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Movie Reviews

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    Berlinale Critics Notebook: The undeniable ‘find’ of the festival, so far?

    It was 106F the day I left Sydney, at the end of a four-month visit with family and friends. By the time I got home to Berlin, on the evening of January 26, it was -4F. The cold was dry and tense and lacerating; you felt hollowed out by it. But far worse were the pavements: thickened with weeks of c...

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    REVIEW | Haunted House: Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher's "October Country"

    The type of introspective, intimate domestic American nonfiction that has sprouted up so much in art-house theaters in the wake of the success of "Capturing the Friedmans" has come to typify documentary filmmaking of the past decade. Itself somewhat of an acolyte of the far more sensitive "Crumb," which at least foregrounded its inevitable grotesquerie, Andrew Jarecki's sensational depiction of an upper-middle-class Jewish family torn apart by intimations of child molestation tried to pass off its essentially exploitative nature as an investigation into American suburbia. Plus, with its tacked-on faux reconciliation ending and lack of aesthet...

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    REVIEW | On the Butcher Block: Haim Tabakman's "Eyes Wide Open"

    Most of the gay Israeli films that have made their way to the U.S. have seemed to prefer narratives of extreme conflict. Of course there have been exceptions (last year’s glib yet exceedingly hot romantic comedy "Antarctica"‘s only issues were, refreshingly, those of sex and commitment), but for the most part, they place their central homosexual couplings within larger political or social frameworks that make them seem like extraordinary challenges to embrace or overcome. So in Eytan Fox’s breakout "Yossi and Jagger," it’s not just a clandestine gay love affair, but one enacted within the uber-masculine barracks and battlefields of the Israel...

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    REVIEW | No Exit: Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's "Ajami"

    "Ajami" gets right to the tragic heart of the matter. Before the viewer knows what or whom he's watching, a young boy is gunned down in the middle of a city street in broad daylight. Though a backstory is soon provided, the incident truly and crucially never makes sense. Revenge, recompense, clumsy justice, even apparently legitimate legal proceedings provide a measure of context and set the rest of the narrative in motion, but the brutal fact of the murder is never gotten over. Violence will return, again and again over the course of the film, but it is not to be justified by theoretical or political abstractions, and its impact is never sof...

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    REVIEW | The Toxic Avenger: Josh Fox's "GasLand"

    Josh Fox's "GasLand" is the paragon of first person activist filmmaking done right. Matching his perspective with a slew of infuriating case studies, Fox explores the influx of hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), a method of drilling natural gas that endangers the sanity of water supplies in the i...

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    REVIEW | Cholodenko's "All Right" with Forward Moving Family Film

    Lisa Cholondenko's "The Kids are All Right" succeeds at normalizing a once-progressive scenario. The story of a married lesbian couple and the chummy sperm donor responsible for their family produces a sitcom-ready plot that drifts to its natural finish. As the two moms, Julianne Moore and Annette B...

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    REVIEW | Off Peak: Philipp Stölzl’s “North Face”

    The lineage of cinematic mountain climbing extends back to the films of the 1900s. These early efforts evolved into the hugely popular German Bergfilme of the Twenties, the Alpine equivalent of the American Western; in both genres the activities of its characters are circumscribed by features of the landscape. The image of the heroic Aryan mountain climber conquering nature through force of will didn’t go unnoticed by the Third Reich in the 1930s (notably, Leni Riefenstahl began her career starring in Bergfilmes), and the Germanic mythology captured in these works certainly found a ready outlet in the epic pageants of the Nazi era. Aside f...

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    REVIEW | When Social Media Attack: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's "Catfish"

    Many movies over last ten years have engaged with the dangers of online communication, but Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's "Catfish" delivers the definitive narrative of social networking gone awry to cap off the decade. By turns hilarious, unsettling and sad, the documentary eng...

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    REVIEW | "Smash His Camera": Capturing the Phantom of Twentieth-Century Show Business

    The legacy of the paparazzo has never been a pretty one, but Leon Gast's "Smash His Camera" boldly suggests its artistic merits. Granted, his subject -- quintessential New York photographer Ron Galella -- has been around a lot longer than today's combative TMZ cameramen, but he's got a few battle sc...

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    REVIEW | Almost a Masterpiece: "Four Lions" an Explosive Comedy

    In the opening scene of "Four Lions," a group of British would-be terrorists attempt in vain to make the ideal suicide tape. It's not the first time that such risqué bloopers have been depicted in narrative form - both "Paradise Now" and the short-lived Showtime series "Sleeper Cell" contained similar moments - but it's certainly the funniest. Chris Morris's tragicomic portrait of jihad gone awry zips along with many of these contemporary references points in the service of humor, yet pulls off an unlikely feat by avoiding any kind of outright spoof. The characters are no laughing matter; instead, their bumbling tendencies suggest a universal...

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