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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Shallow Grave: Karen Moncrieff's "The Dead Girl"

    Structured as five chapters, each focusing on a female character in some way connected to the "Dead Girl" of the title, Karen Moncrieff's film applies a slightly more sensationalistic bent to the usual roundelay of overlapping stories that comprise the ensemble drama. It opens promisingly, abruptly, as Arden (Toni Collette) comes upon the mutilated body while rambling around the windswept, wide open spaces of her mother's property. The discovery pushes the severely shy girl into the limelight and leads to an awkward encounter with Giovanni Ribisi - a shorthand bit of casting used to amp up a sense of the bizarre already indicated by Piper Lau...

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    REVIEW | Child's Play: Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth"

    "A fairy tale for grown-ups!" exclaim the mindless reviewers who can't get their noses out of their press kits. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from its highly exploitative and infantile use of graphic gore, this one is strictly for the kiddies, or at least, those reared on b...

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    REVIEW | Heaven Scent: Tom Tykwer's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer"

    Opening the same week as the overstimulated and underconceived "Pan's Labyrinth," Tom Tykwer's compelling and daring "Perfume" is in danger of being ignored. At times as CGI-enhanced as Del Toro's hackneyed trip through the looking glass, "Perfume" nevertheless weaves its effects into a seamless whole, a brilliantly designed retreat into an imagined past. And although both feature sadistic madmen at their centers, "Perfume," for all its ethereal whimsy, feels the infinitely more humane film. This is even its central focus: an allegory about human nature, the desperate need to be loved, and more problematically (though it's a terrifically gonz...

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    REVIEW | Love and Marriage: John Curran's "The Painted Veil"

    "As if a woman ever loved a man for his virtue," scoffs Kitty Fane, heroine of W. Somerset Maugham's 1925 novel "The Painted Veil" - the line remains intact in the new film version. This touches on something raw, the insoluble dilemma that Kitty's heart is rent upon: the people we most esteem or res...

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    REVIEW | Chit Chat: Chris Marker's "The Case of the Grinning Cat"

    Docu-essayist Chris Marker's newest available work, "The Case of the Grinning Cat," is, essentially, a guided tour of the headline events in French public life, from September 11, 2001, through sometime in 2004; from Le Monde's famous, empathetic "Nous sommes tous americains," through Front National...

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    REVIEW | Pomp and Circumstance: Zhang Yimou's "Curse of the Golden Flower"

    Ever since Zhang Yimou's florid visual compositions and technicolor-vibrant hues first moved from the realm of social realist allegory to post-operatic martial artistry, he's been climbing ever more precipitous heights of action-movie gusto. Where to go after the endlessly looping, "Rashomon"-inflec...

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    REVIEW | Style Wars: Steven Soderbergh's "The Good German"

    It's an odd thing when a contemporary filmmaker apes an outmoded era of cinema. When Quentin Tarantino - whose "Kill Bill" literally lifted chop-socky zooms and cuts for some of its throwbacks - does it, the pastiche is a means of appropriation, to capture the sense of film history as ever-evolving, and an acknowledgement of film's subsuming, regurgitating nature. Steven Soderbergh's "The Good German," filmed in high contrast black-and-white, shot on soundstages and using blue screens, is more like Todd Haynes's "Far from Heaven" in that it calls attention to its era's social and political realities, even as it filters them through the gauze ...

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    REVIEW | Death of a Ladies' Man: Roger Michell's "Venus"

    Death be not proud. One hears stories of men on their deathbeds who, lucidity gone, expend their last energy on a vain attempt to masturbate; of Viagra-boosted sex that climaxes in cardiac arrest. This stubbornness of the erotic urge, past physical failing, is the subject of "Venus": Why can't I get...

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    REVIEW | Out of the Past: Isabel Coixet's "The Secret Life of Words"

    Spanish-born writer-director Isabel Coixet treads delicate territory with alternately slippered feet and hammer toes in "The Secret Life of Words," an admirably intimate, character-driven work that burdens itself with more importance than it can ultimately handle. Without spoiling the film's final revelations, it should be noted that Coixet's humanist drive and reach for topicality set it apart from the usual onslaught of good-intention indie films, and, thankfully, its central performance, by the always wonderful Sarah Polley, profoundly committed and convincingly melancholy, goes a long way in helping Coixet make her case. Unfortunately the...

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    REVIEW | Exit Wounds: Irwin Winkler's "Home of the Brave"

    At the very least, "Home of the Brave" is one for the history books: the first major fiction film about the Iraq War and its effect on those fighting it. Updating "The Best Years of Our Lives" before conflict has reached an end (if there ever is one), this too-earnest drama seeks to realistically portray returning wartime soldiers adjusting to civilian and family life and struggling to overcome physical and mental trauma. But Irwin Winkler, whose recent directorial credits include "The Net" and "De-Lovely"---you're already cringing, aren't you?---is no William Wyler, and "Home of the Brave" turns out to be nothing but good intentions, a film...

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