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Movie Reviews

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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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    REVIEW | Blood Brothers: "The Wind that Shakes the Barley"

    Ken Loach's camera pans and tilts its way through "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," as though its wandering gaze is in search of a fixed center, adrift in a world of shifting allegiances and gruesome violence. The off-the-cuff naturalism of Loach's technique proves something of a blessing here, blunting the impact of the film's brutality and giving it an intimate, human scale. "Barley," which was a surprise Palme d'or winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival, looks at the anti-British uprising in Ireland in the early 1920s through the experience of two brothers, Damien and Teddy O'Donovan (Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney). Their ever-mo...

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    REVIEW | Pleasure Island : Jean-Claude Brisseau's "The Exterminating Angels"

    "One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again." -Thomas Paine

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    REVIEW | Louder Than Bombs: Phillip Groning's "Into Great Silence"

    Much of the discussion surrounding "Into Great Silence," detailing the daily rituals of the monks inhabiting the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, is sure to focus on how Phillip Groning's nearly three-hour documentary provides a window into a rarely seen spiritual world. It does perform this function, and admirably, but not for the purposes of providing clarity - the end result leaves a sense of monastic existence more exotic and otherworldly than one could imagine. It's almost as if Groning, having lived alongside the brothers and participated in their rituals for six months, was left by the experience disinclined to hew to a...

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    REVIEW | The Song Remains the Same: Michael Apted's "Amazing Grace"

    Contrary to what its title suggests, "Amazing Grace" isn't really about the origins of the immortal Christian hymn. Neither is it, directly, about the British slave trade. Instead it's about the tireless campaign of William Wilberforce, Member of Parliament, to abolish the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by arguing against it on the floor of the House of Commons and by bringing the horrors of the institution to public awareness. But by centering on Wilberforce (played with passion but also with a scrubbed, boy-band-ish gloss by Iaon Gruffudd) "Amazing Grace" deflects the pain and humiliation intrinsic to its subject matt...

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    REVIEW | Britplop: Tom Vaughan's "Starter for 10"

    Though bolstered considerably by the fully engaged star performance of James McAvoy (whose magnetism was trammeled by the hideous racial politicking of "The Last King of Scotland"), Tom Vaughan's Brit college comedy "Starter for 10" is weighed down by something of an identity crisis. An Eighties throwback, not just in its off-the-shoulder pink sweaters and heavily Cured soundtrack, but in its narrative rhythms and willfully wispy teen rom-com resolutions, "Starter for 10"is so dead set on juvenilia that it could only possibly appeal to an adolescent audience - one that by now would undoubtedly be unable to fittingly revel in the film's genera...

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    REVIEW | Law & Order: Abderrahmane Sissako's "Bamako"

    When Hollywood's response to the myriad crises plaguing the African continent is to churn out well-meaning issue pictures that are little more than low-rent action narratives grafted onto exoticized, strife-ridden African settings (see: "Catch a Fire," "Blood Diamond"), films like "Bamako" become al...

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    REVIEW | In the Middle: Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu's "Close to Home"

    A barely perceptible atmosphere of dread hangs over the Israeli film "Close to Home." Co-written and directed by Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu, the film has an intimate, almost slight feel to it, and features two young protagonists who are mostly concerned with the rather banal business of early adulthood. That these young women also happen to be performing their compulsory military service, patrolling Jerusalem and registering Arabs on the street, is almost incidental - until they are, on just a few occasions, directly confronted with the threat of violence, though it always lingers just outside Hager and Bilu's handheld frame. In "Close to Home...

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    REVIEW | Aftermath: Jasmila Zbanic's "Grbavica: Land of My Dreams"

    Jasmila Zbanic's feature debut, "Grbavica: Land of My Dreams" is unpretentious enough to address its subject matter, the shattered lives of postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, with serious, grounded realism, but it's also too unimaginative to think of its central mother-daughter struggle in anything but the simplest of dramatic terms. A character-driven drama like "Grbavica" needs fully developed characters to work. It's not enough to slap a few traits onto each personality and then watch them collide - conflict! - with the smallest or least revealing of learned lessons offered as a final payoff. What might have been a cathartic exploration of the tr...

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