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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Grand Dame: Olivier Dahan's "La Vie en rose"

    Encompassing hardship and tragedy of near-mythic proportions, the details of Edith Piaf's life story seem spawned from literature and are so well-suited to cinematic adaptation they appear invented. Abandoned by her mother as a child and raised for a time by her grandmother in a brothel, only to be later whisked away by her circus and street acrobat father - and that's really just for starters - the iconic French singer had a colorful history that most often resembles a Fellini film. Rather than downplay this almost otherworldly cast of characters in his biographical rendition, "La Vie en rose," writer-director Olivier Dahan heightens the in...

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    REVIEW | Mortal Coil: Adrian Shergold's "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman"

    "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman," which first debuted at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2005, may have the highest body count of any movie to hit American theaters this side of "300." Since Albert Pierrepoint was among Britain's most prolific (though in point of fact not its last) hangmen - the film credits him with over 608 hangings - there's good reason for the film's seemingly endless depictions of executions, and given the movie's middlebrow pedigree (director Adrian Shergold and screenwriters Jeff Pope and Bob Mills work mostly for British television, and the film was produced "in association with Masterpiece Theater"), it's unsurprisi...

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    REVIEW | Story Telling: Rolf De Heer's "Ten Canoes"

    I'm usually left slightly anxious by those works of western filmmakers that take as their subjects the nature and stories of indigenous peoples. The potential for exploitation - artistic, commercial, moral - runs so deep in these instances of cultural intersection that it's amazing such films don't all turn out like the garishly insensate "Apocalypto" which, if not for its bloated running length, might have worked perfectly as part of a "Grindhouse"-style tribal-exploitation double bill. We can point to films like "Walkabout," "Where the Green Ants Dream," or "The Fast Runner" (interesting in how it adopts an Inuit media workshop ground-up a...

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    REVIEW | Earthbound: Luc Besson's "Angel-A"

    In a comeback that I've been anticipating only slightly more than the reemergence of JNCO jeans or polio, Luc Besson now returns to American theaters after a nearly decade-long absence. The occasion is the release of "Angel-A," a Paris-set variation on "It's a Wonderful Life," which replaces Clarenc...

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    REVIEW | Panic Room: William Friedkin's "Bug"

    Even during the heyday of the American paranoia thriller, there was never a performance quite like the one given by Michael Shannon in William Friedkin's take-no-prisoners adaptation of Tracy Letts's off-Broadway play about fear and loathing in an Oklahoma motel room. As Peter Evans, the blandly named, seemingly innocuous drifter who appears one evening at the doorstep of Agnes White (Ashley Judd), a battered wife terrified of her ex-con husband's return, Shannon has either officially arrived onscreen or carved out a memorable cult niche. It was a sly move on Friedkin's part to have Shannon reprise his stage role; largely unknown to movie aud...

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    REVIEW | Simple Men: Bruno Dumont's "Flanders"

    Like Gaspar Noe with a colder, reptilian eye, or a brutalist Robert Bresson, Bruno Dumont cut a divide through contemporary cinematic circles with his first three features. That this swath is tiny and both his detractors and supporters fall largely within that camp we could label "serious cinephile...

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    REVIEW | Sweet Sounds: John Carney's "Once"

    A new almost-musical from Ireland, "Once" neatly transcends even the hoariest of cliches about the sublime communicative powers of pop music. This is a treat and a surprise, as films this slight and unassuming often seem more apt to curl up into themselves than approach any sort of expansiveness. A...

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    REVIEW | Unspoken Truth: Tsai Ming-liang's "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone"

    Even as Tsai Ming-liang nearly hypnotizes the viewer with his elegantly composed static images and methodical pacing, rarely does a filmmaker encouraged such active engagement with stillness. The Taiwanese director might be the visual narrative stylist par excellence working in cinema today; an entire story, a life, a world, breathes through his films, even as he rarely burdens them with language. Often, it will take a moment for your senses to adjust to a new Tsai composition - at once teeming with life and emptied out, this place will force your eyes to wander and scan the frame for signs of movement, color, or familiarity. Tsai gives us ti...

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    REVIEW | Remote Control: Julia Loktev's "Day Night Day Night"

    There's no doubt that filmmaker Julia Loktev makes quite an impression with her debut feature "Day Night Day Night," which shows off her expertise at oblique storytelling and subjective suspense. Yet the bigger questions of why "Day Night Day Night" exists, and what tensions it's capitalizing on can...

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    REVIEW | Picking Up the Pieces: "Paris, je t'aime"

    Chock-a-block with recognizable directors and thespians, "Paris, je t'aime" is a series of vignettes commissioned by producers Emmanuel Benbihy and Claudie Ossard. Each of its 18 segments is ostensibly connected through the concept of L'amour in the City of Lights (introduced, dazzling, under millennial fireworks), which is presumably more spiritually satisfying or noteworthy than the provincial love practiced in, say, Lexington, Kentucky. As a personalized triptych through Paris, the city and entity, there's not much here; read Edmund White's "Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris" if you're in the market for local color. And taken as a whol...

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