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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | I Am Sham: Lasse Hallstrom's "The Hoax"

    Painless while viewing and fruitless upon reflection, Lasse Hallstrom's latest addition to his own wing in the Miramax mausoleum - where art film goes to die - is a wholly predictable product: a true-life story that eschews truth and banalizes life. "The Hoax" is based on one of the most fascinating scams of the 20th century. In 1971, author Clifford Irving pitched his publisher, McGraw-Hill, a fascinating proposal: an autobiography of America's most famous recluse, Howard Hughes, authorized by the tycoon himself. Truth was, Irving had never met the tycoon, but had concocted an elaborate smoke-and-mirrors ruse to hoodwink his publisher and th...

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    REVIEW | Californication: Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set"

    The inevitability of artistic compromise in the face of bottom-line chasing execs isn't exactly unmined satiric territory, but that doesn't stop Jake Kasdan from throwing himself whole-hog into another retread of "The Player," albeit one that benefits from its appropriately TV-style small scale. Kas...

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    REVIEW | Bright Young Thing: Amnon Buchbinder's "Whole New Thing"

    After being cooped up at home and schooled by his progressive, eco-friendly parents, confused adolescent Emerson Thorsen (Aaron Webber) starts school at age thirteen, eventually developing an enriching but finally unhealthy crush on his sad-sack English teacher, Mr. Grant (co-screenwriter Daniel MacIvor). Naturally, as the coming-of-age drama "Whole New Thing" contends, everyone surrounding the gifted Emerson (he's already completed a fantasy novel at age 13) has a lot of growing up to do themselves: mom Kaya (Rebecca Jenkins), has lately begun flirting with local studs in plain view of her husband, Rog (Robert Joy), himself something of a st...

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    REVIEW | Homecoming: Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep"

    Over the past three decades, Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep" has become the stuff of cinephile legend. Shot on location in Watts, Los Angeles, mostly with amateur actors, Burnett's 16mm student-film never received a theatrical release, in part because of the substantial cost involved with cleari...

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    REVIEW | Soft Soap: Susanne Bier's "After the Wedding"

    Moving from its slow, somber, Sigur Ros-soundtracked opening scenes of an orphanage in India to the frenetic bustle of an office space in Denmark, "After the Wedding" initially makes us feel -- via quickened cuts on action -- as disoriented as principled protagonist Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) does upon his reluctant return home to satisfy potential benefactor Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard). The latter, a mysteriously motivated businessman, hardly talks shop at all, more enthused that the expatriate should attend his daughter's big day than about making a possible organization-saving donation. His reverse culture shock notwithstanding, Jacob's sense of ...

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    REVIEW | Old Scars: Peter Miller's "Sacco and Vanzetti"

    Odd as it seems to say of a movie that covers a crime that's more than 80 years old, but Peter Miller's "Sacco and Vanzetti" is distinctly behind the times on the latest developments of its subject. In December 2005, a letter surfaced in California, purportedly penned by Upton Sinclair during the re...

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    REVIEW | The Great Plain: Scott Frank's "The Lookout"

    The title, to start with. "The Lookout"? My God, that's slack -- and these movies don't make themselves; meetings were probably held to get to that. Then move on to the poster, one of those long-afternoon-of-Photoshopping jobs, featuring a moody headshot of leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt, cheekbones clenched above reservoirs of shadow, expression opaque enough to pass for badass or maybe jetlag, framed by pictures of the supporting cast, including a shot of a cutie that, with a little tone adjustment, could be an ad for an internet dating site, and a washed-out image of a hand clenching a revolver, promising action. It's a package readymade...

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    REVIEW | Early Thaw: Mark Fergus's "First Snow"

    A classic cocky bastard, set up as such to better offset the impending humbling, Jimmy Starks (played to smooth and oily perfection by Guy Pearce) immediately reveals his nature alongside his broken down car on a deserted road: Holding up his cell phone to check reception, taking long drags off a cigarette, whipping out a hairbrush in the middle of a conversation, obnoxiousness wafts off the two-bit huckster like heat waves. Waiting for his car to be fixed, he -- why not? -- ducks into a conveniently located clairvoyant's caravan. But after a few preliminary predictions, the psychic (J.K. Simmons) stops short, refuses to go further, refund...

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    REVIEW | Off-key: Denis Dercourt's "The Page Turner"

    Any director working from as thin a premise as that which tries to undergird the nominal thriller "The Page Turner" better have style to burn, or at least the good sense to get the film over with as quickly as possible. Denis Dercourt's sadly lacking in the former department, though, having managed...

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    REVIEW | This Sporting Life: Jafar Panahi's "Offside"

    Not to overstate the obvious, or necessarily promote criticism that only contends in meaningless dialectics between high and low art, but, to put it bluntly, if given the choice between Jafar Panahi's eloquent, invigorating, tightly paced, and endlessly enjoyable "Offside" and the current box office mega-attraction "300" (titled, evidently, for the amount of brain cells you will lose by watching it), and you choose the latter, no amount of community service can save your soul. Why bother comparing a delicate yet trenchant social allegory about young Iranian female soccer fans with a massive, dunderheaded "epic" about ancient Sparta warding of...

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