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Movie Reviews

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    Culture Crash: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's "Quinceanera"

    What does it say about the state of American independent film when a movie like "Quinceanera" wins both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival? Perhaps nothing we didn't already know. That such an utterly bland movie can inspire enthusiasm from jurors and audiences...

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    End Game: Gela Babluani's "13 Tzameti"

    Oddly, the current greatest fear as reflected in our moviegoing consciousness isn't of widespread terrorism or megaton catastrophe. Yes, large-scale disasters and toppling monuments are served up for our delectation as always; they're still making as many "Poseidon"s and "War of the Worlds"s as you can shake a stick at, and no matter how much contemporary trauma is writ large on them, they're still gonna be cut from the same genre cloth. No, currently, true horror and panic onscreen has been reduced to something far more individually tactile, yet at the same time, so far from our comprehension. Human trafficking, forced prostitution, people b...

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    Look at Me: Francois Ozon's Time to Leave

    One has to at least admire Francois Ozon's attempt to articulate a more thoughtful and private perspective on untimely death. Keeping company with outsized melodramas swimming in shallow carpe diem sentiment like "My Life Without Me" (not to mention the reversals of romances like "Autumn in New York" and "Sweet November," where fading beauties teach jaded men to truly live), as well as thematic variations conducive to female bonding ("Terms of Endearment," "Beaches"), "Time to Leave" feels the more profound by comparison. Though the French director may not sidestep cliches endemic to the subject matter, his desire to provoke a quieter medit...

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    Dark Victory: Patrice Chereau's "Gabrielle"

    I anticipated a fairly fitful sleep after catching a late screening of "Gabrielle," Patrice Chereau's adaptation of Joseph Conrad's short story "The Return." Relationship dramas can rarely be described as spooky, but "Gabrielle," like Conrad's story, is a bona-fide creepshow, complete with scaremonger "jumps" of the horror variety. Sure enough, I was up at four in the morning, racked by Caligari-esque nightmares involving a skeletal figure in white belle-epoque couture, nastily brandishing a parasol and addressing me in the voice of the film's narrator, Pascal Greggory. Losing sleep over a movie may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but ...

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    Sand Trap: Laurent Cantet's "Heading South" By Sarah Silver

    Early on in "Heading South" ("Vers le sud"), we are introduced to Brenda (Karen Young), an American who has traveled alone to a picturesque beach. In her late forties, Brenda appears comfortable in her own skin, even though the setting, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the Seventies, predates the "40 is the new 30" credo of a Sex-and-the-Citified world. She speaks in halting French to Albert, the maitre d', and nonchalantly strides through sprouting umbrella patches along the shoreline, obviously a seasoned visitor to the island. We follow her to a distant point on the blaringly white beach, where a lanky black body lies in contrast to the sand. ...

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    Death Metal: Chris Paine's "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

    The movement of documentaries into the mainstream has brought forth its share of negatives to go along with the obvious positive of a more inclusive market. Coupled as the upsurge has been with the rise of reality TV and the accessibility of DV, I suppose it shouldn't come as a shock that the popularization of the nonfiction film has -- instead of bringing on a cinematic revolution -- progressively led to a distressing dilution of the form. With frequently disheveled entries making their way into theaters, most containing nary an aesthetic bone in their body and lacking any desire to interrogate the typical talking heads format, recent effort...

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    Chamber Drama: Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross's "The Road to Guantanamo"

    Though it will likely play to a different crowd, make no mistake: "The Road to Guantanamo" is a not-too-distant cousin of Paul Greengrass's recent "United 93." Both represent the same tendency towards visceral, present-tense cinematic reportage that, through the integration of actuality footage and ...

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    2006 Half-Time: A Sidelong Glance

    It's mid-June, and much has been made of the dearth of worthwhile cinema thus far in 2006. Week after week has gone by in which we have heard fellow cinephiles (and those less inclined) cry of their disinterest in going to the movies, that there's just nothing worth seeing. The truth of the matter is that there have been more than enough very fine films, and even a handful of masterpieces (the Dardennes, Hou, Puiu) to find "wider" distribution in early 2006 post 2005 festival runs -- more than enough to make an already pretty impressive top ten. With Altman's delightfully morbid "A Prairie Home Companion" marking the year's definitive midpoin...

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    Death Takes a Holiday: Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion"

    How appropriate that Robert Altman should follow his honorary Oscar with a film like "A Prairie Home Companion." Career achievement awards usually invite a sanctification of a body of work and a sensibility, and "Prairie Home" is itself a kind of grand summary: there's something quintessentially Altmanesque in its sprawling cast of characters, its regional and musical milieu, the overlapping dialogue, and the wandering, zooming camera, and the film's preoccupation with death and the passage of time that feels grand and conclusive. But "A Prairie Home Companion" is also a kind of rejoinder to this brand of late-career sanctification. When grea...

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    Front and Center: Deborah Scranton's "The War Tapes"

    Attempting to achieve a delicate balance between a respect for and a critical stance toward the subject, with a constant awareness of the moral and ethical dilemmas potentially undermining the epistemological foundations of their projects, war documentaries arrive onscreen carrying a host of artisti...

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