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Serena Donadoni

  • Medicine for Melancholy

      Writer-director Barry Jenkins' debut film follows Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins) through a tender post-hookup romance, adding a healthy discourse on the nuances of racial identity. This urban romance is a valentine to San Francisco, the onetime vibrant and sprawling haven for outsiders that he sees becoming a homogeneous gentrified museum. All this is done with a light touch and the feeling that these lives are being captured on the fly. Micah and Jo wake up together after a drunken one-night stand at a mutual friend’s party. They don’t even speak as they gather up their clothes. Not many more words are exchanged over a tense breakfast and long, long cab ride home. But Micah senses a connection, and when he finds her wallet on the taxi floor, he takes the initiative and decides to woo the reluctant Jo. What Micah doesn’t realize is that he’ll only have a day to spend with Jo, but in Jenkins’s view, that may be enough.
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  • Bride Wars

      The battling brides at the heart of this matrimonial dramedy aren’t grown-up mean girls, but the kind of codependent best friends whose personality ping-pong would drive a long-running sitcom. Control-freak corporate attorney Liv Lerner (Kate Hudson) and pushover elementary school teacher Emma Allen (Anne Hathaway) have little in common, outside of an obsession with all things bridal and an unwavering devotion to each other. The Bride Wars commence when these all important belief systems suddenly come into conflict with each other.
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  • Lola Montès

      Max Ophüls’ overstuffed, magnificently plumed creature Lola (Martine Carol) is a self-made creature, an alluring Spanish dancer known more for her love affairs and ability to stir controversy than for her artistic abilities. Ophüls (Letter from an Unknown Woman) envisions her last act as the star attraction of the Mammoth Circus, a regal yet approachable — for a fee — sideshow freak. The booming ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) conducts the show, a series of tableaux in which traditional circus acts illustrate Lola’s infamous European conquests. The effect is both beautiful and bizarre, like the replicas of her head they use to collect coins from the audience. With the ease of a postmodernist, Ophüls moves from presenting the garish spectacle to the backstage concerns of the performers to a series of flashbacks that sometimes contradicts, and other times illuminates, the opulent farce this carny barker in fancy dress has fabricated.
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  • Marley & Me

      John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) are so bland, their challenges so commonplace, that they need the anarchy of the Labrador retriever who will not be tamed (or shamed) to shake them out of their comfort zone. But in adapting the Detroit-born Grogan’s best-selling 2005 memoir, screenwriters Scott Frank (a great interpreter of Elmore Leonard’s novels) and Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex) keep this exuberant dog on a very tight leash. The newly married Grogans flee Michigan like snowbirds, steering their clunky Toyota Tercel towards warmer weather and journalism jobs (Jenny at The Palm Beach Post, John at The South Florida Sun-Sentinel). As in The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Frankel’s strength is portraying new hires finding their footing, and he has fun with this ambitious young couple, who casually bring a rambunctious puppy into their frenzied lives, not realizing the impact he’ll have on them.
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  • Seven Pounds

      Smith embodies an inquisitive IRS agent named Ben Thomas, but something seems wrong right away. He rattles off the numbers quite easily to the people he cheerily approaches to announce that they’re being audited, but seems more interested in discussing their medical conditions and determining whether or not they’re “good.” Even though Smith employs his trademark charm to woo the hesitant, there’s a palpable hostility to Ben’s concentrated attention, a rage waiting to be unleashed when he’s disappointed or betrayed. First-time screenwriter Grant Nieporte structures Seven Pounds like a mystery, but fails to deliver the most important requirement of the genre: a satisfying denouement. With so many quasi-spiritual profundities grafted onto this simple story, it could be argued that Nieporte’s aiming for that great transcendent moment when sloppy plotting is forgiven in a rush of divine understanding. Despite the best efforts of Smith, who wears his suffering like a hair shirt, close to his scarred body and shattered heart, that moment never comes.
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  • Bedtime Stories

      In this kid-oriented picture, Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler) is an overlooked good guy ala The Wedding Singer (1998), albeit one who never outgrew his childish impulses, much to the chagrin of his tightly wound sister, Wendy (Courtney Cox). The principal of an elementary school scheduled for closure, Wendy heads out of state for job interviews, leaving her two kids in the care of one responsible adult — her teacher friend Jill (Keri Russell) — as well as her brother. The strictly raised, well-behaved Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) and Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) seem alien to Skeeter, but in the Disney movie tradition of wise children educating immature, self-centered adults, they’ll make him a better man.
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  • Nothing Like the Holidays

      For members of the Rodriguez family, no matter what they do beyond the walls of their home in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, their most important function is in relation to each other. It doesn’t matter that the children of Eduardo (Alfred Molina) and Anna (Elizabeth Peña) are grown and gone. As soon as they walk through that front door, they fall right back into their old roles. Mauricio Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) may be a successful Manhattan lawyer on a partnership track, and his wife Sarah (Debra Messing) may be managing a Wall Street hedge fund, but this power couple fears his traditional Puerto Rican mother Anna, who openly advocates for grandchildren, and doesn’t hide her disdain for the Jewish daughter-in-law who tries, in her own brittle way, to fit in.
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  • Beauty in Trouble

