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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Soldier Boy: Newton I. Aduaka's "Ezra"

    No sugarcoating it: "Ezra" is a difficult film to watch. It isn't particularly graphic or gory, but its dramatization of children being kidnapped and forced into fighting--or, really, raping and pillaging--by rebel armies in Sierra Leone is extremely upsetting, and all the more terrifying for alluding to greater and more incomprehensible crimes occurring in reality. As directed by Nigerian filmmaker Newton I. Aduaka, "Ezra" is often messy and awkwardly told, but even its amateurishness lends a sort of raw power to its harrowing depiction of dehumanization, exploitation, senseless violence, and the post-conflict attempts at "Truth and Reconcil...

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    REVIEW | Grace Notes: Eran Kolirin's "The Band's Visit"

    Though it's both a predictable culture-clash comedy and a gentle plea for people of different political backgrounds to "just get along," "The Band's Visit" nevertheless manages to use its central contrivances and inevitable cliches to its favor, and becomes something ethereal and winning. This debut...

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    REVIEW | Remote Lands: Nacer Khemir's "Bab'Aziz"

    It drops by the local art house every few months without fail--the "challenging" exotic import, too maddeningly slow and nonlinear for the "Pan's Labyrinth" crowd to cross it over to mainstream success, yet too naively earnest and moppet-dependent to impress a critical community taken with the more avant-garde and minimalist likes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul or the Dardenne brothers. An unfortunate situation, perhaps, but don't shed too many tears for a foreign film caught between a rock and a hard place like "Bab-Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul." Tunisian director Nacer Khemir's latest internationally co-produced effort--the last...

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    REVIEW | Hit Me Baby, One...More...Time: Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges"

    "It's in Belgium," a frustrated voice-over informs. In the aftermath of a botched job, two London-based hit men are cooling off in the title city. It was the maiden murder for Ray (Colin Farrell), the narrator, a new kid who's still ill over catching a bystander in crossfire; Ken (Brendan Gleeson), ...

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    REVIEW | True Dedication: Ilana Trachtman's "Praying with Lior"

    No film critic would dare print a negative word about a film as well-intentioned as Ilana Trachtman's affable, purposely enriching documentary "Praying with Lior"; the reassuring news is that they'd have no reason to. One may be compelled to note the film's unremarkable visual textures, yet more apropos to mention would be Trachtman's commendably unintrusive style, both in her film's shooting and construction. And certainly such tender subject matter warrants this gingerly approach: an assured, straightforward video portrait of a devout Jewish prepubescent with Down syndrome, the film manages to avoid exploitation of its subject matter at eve...

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    REVIEW | Caught in the Middle: Andre Techine's "The Witnesses"

    Once again, with his new film "The Witnesses," great French filmmaker Andre Techine surveys the intersections of sexuality and politics, while offering up a compelling study in human strength and weakness. Instructive without ever falling into cheap bromides, dramatic without ever veering into overzealous melodrama, "The Witnesses" is a penetrating, even essential narrative. Techine is fascinated by the ways in which lives interact, personalities cross-pollinate, wounds are compounded, exacerbated, or even healed, yet never in that increasingly mundane American style of overlapping stories that prize fate or coincidence; he paints specificall...

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    PARK CITY '08 NOTEBOOK | Slamdance Docs "Dear Zachary" and "My Mother's Garden" Offer Personal Stori

    There's a certain intensity to low budget productions that often heightens their impact. At the Slamdance Film Festival, where singular vision overwhelms the importance of name talent and studio appeal, a number of sturdy entries achieve their cogent artistic intentions with focused minimalism. This...

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    PARK CITY '08 REVIEW | Scary Ha-Ha: Jay and Mark Duplass' "Baghead"

    The laughs outweigh the scares in "Baghead," a clever horror/comedy hybrid and the latest good time movie from filmmaker brothers Jay and Mark Duplass. The fact that there are shocks throughout the film confirms "Baghead's" best attribute. The Duplass Brothers, much admired for their 2005 Sundance f...

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    REVIEW | Laughing Stock: Jieho Lee's "The Air I Breathe"

    It says much about the failed dramatic strivings of "The Air I Breathe" that at a press screening -- an occasion for the most part free of audible displays of emotion since critics like to play their cards close to the vest -- Jieho Lee's feature debut (co-scripted by Bob DeRosa) met with hoots of laughter the likes of which I've never before heard in that notoriously solemn setting. Based, according to the press release, on a Chinese proverb representing "four emotional cornerstones of life" -- Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, and Love, each dedicated its own vignette though the stories, of course, overlap -- the movie stars numerous B-list cel...

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    REVIEW | The Body Politic: Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days"

    Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'or winner "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" is as good as you've heard -- ravaging, provocative, deeply moving, and expertly crafted -- but it may not be what you expect. Billed by many as the "Romanian abortion movie" (something akin to labeling "There Will Be Blood" the "American oil movie"), "4 Months" isn't simply about abortion, even if the film uses it as its structuring conceit. So yes, Mungiu's film concerns two friends, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who attempt to procure an illegal abortion for the latter in the waning days of the Ceausescu regime, but it is not an "abortion movie" in ...

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