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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | The Great Plain: Scott Frank's "The Lookout"

    The title, to start with. "The Lookout"? My God, that's slack -- and these movies don't make themselves; meetings were probably held to get to that. Then move on to the poster, one of those long-afternoon-of-Photoshopping jobs, featuring a moody headshot of leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt, cheekbones clenched above reservoirs of shadow, expression opaque enough to pass for badass or maybe jetlag, framed by pictures of the supporting cast, including a shot of a cutie that, with a little tone adjustment, could be an ad for an internet dating site, and a washed-out image of a hand clenching a revolver, promising action. It's a package readymade...

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    REVIEW | Early Thaw: Mark Fergus's "First Snow"

    A classic cocky bastard, set up as such to better offset the impending humbling, Jimmy Starks (played to smooth and oily perfection by Guy Pearce) immediately reveals his nature alongside his broken down car on a deserted road: Holding up his cell phone to check reception, taking long drags off a cigarette, whipping out a hairbrush in the middle of a conversation, obnoxiousness wafts off the two-bit huckster like heat waves. Waiting for his car to be fixed, he -- why not? -- ducks into a conveniently located clairvoyant's caravan. But after a few preliminary predictions, the psychic (J.K. Simmons) stops short, refuses to go further, refund...

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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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