

Million Dollar Baby&

and more. In this one, dim-witted Cindy and her sex-crazed pal Brenda are joined by clueless Tom to save the world from a ruthless alien invasion. Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Simon Rex, Leslie Nielsen, Anthony Anderson, Lin Baker, Craig Bierko, and various cameos.

PG-13 for crude and sexual humor throughout, some comic violence and language/85 min.

Silent Hill

A woman flees with her daughter to the eerie and deserted ghost town of Silent Hill, unable to accept a doctor's diagnosis that her child should be permanently institutionalized. Laurie Holden, Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell.

R for strong horror violence and gore, disturbing images and some language/119 min.

Real Dirt on Farmer John

The award winning true story of third-generation American farmer John Peterson's journey, from childhood to present day, culminating in his transformation-based creation of a biodynamic, organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm serving 1500 families in the Chicago area. Directed by Taggart Siegel; Written and narrated by John Peterson.

Not rated/83 min.

Naked in Ashes

A documentary about Yogis in India, including a 14-year-old who follows his teacher. The Yogis leave all their worldy things to quest for the Divine, travelling barefoot in the snow on pilgrimage to wash themselves in the waters of immortality in their search for the ultimate truth. Directed by Paula Fouce; Starring Santosh Giri, Shiv Raj Giri, Raman Giri.

Not Rated/108 min.


In French with English subtitles. Life seems perfect for Georges and Anne, a bourgeois Parisian couple who live in a comfortable home with their adolescent son, Pierrot. But when an anonymous videotape turns up on their doorstep, showing their house under surveillance from across the street, their calm life begins to spiral out of control. Written and Directed by Michael Haneke; Starring Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil, Maurice Benichou, Annie Girardot.

R for brief strong violence/ min.

United 93

An unflinching look at the fear and courage of the passengers and the crew, their families on the ground, and the flight controllers who experienced the horror as United Airlines Flight 93 became the fourth hijacked plane on 9/11/2001. Olivia Thirlby, David Alan Basche, Liza Colon-Zayas.

R for language, some intense sequences of terror and violence/121 min.

Friends with Money

The shifting relationships between four women who have been friends all of their adult lives. Now as they settle into their early middle age, their friendship is increasingly challenged by the ever-growing disparity in their individual degrees of financial comfort. Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Francis McDormand.

Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief drug use/88 min.

Thank You for Smoking

Nick Naylor, chief spokesman for Big Tobacco, makes his living defending the rights of smokers and cigarette makers. Confronted by health zealots out to ban tobacco, and an opportunistic senator who wants to put poison labels on cigarette packs, Nick goes on a PR offensive. Aaron Eckhart, Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes.

R for language and some sexual content/92 min.