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From the mundane to the thrilling


Filmmaker Nicole Holofcener's debut feature, Walking and Talking, is a near-perfect movie, one of the most accurate observations of female friendship ever committed to film. Friends with Money, Holofcener's latest, continues to showcase her gift for portraying real women in realistic situations, from the mundane to the thrilling to the mortifying. And it certainly doesn't hurt that this time around her words are exiting the mouths of three women with eight Oscar nominations to their credits.

Clothing designer Jane (Frances McDormand), stay-at-home mom Franny (Joan Cusack), and screenwriter Christine (Catherine Keener) are close friends, and all enjoy enviable existences. Housekeeper Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) is their less successful friend, both monetarily and romantically speaking. Strangely, Holofcener provides no background clarifying the common thread that binds these women, a distracting omission in light of the status difference between Olivia and the others.

Friends with Money basically observes as its subjects weather everyday changes and dish behind each other's backs. Despite writing dialogue for a living, Christine and her husband (Jason Isaacs, The Patriot) have awful communication skills. Jane, who is growing increasingly angry and unkempt, has a compassionate husband (Simon Burney), but everyone thinks he's gay. And though she's devoid of ambition and often stoned, Olivia is nonetheless searching for direction and companionship, both of which she thinks she's found in lunkheaded fitness trainer Mike (a shockingly good Scott Caan).

Cusack and Keener (in her third Holofcener film) are both reliably excellent, but it should come as no surprise that McDormand is the standout of the cast. As Jane, McDormand captures the confusing range of emotions attendant to women of a certain age, comfortable in their own skin yet disappointed that "There's no more wondering what it's gonna be like." Fortunately, Holofcener's knack for dead-on lines like that one make her penchant for darling plot twists and fairy-tale endings forgivable.

But sooner or later we'll need to decide whether Aniston gets to be a movie star. Her entrenched girl-next-door persona hasn't yet allowed for big-screen success, though her initial indie foray (2002's The Good Girl) was appreciated by everyone but me. As Olivia, Aniston probably delivers her best performance yet, but it's far easier to dazzle people whose expectations are low.

When most people think of art made from found objects, they probably imagine someone plucking junk from the curb or otherwise recycling unwanted effects and crafting sculpture from the bits and pieces. But found-object art doesn't necessarily consist of things that were lost (remixes, anyone?), and as the Dryden's often mindblowing presentation Tampering with the Image will show, there exists a subgenus of filmmakers who specialize in manipulating the images and/or sound from a film to create something else entirely.

Virgil Widrich's Fast Film is arguably the most accessible short in the Tampering program, featuring images of iconic performers (Bogart, Connery, Mastroianni, to name a few) ingeniously cobbled into a relatively commonplace narrative about heroes and monsters. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the source material for Peter Tscherkassky's Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine, which strips the color from Sergio Leone's classic to make the brutality seem even more base as Eli Wallach is shadowed by tormentors that include sprocket holes and leaders. And in Alone: Life Wastes Andy Hardy, Martin Arnold speeds up, slows down, repeats, and reverses innocent scenes from the famous film series to fashion a surprisingly erotic Oedipal tragedy.

Robert Ryang's award-winning Shining recuts scenes from Kubrick's horror classic into a side-splitting trailer for a family flick about a struggling writer redeemed by the love of a little boy. And filmmaker Natalie Frigo will be in attendance for the Tampering program to present some of her work, including November 22, 1963, in which she plays fast and loose with the Zapruder footage.

Joseph Cornell is one of the giants of three-dimensional assemblage, but he also holds a place as a pioneer in Surrealist short film. For 1936's Rose Hobart, Cornell takes random scenes featuring B-movie actress Hobartfrom a film called East of Borneo, decelerates the film speed from 24 frames per second to 18, and ditches the soundtrack in favor of island-flavored pennywhistle. Movement becomes downright hypnotic --- the simple removal of a coat is more of an unveiling --- and the result is the immortalization of a woman that would have been otherwise forgotten. Salvador Dali was reportedly so jealous of this artistic achievement that he upended the projector at a screening of Rose Hobart in New York City, later saying " I never wrote it or told anyone, but it is as if he had stolen it."

Friends with Money (R), directed by Nicole Holofcener, opens Friday, April 21, at Little Theatres | Tampering with the Image screens Friday, April 21, at the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre, 8 p.m.