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The Playlist

Review: Sacha Baron Cohen's 'The Dictator' Rules With Comic Authority & Big Laughs

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • May 10, 2012 10:11 PM
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  • 13 Comments
At a first glance, Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" almost seems too easy. Another accent, another elaborate costume, more manscaping and this time with the softball target of despotic leaders -- it almost seemed as if the comic actor was pouring an ocean of fish into a tiny thimble and then pointing a comedy bazooka at it. And for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, "The Dictator" is kind of that obvious, and as a result, a bit uneven. But once the movie really finds its groove, Cohen's latest character creation easily stands up with his best work. Frequently laugh out loud funny, button pushing, and the rare comedy that actually gets more enjoyable as it goes on, "The Dictator" delivers the goods. All hail Admiral General Aladeen!

'Bonsai' Is A Chilean Slacker-Romance Of Love & Language That's Small, Swift & Smart

  • By James Rocchi
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  • May 9, 2012 6:05 PM
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  • 1 Comment
Cannes, more so than other film festivals, feels like the 10 days of nutrition offered in the hopeful attempt to make up for the other 355 days of dessert modern movie going offers us. Abandonment, murder, suicide, prostitution -- these are the concerns of all too many films in the competition and sidebars here at Cannes. A film like Christián Jiménez's "Bonsái," in the Un Certain Regard selection -- seemingly slight, seemingly light, small in scope and scene -- is exactly the kind of film that whispers when other films shout and gets overlooked in the hue and cry. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't speak the truth, or that what it's saying isn't heartfelt, articulate and funny. You have to lean into a film like "Bonsái" so you can see how intricate, simple and elegant it is, even at what seems like a smaller scale.
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Review: 'I Wish' The Rare Example Of A Great Kids Film That Actually Understands Kids

  • By Erik McClanahan
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  • May 9, 2012 4:02 PM
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  • 0 Comments
The frustrating thing about most modern "kids films" is that many filmmakers seem like lost balls in tall grass when it comes to portraying what makes children tick. Perhaps it's tougher than we imagine to capture the youth/kid experience, but is it just us or does it seem like nearly all child characters in movies exist in some bizarro world where they're smarter than the all the adults, know just the right thing to say at every moment and hardly ever act like, you know, kids? (See every American indie and Hollywood rom-com from the last 10 years for examples of this annoying, ridiculous trend.) That's why, when a thoughtful, intelligent director takes the reins of such a film, one that actually remembers and respects what it was like to be a kid, the result can be so refreshing. In the best examples of the genre from recent memory -- "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Super 8" (which, this writer only found to be half a great movie, the great half being the portion involving kids being kids, making movies; it's impossible to deny the skill of those actors and their characterizations) -- the filmmakers decided from the outset to make a proper film first and foremost. The fact that the story is played out with children as our main characters is almost a moot point. Almost.
More: Review, I Wish

Review: 'Dark Shadows' Is Another Lazy, Incoherent Disappointment From Tim Burton

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • May 8, 2012 5:59 PM
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  • 46 Comments
“Dark Shadows” is not the worst movie that Tim Burton has ever made, but that’s only because there’s nothing worse than “Alice in Wonderland.” A desperate jumble of ideas in search of deeper substance, much less focus, Burton’s latest collaboration with actor Johnny Depp is the latest, and perhaps greatest, proof that yet exists for a director, Burton’s a hell of a production designer. Given the film’s incredible lack of cohesion – or follow-through – the film feels like the resigned end result of a studio’s best efforts to whittle an unwieldly mess into something manageable, but far too many of its shortcomings remain exposed for it to play as anything other than a showcase for the star and filmmaker’s laziness, hubris, or both.

