A fine peek inside 'The September Issue'

The New York fashion industry. What comes to mind? Haute couture? Runways with tall, thin models draped in clothes that will never appear on any street, in any city, other than New York? And even then. Are the creators of fashion involved in a headlong pursuit of the frivolous, of froufrou more than once removed from life as most people live it? Or is fashion design as much an engine of creativity as any art form? Aren't the ripples of its designs felt, however obliquely, in all of the clothes we choose to wear? A blouse by any other name — Prada, Gucci, Karan, Ford, Klein — is still a blouse. Right? Well, yes and no. And what is the connection between the industry and those sweatshops where people labor over sewing machines, stitching the garments that appear at shows and on the cover of major magazines?

The documentary, "The September Issue," while it is about fashion, does not address any of those questions. It does, however, offer an interesting glimpse behind the scenes of Vogue, the most influential fashion magazine being produced today. And the film draws an interesting portrait of its editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, high priestess of fashion, examining how she marshals her large staff of designers, editors and photographers in a complex effort to produce the September issue, a signature fashion tome the size of a mid-city's phone book, weighing some 4 pounds.

"The September Issue" is revelatory, but not as might be anticipated. It actually morphs into a character study of Wintour's creative director, Grace Coddington, who has been with Wintour for more than 20 years. While Wintour is meticulously coiffed and dressed, Coddington, who walks the corridors of high fashion, is all but frumpy, her hair flaming-red, wild, her face deeply lined, her dresses shapeless, shod in practical sandals. She's the antithesis of Vogue. She is also a strong woman with strong points of view and is fearless in her willingness to confront Wintour.

Yet these two women have an alliance that is unwavering, sharing a mission to produce a stunningly beautiful magazine, as rich in color and design as the styles that appear in its pages.

The film is also a study of work. How people, of far ranging abilities and egos and quirks, manage to collaborate as the day for the magazine's release draws ever nearer. The world of work is high fashion, Byzantine, intricate, the magazine unparalleled; yet the dynamics are essentially the same in any workplace where people must coexist in pursuit of a goal.

Zombieland

Just the name alone — "Zombieland" — is enough to make most filmgoers shake their heads and search for a theater where "Julie and Julia" might still be playing.

But wait. If you love movies, and your spectrum is wide, well, don't miss "Z-land." It's smart, well-written, funny and a complete surprise. It's the antidote for bad, predictable, knock-off zombie movies.

Remember, zombie movies are not about zombies, but about the people being chased by zombies. Think of them as relationship movies; therefore, it's important that the actors have talent and can generate some heat. In "Z-land," the cast is spot-on perfect. Seriously. Woody Harrelson plays Tallahassee, a reconstructed redneck. This role was written with him in mind, and he's over-the-top terrific, quirky and country, as only Harrelson can be. Because he has made more than a few off-center films, and in his private life has extolled the virtues of hemp, it's easy to forget that Harrelson is a gifted actor. As is Jesse Eisenberg, portraying Columbus, a lonely, nerdy guy, still dreaming of a first date with a hottie, any hottie. He's desperate to find something to do on Friday nights other than sit in front of his Playstation or computer. You may remember Eisenberg from films such as "The Squid and the Whale" and "Adventureland," both excellent.

As to the plot of "Z-land," there's been a worldwide pandemic and only a few humans have survived. There are, as it turns out, thousands of catatonic, flesh-eating creatures wandering and stumbling about looking for their next meal.

Columbus is making his way to Ohio, where his parents live, when he and Tallahassee meet up (the characters have no names, just cities of origin). Shortly thereafter, they meet two sisters, Witchita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who were, pre-pandemic, thieves and hustlers and are now simply trying to stay alive.

The story is straightforward. It's a road trip, the objective being to get to California, specifically an amusement park, Pacific Playland, rumored to be a zombie-free zone. It's getting to California that proves to be a hoot. It's not a stretch to say that "Z-land" is the best comedy of 2009. It's never gratuitously gruesome, or sadistically violent.

Of course, to say that a movie with zombies is not violent sounds counterintuitive. OK, it does have its moments. A bit of projectile blood-vomiting and leg chewing; however, it's all in good fun.

Keep in mind that one of the best lines in "Z-land" is "nut up or shut up," delivered with aplomb as Tallahassee locks and loads while walking into a grocery store in search of a Twinkie. There is some urgency regarding the Twinkie, he explains, pointing out that even Twinkies have an expiration date. And speaking of expiration dates, hopefully this film's date will not arrive before everyone who initially skipped it has had a chance to view it.

Astro Boy

The character "Astro Boy" was created in 1951 by the celebrated animator of Japanese manga (comic books) and anime (movie and television animation), Osamu Tezuka. In the 1960s, Astro, originally known as Tetsuwan Atomu (Mighty Atom), appeared in a popular television show, viewed in more than 40 countries, and now Astro makes his debut in a feature film.

For children today, "Astro Boy" will be new and fresh and young moviegoers will be captivated by the story and the nonstop action.

This first installment (others will likely follow) explains how a young boy, Toby (Freddy Highmore), is killed in an experiment, conducted by his scientist father, Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage). Wracked with grief and guilt, Tenma creates an exact replica of his son, a small android, giving him all of Toby's memories and a heart of "blue power" which makes the boy (soon to be called Astro) superhuman. He can fly, has machine guns in his butt, x-ray vision, amazing strength and rockets in his shoes and hands.

Astro, at first unaware he's a robot, sets out to find his place in the world, meaning, Metro City, an urban island hovering above earth that has been turned into a dump site for outdated robots and broken machinery.

After being rejected by his father, who cannot accept that he's a robot, Astro goes to Earth and meets a group of kids, orphans from Metro City, all his own age. These discarded kids have no families. They are, however, human and Astro is reluctant to disclose that he is not.

And so the story goes. The kids long for Astro's powers and he longs for their humanity. He also grieves for the loss of his father. There's an evil Mayor of Metro City (Donald Sutherland) who covets Astro's "blue power," a duplicitous hustler named Hamegg (Nathan Lane) who wants only to use Astro, and, finally, a long journey back into the arms of his dad.

While the story brings to mind "Transformers" and "Pinocchio" (likely not known to young filmgoers), kids will find Astro appealing and look forward to "The Return of Astro Boy."

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