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The Playlist

Review: 'Painted Skin: The Resurrection' Spotlights Imaginative Special Effects In Derivative Story

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • August 16, 2012 11:00 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Today’s generation of filmgoers and filmmakers forget that at the very heart of the first cinematic techniques known as “special effects,” there was a shade of mystery and mysticism as well. This otherworldliness made visual sleight of hand seem like an extra-sensory experience, allowing films to transport the viewer into another realm. However, the proliferation of computers and CGI, and the ease of which such imagery could be achieved, created something of a dulling-down of sensibilities. Now, thanks to a decade of DVD armchair critics, if a “special effect” doesn’t approach real world “plausibility” (those dragon scales have to resemble the features of a lizard!) it somehow doesn’t pass muster. Yesterday’s mysticism is today’s manufactured reality.
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Review: Rebecca Hall Chiller 'The Awakening' Is Flawed, But Also Kind Of A Blast

  • By Oliver Lyttelton
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  • August 16, 2012 10:01 AM
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  • 2 Comments
All too often, the horror genre is at the less respectable end of the critical spectrum, with cheap, gory exploitation fare designed to bring in hordes of teenagers on opening weekend, and not do much beyond that. But there have been exceptions over the years, in the form of a classier kind of scare fest, a tradition that goes back to films like "The Innocents," and that is currently kept alive by international filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Amenabar and Juan Antonio Bayona.

Review: Christophe Honoré Sings The Same Old Song In Phony, Hollow 'Beloved'

  • By James Rocchi
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  • August 15, 2012 11:05 AM
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  • 2 Comments
As the closing night film at Cannes in 2011 -- and, as such, lumped in historically with such bland films as "The Tree," "What Just Happened?," "Chromophobia" and "The Age of Darkness" -- writer-director Christophe Honoré's "Les Bien-Aimés" (aka "The Beloved") was already at a disadvantage. Sidelined out of competition, offered up as a final course to cineastes whose metaphorical bellies are already set to burst from an excess of riches, no one was going to think too much about the movie, regardless of its quality. Honoré's film in fact falls short of even the minimal expectations set by circumstance, to be truly tedious, flat and hollow -- a recycled exploration of themes and techniques the director has used before inside the bloated casing of a movie with a 145-minute running time.
More: Review, Beloved

Review: David Cronenberg's 'Cosmopolis' Is Both An Excellent Adaptation & A Rich, Complex Character Study

  • By Simon Abrams
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  • August 15, 2012 10:05 AM
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  • 4 Comments
"Cosmopolis," an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s typically provocative novel of the same name, is the first feature film since 1999's "eXistenZ" that filmmaker David Cronenberg has directed and scripted. This in part explains why "Cosmopolis" is such a triumph: it’s both an exceptional adaptation and a remarkable work unto itself. Cronenberg makes slight but salient changes to DeLillo’s source narrative. These changes, which are best described by one character as “slight variation[s],” prove that Cronenberg’s given serious consideration to what should and shouldn’t be represented in his adaptation of the author’s ruminative, conversation-driven narrative. For example, in Cronenberg’s film, Eric Packer (a surprisingly adequate Robert Pattinson), an ambivalent and self-destructive power broker, does not get to have sex with his wife like he’s wanted to do throughout DeLillo’s book. Other changes, like the fact that Packer is investing and studying the steady rise in the Chinese yuan in the film and not the Japanese yen, as in the book, are equally striking. These differences noticeably enrich DeLillo’s original story, making Cronenberg’s "Cosmopolis" that much more rewarding in its own dizzying way.

Review: 'Breathless' Wastes A Standout Turn By Gina Gershon With Half-Baked Sub-Coen Plotting

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • August 14, 2012 6:04 PM
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  • 1 Comment
It’s absolutely no surprise that writer-director Jesse Baget, of this week’s “Breathless,” is a massive fan of the Coen Brothers. His characters are articulate without being too bright, magnanimous despite moments of cruelty, and loyal in spite of overwhelming greed. Earlier this year, he was responsible for the theatrically-released “Cellmates,” which peppered gags into the straight-faced story of a racist finding redemption behind bars. No such moral obligations trouble “Breathless,” an old-fashioned talky potboiler that utilizes the verbal gymnastics of an overwritten script to hide the fact that this actor’s exercise takes place at only one location.