Review: Chloe Moretz Is Trapped In The Unclean, Clammy Coming-Of-Age Indie 'Hick'

  • By James Rocchi
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  • May 8, 2012 3:02 PM
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  • 3 Comments
Later, there will be a brief discussion of how literature is not film, and how some actions and themes do not survive translation from the page to the big screen because our mind can better deal with envisioning them than it can with actually seeing them. Before that though, I feel I have to pause and note that "Hick," adapting Andrea Portes' novel for the screen under the direction of Derick Martini ("Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire," "Lymelife"), is one of the most unclean and clammy films I've ever had to endure at a film festival. Not because it was incompetent and not because it deals with violent and sexual material but, rather, because it is both incompetent in general and even more incompetent specifically when it is concerned with violent and sexual material. We're supposed to be watching the cross-country adventures of 13-year-old Luli (Chloe Moretz, who clearly needs to fire both her management and her parents) as she sets out for Las Vegas and leaves her drunkard parents behind in Nebraska. What we get is a chronicle of physical abuse, drug abuse, murder and sexual assault all involving a minor, which then tries to lighten the mood with cutaways to Luli's sketches and a jaunty score with pedal steel guitar accents.

Book Review: Max Allan Collins Does Mickey Spillane & Mike Hammer Proud With 'Lady, Go Die!'

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • May 8, 2012 1:57 PM
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  • 1 Comment
In his ten rules for writing, Elmore Leonard forgoes the advice of Ernest Hemingway, and says: "Never open a book with weather." Well, Mickey Spillane isn't one for niceties or poetry, and he certainly lived by that code, as the late author's "Lady, Go Die!" doesn't mince words from the get go: "They were kicking the hell out of the little guy."

Hot Docs Review: 'Detropia' A Beautiful & Affecting Portrait Of A City In Decline

  • By Samantha Chater
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  • May 8, 2012 12:57 PM
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  • 2 Comments
"Detropia" is more than just a portrait of a city. The latest film from "Jesus Camp" filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady is ultimately a moving and powerful micro-portrait of a hurting nation.

Review: David Mackenzie's Music Festival Rom-Com 'Tonight You're Mine' Has A Tin Ear

  • By Sam Price
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  • May 7, 2012 9:57 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Not many films are set at music festivals. D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary, “Monterey Pop” is vital, we’ll grant you, and other rock docs that expose something fundamental about the artists they’re profiling (“Don’t Look Back,” “Gimme Shelter”) remain compelling portraits of some of the most important artists of the twentieth-century. But, much like stand-up comedy or running for high office, fictional recreations of what compels a human being to get up onstage in front of thousands of people and expose themselves to the public at large, are far and few between.

Hot Docs Review: 'Bones Brigade' Another Winning Look At Skateboarding Culture From Stacy Peralta

  • By Samantha Chater
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  • May 6, 2012 11:10 AM
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  • 1 Comment
Most people don't have enough happen in their life to make one documentary, but it turns out Stacy Peralta has enough to make at least two. Eleven years after he delved into his own adolescent history with “Dogtown And Z-Boys,” Peralta has made another skateboarding doc about the next phase of his career after the Z-boys. When Peralta founded his skateboard company Powell Peralta in the late '70s, he brought together a bunch of unknown amateur skaters, cherry picked from around the USA -- including Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen, among others -- and created a skate team called the Bones Brigade. In case you know less about skating than me, these guys pretty much all grew up to be the top competitors of the 1980s, and went on to inspire and shape the next generation of skaters and their culture -- in short they are skate legends.

Review: Julia Roberts-Produced 'Jesus Henry Christ' Is Blasphemously Joyless

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • May 4, 2012 10:56 AM
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  • 1 Comment
There's a moment in "Jesus Henry Christ" when a character is said to be in poor health. When asked what happened to him, the answer is "The Bulls won the championship." We flash back to 1998, where a lisping ethnic caricature sits on a couch; his shoulders slumped, defeated as the television blares news of the Bulls' championship triumph. The joke, we're meant to assume, is that there were serious repercussions to Chicago winning that championship, though we never exactly see what happens to our doomed, ultimately irrelevant character. Later, we learn in another cutaway occurring a half hour later for no apparent reason, that the man left the house to take out the garbage, only to absorb a bullet to the head, ostensibly fired in the air by an overzealous Bulls fan. So the joke...yeah.

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