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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | More Tales of the City: Maria Maggenti's "Puccini for Beginners"

    Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) is a thirtyish lesbian author living the sanitary, Whole Foods la vie de boheme of sitcomized contemporary Manhattan. Having just been dropped by a long-term girlfriend over commitment issues, she doubly rebounds - into both sweet, pie-faced Grace (Gretchen Mol) and of all...

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    REVIEW | The Road to Hell: Philip Haas's "The Situation"

    Let's just get the nod to its good intentions out of the way from the start: Providing a window onto the U.S.-occupied chaos of Iraq - this country's first narrative film to do so - "The Situation" strives mightily to put a human face on Iraqis forgotten by mainstream media reports and documentaries (save the superlative "Iraq in Fragments"), which tend to focus almost exclusively on the American experience. That it attempts to achieve this through condescension, by using a Caucasian character as an entry point to accepting the Other - well, besides the basic knee-jerk response (so what's new? see Matthew Broderick in "Glory," Kevin Costner...

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    REVIEW | The Principles of Uncertainty: Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan's "An Unreasonable Man"

    The success of the 2006 midterm elections may have tempered Democrats' long-held grudge against Ralph Nader, but "An Unreasonable Man" is set to reopen the nasty wounds left from his quixotic 2000 presidential campaign, when several hundred votes for the Green Party candidate arguably cost the Dems Florida and thus, lest we forget, the election. Whether Nader was right to run or just downright delusional and ultimately destructive to the liberal cause is the controversial heart of the matter in this content-over-form documentary. It's apt that the first 35 years of its subject's unrivaled career of progressive advocacy - from "Unsafe at Any S...

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    REVIEW | Back in the Saddle Again: David Von Ancken's "Seraphim Falls"

    It begins with a gunshot, as from a starter's pistol, and the race is on. Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) - heavily bearded, feral from chase - is pursued across a frozen landscape by the steady, vengeance-driven Carver (Liam Neeson) and his posse. Motives stay opaque; Carver's gang churns through the snow in implacable advance, Gideon doubles back to pick off stragglers, and both men rankle with a hidden hurt that they cannot or will not forget. Shot under the auspices of Mel Gibson's Icon Productions (with "Braveheart" cinematographer John Toll), David Von Ancken's marathon-man Western trades in Mel's favorite things: out-of-breath action filmmaki...

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    PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | The Girl Couldn't Help It: David Stenn's "Girl 27"

    My favorite David Stenn book is "Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow," a wonderful look at Hollywood's first blonde sex symbol and the dark and tragic circumstances regarding her too-short life. Insights about early Hollywood, sex scandals and ruthless exploitation by studio executives are similar themes in another Stenn book, the equally wonderful "Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild." Everything I enjoy about Stenn's writings can be found in his debut documentary, "Girl 27," a fascinating investigation into a late 1930s sex scandal involving MGM. In 1937, at a MGM sales convention, 17-year-old dancer Patricia Douglas was raped at a convention ...

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    PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | New York Shuffle: Alfredo de Villa's: "Adrift in Manhattan"

    The intersecting lives that amble throughout "Adrift in Manhattan," director Alfredo de Villa's good-natured but forgettable New York street life drama include a young Latino named Simon (Victor Rasuk) who snaps photographs of just about everyone he meets. One person in particular captures his attention. Rose (Heather Graham), an eye doctor, first appears on a Manhattan park bench wearing a pretty scarf that contrasts with her sour facial expression. Rose is separated from her husband Mark (William Baldwin) for reasons described in a flashback involving their infant son late into the movie. By the time Rose and Simon meet face-to-face, in an ...

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    PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | Beautiful Squalor: Steve Berra's "The Good Life"

    The standout surprise on the slow burning melodrama "The Good Life" never appears on-screen. It has more to do with its origins. Writer/director Steve Berra is a top skateboarder turned self-taught filmmaker but "The Good Life," his solid debut effort, has little to do with skateboarding and takes p...

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    PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | Heartache Free of Language Barriers: Christopher Zalla's "Padre Nuestro"

    Good ambiguity is a film that enthralls audiences and yet, manages to give a variety of pleasures. That's "Padre Nuestro," a wonderful Spanish-language debut from writer/director Christopher Zalla and arguably the best dramatic feature I've watched so far at the festival. My initial response would b...

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    PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | Bad, Bad Boy: George Ratliff's "Joshua"

    At many film festivals, Cannes comes to mind; audiences would openly jeer a disastrous movie like director George Ratliff's unintentionally silly, bad seed horror drama "Joshua." At Sundance, where the film made its premiere over the weekend, the audience I sat with was polite and only laughed at al...

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    PARK CITY '07 REVIEW | What Women Want: Zoe Cassavetes' "Broken English"

    The downside for Zoe Cassavetes regarding her famous family, actress Gena Rowlands and her late father, actor/filmmaker John Cassavetes, is that there will always be comparisons. The upside, at least regarding her New York-to-Paris romantic comedy, "Broken English" is that it's something of a homeco...

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