Review: Jean-Claude Van Damme Shines In The Moronically Irresistible Entertainment Of ‘Expendables 2’

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • August 14, 2012 8:00 AM
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  • 20 Comments
“The Expendables 2” is one of the very few films that gets better as it gets dumber. Serviceably directed, horribly written and barely acted at all except for a standout performance by (of all people) Jean-Claude Van Damme, it mostly delivers in the way that the original failed to, which is by enabling action stars to charm their way through an incredibly hackneyed and conventional storyline. Nevertheless an irresistibly fun alternative to the so-called grown-up fare that has attempted to replace the escapism of '80s and ‘90s blockbusters, “The Expendables 2” offers a welcome roundup of action stars who simultaneously – and satisfyingly – celebrate and send up their former glories.

Review: 'Almayer's Folly' Another Brilliant, Mesmerizing Film From Chantal Akerman

  • By Christopher Bell
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  • August 13, 2012 1:59 PM
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  • 0 Comments
At this point, the filmmaker responsible for the much adored "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" can do whatever the hell she wants and still retain an immense amount of respect. Thankfully Chantal Akerman is still firing on all cylinders; "Almayer's Folly" (a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's debut novel of the same name) is an astoundingly terrific work that continues the slow, observant nature she is generally known for while adding a relatively heavier narrative.

Review: 'Why Stop Now?' A Compelling, But Not Always Fulfilling Comedy

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • August 13, 2012 12:02 PM
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  • 0 Comments
There’s not a whole lot of forward momentum in “Why Stop Now?” which is a surprise considering the immediacy-baiting title. Though the film takes place within the span of one day, the narrative feels truncated, allowing for connections to form, and then sever, over the course of twenty-four hours. It's well-acted, certainly, though these performances belong in a film with sharper pacing, one that breathes easily. But, this directorial debut from Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner breathes like a frequent smoker: in fits and starts, peppered with coughs and dry heaves.

Review: Spike Lee Reconnects With His Artistic Voice With The Emotionally Devastating 'Red Hook Summer'

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • August 9, 2012 6:01 PM
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  • 1 Comment
It’s hard to say how long it’s been since Spike Lee was as ambitious, and as focused, as he is on “Red Hook Summer.” Telling a story that evokes “Crooklyn” in its depiction of children coming of age, filtered through two subsequent decades of his professional successes and failures, not to mention an era of black cinema dominated by the iconography of filmmakers like Tyler Perry, Lee’s latest film is a return to the incendiary form that made his name in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, as it examines life in a Brooklyn housing project through the eyes of a preteen who’s forced to spend the summer with his ministerial grandfather. Overlong but consequently understated – perhaps more so than in any film he’s ever made - as its didactic and yet discursive tale builds to a devastating emotional crescendo, “Red Hook Summer” is not just Spike Lee’s most authentically “Spike Lee” film in more than a decade, but a remarkable display of a filmmaker reconnecting with his artistic voice.

Review: 'Goats' Is An Unexceptional, Overly Familiar Coming-Of-Age Tale

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • August 8, 2012 6:31 PM
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  • 1 Comment
As far as quirky coming of age stories engineered for festivals and the twee aspiring directors who love them go, “Goats” is a fine little movie. Directed by newcomer Christopher Neil from a script by Mark Poirier, who adapted his own novel, it follows a teenager struggling to deal with his estranged parents as he tries to find a place for himself, but it’s also not really about anything at all, or at least anything original. In fact, it’s the kind of entertainment that’s familiar and pleasant enough that you easily forget that nothing much is happening on screen, which may admittedly be damning it with faint praise. But in a cinematic environment already well-stocked with so many tales of teenagers taking their first steps toward finding their own identity, “Goats” feels like the descendant of a family with an incredible pedigree who decided it was enough to live off of that legacy instead of trying to build anything new upon it.
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