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Movie Reviews

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    A Neo-Noir High School Tale: Rian Johnson's "Brick"

    Maybe it says more about the state of American cinema than my own viewing habits, but I can't remember the last time I saw a movie as purely and perfectly entertaining as Rian Johnson's Sundance prize-winning debut feature, "Brick." No slight meant to the writer-director--who happily harbors no pret...

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    Amazing Grace: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "L'Enfant"

    If there is a point at which the craft of directing becomes so exquisite that it transcends and obviates criticism, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne might have reached it with the 2005 Palme d'Or winner "L'Enfant." Though weaned on documentary filmmaking, the Belgian brothers make narrative films that beg to be described with poetry: florid metaphors, stanza-long similes from epic ballads--never mind that their argot is stolidly against anything but absolute minimalism. The way I feel about the Dardenne brothers is the way J. Hoberman praises Robert Bresson; to not understand them is to not understand the cinema. With their bleak, uncompromising,...

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    Out to Sea: Marco Kreuzpaintner's "Summer Storm"

    Independent cinema was once regarded as the cinema of the disenfranchised. It's common knowledge now that the parameters of what was once defined as "indie" have been dissolved, and pat, mainstream, easy-to-swallow do-gooder liberal fantasies like "Good Will Hunting," "Chocolat," and "Crash," still ...

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    Clay Pigeons: Fernando Eimbcke's "Duck Season"

    Like many details in "Duck Season," Fernando Eimbcke's choice of setting is a nudge of Mexican wit that will be lost on most of us. The establishing shots give us a quick exterior tour of the Ninos Heroes building of the vast Nonoalco Tlatelolco housing development in Mexico City. "Ninos Heroes" is a common name for streets and buildings throughout the country, and this particular housing development was the site of the Tlateloco Massacre of 1968, in which several hundred student protesters were shot and killed by police. In legend, the Ninos Heroes were six teenage soldiers who perished while defending Chapultepec Castle in the U.S. invasion...

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    Anger Management: Rachel Boynton's "Our Brand Is Crisis"

    How ironically fitting "Our Brand Is Crisis" should open the same weekend as the Academy Awards. While Hollywood will undoubtedly give itself a big ol' pat on the back for recognizing the progressive messages of four of its five Best Picture noms, the immediate cultural and political challenges thes...

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    Tabula Rasa: Rupert Murray's "Unknown White Male"

    On a cold and rainy morning in July, 2003, Douglas Bruce, a 35-year-old stockbroker-turned-photographer, woke to find himself on a subway train headed for Coney Island with no knowledge of who he was or where he was going. In his backpack were dog medicine and a book with a scrap of paper on which s...

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    Head Trip: Carlos Reygadas's "Battle in Heaven"

    Sadly, in 2006 opening your film with a seemingly real blow job isn't quite the shot across the bow of good taste that it once was. Finishing right where you started perhaps ups the ante slightly, but if Carlos Reygadas thinks his by-now infamous bookends are throwing anyone for a loop then he's pr...

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    White Trash: Hunter Richards's "London"

    The saying goes that everyone has at least one story worth telling. Frankly, that's bullshit. Some stories--and some people's lives, for that matter--are not worth unleashing on the rest of us; their twisted, narrow ideas of the world should only be left to serve their own myopia. Take Hunter Richar...

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    A "Woman" of No Importance: Mike Barker's "A Good Woman"

    "A Good Woman," the original title of Oscar Wilde's 1892 play "Lady Windermere's Fan," is a film about the same characters we've met in the play's previous incarnations, only this time many of them are Americans and they're on the shores of the Italian Riviera in 1930. This shuffle of accents, cost...

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    The Dead Zone: Eugene Jarecki's "Why We Fight"

    Documentaries like Eugene Jarecki's Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning "Why We Fight" put me in two frames of mind. On the one hand, its staid and steady by-the-PBS-book blend of talking heads, archival footage, and recent news clips makes one ponder the necessity of a theatrical release. On the other, its topicality asserts art houses a better choice than TV broadcast, which -- with the multitudinous options noisily competing for attention -- might drown out rather than bring the film's pressing issues into focus. Political documentaries, as evidenced by their recent popularization in the lead up to the 2004 presidential election, can now se...

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