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The Playlist

Berlinale 2012 Review: 'A Royal Affair' Is A Good-Looking But Unadventurous Period Drama Elevated By Fine Performances

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 17, 2012 7:12 AM
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  • 2 Comments
Considering how very few people on earth we would rather watch on a movie screen than Mads Mikkelsen, colour us baffled to find ourselves slightly out of step with the rapturous reception accorded his latest film, the Danish-language period drama "A Royal Affair." Premiering tonight in Berlin, the film apparently drew cheers from press (though not in our auditorium), and has, in the few hours since, been hailed by some as the saviour of the competition. The film we saw, however, was a perfectly decent, lavishly mounted costume drama, probably above average for this sort of thing, but hardly earth-shattering and certainly not the best film we've seen so far.

Berlinale 2012 Review: Try As it Might, 'Cherry' Fails To Convince Us That A Career In Porn Is The Best Idea Ever

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 16, 2012 3:32 PM
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  • 3 Comments
That the film is co-written from the sympathetic point of view of porn actress Lorelei Lee (who also takes a small cameo role) couldn’t be clearer in co-writer/director Stephen Elliott’s debut feature “Cherry.” Ostensibly a fairly familiar tale of a good girl getting slowly pulled into the seamy world of pornography, its unusual tack (that this is, in fact, a good thing) may sound intriguing but it gets wearing pronto; some decent performances cannot clear the air of the musky odor of porn apologism. The industry depicted here is one of clean surfaces, make up room camaraderie, and a startling lack of seediness, and Cherry/Angelina’s choice to join it is presented as an empowered, sensible decision.

Review: 'Bullhead' Is Larger Than Life Pulp, Barely Sweetened, Mostly Sour

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • February 16, 2012 10:05 AM
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  • 7 Comments
It only makes sense that geek-friendly Drafthouse Films would be behind the distribution of Belgium’s Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee “Bullhead.” Sparse and unnerving, this unusual social drama features a central character so pulpy and tragic he might as well be a barmate of Mickey Rourke’s Marv of “Sin City.” Jacky (Matthais Schoenaerts) is a drug dealer high on his own supply. That drug isn’t cocaine or heroin, but synthetic steroids. As a cattle farmer, he’s got to keep his animals pumped and beefy. What does it matter if he becomes a brooding, hormonal, muscled beast as well?

Berlinale 2012 Review: Keanu Reeves Doc 'Side By Side' A Treat For Cinephiles On All Sides Of The Digital Debate

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 15, 2012 3:42 PM
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  • 9 Comments
Doing an impressive job of tracing the evolution of filmmaking technology (not just the cameras but the editing, post-production, distribution, exhibition, even the archiving aspects of it) from 1895 to the present day, “Side by Side” is an old school talking-head documentary on the subject of digital filmmaking vs. photochemical filmmaking. It sounds pretty dull as a logline, but stacked with gossipy, informal anecdotes and opinions from many of the most respected directors, cinematographers, editors, execs, VFX artists and digital wizards in the industry, it proves instead to be highly entertaining and informative, and by its close has presented a thoroughly diverting overview of the debate. Then again, we are massive geeks about this sort of thing.

Review: Inspirational Football Documentary 'Undefeated' Scores A Touchdown

  • By Christopher Bell
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  • February 15, 2012 2:57 PM
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  • 0 Comments
Watching inspirational movies is often like eating ice cream. While you're taking it in, it's sweet and immensely pleasurable, but as soon as you've reached the end, all that's left is an empty carton. Maybe we won't go as far as saying this kind of cinema is empty, but those swooned by "The Blind Side" or "The Help" have little to ruminate on after the underdog stories are well digested (aside from a vague, lingering 'Uh, was that racist?' sentiment). There is also something very artificial and manufactured, as those films pretended to capture life at its most passionate when they were both smartly manipulative pieces of melodrama.

