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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fighting the odds

Troubled Baltimore preteens get a second lease on life in Africa

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

This documentary compassionately analyzes a group of at-risk preteens from the ghettos of Baltimore who are given the chance to spend two years at the Baraka School in Kenya. The program seeks not the highest achievers but the lowest, and as we meet some of the applicants, we begin to realize that just the chance at a different life begins to boost the boys' self-esteem. Once the boys touch down in Africa, however, the road to a better life doesn't seem so clear.

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Why We Fight

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

P>Eugene Jarecki's Sundance-winning Why We Fight, is a cynical polemic on how corporate interests increasingly control government policy. Jarecki presents an impassioned case that a perpetual profit-driven war machine has come to pass. Documentaries, even Michael Moore's documentaries, ask questions and seek answers. There is, on some level, an attempt at discovery. Jarecki's film presents its position and works overtime to bolster its thesis; with so little inquiry the film hovers dangerously close to propaganda.

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The Intruder (L'Intrus)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Those requiring instant gratification may want to avoid films by Claire Denis, including this one. The revered French filmmaker has a cinematic language all of her own, and anyone claiming to fully get this movie's story is lying to look cool. Denis presents The Intruder as a puzzle, and the clues don't come easy. Piece by piece she reveals her characters in a random, meandering fashion, leaving huge gaps in the story and never fully giving a resolution. The enjoyment comes not from a satisfying tale, but rather how writer-director Denis delivers the narrative. The pace can be tedious and the story incoherent, but she keeps the viewer invested with her crisp, picturesque imagery and intriguing and complicated characters.

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Freedomland

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Things open with Brenda Martin's (Julianne Moore) catatonic stumble into a hospital ER. Her hands are cut and bloodied. Disoriented, she tells the doctors and police that she's been carjacked and that her 4-year-old son was asleep in the backseat. Because her son was taken near a black housing project, the police lock down the area, igniting racial tensions between residents and the predominantly white cops. Detective Lorenzo Council (Jackson) is assigned to the case and struggles to get to the truth of what happened before the whole situation goes to hell. Recruiting the help of Karen Collucci (Edie Falco), the leader of a parental group that helps find missing children, Lorenzo discovers that Brenda might not be telling the whole story (though it's not quite what you think).

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Eight Below

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

If you're not a dog person, you'll want to avoid this film like the plague. Director Frank Marshall's new family-friendly adventure presents so many loving, adoring shots of its eight Antarctic sled dogs, it's almost nauseating: The adorable purebreds perform acts of impossible bravery; they cock their heads to one side to look curious; they nuzzle together to protect themselves from the elements; and they nudge their snouts at each other to show love. The sequences are generally entertaining: They're not at the quality level of The Black Stallion, but they're much better than Benji. Unfortunately, the bloated human drama knocks the movie off course.

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Date Movie

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

This is a movie that doesn't even bother with setups or punchlines, just the long, boring middle parts of jokes. The directors assume that by slapping something - anything - up on the screen - a bad Napoleon Dynamite look-alike, an old lady, a midget - the audience will laugh. Wow, fat people sure are funny. Gay people are even funnier. Fat, gay people are, like, funny-squared. Meanwhile, Hannigan stands there like a bobble-head doll, as if the only way they could coax a reaction shot out of her was by waving a paycheck in front of her face.

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French letters

A European thinker travels across America

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

In scholarship, in journalism, in literary nonfiction, to exhume the wisdom of Alexis de Tocqueville is a trope all its own. Usually the 19th century historian is resuscitated to support some broad allegation about an American political tendency. The first outsider to "objectively" assess American democracy in the 1830s and...

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Garçon Stupide

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Once you get past its gritty, arty facade, the new Swiss film Garçon Stupide isn’t all that different from your usual hustler-with-a-heart flick. The fantasy object here is Loïc (Pierre Chatagny), a lanky, 20-year-old with a pierced brow and a penchant for kinky sex with anonymous johns. His whoring doesn’t sit well with his roommate, Marie (Natacha Koutchoumov), a museum worker who acts like a doting big sister. Luckily, one of Loïc’s random tricks, Lionel, turns out to want something more than sex: He wants to challenge the young man’s mind.

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Bittersweet melodies

An unsung songwriter gets his time in the spotlight

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2006 at 12:00 AM

With Townes Van Zandt as the subject for her first documentary, Margaret Brown faces the challenge of telling a good story as well as reaching past the musician’s cult of adoring fans to entice the ignorant masses. Surprisingly, her modest but masterful reflection on the Van Zandt’s life and music delivers on both accounts.

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Sisters in Law

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2006 at 12:00 AM

This riveting documentary was filmed in a primarily Muslim village in Cameroon, a former British and French colony that’s considered one of the more stable African countries. It focuses on four court cases prosecuted by Judge Beatrice Ngassa and heard by state prosecutor Vera Ntuba. The crimes aren’t pretty, including the cases of Ladi and Amina, Muslim women who are prosecuting their physically and sexually abusive husbands. It’s rare for women to bring such charges, and convictions are rarer still. Both Ladi and Amina must confront a great deal of social pressure to drop the cases, go back home and try and patch things up with their abusers. Their cases reflect the clash of traditional culture with modern laws.

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