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Movie Reviews

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    PARK CITY '08 NOTEBOOK | Slamdance Docs "Dear Zachary" and "My Mother's Garden" Offer Personal Stori

    There's a certain intensity to low budget productions that often heightens their impact. At the Slamdance Film Festival, where singular vision overwhelms the importance of name talent and studio appeal, a number of sturdy entries achieve their cogent artistic intentions with focused minimalism. This...

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    PARK CITY '08 REVIEW | Scary Ha-Ha: Jay and Mark Duplass' "Baghead"

    The laughs outweigh the scares in "Baghead," a clever horror/comedy hybrid and the latest good time movie from filmmaker brothers Jay and Mark Duplass. The fact that there are shocks throughout the film confirms "Baghead's" best attribute. The Duplass Brothers, much admired for their 2005 Sundance f...

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    REVIEW | Laughing Stock: Jieho Lee's "The Air I Breathe"

    It says much about the failed dramatic strivings of "The Air I Breathe" that at a press screening -- an occasion for the most part free of audible displays of emotion since critics like to play their cards close to the vest -- Jieho Lee's feature debut (co-scripted by Bob DeRosa) met with hoots of laughter the likes of which I've never before heard in that notoriously solemn setting. Based, according to the press release, on a Chinese proverb representing "four emotional cornerstones of life" -- Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, and Love, each dedicated its own vignette though the stories, of course, overlap -- the movie stars numerous B-list cel...

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    REVIEW | The Body Politic: Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days"

    Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'or winner "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" is as good as you've heard -- ravaging, provocative, deeply moving, and expertly crafted -- but it may not be what you expect. Billed by many as the "Romanian abortion movie" (something akin to labeling "There Will Be Blood" the "American oil movie"), "4 Months" isn't simply about abortion, even if the film uses it as its structuring conceit. So yes, Mungiu's film concerns two friends, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who attempt to procure an illegal abortion for the latter in the waning days of the Ceausescu regime, but it is not an "abortion movie" in ...

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    REVIEW | House of Pain: Alex Gibney's "Taxi to the Dark Side"

    Presidential hopeful and all-around sleaze bucket Mitt Romney's desperate equivocating over the use of waterboarding during this season's Republican YouTube debate nearly left the man a frothing mess. That's because there really isn't any room for equivocation: torture is torture, no matter how much the administration and other assorted "defenders of freedom" try to make excuses or strict, revisionist definitions. In his simultaneously harrowing and soberly parsed new documentary, Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") trots out endless footage of disgraced Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld smugly invalidating queries into Am...

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    REVIEW | Castle Keep: Joseph Cedar's "Beaufort"

    Any thoughtful film about the Israel-Palestine conflict naturally takes futility as its main subject; and acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar has a central premise in his new film "Beaufort" that perfectly encapsulates not just the futility of war but also the cycle of retribution and violence that will seemingly forever engulf the Middle East. Set in 2000, Cedar's film, based on a novel by Ron Leshem, depicts a troop of Israeli soldiers assigned to watch over the outpost castle of Beaufort, located in Lebanon. As much a symbol of pride as a necessary strategic base, Beaufort, built in the 12th century by Crusaders, was claimed by the Pa...

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    REVIEW | Draft Bored: Bryan Gunnar Cole's "Day Zero"

    Of all the varied strands of post-9/11 cinema, the speculative film--the one showing us what life would be like if it were slightly (but significantly!) different--is by far the most superfluous. Last year's lame "Right at Your Door," which sank right into oblivion, pondered a world where Los Angeles is hit by a biological weapon: suffice it to say that civilians panic, human bonds are frayed, and military authority acts really mean. Strangely, Bryan Gunnar Cole's "Day Zero" (not to be confused with another desperate stab at topicality, 2003's Columbine-riding "Zero Day") could be "Door"'s unasked-for spin-off. Here, a recent terrorist attack...

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    REVIEW | Missing Persons: Jia Zhangke's "Still Life"

    Jia Zhangke, who has emerged as one of the great artists from the "Sixth Generation" of Chinese filmmakers, is one of those directors whose work will always be embraced and discussed by a number of devoted followers but whose discursive, searching approach to narratives and the people who inhabit them keep his films from appealing to a wider audience. At this juncture, I can't recall any of his earlier features creating much of an art-house stir once they found distributors after their North American festival debuts; it's a shame because, despite their refusal of cinematic conventions, Jia's films are hardly ossified, self-contained art works...

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    REVIEW | Dental Damned: Mitchell Lichtenstein's "Teeth"

    Writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein's feature debut takes high-concept to its zenith with "Teeth," a story about the myth of vagina dentata manifest in a teenage girl named Dawn. With an opening bird's-eye view onto a family home scored to Danny Elfman-esque music, the film quickly establishes the atmosphere of a grim fairy tale: A primal I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours encounter between a young Dawn and soon-to-be stepbrother Brad (John Hensley) leaves the boy sans fingertip. This memory, repressed by both, hangs heavy over the present day, which finds our pretty, blond heroine overzealously active in a chastity group, and multip...

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    REVIEW | You've Got Male: Hong Sang-soo's "Woman on the Beach"

    It's clear that South Korean director Hong Sang-soo knows a thing or two about human relationships, of longings, self-delusions, attitudinal dead ends, and, once in a very miraculous while, he has a revelation or insight suggesting a new way to conduct them. On the basis of six heralded films, including 2004's "Woman Is the Future of Man" (his only one before "Woman on the Beach" to have gained distribution in the U.S.) Hong has been labeled an Asian Rohmer. At first glance he seems to have learned lessons directly from the French master in how to tell conversation-heavy, behavior-observant stories by means of an "economic" visual grammar, wh...

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