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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Found and Lost: Peter Tolan's "Finding Amanda"

    Over the years, it's been both disconcerting and somehow satisfying to watch Matthew Broderick gradually morph from a lithe, cocky teen heartthrob to a pudgy, middle-aged sad sack. The puppy-dog eyes have sunken deeper into down-turned crevices of disappointment, and he seems lost in his burly torso...

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    REVIEW | Staged Craft: Peter Askin's "Trumbo"

    "Trumbo" tells the eventful story of the best-known name in the Hollywood Ten, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, with an unsurprising emphasis on the leftist's misadventures with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Famous and well-paid before HUAC sentenced him and nine other fellow Communist sympathizers and members to jail, Trumbo toiled for years afterward to win back his career, returning to the movies under pseudonyms and "fronts" designed to keep a blacklisted name unconnected to the scripts he was working on ("Roman Holiday" and "The Brave One," for which his front, Robert Rich, won the 1957 Academy Award) and then being the first to...

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    REVIEW | Winning Losers: Cecilia Miniucchi's "Expired"

    It's an incontrovertible truth that Samantha Morton is among the best actresses in the world, a fact somehow aided and not obscured by her insistence on playing, from "Sweet and Lowdown" to "Mister Lonely," the same character: the innocent, all-forgiving punching bag of a self-obsessed, self-hating asshole. And in Cecilia Miniucchi's "Expired," Morton once again owns this self-abnegation, here in its most socially and municipally abject form: that of the meter maid. Reluctantly writing up parking tickets to the ever irate and incredulous population of Santa Monica, Morton's Claire, in voice over, identifies herself as "one of the most hated p...

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    REVIEW | Buy the Book: Sarah Gavron's "Brick Lane"

    Sarah Gavron's "Brick Lane" is the kind of movie a critic would just as soon let pass without comment. Unchallenging and inoffensive, it gives little to work with, its soft-focus take on a rich novel less outrageous than enervating. The potential for a banalized transposition was always there. Monica Ali's bestseller approached issues of cultural dislocation and female empowerment with sensitivity and nuance, but faint whiffs of Lifetime wafted through at certain moments. In Gavron's hands, those shortcomings find their full flowering. If you had never read Ali's novel, no one would blame you if after Gavron's movie you thought it was a high-...

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    REVIEW | Life and Limb: Carlos Brooks's "Quid Pro Quo"

    Castrated twice in "Sin City," stabbed and beaten to death in "Bully," shot in the face in "In the Bedroom", and most recently a mentally abused emotional adolescent in this year's "Sleepwalkers," Nick Stahl is steadily carving out a niche for himself as the whipping boy of contemporary American independent cinema. For good or ill, Carlos Brooks's debut feature "Quid Pro Quo" allows Stahl to graduate from this bit of typecasting, making him less the passive recipient of violence, and more one who endures in its aftermath. A paraplegic Ira Glass-like public radio commentator, Stahl's coyly named Isaac Knott is the survivor of a childhood autom...

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    REVIEW | Life of the Mind: Jan Schutte's "Love Comes Lately"

    Viewers of "Love Comes Lately" may find themselves wishing they had curled up with a Phillip Roth book instead. Not that Jan Schutte's film, awkwardly grafted together with three short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, doesn't have its share of charms, most of which are to be found in its glowing su...

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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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