Review: 'The Secret World Of Arrietty' Is A Beautiful, Whimsical & Heartfelt Fable From Studio Ghibli

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • February 15, 2012 1:00 PM
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  • 0 Comments
The charmingly simple conceit behind Mary Norton's children's fantasy novel series "The Borrowers" is that there are a race of tiny people, no bigger than a stack of quarters or a human thumb, that live underneath your floorboards, sneaking into your home at night to "borrow" things essential to their survival. While this doesn't explain the mystery of the missing sock, it does give a nifty explanation to misplaced household items, told with a twinkly kind of magic that's easy to believe in, especially at a time in your life when you too are smaller than most people

Review: 'Michael' A Provocative, Yet Banal Portrait Of A Monster

  • By Alison Willmore
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  • February 15, 2012 11:58 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Trace it to the 2006 Natascha Kampusch case or the even more terrible 2008 Elisabeth Fritzl one reverberating through into fiction, but longterm kidnapping is having a moment. Despite apparently opening with a card that claims otherwise, the incidents seem unavoidable inspirations for Frédéric Videau’s "A Moi Seule," which just had its premiere in Berlin, a film that tracks through the eight-year relationship between an man and the girl he kidnaps and hides in his basement. Emma Donoghue's acclaimed 2010 novel "Room" is narrated by a five-year-old kid who's lived his entire life in the claustrophobic space in which he and his mother have been imprisoned. And Markus Schleinzer's "Michael," which opens in New York this week after bowing at Cannes last year, gazes impassively at five months in the life of the title character, played by Michael Fuith, who's been holding a 10-year-old boy named Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) in a soundproofed room in his house.
More: Review, Michael

Berlinale 2012 Review: Brillante Mendoza Takes Us All 'Captive' In Vital, Bruising Kidnap Tale

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 15, 2012 11:04 AM
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  • 2 Comments
Recipient of one of the more controversial Cannes Best Director awards of recent memory (for "Kinatay," a film we found problematic, to say the least) Filipino director Brillante Mendoza returns to screens and to the festival circuit with "Captive," which marks, if not a departure from his previous style, then a welcome evolution of it. Based on real events, it is an account, by turns thrilling, moving, and harrowing, of the kidnapping ordeal of a group of holidaymakers from a resort in the Philippines; an ordeal which lasts over a year for some.

Berlinale 2012 Review: 'Farewell, My Queen' Introduces Lesbianism Into The Marie Antoinette Story To No Great Effect

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 15, 2012 9:56 AM
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  • 0 Comments
In the land of the costume drama, truly, films about Marie Antoinette are Queen, promising lavish sets, romantic intrigue and shocking decadence -- but they don't always deliver. Director Benoit Jacquot's uninspiring take on the period opened the Berlin Film Festival days ago, but something about the film's lack of urgency must be contagious, and we're only getting around to reviewing it now. While the movie does boast admirable elements (more on those below) overall, despite some showy trappings it is a frustratingly empty experience, built around a character whose blankness is supposed to be a virtue, but ends up costing the film dearly in terms of identification and interest.

Review: 'Thin Ice' With Greg Kinnear & Alan Arkin An Irritating, Shrill Comedy Devoid Of Laughs

  • By Simon Abrams
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  • February 14, 2012 2:00 PM
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  • 0 Comments
When the screenwriters of “Thin Ice” finally play their hand and reveal their film’s obvious twist ending, that dumb plot point almost eclipses all the other lousy things that came before it. But make no mistake, “Thin Ice” is nothing if not consistently lousy. Set in frigid Kenosha, Wisconsin, the film follows Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear), a shifty and increasingly desperate insurance salesman as he tries to con his way to a tropical vacation. Mickey is the leader of a parade of unlikable, uniformly histrionic and very unfunny characters. Living and being around the residents of Kenosha is nightmarish, but not in the humorous, neo-noir-inflected way that director Jill Sprecher (“Thirteen Conversations About One Thing”) and her co-writer Karen Sprecher want us to think.

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