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October 2008

Film Review: The Secret Life of Bees

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“The Secret Life of Bees” is really “Oprah Book Club: The Movie.” A sluggish attempt to marry histrionic behavior best left in soap operas with a route story of discrimination and abuse in 1964 South Carolina, the picture is an admirable effort to articulate compassion, but remains lost to a sticky mess of melodrama that devours anything close to a sincere moment.

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Film Review: Saving Marriage

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In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to permit only heterosexual couples the opportunity to marry. Practically in the same instant the decision hit the media, the state became divided into two camps: those for gay marriage and those against. Verbal weapons were sharpened, legal counsel was wrangled in huge numbers, and legislators found themselves in the crosshairs with little comfort room to voice an opinion. The ruling (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health) conjured up a storm of controversy that challenged discrimination policies and changed lives forever.

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DVD Review: Cinematic Titanic - Legacy of Blood

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For multiple reasons, I didn’t have an opportunity to review the last Cinematic Titanic episode, “The Wasp Woman,” and I feel pretty thankful for that. While it wasn’t a dire situation, the film, a 1959 Roger Corman chloroform hankie, didn’t permit much room for inspired riffing. It failed to send the Titanic crew to anticipated comedic heights, so it’s a pleasure to report that the new episode isn’t just a return to form, it leaps spastically ahead as the finest Titanic installment to date.

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DVD Review: 10 Yards (Fantasy Football)

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To me, Fantasy Football is this undefined experience shared by strangers with lives hinged upon Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. It’s chess for the average football fanatic; the contest a way to enter the weekly NFL sweepstakes without actually suiting up and taking hits on the field. The documentary “10 Yards” scrubs away the mystifying veneer of Fantasy Football to expose the weekly highs and lows of the subculture, and how something as inexplicable as tracking game stats helps to bridge lives otherwise lived without communication.

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Film Review: Quarantine

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Most audience members stumbling into “Quarantine” will have no idea it’s a remake of a 2007 Spanish horror film titled “Rec.” I can’t blame anyone for their ignorance, since the original picture never broke through to America due to distribution disinterest, and that’s a cryin’ shame. “Rec” was a beautiful chiller, constructed with resourcefulness and genre filmmaking wizardry that instilled a modest concept with the right amount of armrest-ripping content to fuel nightmares for weeks. “Quarantine” is the unavoidable American replica, only this version has ingested a bottle of idiot pills and washed it all down with a full glass of directorial incompetence.

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Film Review: RocknRolla

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After 2005’s delightfully masturbatory chess match/psychological thriller “Revolver” dealt a critical blow to writer/director Guy Ritchie’s cinematic allure, it forced the filmmaker to retreat to his established bag of tricks. That said, “RocknRolla” is an invigorating, grimly hilarious return to old Ritchie sensibilities, the director mounting a slingshot crime saga with more gravitas and hangdog heroics than previously seen. It’s a familiar surface of sleazebags and double-crosses, but it remains intriguingly affectionate under Ritchie’s breezy guidance.

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Film Review: City of Ember

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“City of Ember” is a sci-fi fantasy film with forbidding apocalyptic overtones, extravagant set design, and an edge that mixes high-flying questing with significant ecological worry. It’s a film Terry Gilliam used to make before his artistic abilities flatlined: a striking adventure for families that dares to challenge the senses with atmosphere that isn’t always sunny, backstory that isn’t neatly cubed for mass consumption, and youthful performances that attain dramatic weight. Even housed in an imperfect cut, “City of Ember” is one of the best family films of the year.

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Film Review: Body of Lies

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“Body of Lies” is a mediocre espionage film tarted up as a prestigious offering, cast with blinding stars, directed by a once mighty visionary, and drawing from topical source material meant to provoke chills and international thought. However esteemed the package may be, “Lies” is a turgid Middle Eastern thriller, firing blanks as an action submission and presenting a wet match to light the fire of political discourse.

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Film Review: The Express

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An uplifting historical sports drama primarily concerning racial injustice? Indeed, “The Express” won’t win any awards for originality, but it has heart, a big one actually, and tells the story of a man who overcame the trial of racism to influence the world of football with his monumental gifts. “Express” conquers formula by keeping a close eye on pace and giddy, audience-baiting moments of gridiron triumph.

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Film Review: Rachel Getting Married

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Rachel is getting married and we’re all invited. Actually, it feels like we’re all trapped in this celebration, and director Jonathan Demme is making sure we swallow every last drop of the festivities. Overall, this is a strong dramatic picture, assured catnip for art-house maniacs, and while I admire the film for its performance tenacity, I also wanted to unleash a Louisville Slugger on the projector during stretches of the feature.

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Film Review: An American Carol

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Liberal? Conservative? Our nation has been split in two; a gangland of citizens who love to bicker over political minutiae, choosing sides with the sort of venom typically reserved for pro wrestling or the finer points of KISStory. However, I think our brittle populace can all agree on one thing: the searing, unyielding pain of an atrocious comedy. “An American Carol” is such a beast, hoping to be the first Conservative-angled production to break free from assured ridicule and enjoy a rich box office life, yet comes staggering to the screen crippled with an absurd agenda, farcical impotence, and necrotic taste in comedic targets.

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Film Review: Beverly Hills Chihuahua

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“Talk to the paw.” Yes, that’s an actual line from “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” Disney’s latest attempt to induce drastic birth control methods in America. I feel like an ogre beating up on such a mindless, semi-harmless production aimed directly at distracting toddlers while moms and dads fight about house payments, but it’s difficult for me to condone such unfunny funny business. “Chihuahua” is terrible and kids deserve better.

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Film Review: Religulous

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Bill Maher has never befriended religion. In fact, widespread subscription to organized faith infuriates him, making his well-read, incredibly researched mind explode with incredulity. To Maher, religion is poison, rotting humanity from the inside with wild promises of heavenly reassurance contrasting a world of direct menace. Trying to make some sense out of the intangible logic of faith, Maher hits the road, roaming all over the globe to question believers on just why they choose to believe.

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Film Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

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“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is based on the novel by Rachael Cohn and David Levithan, a fact that is constantly reinforced to the audience through the film’s near total absence of narrative consistency. A flighty, poppy dream factory posing as an articulate teen diversion, “Playlist” is caloric with whimsy but lacks distinctive dramatic weight, to a degree that it ceases to be a movie and transforms into something resembling a tiresome Diet Coke commercial.

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Film Review: Blindness

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To shamelessly purple nerple a popular catchphrase: “What happens in depressing, unfilmable novels stays in depressing, unfilmable novels.” “Blindness” is a great candidate for the annual “did we really need this?” awards; it’s a dreary jumble of social criticisms and fear mongering that seems perfectly suited to the limitations of a short film. Instead the picture is elongated to a punishing two hours of suffering, infuriatingly slavish screenwriting, and a director who should be gifted the miracle of a tripod this upcoming holiday season.

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Film Review: Appaloosa

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The western doesn’t get much play these days. It’s a genre that’s losing ground to the candied thrills of the multiplex, but when a production strolls along that’s worth the price of admission, it’s something to celebrate. “Appaloosa” is such a film: a carefully metered story of frontier justice, anchored with unusually evocative moments of companionship and invigorating character development.

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