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Ed­ward Nor­ton plays es­tranged twins in clever, vi­o­lent, in­sight­ful LeavesOf Grass.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By BRUCE DAN­CIS Af­ter­shock Style

Cast: Zhang Jingchu, Xu Fan, Chen Daom­ing, Li Chen, Zhang Guo­qiang and Chen Jin Run­ning time: 135 min­utes IT is not an over­state­ment to call Af­ter­shock the block­buster Chi­nese epic of the year as it was aptly a crowd-pleaser in its na­tive China.

Watch­ing this movie, you will un­der­stand why its award-win­ning di­rec­tor Feng Xiao­gang ef­fort­lessly packs the cin­ema halls, whether he makes fun­nies or weepies.

Un­like its English ti­tle Af­ter­shock, its Chi­nese ti­tle Tang­shan dadizhen (The Great Tang Shan Earth­quake) gives a bet­ter in­di­ca­tion of the emo­tional roller-coaster of a tale about an earth­quake which lasts only 23 sec­onds yet leaves its sur­vivors suf­fer­ing for 32 years.

While its stun­ning spe­cial ef­fects are truly state-of-the-art, Af­ter­shock fo­cuses on the sur­vivorsvors of the 1976 Tang­shan earth-quake and how they pick them­selves up and carry on with their lives af­ter they come to terms with their tremen­dous loss.

It is a very com­pelling movie about love and loss, sac­ri­fice and ac­cep­tance.

The cast is top notch and so are their mov­ing per­for­mances. Ev­ery­one is a joy to watch, in par­tic­u­lar Zhang Jingchu (who plays the long-lost daugh­ter Fang

ONE of our finest and most ver­sa­tile screen ac­tors, Ed­ward Nor­ton has played a neo-Nazi skin­head, a priest, a New York drug dealer, a Euro­pean ma­gi­cian, a Bri­tish diplo­mat, a doc­tor-turned-Hulk and even a crim­i­nal de­fen­dant with a split per­son­al­ity.

In the com­edy-thriller Leaves Of Grass, Nor­ton gets to up the ante by play­ing two char­ac­ters – Bill Kin­caid, a but­toned-down and but­toned-up Ivy League pro­fes­sor of clas­si­cal phi­los­o­phy at Brown Uni­ver­sity, and his es­tranged, iden­ti­cal twin Brady, a scruffy, tat­tooed mar­i­juana grower from a part of south­east­ern Ok­la­homa known as Lit­tle Dixie.

Leaves Of Grass, which is now avail­able on DVD and Blu-Ray, is a clever, vi­o­lent and in­sight­ful film from writer-di­rec­tor Tim Blake Nel­son, who also co-stars as Brady’s even scruffier side­kick, Bol­ger.

It’s also a movie with a check­ered past. In­de­pen­dently fi­nanced on a low bud­get, it gen­er­ated good re­sponses from au­di­ences at the Toronto and South By South­west film fes­ti­vals, but had its open­ing post­poned sev­eral times by its dis­trib­u­tor and gen­er­ated mixed crit­i­cal re­views. The movie even­tu­ally re­ceived only a very limited the­atri­cal re­lease last month be­fore go­ing to DVD.

In any event, Nel­son weaves an en­gag­ing tale about roots and ra­tio­nal­ity. Bill Kin­caid is a ris­ing star in academia, about to be of­fered a newly cre­ated po­si­tion at Har­vard, when he learns that his twin brother back home in Cast: Ryu Si-won, Kim Hae-su, E Ji-ah and Lee Yong-woo Ok­la­homa, whom he hasn’t seen in a dozen years, has been mur­dered. It turns out that Brady has faked his own death in or­der to lure his brother back home to take part in a dan­ger­ous scheme.

But Brady also wants his brother to re­con­nect with their mother (Su­san Saran­don), a de­pressed child of the 1960s who has placed her­self in a re­tire­ment home de­spite be­ing more than a decade younger than all the other res­i­dents.

The scheme in­volves Brady deal­ing with a threat from a pow­er­ful and dan­ger­ous busi­ness­man/drug king­pin from Tulsa, one Pug Roth­baum (Richard Drey­fuss).

Pug wants Brady to ex­pand his mar­i­jua­na­grow­ing op­er­a­tion, which Pug fi­nanced, into man­u­fac­tur­ing other more dan­ger­ous and Deng), Chen Daom­ing (as the lov­ing fos­ter fa­ther), and Xu Fan (as the long-suf­fer­ing mother Yuan Ni).

