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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Cold Comforts: Werner Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World"

    "Encounters at the End of the World" is the latest missive from world cinema's Marco Polo / Jack London / Great White Image Hunter, Herr Werner Herzog, out for a deserved large-screen airing before entering its inevitable Discovery Channel rotation. The spoils of Herzog's latest expedition are an enjoyably idiosyncratic series of home movies. Lured by ethereal underwater scenes shot beneath Antarctica's ice, and funded by the National Science Foundation, Herzog disembarks to the tamed final frontier, on the trail of Ernest Shackleton, whose expedition haunts the film in gray archival footage, and whose preserved base of operations is visited ...

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    REVIEW | Real Men: Tina Mascara and Guido Santi's "Chris & Don: A Love Story"

    If only someone would make a fictional gay romance that had as much feeling and depth as Tina Mascara and Guido Santi's "Chris & Don: A Love Story." A wistful, at times unbearably intimate study of the life-long love affair that Los Angeles portrait artist Don Bachardy has had with now-deceased Brit...

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    REVIEW | Paternity Case: Anand Tucker's "When Did You Last See Your Father?"

    Based on British writer Blake Morrison's 1993 memoir, "When Did You Last See Your Father?", directed by Anand Tucker ("Hilary and Jackie," "Shopgirl"), is a slightly awkward revisiting of the classic melodramatic story wherein a son or daughter must deal with the death of an adversarial parent. At once over-reliant on the visual cliches of its genre (oversaturated light for outdoor scenes, metaphor-reflecting mirrors for indoor ones, slow-motion everywhere) and thoroughly unabashed in juxtaposing the gravity of mortality with the uncouth avenues of expression people take to get through it, the film oscillates wildly between middlebrow preciou...

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    REVIEW | Troublemaker: Erik Nelson's "Dreams with Sharp Teeth"

    In a 1978 essay, Harlan Ellison enumerated what he deemed "The 3 Most Important Things in Life": Sex, Violence, and Labor Relations. Such a succinct list doesn't encompass all of the writer's many facets -- Ellison the political activist, Ellison the anti-anti-intellectual, Ellison the (self-describ...

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    REVIEW | Back from the Dead: Dario Argento's "Mother of Tears"

    When Dario Argento's now enshrined horror classics "Suspiria" and "Inferno" are fondly recalled, it's never in terms of their narratives, characters, or even forward momentum. Rather, it's the isolated images and set pieces: dark rooms drenched in red or blue gels, horrific deaths choreographed with the obsessive-compulsive precision of a ruthless artisan, gorgeous framing and pummeling soundtracks that heighten all the senses at once. Of course, then there are the idiotic plots: for while Argento illuminates the occult as a tactile, living thing, he has never shown the slightest interest in making that terror seem like something that could e...

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    REVIEW | Fascist Faux Pas: Sergei Bodrov's "Mongol"

    "Mongol" marks a personal first for this reviewer: a bloated epic so boring and unengaging that by its numbing conclusion (the word anticlimactic can only be used for stories that actually build) he was zapped even of the conviction to hate it. An international co-production that probably broke the ...

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    REVIEW | Everything Is Deracinated: Nina Davenport's "Operation Filmmaker"

    Thanks to a steaming pile of liberal-minded good will, Muthana Mohmed, a 25-year-old aspiring filmmaker was brought from Baghdad to the Czech Republic to intern on the set of an American movie production. Muthana received the invitation after having been spotted in an MTV-produced documentary about ...

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    REVIEW | Trouble in Paradiso: Giuseppe Tornatore's "The Unknown Woman"

    A deliberately titillating scene opens Giuseppe Tornatore's "The Unknown Woman": three women wearing masks, asses to audience, stand naked in a strangely gilded room to be examined through peepholes. After they're dismissed, a second round comes out, and a blonde is asked to step forward and strip; "She'll do fine," an offscreen male voice intones. As usual, the "Cinema Paradiso" director has an eye for the voluptuous female form, but the lascivious voyeurism of his camera -- contained (Tornatore thinks) in his preceding movie, "Malena," by embedding its obsessive gaze within the point of view of a horny adolescent boy -- is made explicit ...

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    REVIEW | Muscle-Bound: Chris Bell's "Bigger Stronger Faster*"

    Though it comes across as hale and hearty, Chris Bell's "Bigger Stronger Faster*," a litany of American body worship touchstones since the early Eighties, is nothing if not ambivalent towards its subject. Falling somewhere between a specific personal essay and a more vaguely targeted social commentary, Bell's documentary, a freeform expose of steroid use in the U.S., is, somewhat inevitably, a product of narcissism and insecurity, not unlike the psychological forces that compel bodybuilding and athletic determination in the first place. Fledgling feature filmmaker Bell, a self-described "fat, pale kid from Poughkeepsie" turns his camera on hi...

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    REVIEW | Beyond the Pale: Tom Kalin's "Savage Grace"

    Tom Kalin's 1992 film "Swoon" was a noteworthy entry in the New Queer Cinema canon not because of its subject matter but how Kalin navigated such precarious terrain. A recouping of the Leopold and Loeb murder as an emotionally ambivalent expression of homosexual historicity via a not necessarily uns...

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