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Movie Reviews

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    "A Time for Celebration": Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Three Times"

    The buzz coming out of Cannes last year was that "Three Times," a triptych of love stories set in different periods, would finally nab Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien a long deserved Palme d'Or. Hou left empty-handed, but eventually landed a prize just as evasive: a U.S. release. A recapitulation of career-long themes and tropes, "Three Times" finds Hou in a self-reflexive mode. As each of the film's segments informs the others, so does the movie engage Hou's filmography. Setting a love story in three different eras with the same leads seems gimmicky at first glance, but the concept is a form fit for Hou. The greatest chronicler of our morta...

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    Animal Collective: Lu Chuan's "Mountain Patrol: Kekexili"

    "Mountain Patrol: Kekexili" is, happily, nothing that it quite seems to be. Eco-friendly, "National Geographic"-funded story of an endangered species? Ripped-from-the-headlines true-life murder tale? Grandiose Herzogian treatise on man versus nature? None of those easy tags seem particularly applicable, nor do they do justice to Lu Chuan's visually enveloping expose, which has a narrative as deceptively complex as it is generically misleading. Lu's previous film, 2002's "The Missing Gun" was a more direct flirtation with genre filmmaking, yet still a flirtation nonetheless; one always got the sense that his mind was elsewhere, and that the pe...

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    Boot Camp: Mary Harron's "The Notorious Bettie Page"

    "The Notorious Bettie Page" opens with the declaration "HBO Films Presents," which may bode well if an incongruously letterboxed weekly serial were about to follow. The HBO aesthetic and sensibility have become overappreciated and tagged as something oddly rarefied, but basically it's nothing more than prime Angus beef, catering to the same middlebrow audience in need of something that can quickly and easily be identified as "quality." The limpid gloss that lies across made-for-cable movies (think "Empire Falls," and that one where Cynthia Nixon plays Eleanor Roosevelt) has become as bizarrely homogenized as your run-of-the-mill post-Miramax ...

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    Connect the Dots: 4 on Ilya Khrzhanovsky's "4"

    Like trying to comprehend that you just got punched in the gut, watching Ilya Khrzhanovsky's "4" requires that you live with it for a while in order to let the feeling sink in. This film does not imitate life, it creates it --- it lives and breathes a little different from anything you've seen befor...

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    A Neo-Noir High School Tale: Rian Johnson's "Brick"

    Maybe it says more about the state of American cinema than my own viewing habits, but I can't remember the last time I saw a movie as purely and perfectly entertaining as Rian Johnson's Sundance prize-winning debut feature, "Brick." No slight meant to the writer-director--who happily harbors no pret...

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    Amazing Grace: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "L'Enfant"

    If there is a point at which the craft of directing becomes so exquisite that it transcends and obviates criticism, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne might have reached it with the 2005 Palme d'Or winner "L'Enfant." Though weaned on documentary filmmaking, the Belgian brothers make narrative films that beg to be described with poetry: florid metaphors, stanza-long similes from epic ballads--never mind that their argot is stolidly against anything but absolute minimalism. The way I feel about the Dardenne brothers is the way J. Hoberman praises Robert Bresson; to not understand them is to not understand the cinema. With their bleak, uncompromising,...

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    Out to Sea: Marco Kreuzpaintner's "Summer Storm"

    Independent cinema was once regarded as the cinema of the disenfranchised. It's common knowledge now that the parameters of what was once defined as "indie" have been dissolved, and pat, mainstream, easy-to-swallow do-gooder liberal fantasies like "Good Will Hunting," "Chocolat," and "Crash," still ...

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    Clay Pigeons: Fernando Eimbcke's "Duck Season"

    Like many details in "Duck Season," Fernando Eimbcke's choice of setting is a nudge of Mexican wit that will be lost on most of us. The establishing shots give us a quick exterior tour of the Ninos Heroes building of the vast Nonoalco Tlatelolco housing development in Mexico City. "Ninos Heroes" is a common name for streets and buildings throughout the country, and this particular housing development was the site of the Tlateloco Massacre of 1968, in which several hundred student protesters were shot and killed by police. In legend, the Ninos Heroes were six teenage soldiers who perished while defending Chapultepec Castle in the U.S. invasion...

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    Anger Management: Rachel Boynton's "Our Brand Is Crisis"

    How ironically fitting "Our Brand Is Crisis" should open the same weekend as the Academy Awards. While Hollywood will undoubtedly give itself a big ol' pat on the back for recognizing the progressive messages of four of its five Best Picture noms, the immediate cultural and political challenges thes...

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    Tabula Rasa: Rupert Murray's "Unknown White Male"

    On a cold and rainy morning in July, 2003, Douglas Bruce, a 35-year-old stockbroker-turned-photographer, woke to find himself on a subway train headed for Coney Island with no knowledge of who he was or where he was going. In his backpack were dog medicine and a book with a scrap of paper on which s...

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