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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | "Burbs of a Feather . . . " : Ira Sachs' "Married Life"

    "Married Life," the third feature from Ira Sachs, marks a major departure for the Memphis-born filmmaker. The first of his movies to take place away from his native South, and his only period picture, "Married Life" stakes out new thematic ground for a director whose previous efforts, "The Delta" and "Forty Shades of Blue," focused resolutely on outsiders, people on the margins trying to navigate their way through an unfamiliar, unfriendly, and even hostile social environment. By contrast, "Married Life," tackles a far more commonplace -- and rather banal -- subject: suburban heterosexual partnership and the mysterious, often unspoken undercu...

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    REVIEW | Son of God: Paulo Morelli's "City of Men"

    2000's art-house megahit "City of God" has officially attained franchise status -- after spawning a made-for-television series, "City of Men," it's now passing a licensed spin-off of the same title along to theaters. Director Paulo Morelli, who had a hand in the TV show, looks at the favelas of Rio ...

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    REVIEW | Malignant Growth: Laura Dunn's "The Unforeseen"

    Due to the onslaught of environmental documentaries that prioritize urgency over intelligence, Laura Dunn's "The Unforeseen," an inquisitive, elegant rendering of the battle between land development and dwindling natural resources in Austin, might get lost in the shuffle. And what a shame that would be, for Dunn's refreshingly thorough look at the encroachment of capital on untouched land is smart enough not to treat its subject as a horror show. The film is more sobered than alarming, yet it's hardly defeatist. An impressionist's portrait of contemporary American economic life, "The Unforeseen" is for nature both a paean and an elegy, and fo...

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    REVIEW | Street Poetry: Ramin Bahrani's "Chop Shop"

    Scraping for a living in the shadow of that holy of professional baseball holies, Shea Stadium, twelve year-old Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco) does everything an impoverished, parentless, out-of-school 12-year-old can do to survive in the lowest depths of one of New York City's strangest and direst areas, Willets Point, Queens. He calls his boss Rob's (Rob Sowulski) auto body shop both his workplace and home, hustles pornographic DVDs, robs U.S. Open patrons, steals hub caps from Shea's parking lot for extra cash, and saves up precious money to buy a used mobile-food van along with his 16-year-old prostitute sister, Isamar (Isamar Gonzales), i...

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    REVIEW | Holding Court: Jacques Rivette's "The Duchess of Langeais"

    A chamber piece for two tragic almost-lovers, a coquettish Duchess and a noble French General. A chance flirtation at a Fauborg St-Germain party initiates an arduous campaign of romantic outflankings, accomplished through feigned illnesses, epistolary sallies, evocations of God, and threats of force. Abstemious with close-ups, "The Duchess of Langeais" is a two-shot duet for Jeanne Balibar and Guillaume Depardieu. The performances are precise in the extreme, the combatants' war games regulated by elaborate rules of engagement, incremental charges and retreats. In visits to the Duchess's residence, they push and pull their conversations betwee...

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    REVIEW | Money for Nothing: Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The Counterfeiters"

    Let's get it out of the way first: Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The Counterfeiters" was nominated for a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, controversially at the exclusion of a handful of borderline masterpieces, from Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" to the upcoming "Silent Light" and "Secret Sunshine." Though it feels disingenuous to bring up the most notoriously boorish, nonsensically designed of all Academy Award categories when discussing a film's merits, perhaps it's productive to point out all the reasons why a film such as "The Counterfeiters" gets that slot over more difficult, rewarding, and harder to categorize films that wo...

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    REVIEW | Prep Rally: Jon Poll's "Charlie Bartlett"

    Who is Charlie Bartlett? A quirky know-it-all, a likeable dweeb, a guileless Ferris Bueller for our overmedicated age. Director Jon Poll and writer Gustin Nash's movie is about a teenager who gets kicked out of prep school, joins the hoi polloi, makes a name for himself as the student body's resident therapist/pharmacologist, and wins over the girl and the school by the end. Bullies are swayed by his dime-store analysis; a hottie buys his eccentric, overprivileged shtick. A good guy? Sure he is. In fact, he hangs out with a developmentally disabled kid, one of those ostensibly hilarious retards with weird facial tics and involuntary hand gest...

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    REVIEW | Shooting the Messenger: George A. Romero's "Diary of the Dead"

    There's a tendency in some high and low circles to instantly enshrine any new work from classic horror-meister George A. Romero, good-natured, jocular guy that he is, as a way of validating not only his formidable zombie oeuvre but also the seventies horror movie canon itself. Always the most overt ...

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    REVIEW | Soldier Boy: Newton I. Aduaka's "Ezra"

    No sugarcoating it: "Ezra" is a difficult film to watch. It isn't particularly graphic or gory, but its dramatization of children being kidnapped and forced into fighting--or, really, raping and pillaging--by rebel armies in Sierra Leone is extremely upsetting, and all the more terrifying for alluding to greater and more incomprehensible crimes occurring in reality. As directed by Nigerian filmmaker Newton I. Aduaka, "Ezra" is often messy and awkwardly told, but even its amateurishness lends a sort of raw power to its harrowing depiction of dehumanization, exploitation, senseless violence, and the post-conflict attempts at "Truth and Reconcil...

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    REVIEW | Grace Notes: Eran Kolirin's "The Band's Visit"

    Though it's both a predictable culture-clash comedy and a gentle plea for people of different political backgrounds to "just get along," "The Band's Visit" nevertheless manages to use its central contrivances and inevitable cliches to its favor, and becomes something ethereal and winning. This debut...

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