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Movie Reviews

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    Trivial Pursuit: Allen Coulter's "Hollywoodland"

    A concept in search of an intriguing tale to tell, "Hollywoodland" dredges up the true-life Hollywood scandal surrounding the death of TV's Superman, George Reeves in 1959. It's that old murky-glossy peek into the sordid flipside of fame, here coupled with wan commentary on American masculinity, the...

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    The Great Divide: Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation"

    Is Andrew Bujalski the cinematic voice of a mumbling, inarticulate, moderately employable generation, or a talentless student filmmaker who's managed to spin a single badly done trick into an honest-to-goodness moviemaking career? There's not much I can say, and most certainly nothing in "Mutual Appreciation" itself, that would constitute a definitive answer. Unlike other scrappy micro-budget filmmakers who capitalized on indie success to turn out bigger-money abortions like Darren Aronofsky or Kevin Smith, Bujalski resolutely stuck to his guns and produced another shoestring work mired in, or consistent with (depending on your take), the co...

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    Silent but Deadly: Jamie Babbit's "The Quiet"

    Contemporary films taking "The Suburbs" as their setting and subject always make a point of poking holes in that wealthy, white facade of perfection that supposedly plagues America. The intended innovation of "The Quiet" is to present the obligatory collapse of this phony exterior from the perspecti...

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    Ham-Fisted: Bent Hamer's "Factotum"

    The effort necessary to excavate Henry Charles Bukowski from beneath the weight of his cult is significant; I've never been entirely convinced that it's worth the effort. At one time his might've been a rare voice that said exactly what a disgruntled few needed to hear -- reading a piece by Brendan ...

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    Deadlocked: Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson"

    History has never seemed more of a burden than it does in "Half Nelson." Simultaneously denying the easily redemptive narrative form that places a noble white teacher at the head of an inner-city classroom for meaningful school-of-hard-knocks lessons ("Dangerous Minds," anyone?), while also reinfor...

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    Culture Crash: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's "Quinceanera"

    What does it say about the state of American independent film when a movie like "Quinceanera" wins both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival? Perhaps nothing we didn't already know. That such an utterly bland movie can inspire enthusiasm from jurors and audiences...

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    End Game: Gela Babluani's "13 Tzameti"

    Oddly, the current greatest fear as reflected in our moviegoing consciousness isn't of widespread terrorism or megaton catastrophe. Yes, large-scale disasters and toppling monuments are served up for our delectation as always; they're still making as many "Poseidon"s and "War of the Worlds"s as you can shake a stick at, and no matter how much contemporary trauma is writ large on them, they're still gonna be cut from the same genre cloth. No, currently, true horror and panic onscreen has been reduced to something far more individually tactile, yet at the same time, so far from our comprehension. Human trafficking, forced prostitution, people b...

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    Look at Me: Francois Ozon's Time to Leave

    One has to at least admire Francois Ozon's attempt to articulate a more thoughtful and private perspective on untimely death. Keeping company with outsized melodramas swimming in shallow carpe diem sentiment like "My Life Without Me" (not to mention the reversals of romances like "Autumn in New York" and "Sweet November," where fading beauties teach jaded men to truly live), as well as thematic variations conducive to female bonding ("Terms of Endearment," "Beaches"), "Time to Leave" feels the more profound by comparison. Though the French director may not sidestep cliches endemic to the subject matter, his desire to provoke a quieter medit...

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    Dark Victory: Patrice Chereau's "Gabrielle"

    I anticipated a fairly fitful sleep after catching a late screening of "Gabrielle," Patrice Chereau's adaptation of Joseph Conrad's short story "The Return." Relationship dramas can rarely be described as spooky, but "Gabrielle," like Conrad's story, is a bona-fide creepshow, complete with scaremonger "jumps" of the horror variety. Sure enough, I was up at four in the morning, racked by Caligari-esque nightmares involving a skeletal figure in white belle-epoque couture, nastily brandishing a parasol and addressing me in the voice of the film's narrator, Pascal Greggory. Losing sleep over a movie may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but ...

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    Sand Trap: Laurent Cantet's "Heading South" By Sarah Silver

    Early on in "Heading South" ("Vers le sud"), we are introduced to Brenda (Karen Young), an American who has traveled alone to a picturesque beach. In her late forties, Brenda appears comfortable in her own skin, even though the setting, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the Seventies, predates the "40 is the new 30" credo of a Sex-and-the-Citified world. She speaks in halting French to Albert, the maitre d', and nonchalantly strides through sprouting umbrella patches along the shoreline, obviously a seasoned visitor to the island. We follow her to a distant point on the blaringly white beach, where a lanky black body lies in contrast to the sand. ...

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