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Movie Reviews

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    Don't Fence Me In: Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain"

    Even on the eve of "Brokeback Mountain"'s release, it's difficult to separate the actual movie onscreen from the media attention that's been swirling around it for months. Is Ang Lee's effective tragic romance to be viewed as just another epic love story unfolding under a panoramic azure sky or as a groundbreaking mainstream cinematic evocation of homosexual love? While it's beyond doubtful that "Brokeback," even if it proves to be a multi-Oscared box-office success, will open the floodgates for a bevy of studio-financed gay-themed movies, its very conception seems to have created a heavy social burden that the film simply may not be able to ...

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    Video Drone: Takashi Shimizu's "Marebito"

    "By looking at her through the lens," explains cameraman and obsessive voyeur Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto), speaking of a mysterious woman he films from his apartment building, "I believe that I've salvaged her soul." But Masuoka wants to accomplish even greater, and more disturbing, metaphysical feats in Takashi Shimizu's "Marebito." After capturing footage of a gruesome suicide in an underground tunnel, Masuoka seeks to experience the ultimate sensation of fear--he's just as interested in recording "the terror of the victim on my retina and video tape" as in learning exactly what the man in the subway saw that produced such a horrified counte...

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    A Schlock to the System: Laurence Dunmore's "The Libertine"

    Laurence Dunmore's film "The Libertine" sketches the glory days and final detumescence of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, the notorious Restoration wit and rakehell who wrote highly allusive poems, some sexually explicit, others philosophical, many a vexing combination. Based upon the play by Stuart...

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    Wedding Crashers: Eran Riklis' "Syrian Bride"

    Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis recognizes the cinematic potential in an absurd political situation--it's easy for him, perhaps, because the country he lives in provides so much irrationality and insanity. His new downcast wedding film, "The Syrian Bride," takes place on the matrimonial day of Mona (Clara Khoury), a young Druze woman who is about to marry a Syrian television star she has never met. For Mona, this meaningful day entails drastic consequences: once she crosses the border from Majdal Shams, the Druze village where she lives with her family, to her new life in Syria, she will never be able to come back. The happiest day of her life ...

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    "Ragged Little Pill": Scott Coffey's "Ellie Parker"

    It's difficult to now recall that the first hour of "Mulholland Drive" was predicated upon the question of whether or not Naomi Watts could act. Her performance worked because the film trafficked in the thrill of the unknown: For the audience, grimacing doubt segued into rapt attention when Watts's Little Mary Sunshine, Betty, mouth full of gleaming pearly whites orthodontized in Deep River, Ontario, entered her first backroom Hollywood audition. Prior to her tremulous and emotional, if admittedly B-movie, line delivery as she read a hokey swath of dialogue with a craggy James Brolin wannabe, we could have only expected more awkward Rebecca o...

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    Three Extremes: Craig Lucas' "The Dying Gaul"

    Craig Lucas' "The Dying Gaul" features a wonderful, winking twist: A studio head offers a neophyte scribe one million dollars for his beautiful autobiographical screenplay about a man dealing with the death of his lover to AIDS -- as long as he changes the central relationship into a heterosexual one, of course. Taking its own title from that script, this engagingly postmodern film about selling-out in Hollywood purposively retains the very elements which Jeffrey (Campbell Scott) would have Robert (Peter Sarsgaard) negate, as the former ends up paradoxically pursuing the constantly cruised latter with an unabashedly spirited lust. Playwright-...

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    Idle Worship: Greg Whiteley's "New York Doll"

    "Rock history," as we know it, fueled by the obsessiveness and stunted adolescent Romanticism of its worse (and more numerous) chroniclers, basically consists of a heap of cliches so rancid that even calling them out for their rottenness has become a bit hackneyed. The druggy, self-important musicians whose corpses litter a "Mojo" subscription don't just die -- they die for our sins, self-fulfilling prophesies ushered into necrophilic canonization by the photographers who kept busy during their living years, and the journo hacks who stay busy thereafter. Rock history movies don't fare much better -- "24 Hour Party People" may have made a clai...

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    Growing Pains: Lucile Hadzihalilovic's "Innocence"

    In Lucile Hadzihalilovic's "Innocence" nostalgia and dread become one--and it's a perfectly welcome symbiosis. A remarkable sustained allegory, "Innocence" luxuriates in the kind of symbolic imagery one would associate mostly with the fantastic worlds of children's fiction, but with the wherewithal to acknowledge the inherent rot and sinister underpinnings propping them up. To applaud Hadzihalilovic for discovering or revealing the sexual discourse roiling below the surface of accepted tropes and narratives of preadolescent fantasy is to deny the subtle evocation of burgeoning sexuality in "Peter Pan," "Alice in Wonderland," and any number of...

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    White Trash: Atom Egoyan's "Where the Truth Lies"

    Since "Where the Truth Lies" debuted at Cannes this past May, it has been beset by a censorship controversy that, like "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls" before it, might just be its only saving grace, financially speaking. Because Atom Egoyan's latest effort is a pretty wretched film, formulaic, conf...

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    Noah's Arc: Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale"

    Barely cracking the 80-minute mark and covering well-trod ground, "The Squid and the Whale" is the kind of movie that courts underappreciation. Noah Baumbach's fourth feature is of a familiar genre, the broken-family "bildungsroman," and its denizens are known to us as well -- this is the urbane, intellectual bourgeoisie of Woody Allen, Whit Stillman, and countless imitators. Further flirting with hermetic self-regard, the movie barely leaves its brownstone-lined milieu or strays from the family whose collapse it reconstructs. And yet by the end of this brisk but rich film, an expansive constellation of ideas and emotions will have emerged, a...

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