This movie is in Man­darin with Chi­nese, Ba­hasa Mala­sia and English sub­ti­tles. – Se­toKitYan profitable drugs. Brady, who is prone to wax­ing philo­soph­i­cally about the nat­u­ral won­ders of his hy­dro­pon­i­cally grown weed, re­sists.

Nel­son also throws in a ro­man­tic in­ter­est for Bill back in Ok­la­homa in the form of a Walt Whitman-quot­ing teacher/poet named Janet (Keri Rus­sell) – hence the movie’s ti­tle, which aligns one of Whitman’s most fa­mous col­lec­tions of po­etry with a wry ref­er­ence to what Brady is grow­ing.

Com­pli­cat­ing and en­rich­ing mat­ters are a Jewish or­tho­don­tist (Josh Pais) Bill meets on his plane ride back home, a red­neck ri­val of Brady’s (singer-song­writer Steve Earle) and a fe­male rabbi (Mag­gie Siff).

Hold­ing this all to­gether is Nor­ton’s bril­liant, seam­less per­for­mance in the dual role and the in­her­ent drama in a con­flict be­tween iden­ti­cal twins. (Sto­ries about twins go back to an­cient times; as an in­side joke here, dis­cussed by Nel­son in the DVD com­men­tary, one of Bill Kin­caid’s aca­demic achieve­ments is his trans­la­tion of a play about iden­ti­cal twins by the an­cient Ro­man writer Plau­tus.)

Brady may seem, on first ap­pear­ance, to be a fun-lov­ing good old boy with a 1970s-style Tom Petty hair­cut, South­ern drawl and a pen­chant for pot, but he’s also a bril­liant hor­ti­cul­tur­ist and, when pushed, a war­rior. As his mother re­minds him, Brady ac­tu­ally has a higher IQ than his brother.

Bill, on the other hand, has suc­cess­fully trans­formed him­self into a bril­liant and suc­cess­ful scholar, thor­oughly re­ject­ing his Ok­la­homa roots.

Scarred by a mother he views as ir­re­spon­si­ble and a brother he sees as liv­ing dan­ger­ously and stupidly, he clings to or­der and dis­ci­pline in his own life. It’s hard to imag­ine an­other ac­tor be­sides Nor­ton pulling off such dis­parate, yet sur­pris­ingly akin, roles.

Leaves Of Grass min­gles seem­ingly in­com­pat­i­ble gen­res – it’s a stoner com­edy, to be sure, but also a thriller with scenes of sur­pris­ing vi­o­lence. Mak­ing it even more unique are threads that come out of writer-di­rec­tor­costar Nel­son’s own life. Each of the key char­ac­ters ex­press, in vary­ing de­grees of ar­tic­u­late­ness, a par­tic­u­lar view­point or phi­los­o­phy of life.

While set largely in the di­choto­mous worlds of East Coast academia and ru­ral Ok­la­homa, Leaves Of Grass also takes a few side trips to Tulsa’s small Jewish com­mu­nity.

As Nel­son ex­plains in his DVD com­men­tary with Nor­ton (who also co-pro­duced the movie) and co-pro­ducer Bill Migliore, he stud­ied phi­los­o­phy at Brown and ac­tu­ally mod­elled Bill Kin­caid af­ter one of his fa­vorite pro­fes­sors. He’s also Jewish, grew up in Tulsa and had a wild older brother.

If this all sounds like a movie that could have been made by the Coen Broth­ers, that’s both ac­cu­rate and a com­pli­ment. Nel­son, who shares a Mid­west­ern Jewish back­ground with Ethan and Joel Coen (and thanks the Coens in the movie’s cred­its), has a sim­i­lar wry sense of hu­mour and a predilec­tion for sur­pris­ing, even shock­ing, twists in dra­matic tone and im­agery.

The movie isn’t per­fect. Rus­sell’s Janet is too good to be true as a lure for Bill to stay in Ok­la­homa, play­ing a smart and soul­ful poet, an Ok­la­homan who also left for a while but de­cided to re­turn home. And while Nel­son’s jokes about Tulsa Jewry are witty and sharp for the most part, Pug Roth­baum’s wield­ing of a Meno­rah to fend off at­tack­ers seems a lit­tle too over the top.

Still, Leaves Of Grass is very much worth watch­ing, es­pe­cially for a per­for­mance by Ed­ward Nor­ton that would re­ceive Os­car con­sid­er­a­tion if the Academy vot­ers paid at­ten­tion to lit­tle films that never ob­tain a proper re­lease, and for a story that can make you think, laugh, cringe and maybe even cry. – McClatchy-Tribune News Ser­vice

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