      Several years after the 2002 flood that devastated Prague, Marcela (Ana Geislerova) and her family are still sorting through the rubble. With no insurance, their ramshackle house is in disrepair and full of mold, while her mechanic husband Jarda (Roman Luknar) has turned the adjacent garage into a chop shop for stolen cars. Fed up with her circumstances, Marcela decides to leave Jarda, but not before some volcanic, hair-pulling sex that leaves their embarrassed kids covering their ears in the next room. Cramped into an apartment with her passive mother Zdena (Jana Brejchova) and loathsome stepfather Risa (Jiri Schmitzer), Marcela doesn’t notice the distrust and resentment building in her children; she’s too busy reliving the upheavals of her own adolescent psychodrama. Meanwhile, Benes (Josef Abrham) also finds himself in the midst of an awkward homecoming. An émigré who lives in Italy, he’s received his Prague family home in a court settlement, only to find the current occupant is caring for her dying mother.
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  • A Christmas Tale

      The Vuillard family's crisis comes at Christmas, when the matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) receives dire news: Diagnosed with the same rare strain of leukemia that killed her eldest son, Junon now looks to her children for a bone marrow donor, aware that the treatment offers potentially lethal side effects. This familiar plotline — a family crisis during the holidays — is turned on its ear by French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin, who plays tragedy like screwball comedy, and treats humorous moments with deadly seriousness.
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  • Twilight

      Bella (Kristen Stewart) is smitten with the magnetic, aloof Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), not realizing this smart, solitary heroine realizes that her beloved bad boy is actually a vampire. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg makes the rainy small town of Forks, Wash., into a viable community instead of just a misty backdrop. Director Catherine Hardwick incorporates action and suspense while keeping the story grounded in two key settings: the high school and the dense surrounding woods. The supernatural elements aside, Twilight is a Pretty in Pink romance about the outsider girl and unattainable boy set in an evergreen Pacific Northwest, and Hardwick never forgets the squealing teens who’ve made Meyer’s books so successful.
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  • Four Christmases

      From their home base of San Francisco, where an inconvenient fog has spoiled their plans for a flight to Fiji, Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) hit the road in their Land Rover for four Christmases in one day, driven by guilt and obligation. The desert ranch house where Brad’s macho father Howard (Robert Duvall) raised his bullying, wrestler brothers Denver (Jon Favreau) and Dallas (Tim McGraw) couldn’t be further from the airy retreat in Marin his mother Paula (Sissy Spacek) calls home. Likewise, the cougar den overseen by Kate’s mother Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen) is stripped of any trappings of a commercial Christmas, while the traditional home of her father Creighton (Jon Voight) is the model of a winter wonderland. But nothing quite prepares the shaky couple for the barn-like revival hall where Pastor Phil (Dwight Yoakam) stages a rousing nativity play, and Brad takes on the role of the modest Joseph like he’s starring in a one-man Jesus Christ Superstar.
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  • Days and Clouds

      Elsa (Margherita Buy) has always relied upon her even-keeled husband Michele (Antonio Albanese) to chart a steady course for their family. As she finishes the requirements for a long-deferred art history degree, he throws an extravagant surprise party in their sizable Genoa apartment, where giddy well-wishers heap praise on her accomplishments. With a few quick strokes, Italian filmmaker Silvio Soldini paints Elsa and Michele as prosperous and generous, worldly and sophisticated. They’re none too pleased that only daughter Alice (Alba Rohrwacher) has forgone college to open a restaurant, and has moved in with her working-class boyfriend. That solid self-image begins to crack the morning after the party, when Michele confesses that he’s been out of work for two months; squeezed out of the shipping company he founded 20 years ago. Horrified by his lies, Elsa nonetheless helps him deceive their friends, even as she fears they’ll go broke before Michele finds another job. They also choose not to tell Alice, picking fights with her rather than admitting to any failures. The resigned Elsa and hesitant Michele begin to restructure, but even as they confront a steep financial decline, they can’t grasp the idea of diminished expectations.
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  • The Human Condition

      Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi's blunt and beautiful, black-and-white epic follows the metamorphosis of Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai), a Japanese pacifist living in occupied China during the final years of World War II, adapting Jumpei Gomikawa’s six-volume novel into a trilogy of films made between 1959 and 1961. Part 1, No Greater Love, finds Kaji making a life-altering decision to avoid conscription and marry his beloved Michiko (Michiyo Aratama). He leaves his desk job at a steel company to become the labor manager at an iron ore mine, planning to implement the egalitarian ideals he espoused in a report to Japanese upper management. Part 2, The Road to Eternity, sees Kaji as an Army recruit who makes a surprisingly effective soldier, although he can’t stomach the “personal punishment” techniques that pass for military discipline, which involve numerous beatings and violent hazing methods. The soul-crushing conclusion, A Soldier’s Prayer, details the disintegration of the Kwantung Army as starvation, guerilla warfare and infighting between Japanese refugees are followed by oppression imposed by the Soviet Union’s “people’s army.”
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  • I.O.U.S.A.

