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September 2008
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November 2008

October 2008

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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Film Review: How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

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As a comedic performer, there are few as sharp as Simon Pegg these days. However, Pegg was introduced to American audiences through witty, intelligent productions such as “Spaced,” “Shaun of the Dead,” and “Hot Fuzz.” Now established as something of a leading man, Pegg’s career has swayed toward more predictable fare, lacking the assured punch expected from such a talent. “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” joins the recent “Run Fatboy Run” as material below Pegg’s capability, but nevertheless held together by his growing starpower.

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Film Review: Flash of Genius

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Behold, the sordid, twisted tale of…the intermittent windshield wiper! While a kindly underdog story, “Flash of Genius” is digging pretty low for a concept that could sustain the inspirational cinema treatment, and the picture shows unmistakable fatigue trying to scrounge up a roller coaster ride concerning underhanded automobile industry practices.

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Film Review: Hounddog

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Forced to walk a difficult release path since its ill-fated Sundance debut in 2007, “Hounddog” has been reworked and purged of its sins, hoping to drop the unofficial title “The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie” and move on to more promising assessments of quality beyond the superficial. While accusations of sensationalism are unfounded, “Hounddog” remains a crude, tedious affair, providing some insight as to why the film was ignored nearly two years ago and why it should remain so today.

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