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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Noble Rot: Steven Sawalich's "Music Within"

    Likable yet bland, Ron Livingston has been cursed with an earnest, puppy dog face that, while charming, makes him hard to take seriously as a dramatic actor, or even an intriguing comic one. He's not untalented, just dull, and in that sense he's perfectly cast as the protagonist of "Music Within." This debut feature film by Steven Sawalich is an inspirational tale "based on a true story," and obediently follows that disclaimer's tried-and-true formula: some laughter, some tears, and a consistent distribution of valuable life lessons. In other words, it's terribly earnest and mostly forgettable. "Music Within" isn't wrongheaded in its portraya...

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    REVIEW | Brothers in Lawlessness: Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"

    If our cultural arbiters are to be believed, the Seventies are back. "Serious," "adult," "provocative," and other signifiers of high-minded Hollywood adorn multiplex posters ("Michael Clayton," "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford"), which perhaps says more about the desperation of the moviegoer in a barren 2007 than about the movies themselves. Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" will likely be lumped in with the group, but in this instance the New Hollywood nostalgia is legitimate. Directed by someone who actually defined the period, this is no homage by a "last golden age" devotee--it's the genuine ar...

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    Happy Trails: Jonathan Demme's "Jimmy Carter Man from Plains"

    Titled like an old-fashioned Western where a man in a white hat gallops in to save a town from ruthless villains, Jonathan Demme's "Jimmy Carter Man from Plains" portrays the 39th president as an intrepid political lone ranger, unafraid of provoking discussion on sensitive international matters at an age when most retired representatives ride inoffensively into the sunset. Following Carter in autumn 2006 on a publicity tour in support of his controversial book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," Demme reveals Carter as a highly intelligent, dedicated, religious, humble, and concerned man constantly engaged with the world around him, and for that...

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    REVIEW | Suicide Is Painless: Goran Dukic's "Wristcutters: A Love Story"

    If you can get over its affected and mildly offensive irreverence -- check the cheeky title -- you might just enjoy "Wristcutters: A Love Story." Sure, its high-concept setup, as adapted by first-time feature film helmer Goran Dukic, subversively suggests that suicide is just another way to meet cute. But taken for what it is--a romantic comedy road trip aspiring merely to fulfill its generic dictates -- "Wristcutters" mostly succeeds with its cleverly posthumous scenario. The bright, evenly lit palette of the traditional romantic comedy colors only the world of the living, while the afterlife plays out in bluish-grey hues, with which the Cr...

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    REVIEW | Investigating an International Man of Mystery: Barbet Schroeder's "Terror's Advocate"

    There must be a fascinating flow-chart in the links between modern terrorism and Jacques Verges: Imagine the notorious lawyer at the center of a vast and intricate set of lines connecting Algerian freedom fighters to the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine to Pol Pot to Germany's Red A...

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    REVIEW | Doll Parts: Craig Gillespie's "Lars and the Real Girl"

    In "Lars and the Real Girl," Ryan Gosling gives an expectedly inward, gently mannered performance as Lars, a devastatingly closed-off, lonely twentysomething who lives in a garage behind the house of his brother, Gus, and sister-in-law, Karin, and works in one of those faceless, soulless cubicled offices that's become the standard for big-screen drudgery. Though Lars comes across as something of a sweetly standoffish innocent, his recurrent, pained eye twitches and pathological inability to join Karin and Gus for a home-cooked meal point toward a more profound inner torment. Seemingly paralyzed by the fear of integrating with society, Lars re...

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    iW REVIEW | Unknown Pleasures: Anton Corbijn's "Control"

    The facts: Joy Division was perhaps the most essential band to emerge from the crazily fecund Manchester scene of the late Seventies. During their truncated lifespan they birthed a pummeling music that was something like the noise from a particularly hideous new building's construction site, augmented by lyrics that spoke of emotional glaciation and a Ballardian sense of breakdown, intoned in a beyond-the-grave timbre by frontman Ian Curtis, a baby-faced Macclesfield pill-popper with a Vulcan haircut. Wracked by depression and intensifying epilepsy, Curtis committed suicide in 1980 at age 23, on the eve of his increasingly successful group's ...

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    PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | Suffer the Children: Amir Bar-Lev's "My Kid Could Paint That"

    EDITORS NOTE: This review was originally published during the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

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    iW REVIEW | Gays and the Good Book: Daniel Karslake's "For the Bible Tells Me So"

    EDITORS NOTE: This review was originally published during the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

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    iW REVIEW | Both Sides Now: Tony Kaye's "Lake of Fire"

    "Lake of Fire" begins with a shot of an anti-abortion billboard brandishing the words "Enjoy Life." No issue is so divisive in the United States as a woman's right to an abortion, and the idea of "life" - in terms of an embryo or fetus' status as a developed being, and in terms of the country's political and ethical make-up - is at the heart of it. "Lake of Fire," Tony Kaye's personally financed documentary seventeen years in the making, forces one to face the most troubling aspects of the abortion debate in all its moral ambiguity and ideological fervor. Not without flaws and omissions, Kaye's project is nonetheless entirely courageous, the ...

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