      The devoted policy wonks of I.O.U.S.A. explain how we're a nation as addicted to easy fixes as to easy credit, and why tackling something as overwhelming as the national debt is going to take a major adjustment in not just actions, but attitude. That’s the concern of the subdued alarmists of I.O.U.S.A., led by U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition. Soft-spoken yet immensely passionate, they head off on a Fiscal Wake-Up Tour to get the word out, seemingly undeterred by small crowds and sparse media coverage. Walker and Bixby are like a great comic team; the now-retired Comptroller is the straight man, zealously espousing the dangers of unsustainable fiscal policies with the moral clarity of a true believer (despite years as a federal bureaucrat), and the Tab-imbibing sidekick provides a wry smile and droll observations about the absurdity of our appalling situation. And the talking heads back them up.
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  • Filth and Wisdom

      First-time director Madonna's larger-than-life aura pervades this indie project. A ballet dancer who spends more time in class than on a stage, Holly (Holly Weston) finds work as a stripper until that elusive big break comes. Her best scenes are extended dance sequences. Obsessed with helping starving children in Africa, Juliette (Vicky McClure) has left her posh family to work at a pharmacy. A child of privilege with serious daddy issues, Juliette is eager to give herself over to suffering. Weston and McClure come off as lightweight Factory girls compared to Eugene Hutz (Everything is Illuminated), the force of nature who makes Filth and Wisdom more than just Madonna’s home movie. His Andrly Krystiyan is a multitasker, self-promoter and altruistic narcissist, ruefully delivering Her Madjesty’s philosophical musings, offering ritualized domination by appointment only, and tending to a blind poet.
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  • The Secret Life of Bees

      On the eve of her 14th birthday, Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) is watching President Lyndon Johnson on television with her family’s housekeeper Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson) as he announces the signing of the Civil Rights Act. For that moment, it feels like institutionalized oppression might be lifted overnight, but that euphoria will be short-lived. As much as Secret Life is about individual bravery, Kidd’s tale swiftly punishes anyone who dares openly challenge the powers that be. The film opens with Lily’s unhappy life at a peach farm with her loutish father T. Ray (Paul Bettany), the bond she’s formed with Rosaleen, and her longing for a mother whose death she feels responsible for. When Rosaleen is beaten by a group of white men for trying to register to vote, the overlooked, undervalued Lily takes action, fleeing Georgia with her best friend and heading for Tiburon, S.C. There, they find an Eden in the soothing hot pink residence of the Boatwright sisters, surrounded by 28 acres of sun-drenched woodland where an apiary is situated. The coolly commanding August (Queen Latifah) runs the honey business and takes in these two strays — to the chagrin of the strident June (Alicia Keys), a cellist and music teacher. The childlike May (Sophie Okonedo) eagerly accepts these new companions, and her immense empathy makes her aware that they may be traveling light, but they carry heavy baggage.
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  • XXY

      Alex (Inés Efron) asks her father, Kraken (Ricardo Darín), why he’s so intensely protective. After all, this marine biologist with a passionate streak for preserving endangered species has always made his daughter feel that she’s "perfect," regardless of how others may perceive her. Alex was born with intersex conditions — female and male reproductive organs as well as the chromosomes of both genders — he declined the recommended surgery. Kraken and wife Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) opted to raise the child as a girl, but left the ultimate decision up to Alex. Now Suli has doubts about their approach, contacting their old friend Ramiro (Germán Palacios), a renowned plastic surgeon in Buenos Aires, and inviting his family for a visit to their isolated beach house in Uruguay. She believes the time for willful ambiguity has come to an end, and presses for gender assignment surgery, especially after learning that Alex stopped taking the hormones that suppress her male characteristics. The most radical aspect of XXY isn’t the frank adolescent sexuality or even the question of intersex identity. It’s the idea that gender isn’t fixed but fluid, and that for someone like Alex, the most shocking choice may be not choosing at all.
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  • Momma’s Man

      Mikey (Matt Boren) has just concluded a business trip to New York, where he opted to stay with his parents in their Tribeca loft. When the time comes to return home to his wife Laura (Dana Varon) and their baby daughter in California, Mikey hesitates, missing his flight and taking the subway back to the familiar jumble of his childhood home. For no discernible reason, Mikey commences a series of lies to his parents, wife, and employer about why he needs to remain in New York, where he holes up in his old room. Writer-director Jacobs (Nobody Needs to Know) displays not just a wry sense of humor here, but his own blend of revelatory obfuscation. He gives Mikey no real backstory, leaving the audience to wonder if he was always this indecisive, or if this is a duck-and-cover response to adulthood.
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