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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Foul Play: Marco Kreuzpainter's "Trade"

    Where to begin? Lowest-common denominator filmmaking in the guise of a "social problem picture," "Trade" does indeed make us mad, as director Marco Kreuzpaintner has said he wanted - but not in the way he intends. So much that's so wrong and so bad flies out of "Trade" so quickly that the audience practically has to duck and cover from shrapnel. From its flagrant exoticization-cum-demonization of Mexico City to its predictably trendy, faceless aesthetic to its uproariously hammy acting, "Trade" is a disaster from the top down. Obviously the work of a filmmaker who has genuinely no ideas about the ethics of storytelling or representation, "Tra...

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    REVIEW | Running on Schedule: Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited"

    Wes Anderson doesn't stray too far afield with "The Darjeeling Limited," but judging by his latest film's considerable merits, do we really want him to? Even a ten-year-old could point out the aesthetic and narrative similarities between Anderson's films, so consistently do they deploy the same visual tricks and emotional turnarounds, yet to observe "The Darjeeling Limited" from a simple evaluative distance would deny the immersive pleasures therein. Asking Anderson to change (or "grow," as some critics would call it) ignores everything that's right with the artistic fluidity from "Bottle Rocket" to here. If "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zisso...

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    REVIEW | ...or Famine: Robert Benton's "Feast of Love"

    A disclaimer: If your immediate reaction to seeing the title "Feast of Love" appear on-screen accompanied by what sounds like music from a rainforest documentary is anything other than "Oh, God, I'm in the wrong movie!" it's probable that we approach film art from across an unbridgeable divide. And ...

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    REVIEW | Morning Glory: Zabou Breitman's "The Man of My Life"

    Ebbing and flowing on the buzz of one all-night conversation, French director Zabou Breitman's "The Man of My Life" sketches the blossoming relationship between two fortysomething men: the happily married Frederic and his unattached, gay neighbor Hugo. And though occasionally its strength is sapped ...

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    REVIEW | Gone With The Wind: Larry Fessenden's "The Last Winter"

    No one would mistake Larry Fessenden's independent horror project--encompassing films such as "Habit," "Wendigo," and now "The Last Winter"--as anything other than ambitious; yet this auteur certainly proves divisive among viewers. One needs to slough off expectations of what a "horror film" is supposed to deliver in order to get on his wavelength; naturally many will not be willing to do so, since, like his askew creature-feature "Wendigo," "The Last Winter" moves back and forth between subtle atmospherics and thudding exposition, and teases its audience with scares that often never come. It would be overstating things a bit to say that Fess...

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    REVIEW | Material World: Francois Girard's "Silk"

    Alessandro Baricco's slim, lovely novel "Silk" works through structure and language (and structural and linguistic repetition) rather than character or plot. Sure, there is a plot: Herve, its nominal protagonist, travels to Japan a number of times in search of silkworms and returns to his native France, each journey bringing greater material reward, until violence in Japan makes the journey impossible. But there are women at both ends of the world--a French wife and a mysterious young girl whose "eyes did not have an oriental slant" (in Baricco's words)--and Herve's relationship to these two women, related obliquely, occupies the real center ...

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    REVIEW | Outer Limits: David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises"

    Filmed in burnished yellows that alternate between the sickly pallor of death and the glossily seductive underworld of organized crime, David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" is all about surfaces. Those of his characters, their clothes and skin, as well as the dimly lit restaurants and apartments they frequent and dwell in. Though Cronenberg and his director of photography, Peter Suschitzky, obviously have invested this narrative with a proper, coherent visual framework, the focus on the outer layer is all too appropriate for "Eastern Promises," which manages to be a surprisingly superficial gangster picture, ploddingly directed with a minimu...

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    REVIEW | Fool's Gold: Mike Cahill's "King of California"

    Michael Douglas is crazy (like a fox!) and lookin' for gold in "King of California," the debut feature from writer-director Mike Cahill. Cahill's a novelist who also happens to be friends with "Sideways" and "About Schmidt" auteur Alexander Payne--and just in case you miss Payne's producer credit he...

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    REVIEW | After Effects: Paul Haggis's "In the Valley of Elah"

    For many, the jury is still out on Paul Haggis. The erstwhile television scribe turned Oscar-winner has certainly built an impressive resume in a short time, including partial or full screenwriting credit on four of the most acclaimed studio movies of recent years: Clint Eastwood's magnificent three-film run of "Million Dollar Baby," "Flags of Our Fathers," (okay...eh...) and "Letters from Iwo Jima," plus the genuinely awesome Bond flick "Casino Royale." But Haggis's colossally stupid directorial debut "Crash," despite its Best Picture victory, hardly delivered on the promise suggested by his other successes--it's difficult to imagine the sam...

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    REVIEW | Wild Life: Griffin Dunne's "Fierce People"

    It's rare that a film as initially unfocused and scattershot as Griffin Dunne's mock-ethnographic "Fierce People" would halfway redeem itself through the introduction of an anal rape/revenge narrative--but here we have it. Discussion of redemption in this case is tricky--it's not as if the two halves of this decidedly odd film display a marked difference in filmmaking and performance quality, but the whole enterprise does become a much more energized affair once the crime has been committed. However, my positive reaction to the "added value" Dunne serves up in "Fierce People"'s latter portions may have less to do with its narrative necessity...

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