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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Back from the Dead: Dario Argento's "Mother of Tears"

    When Dario Argento's now enshrined horror classics "Suspiria" and "Inferno" are fondly recalled, it's never in terms of their narratives, characters, or even forward momentum. Rather, it's the isolated images and set pieces: dark rooms drenched in red or blue gels, horrific deaths choreographed with the obsessive-compulsive precision of a ruthless artisan, gorgeous framing and pummeling soundtracks that heighten all the senses at once. Of course, then there are the idiotic plots: for while Argento illuminates the occult as a tactile, living thing, he has never shown the slightest interest in making that terror seem like something that could e...

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    REVIEW | Fascist Faux Pas: Sergei Bodrov's "Mongol"

    "Mongol" marks a personal first for this reviewer: a bloated epic so boring and unengaging that by its numbing conclusion (the word anticlimactic can only be used for stories that actually build) he was zapped even of the conviction to hate it. An international co-production that probably broke the ...

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    REVIEW | Everything Is Deracinated: Nina Davenport's "Operation Filmmaker"

    Thanks to a steaming pile of liberal-minded good will, Muthana Mohmed, a 25-year-old aspiring filmmaker was brought from Baghdad to the Czech Republic to intern on the set of an American movie production. Muthana received the invitation after having been spotted in an MTV-produced documentary about ...

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    REVIEW | Trouble in Paradiso: Giuseppe Tornatore's "The Unknown Woman"

    A deliberately titillating scene opens Giuseppe Tornatore's "The Unknown Woman": three women wearing masks, asses to audience, stand naked in a strangely gilded room to be examined through peepholes. After they're dismissed, a second round comes out, and a blonde is asked to step forward and strip; "She'll do fine," an offscreen male voice intones. As usual, the "Cinema Paradiso" director has an eye for the voluptuous female form, but the lascivious voyeurism of his camera -- contained (Tornatore thinks) in his preceding movie, "Malena," by embedding its obsessive gaze within the point of view of a horny adolescent boy -- is made explicit ...

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    REVIEW | Muscle-Bound: Chris Bell's "Bigger Stronger Faster*"

    Though it comes across as hale and hearty, Chris Bell's "Bigger Stronger Faster*," a litany of American body worship touchstones since the early Eighties, is nothing if not ambivalent towards its subject. Falling somewhere between a specific personal essay and a more vaguely targeted social commentary, Bell's documentary, a freeform expose of steroid use in the U.S., is, somewhat inevitably, a product of narcissism and insecurity, not unlike the psychological forces that compel bodybuilding and athletic determination in the first place. Fledgling feature filmmaker Bell, a self-described "fat, pale kid from Poughkeepsie" turns his camera on hi...

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    REVIEW | Beyond the Pale: Tom Kalin's "Savage Grace"

    Tom Kalin's 1992 film "Swoon" was a noteworthy entry in the New Queer Cinema canon not because of its subject matter but how Kalin navigated such precarious terrain. A recouping of the Leopold and Loeb murder as an emotionally ambivalent expression of homosexual historicity via a not necessarily uns...

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    REVIEW | Irreconcilable Differences: Parvez Sharma's "A Jihad for Love"

    Homosexuality isn't a choice, but often, many forget, neither is religion. And this is certainly the case for the world's dense population of devout Muslims, now comprising the second largest religion in the world. Since the dictates of various orthodoxies seem almost by design to painfully rub up a...

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    REVIEW | Scattered People: Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven"

    A German filmmaker of Turkish descent, Fatih Akin has made hybrid cultures and hyphenated identities his great subject. "Head-On," his acclaimed breakthrough film from 2004, told a love story between two German Turks that wended its way back to the homeland. In "The Edge of Heaven," his latest, the fixation on blurred borders and social dislocation continues on a larger canvas. Several characters shuttle back and forth between Turkey and Germany, even as the quest for home and rest seems increasingly quixotic. But let the overstuffed "The Edge of Heaven" be a lesson: Just multiplying and magnifying your obsessions does not make them any more ...

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    REVIEW | Book Smart: Joachim Trier's "Reprise"

    Norwegian Joachim Trier directs his debut feature, "Reprise," with such assured kineticism that it's only a matter of time before Hollywood gets his hands on him and turns him into an anonymous hack. That's not merely cynicism or a judgment call on Trier's foregrounded visual flair, which, unlike most other flashy films pitched at the speed of youth, actually contains more true invention than gimmick; it's just a sad fact of a ravenous industry that subsumes European directors the same way it snatches up the new foreign, art-house ingenue and plunks her down as the latest Bond girl--it only sees the surface sheen. Trier's considerable talents...

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    REVIEW | Father Figurines: Christopher Zalla's "Sangre de mi sangre"

    If writer-director Christopher Zalla's intent in "Sangre de mi sangre" was to sympathetically and realistically depict the plight of impoverished Mexican illegal immigrants trying desperately to eke out anonymous existences in urban U.S. areas, why does he litter his workmanlike debut film with char...

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