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Movie Reviews

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    Safety First: Daryl Wein's "Sex Positive"

    Richard Berkowitz, the man at the center of Daryl Wein's intelligent and engaging "Sex Positive," is the ideal documentary subject: with his combination of self-effacement and daunting confidence, Berkowitz easily commands the screen throughout its short running time. Such an appealing figure is especially crucial for a film that focuses on a subject as potentially didactic and strictly educational as the promotion of safe sex for the gay community. Yet director and editor Wein smartly doesn't use Berkowitz, a groundbreaking writer and safe-sex spokesman who contracted HIV in early eighties New York, as a mouthpiece for an agenda-driven doc; ...

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    Chow Down: Robert Kenner's "Food, Inc."

    If we are what we eat, we're in big trouble according to Robert Kenner's enlightening if not groundbreaking documentary "Food, Inc." Following contemporary mainstream documentary filmmaking's popular recipe of equal parts talking head interviews and field reporting, "Food, Inc." engages in investiga...

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    Nice and Easy: Jesse Rosen's "The Art of Being Straight"

    Despite its promising title, Jesse Rosen's tiny L.A.-set "The Art of Being Straight" isn't really about contemporary codes of masculinity or the rattling task of "passing" as heterosexual. Rather it's a flimsy pseudo-autobiographical character piece from a first-time filmmaker playing an approximation of himself so dewy-eyed cute and effortlessly naive that many audiences will be hard-pressed to find enormous fault. After all, the "likability" factor goes a long way in negligible indie fare, and certainly in small-budget gay-themed niche moviemaking, at times even held up as an ideal equal to such matters as coherent editing and photography a...

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    Crazy Like a Foxglove: Martin Provost's "Seraphine"

    The paintings of Seraphine Louis, the subject of Martin Provost's elegant, if somewhat reserved, film, lie somewhere between folk art and modernism, in the artistic grey area known as "art brut." Coined by the artist Jean Dubuffet, who specifically sought out and collected art made by asylum inmates, this movement denotes those artists whose spontaneous, untutored techniques rhymed with those of Cubists, Dada, and Futurists, and matched modern artists' desire to subvert, revolutionize, or "unlearn" prevailing aesthetic conventions. This designation of "outsider" or "naive" artists has come to classify those -- like Adolf Woelfli and Henry Dar...

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    Disconnected: Johan Renck's "Downloading Nancy"

    The opening of "Downloading Nancy," which features on the soundtrack Nancy (Maria Bello) detailing to therapist Carol (Amy Brenneman) the liberation she expects to feel upon dying, compounded by cryptic exchanges with stranger Louis (Jason Patric) in a bus terminal, makes clear fairly quickly where Johan Renck's misleadingly titled film is heading. Giving itself away so early on, "Downloading Nancy"--which shifts between past and present--faces a difficult task: to provide a description of the events leading up to Nancy's willful demise observant enough to illuminate her extreme decision. Doing so would take a far steadier hand than the neoph...

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    Riding to Perdition: Sam Mendes's "Away We Go"

    Sam Mendes is quickly amassing one of the most idiotic contemporary bodies of work that otherwise reasonable people consider credible. His fifth film, "Away We Go," continues the Brit stage director's track record of tackling different eras in the American experience (earlier: the Thirties in "Road...

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    What Zombies? Bruce McDonald's "Pontypool"

    EDITOR'S NOTE: This review was originally published as part of indieWIRE's coverage of the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.

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    Borrowing From Himself: Sam Raimi's "Drag Me To Hell"

    EDITOR'S NOTE: This review was originally published as part of indieWIRE's coverage of the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.

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    Cello and Goodbye: Yojiro Takita's "Departures"

    A feel-good dramedy about death, Yojiro Takita's "Departures" would seem to be the first Japanese import in the U.S. in quite some time with a real chance for art-house success, rather than mere fanboy buzz. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but "Departures" is a particularly silly, histrionic slab of moviemaking. Its setup would seem to imply classical Japanese formal control -- a young man gradually learning the graceful ways of casketing the dead, i.e. sending them off into the afterlife with ceremonial efficiency and elegance. It's both refreshing and also a bit of a letdown, then, that Takita is less a ikebana-like s...

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    Forward Thinking: Lee Isaac Chung's "Munyurangabo"

    [Editor's Note: "Munyurangabo" opens this Friday at New York's Anthology Film Archives.]

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