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Movie Reviews

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    Death Takes a Holiday: Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion"

    How appropriate that Robert Altman should follow his honorary Oscar with a film like "A Prairie Home Companion." Career achievement awards usually invite a sanctification of a body of work and a sensibility, and "Prairie Home" is itself a kind of grand summary: there's something quintessentially Altmanesque in its sprawling cast of characters, its regional and musical milieu, the overlapping dialogue, and the wandering, zooming camera, and the film's preoccupation with death and the passage of time that feels grand and conclusive. But "A Prairie Home Companion" is also a kind of rejoinder to this brand of late-career sanctification. When grea...

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    Front and Center: Deborah Scranton's "The War Tapes"

    Attempting to achieve a delicate balance between a respect for and a critical stance toward the subject, with a constant awareness of the moral and ethical dilemmas potentially undermining the epistemological foundations of their projects, war documentaries arrive onscreen carrying a host of artisti...

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    The Heartbreakers: "A Lion in the House"

    [indieWIRE's weekly reviews are usually written by critics from Reverse Shot. This week, they've handed their column over to Steve Ramos who takes a look at Reverse Shot's first theatrical release. ]

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    The Children's Hour: Michael Cuesta's "12 and Holding"

    Though his films tend to have an air of rawness and "brutal honesty," Michael Cuesta, judging by his first feature, "L.I.E." and his latest, "Twelve and Holding," seems more interested in creating angsty tween soap operas than surveying what it's really like to be a prepubescent. Cuesta treats the humiliations and emotional minefields of childhood from an admirably passionate subjectivity (like these kids, these films are thoroughly immersed in their own solipsistic pain), yet he isn't able to balance it with any sort of adult emotional insight. "L.I.E.," through Brian Cox's conflicted neighborhood pedophile, hinted at extraordinary empathy; ...

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    Black Reign: James Marsh's "The King"

    A big gloppy heaping of Southwestern Grand Guignol, James Marsh's "The King" is nevertheless shot with all the patience and "artfulness" we've come to expect from serious indie dramas in the new millennium. Never intent to call out its own trash as trash, "The King" couches its head-slapping melodramatics in turgid metaphor and gross self-importance. Like "Monster's Ball," that inexplicable and dishearteningly popular piece of portent that was like a Stanley Kramer tolerance drama aspiring to Wim Wenders-esque regional dislocation (in other words, a hopeless muddle), "The King" was partly written by Milo Addica, who, with "Birth" also on his ...

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    Paint By Numbers: Terry Zwigoff's "Art School Confidential"

    There's a moment early in "Art School Confidential" that hurts with sonorous beauty. A gorgeous model (Sophia Myles) arrives in life-drawing class. A virginal freshman, Jerome (opaque Max Minghella), is suddenly all anticipation. She doffs her robe, turns, nude and perfect; Beethoven deluges the soundtrack. As much space as has (rightly) been expended on the caustic cynicism clenching Terry Zwigoff's filmography, note just how few contemporary American directors have the reverence for beauty to chance a scene like this, the willingness to slow a movie down for a beautiful woman (or a beautiful song--remember how Skip James's "Devil Got My Wom...

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    Critic's Notebook: The State of Things: The 2006 Tribeca Film Festival

    Paul Greengrass's "United 93"-- energetic, screw-the-star-system doc-style fiction that tackles sensitive issues inextricably intertwined with the Tribeca Film Festival's host neighborhood -- was an appropriate opening for this fifth edition, which began last Tuesday (April 25th) and ends Sunday (Ma...

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    "A Time for Celebration": Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Three Times"

    The buzz coming out of Cannes last year was that "Three Times," a triptych of love stories set in different periods, would finally nab Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien a long deserved Palme d'Or. Hou left empty-handed, but eventually landed a prize just as evasive: a U.S. release. A recapitulation of career-long themes and tropes, "Three Times" finds Hou in a self-reflexive mode. As each of the film's segments informs the others, so does the movie engage Hou's filmography. Setting a love story in three different eras with the same leads seems gimmicky at first glance, but the concept is a form fit for Hou. The greatest chronicler of our morta...

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    Animal Collective: Lu Chuan's "Mountain Patrol: Kekexili"

    "Mountain Patrol: Kekexili" is, happily, nothing that it quite seems to be. Eco-friendly, "National Geographic"-funded story of an endangered species? Ripped-from-the-headlines true-life murder tale? Grandiose Herzogian treatise on man versus nature? None of those easy tags seem particularly applicable, nor do they do justice to Lu Chuan's visually enveloping expose, which has a narrative as deceptively complex as it is generically misleading. Lu's previous film, 2002's "The Missing Gun" was a more direct flirtation with genre filmmaking, yet still a flirtation nonetheless; one always got the sense that his mind was elsewhere, and that the pe...

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    Boot Camp: Mary Harron's "The Notorious Bettie Page"

    "The Notorious Bettie Page" opens with the declaration "HBO Films Presents," which may bode well if an incongruously letterboxed weekly serial were about to follow. The HBO aesthetic and sensibility have become overappreciated and tagged as something oddly rarefied, but basically it's nothing more than prime Angus beef, catering to the same middlebrow audience in need of something that can quickly and easily be identified as "quality." The limpid gloss that lies across made-for-cable movies (think "Empire Falls," and that one where Cynthia Nixon plays Eleanor Roosevelt) has become as bizarrely homogenized as your run-of-the-mill post-Miramax ...

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