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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Staying Afloat: Aki Kaurismaki's "Lights in the Dusk"

    There's a fine line between an artist spinning out variations of core themes and merely treading water. No doubt some will find Aki Kaurismaki's deceptively slight, 77-minute "Lights in the Dusk" a textbook example of the latter, especially given the strenuously laudatory response that greeted his previous film, the Academy Award-nominated "The Man Without a Past." While there's not much value (outside of sheer contrarian pleasure) in poking holes in a fine movie four years after the fact, it's still worth noting that "The Man Without a Past" probably represents less a high water mark for Kaurismaki's filmmaking (see "Shadows in Paradise") ...

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    REVIEW | Crazier Love: Taika Waititi's "Eagle vs. Shark"

    Quirky: the one adjective that if employed in a synopsis or review should cause any thoughtful person to avoid a film so described, and a perfect kiss-of-death salvo for "Eagle vs. Shark." This crowd-pleasing New Zealand indie, developed from the Sundance Director's and Screenwriter's Labs (from which the similar "Me and You and Everyone You Know" emerged) and plucked from the vine by savvy Miramax, is the latest in a recent trend of offbeat, adorable stillbirths about families of barely lovable misfits learning valuable life lessons in a world of kitschy crap. The parade of cute begins right off the bat when fast-food employee Lily (Loren Ho...

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    REVIEW | Aftermath: Olivier Meyrou's "Beyond Hatred"

    The straightforward, very American, talking-head "expose" approach to documentary, cribbed from television shows like "Dateline NBC" and "20/20," has become the norm - and, in exploitative dreck like "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Crazy Love," efficiently transformed real human lives into sound bite...

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    REVIEW | Domestic Violence: Andrew Currie's "Fido"

    The rom-zom-com--the romantic zombie comedy--spearheaded by "Shaun of the Dead" continues to build momentum with "Fido," a candy-colored satire of the "Leave It to Beaver" Fifties, in which the Eisenhower era is reimagined as a macabre world populated by the living dead. Writer-director Andrew Curri...

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    REVIEW | Children of the Revolution: Corneliu Porumboiu's "12:08 East of Bucharest"

    Unless I've missed the boat, the definitive take on the impetus behind the recent, unlikely surge in terrific Romanian cinema has yet to be published; that a country more often linked in the public consciousness (vampires aside) to vague ideas of post-Communist black market capitalism run amok should suddenly announce itself as a formidable player in the rarified world cinema scene seems worth at least a couple of think pieces. Perhaps what may well be looked back upon as a full-fledged movement hasn't moved far enough out of its infancy. For now, moviegoers can enjoy basking in the glow of these films, at least for as long as companies are...

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    REVIEW | Grand Dame: Olivier Dahan's "La Vie en rose"

    Encompassing hardship and tragedy of near-mythic proportions, the details of Edith Piaf's life story seem spawned from literature and are so well-suited to cinematic adaptation they appear invented. Abandoned by her mother as a child and raised for a time by her grandmother in a brothel, only to be later whisked away by her circus and street acrobat father - and that's really just for starters - the iconic French singer had a colorful history that most often resembles a Fellini film. Rather than downplay this almost otherworldly cast of characters in his biographical rendition, "La Vie en rose," writer-director Olivier Dahan heightens the in...

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    REVIEW | Mortal Coil: Adrian Shergold's "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman"

    "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman," which first debuted at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2005, may have the highest body count of any movie to hit American theaters this side of "300." Since Albert Pierrepoint was among Britain's most prolific (though in point of fact not its last) hangmen - the film credits him with over 608 hangings - there's good reason for the film's seemingly endless depictions of executions, and given the movie's middlebrow pedigree (director Adrian Shergold and screenwriters Jeff Pope and Bob Mills work mostly for British television, and the film was produced "in association with Masterpiece Theater"), it's unsurprisi...

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    REVIEW | Story Telling: Rolf De Heer's "Ten Canoes"

    I'm usually left slightly anxious by those works of western filmmakers that take as their subjects the nature and stories of indigenous peoples. The potential for exploitation - artistic, commercial, moral - runs so deep in these instances of cultural intersection that it's amazing such films don't all turn out like the garishly insensate "Apocalypto" which, if not for its bloated running length, might have worked perfectly as part of a "Grindhouse"-style tribal-exploitation double bill. We can point to films like "Walkabout," "Where the Green Ants Dream," or "The Fast Runner" (interesting in how it adopts an Inuit media workshop ground-up a...

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    REVIEW | Earthbound: Luc Besson's "Angel-A"

    In a comeback that I've been anticipating only slightly more than the reemergence of JNCO jeans or polio, Luc Besson now returns to American theaters after a nearly decade-long absence. The occasion is the release of "Angel-A," a Paris-set variation on "It's a Wonderful Life," which replaces Clarenc...

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    REVIEW | Panic Room: William Friedkin's "Bug"

    Even during the heyday of the American paranoia thriller, there was never a performance quite like the one given by Michael Shannon in William Friedkin's take-no-prisoners adaptation of Tracy Letts's off-Broadway play about fear and loathing in an Oklahoma motel room. As Peter Evans, the blandly named, seemingly innocuous drifter who appears one evening at the doorstep of Agnes White (Ashley Judd), a battered wife terrified of her ex-con husband's return, Shannon has either officially arrived onscreen or carved out a memorable cult niche. It was a sly move on Friedkin's part to have Shannon reprise his stage role; largely unknown to movie aud...

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