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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Unknown White Males: Simon Brand's "Unknown"

    Five characters in search of an author: That could be the subtitle for "Unknown," Columbian director Simon Brand's English-language feature debut, which is being released this Friday through the IFC First Take day-and-date program. Known for making music videos (Jessica Simpson's "Irresistible," Ric...

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    REVIEW | Coming Around: Pedro Almodovar's "Volver"

    Count me in the minority, but it wasn't until "Volver" that I really began taking Pedro Almodovar seriously as an artist. Almodovar the high stylist is inarguably on display in "All About My Mother" and "Talk to Her," but both films, for all their scandalous dealings, felt far too eager to please, e...

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    Borderline: Eric Steel's "The Bridge"

    Great clouds of fog often roll over the city of San Francisco and its surroundings, obscuring the city and its dazzling suspension bridges from view across the bay. "The Bridge," Eric Steel's very fine documentary feature debut, opens with a fast-motion shot of the fog as it slowly recedes to revea...

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    Demon Lover: Hans-Christian Schmid's "Requiem"

    The eloquent humanism of German director Hans-Christian Schmid's "Requiem" is as far a departure in both form and content from last year's hokey "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" as shared source material would seem to allow--both films are loosely based on the real-life story of Anneliese Michel, who died of exhaustion after failed exorcism attempts. Though each circles around the clash between spiritual and scientific belief systems brought into tension by a young girl's apparent "possession," they take startlingly divergent paths and reach opposite conclusions. Where the American version focuses on the ensuing court case against the priest (un...

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    Loony Bin: Terry Gilliam's "Tideland"

    It's amazing the mental leaps one will make in attempts to compensate for a trusted filmmaker's deficiencies. Delusions of mad, misunderstood genius fall away quickly in Terry Gilliam's "Tideland." Not to put too fine a point on it, but what Terry Gilliam's latest creation elicits from its first mom...

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    This Is Hardcore: John Cameron Mitchell's "Shortbus"

    "Shortbus," John Cameron Mitchell's first film since the raucous and more than a tad melancholic "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," opens with another decidedly masculine-featured diva transplanted to America from Europe: the Statue of Liberty. With bold, smooth glides, the camera caresses the faded green copper of the crowned lady as if it were a lover's skin. It's an invitation not only to look at New York City a little differently but also to marvel at its sensual textures. Soon enough though, such regal introductions give way to a panoply of porno-acrobatics: freedom, in all its permutations, is indeed filling the screen, from the auto-erotic t...

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    NYFF CRITICS NOTEBOOK: The Best, the Worst and a Festival Revelation

    The best and worst lines of dialog from the first half of the "demanding, inflexible, and insanely selective" (per the trailer) New York Film Festival come from, respectively, Stephen Frears's amusing character study "The Queen" and Todd Field's facile "Little Children." "At the end, all Labour prime ministers go ga-ga for the Queen," complains anti-monarchist Cherie Blair to hubby Tony after he defends HRH's silence following Diana's death in 1997. How prescient, only a few years before the consummate opportunist went ga-ga over our own man who would be king. Frears directs in that no-nonsense British telly style, but "The Queen" is really a...

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    Slaughter Rule: Kevin MacDonald's "The Last King of Scotland"

    Call me a typically history-ignorant American, but before watching "The Last King of Scotland" I didn't know that much about Idi Amin's reign of terror as Uganda's dictator during the 1970s. I don't pretend to be proud of such an oversight -- nevertheless, that lack of knowledge worked to this viewer's benefit in experiencing the gripping paranoia of Kevin MacDonald's political thriller. What starts out as an awkward, wide-eyed bildungsroman and travelogue transforms (through more untamed verve than directorial precision) into a frantic, disorienting tragedy about the seduction of power, one that would make proud this film's not-so-unlikely p...

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    Dream Weaver: Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep"

    Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep" should have been the restorative after an unspectacular summer for movies -- a year, actually. One could put their blood into the profession if movies such as "Superman Returns," "Talladega Nights," or "Little Miss Sunshine" were abysmal or brilliant, extreme in either direction; it's the current state of pervasive mediocrity that has made recent criticism so burdensome. A Gondry film has normally been a destination date for its dogged innovation and sui generis worldview; it pained me, then, to see that while it has craft in spades and a smattering of quietly charming moments, Gondry's latest is ragged ...

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    Nature Boys: Kelly Reichardt's "Old Joy"

    There is a scene midway through American director Kelly Reichardt's "Old Joy," adapted from the novel by John Raymond, in which its two principals, Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham), share a conversation beside a roaring bonfire. They are en route to a secluded hot-spring in the Cascade Mountain region of Oregon. They have been forced to camp out because Kurt, who suggested the trip, has forgotten the way. Daniel, a father-to-be whose wife (Tanya Smith) had expressed reservations about his departure, is visibly frustrated with his old friend, but allows himself to be drawn into a discussion of Kurt's foray into night-school physics ...

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