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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Louder Than Bombs: Phillip Groning's "Into Great Silence"

    Much of the discussion surrounding "Into Great Silence," detailing the daily rituals of the monks inhabiting the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, is sure to focus on how Phillip Groning's nearly three-hour documentary provides a window into a rarely seen spiritual world. It does perform this function, and admirably, but not for the purposes of providing clarity - the end result leaves a sense of monastic existence more exotic and otherworldly than one could imagine. It's almost as if Groning, having lived alongside the brothers and participated in their rituals for six months, was left by the experience disinclined to hew to a...

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    REVIEW | The Song Remains the Same: Michael Apted's "Amazing Grace"

    Contrary to what its title suggests, "Amazing Grace" isn't really about the origins of the immortal Christian hymn. Neither is it, directly, about the British slave trade. Instead it's about the tireless campaign of William Wilberforce, Member of Parliament, to abolish the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by arguing against it on the floor of the House of Commons and by bringing the horrors of the institution to public awareness. But by centering on Wilberforce (played with passion but also with a scrubbed, boy-band-ish gloss by Iaon Gruffudd) "Amazing Grace" deflects the pain and humiliation intrinsic to its subject matt...

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    REVIEW | Britplop: Tom Vaughan's "Starter for 10"

    Though bolstered considerably by the fully engaged star performance of James McAvoy (whose magnetism was trammeled by the hideous racial politicking of "The Last King of Scotland"), Tom Vaughan's Brit college comedy "Starter for 10" is weighed down by something of an identity crisis. An Eighties throwback, not just in its off-the-shoulder pink sweaters and heavily Cured soundtrack, but in its narrative rhythms and willfully wispy teen rom-com resolutions, "Starter for 10"is so dead set on juvenilia that it could only possibly appeal to an adolescent audience - one that by now would undoubtedly be unable to fittingly revel in the film's genera...

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    REVIEW | Law & Order: Abderrahmane Sissako's "Bamako"

    When Hollywood's response to the myriad crises plaguing the African continent is to churn out well-meaning issue pictures that are little more than low-rent action narratives grafted onto exoticized, strife-ridden African settings (see: "Catch a Fire," "Blood Diamond"), films like "Bamako" become al...

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    REVIEW | In the Middle: Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu's "Close to Home"

    A barely perceptible atmosphere of dread hangs over the Israeli film "Close to Home." Co-written and directed by Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu, the film has an intimate, almost slight feel to it, and features two young protagonists who are mostly concerned with the rather banal business of early adulthood. That these young women also happen to be performing their compulsory military service, patrolling Jerusalem and registering Arabs on the street, is almost incidental - until they are, on just a few occasions, directly confronted with the threat of violence, though it always lingers just outside Hager and Bilu's handheld frame. In "Close to Home...

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    REVIEW | Aftermath: Jasmila Zbanic's "Grbavica: Land of My Dreams"

    Jasmila Zbanic's feature debut, "Grbavica: Land of My Dreams" is unpretentious enough to address its subject matter, the shattered lives of postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, with serious, grounded realism, but it's also too unimaginative to think of its central mother-daughter struggle in anything but the simplest of dramatic terms. A character-driven drama like "Grbavica" needs fully developed characters to work. It's not enough to slap a few traits onto each personality and then watch them collide - conflict! - with the smallest or least revealing of learned lessons offered as a final payoff. What might have been a cathartic exploration of the tr...

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    REVIEW | A Wink and a Smile: Daniele Thompson's "Avenue Montaigne"

    I doubt that anyone will ever match the balanced stridency and sentimentality that Jonathan Richman's song "Give Paris One More Chance" manages as a bursting, corny catalog of everything right about "the home of Piaf and Chevalier," but "Avenue Montaigne" takes a crack. The film's helmed by Daniele Thompson, a relative latecomer to direction but a professional screenwriter since 1966, with a resume that covers all of subsequent popular French cinema. I mean popular, not acclaimed: she had a hand in the eighties teen romp "La Boum," the generational impact of which in France was at the seismic level of John Hughes - if you think, based on the ...

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    REVIEW | Echo Chamber: Nina Toussaint and Massimo Iannetta's "The Decomposition of the Soul"

    In Nina Toussaint and Massimo Iannetta's documentary "The Decomposition of the Soul" two ex-inmates of Berlin-Hohenschonhausen, one of the most infamous Stasi prisons of East Germany, revisit the site of their incarceration. Sigrid Paul was arrested for harboring escapees from the Soviet zone, and once imprisoned was continually promised and denied a reunion with her sick child in West Germany; Hartmut Richter was detained for transporting political dissenters across the border and spent fifteen years behind bars. As they walk through airless cells, hallways, and interrogation rooms where psychological torture was daily meted out, they explai...

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    REVIEW | I Spy: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "The Lives of Others"

    Curiously - or perhaps not - the four decades of economic hardship and political oppression endured by the citizens of the former German Democratic Republic have, in the years since reunification, given way to "Ostalgie," a pervasive nostalgia for life in the GDR (see, as an example, Wolfgang Becker...

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    REVIEW | More Tales of the City: Maria Maggenti's "Puccini for Beginners"

    Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) is a thirtyish lesbian author living the sanitary, Whole Foods la vie de boheme of sitcomized contemporary Manhattan. Having just been dropped by a long-term girlfriend over commitment issues, she doubly rebounds - into both sweet, pie-faced Grace (Gretchen Mol) and of all...

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