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The Playlist

Telluride Review: ‘Madame Bovary’ Starring Mia Wasikowska, Ezra Miller, Paul Giamatti & Rhys Ifans

  • By Rodrigo Perez
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  • September 2, 2014 1:02 PM
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  • 4 Comments
Madame Bovary
It is not prerequisite that the period costume drama needs a hook, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Joe Wright’s stylish “Anna Karenina” dazzled with a theatrical approach, and Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” employed an austere commitment to form coupled with an expressively Malick-ian appreciation of nature. Gracefully pitched acting can also be enough (see James Gray’s “The Immigrant”), but unfortunately for Sophie Barthe, her adaptation of “Madame Bovary” is largely bereft of these qualities in any compelling form.

Telluride Review: Ophir Award Nominee 'Dancing Arabs'

  • By Chris Willman
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  • September 2, 2014 10:15 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Dancing Arabs
"Dancing Arabs" indulges in a peculiar kind of late ‘80s/early ‘90s nostalgia: a fond wistfulness for a time in the Middle East when Jews and Arabs mostly despised each other, but actual casualties from terrorism or reprisals were few… friendships across the racial/religious divide were more common… and the dream that a West Bank boy and Israeli girl could date only seemed 99 percent impossible. As quaint longings for a more innocent era go, this beats getting misty over Roxette.

Venice Review: Roy Andersson's 'A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence'

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • September 2, 2014 7:37 AM
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  • 0 Comments
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Unlike stupid real Christmas, cinephile Christmas only comes every eight years or so. That’s how long it's taken Swedish legend Roy Andersson to mount each of the films in his “trilogy about being a human being.” This morning in Venice, however, when we checked under the tree, there it was: the final part of that trilogy, a film laboring under/reveling in the cumbersome title of “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.”

Venice Review: Larry Clark’s ‘The Smell Of Us’ Featuring Michael Pitt... And Larry Clark

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • September 1, 2014 2:29 PM
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  • 9 Comments
The Smell Of Us
A prime example of what we’ve just now dubbed “le cinema du entre-jambes,” or “crotch cinema,” Larry Clark’s “The Smell of Us” is a film so horrible it manages to significantly outdo the repulsiveness of its title. Having waded through Clark’s entire back catalogue some time ago (the things we do for Film Criticism), we were semi-apologists for his last movie, “Marfa Girl,” in which amid the sine qua non teen sex we thought we detected the green shoots of a more narrative-based direction, as well as some coherent characterization. “The Smell of Us” however, jettisons any good will we may have had for the filmmaker in its portrait of disaffected youth (what else?) in Paris. This film revels in mindlessly repetitive and 100%, no-question-about-it exploitative, sequences of pretty young men engaging in various sexual activities. But that’s not to say Clark has nothing new up his crusty sleeve — this time out he appears on camera alongside the objects of his lurid attention. Thus we have achieved an event horizon of skeeziness.

Telluride Review: Martin Scorsese's 'The 50 Year Argument'

  • By Chris Willman
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  • September 1, 2014 11:33 AM
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  • 0 Comments
The 50 Year Argument
One of the greater pleasures of watching "The 50 Year Argument," a new documentary about the history of the New York Review of Books, is anticipating its HBO premiere on Sept. 29th and imagining just how torturous this saga of a venerable literary journal might be for anyone who chanced upon the channel hoping to come across an episode of "Taxicab Confessions." The closest thing TV viewers will get to a true confession is Joan Didion admitting that she both knew very little and cared very little for national party politics when the magazine implored her to go write about a Democratic convention. Hard to believe they got this chick to sign a release after that, right?

Telluride Review: 'Escobar: Paradise Lost' Starring Benicio Del Toro And Josh Hutcherson

  • By Chris Willman
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  • September 1, 2014 9:49 AM
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  • 3 Comments
Escobar: Paradise Lost
You know that deeply anxious expression that Josh Hutcherson wears throughout "The Hunger Games" movies? Well, if you’re a fan of his trademark chagrined countenance, you get a whole lot more of it in "Escobar: Paradise Lost," where his character has a pretty good reason for near-constant concern. In this potboiler, Hutcherson’s a white boy (obviously) who’s pledged to marry into the family of famed Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. What, he worry?

Venice Review: ‘Far From Men’ Starring Viggo Mortensen And Reda Kateb

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • September 1, 2014 9:11 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Far From Men, Viggo Mortensen
Taking the conventions of Western films to different countries, planets, time periods or political situations is hardly new, but when it's done well, it never gets old. The French-language “Far From Men,” aka “Loin des Hommes,” from writer/director David Oelhoffen, which transposes classic Western archetypes to the Algerian Civil War, is a terrific reminder of just that. It does not reinvent the wheel, nor is it a po-mo deconstruction of the Western myth or a pastiche. It is simply a great, traditional Western: the language and cultural details may be different, but the sparse elegance and moral conundrums are familiar and as resonant as ever. Based on Albert Camus’ short story “The Guest” and boasting a fitting yet never clichéd soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and a pair of flawless lead performances from Viggo Mortensen and Reda Kateb, “Far From Men” is a quietly grand, beautiful film.

Venice Review: Fatih Akin’s ‘The Cut’ Starring Tahar Rahim

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • August 31, 2014 8:32 AM
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  • 0 Comments
The Cut, Fatih Akin
When Turkish-German auteur Fatih Akin pulled “The Cut” from the Cannes slate citing “personal reasons,” the rumor mill went to work overtime. Certainly, Cannes would have seemed like the natural home for the filmmaker’s next opus, so if, as was suggested, he had not been guaranteed the competition slot that his profile surely demanded, what could the reason be? Politics? Pique? Some internecine beef we weren’t aware of? Within all that gossip, however, one possible explanation never really entered the mix: that the film would not be very good. Akin’s track record alone, including such terrific, joltingly energetic, critically lauded and awarded titles as “Head-on” and “The Edge of Heaven” (the first two films in a thematic trilogy that “The Cut” is mooted to complete) seemed to put that beyond the realm of possibility. And in truth, it’s not not very good. It’s close to a disaster.

Telluride Review: Jean-Marc Vallée’s ‘Wild’ Starring Reese Witherspoon

  • By Rodrigo Perez
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  • August 30, 2014 12:51 PM
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  • 22 Comments
Wild Reese Witherspoon
In the summer of 1995, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed decided to walk the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself without having ever having attempted a serious hike in her life. Following the death of her mother and after years of dissolute self-destructive behavior, Strayed found herself divorced, alone, lost and on a frayed edge of personal despair. Desperately trying to find her humanity and reclaim an her ideal self, she impulsively set out, ill-equipped and inexperienced, to find herself on an unpredictable and grueling odyssey from the Mojave desert through California to Oregon over the course of over 150 days.

Telluride Review: Jon Stewart's 'Rosewater' Starring Gael Garcia Bernal

  • By Chris Willman
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  • August 30, 2014 11:00 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Rosewater
The category of Iranian prison movies with feel-good endings is a small subgenre, and one that "Rosewater" is likely to have all to itself for the near future. With his feature film writing and directing debut, "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart clearly wanted to make a people-have-the-power message picture that would resonate at least as much with American youths as longtime students of political repression in the Middle East. That transparent desire to make the material as accessible as possible to U.S. moviegoers —starting with the old-fashioned notion of having all the Iranians speaking to each other exclusively in English—results in a sometimes overly slick take on potentially tough subject matter. For better or worse, torture-themed films don’t get too much easier to take than this one.

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