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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Strange Fascination: Ari Libsker's "Stalags"

    Many Americans have never heard about the Stalag fiction phenomenon; Ari Libsker's short but valuable documentary, simply titled "Stalags," makes for a troubling, though thoughtful, introduction. Stalags constituted a genre of cheap exploitation novels that briefly thrived in Israel in the early Sixties during the period of the Adolf Eichmann trial, when the atrocities of the Holocaust were initially and tentatively broached in the public sphere. Stalags usually stuck to the same tried and true formula, pawning themselves off as translations of memoirs by American or British soldiers who had been imprisoned during World War II by the Nazis an...

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    REVIEW | Weird Science: Shi-Zheng Chen's "Dark Matter"

    "Dark Matter" begins with a shot of Meryl Streep practicing tai chi, and therein lies a precise encapsulation of the film's attitude toward the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures. In its 90-minute duration, the film grapples with a number of weighty themes: the origins of the universe, the...

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    REVIEW | Compassion Play: Tom McCarthy's "The Visitor"

    Tom McCarthy's surprise indie hit "The Station Agent" was something of a minor miracle. A touching, big-hearted character study propelled by three vibrant performances, "The Station Agent" distinguished itself with its sensitivity and grace, qualities sorely lacking in an independent film culture that too often prizes the clever, the glib, the cute, and the smug. With his sophomore effort as a writer-director, "The Visitor," McCarthy once again proves himself to be refreshingly out-of-step with the indie mainstream, taking an improbable set-up and patiently observing as his damaged but likeable characters work their way through it. Despite it...

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    REVIEW | Old Joy: Stephen Walker's "Young @ Heart"

    Can rock music and colostomy bags mix? (Insert your own hilarious "Shine a Light" joke here.) The subject of Stephen Walker's new documentary is Farmingham, Massachusetts' "Young @ Heart" chorus, a 24-member group with several international tours under its belt. The singers' median age, we're inform...

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    REVIEW | Such Great Heights: Hou Hsiao-hsien's "The Flight of the Red Balloon"

    Like his 2004 film "Cafe Lumiere," Hou Hsiao-hsien's sublime new movie "The Flight of the Red Balloon" finds the director in a foreign country paying homage to another filmmaker. With "Lumiere," Yasujiro Ozu was Hou's reference point and Tokyo his canvas; here, Hou reimagines Albert Lamorisse's classic 1956 short "The Red Balloon" as a Parisian family melodrama. Hou's film, much like Lamorisse's, opens with the magnificent titular object hovering barely out of the reach of seven-year-old Simon (Simon Iteanu); as he gets on the Metro, it floats just above the station, drifting up into the trees. The balloon, and by proxy Lamorisse's film, serv...

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    REVIEW | Tuckered Out: David Schwimmer's "Run Fatboy Run"

    Since the "chick flick" moniker continues to stick, it's only fair that male-targeted incarnations of the romantic comedy receive an equally derogatory nickname now that they're all the rage. I nominate "dick flicks" over David Denby's more diplomatic "slacker striver romance" designation -- certainly the subgenre's preoccupation with penis jokes earns the label. As outlined by the New Yorker critic in an article last year heralding the crop's crystallization with "Knocked Up," the flicks typically focus on an unmotivated and immature man as he kicks and screams his way towards reformation for the love of a good (and hot) woman. "Run Fatbo...

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    REVIEW | Wistful Thinking: Morgan Neville's "The Cool School"

    "The Cool School" is one of a subset of documentary biographies that might best be called "Scenes of Yesteryear." Like the recent "Weather Underground," "Commune," and "American Hardcore"--whose respective subjects include radical terrorists, hippie collectives, and indigenous, anticommercial punk r...

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    REVIEW | Family Feud: Jeff Nichols's 'Shotgun Stories"

    The presence of David Gordon Green's name in "Shotgun Stories"' billing block is probably both a blessing and a curse for the reception of Jeff Nichols's feature film debut. On the one hand, it broadcasts what sort of film this is -- an earnest character study with a touch of that neo-Southern Gothi...

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    REVIEW | Gross National Product: Olivier Assayas's "Boarding Gate"

    Olivier Assayas's "Boarding Gate" arrives on these shores like a battered shipment of cheap goods. True, it's only sat moldering for ten months in its film canister since its Cannes premiere -- a relatively short period in these hazy days of distribution -- but it shows a distinct lack of freshness all the same. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing: there's a tantalizing whiff of mediocrity to "Boarding Gate," and it's consistently set off by high levels of self-awareness and undeniable craft. Assayas's later career has been a heady stew of class and crass, yet not even in his terrific, audience-baiting pseudo-technothriller "demonlover," ...

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    REVIEW | Over the Borderline: Patricia Riggen's "Under the Same Moon"

    The main question "Under the Same Moon" poses is whether its story, which follows the basic outline of a separated mother and son fairy tale, befits its subject, the plight of illegal Mexican immigrants. The immigration issue has in the last few years become a hot one in part due to economic angst and homeland security paranoia, but Mexican director Patricia Riggen and screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos don't use their film to explore the larger political picture of fence-hopping workers and the varied American responses to their increasing numbers. Instead "Under the Same Moon" remains at ground level, showing audiences the unique backgrounds of...

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