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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Devil inside

A probing look at the mind of Daniel Johnston

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Documentary filmmakers must dream of a subject as rich in both story and source material as Daniel Johnston. Veteran indie rock fans know Johnston as a guy whose home recordings and fragile, captivating songs fit seamlessly into the DIY, lo-fi ethic of indie music in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But as his life unfolds in director Jeff Feuerzeig’s fascinating documentary, we learn about the manic depression, conflicted spiritualism, unrequited love and rampant Beatle worship that led to Johnston’s unlikely career as an internationally respected songwriter and artist.

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The 3 Rooms of Melancholia

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM

The 3 Rooms of Melancholia has garnered some criticism for its impressionistic, meditative take on the Chechen war, for not staring directly into the eye of the bloody conflict. But even if the movie existed only to show us the profound, disturbing reality of prepubescent boys living in a society that knows only death, it would have achieved its goal. At one point, some of the rescued Chechen orphans watch TV news coverage of the horrific hostage incident in Moscow in October 2002, where Chechen rebels held an entire theater under siege. The look on the orphans’ faces — a mixture of awe, acceptance and eerie resignation — is all the context the film needs.

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Don’t Come Knocking

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Shepard stars as Howard Spence, a faded matinee idol with a résumé like Randolph Scott and a rap sheet like Russell Crowe. Finding himself in a midlife crisis, he goes AWOL from the set of his latest picture. After stealing a horse and hopping on a bus, Howard finds his way to his mother's (Eva Marie Saint) house, a spot he's avoided for nearly 30 years. Mom seems unfazed by the return of her prodigal movie star, and offers him breakfast, his late father's pristine old Packard and a tip about the son he fathered long ago while on location in Montana. After a bit of carousing and ambling, he heads to Butte and locates old flame Doreen (Shepard's real-life former flame Jessica Lange) waiting tables in the same dingy café where their son (Gabriel Mann) dons a smoking jacket and warbles gloomy hipster ballads at night with his punky disaster of a girlfriend (Fairuza Balk). This cozy little family reunion is disrupted by two characters in pursuit of Howard: Sky (Sarah Polley), a young woman carrying around a big secret along with her mother's ashes in a blue vase, and a relentless bond company agent in search of Howard, played with scene-stealing energy by Tim Roth.

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Duck Season

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM

First-time writer-director Fernando Eimbcke's black-and-white film is sparse in style but full of subtle humor and drama, scented with longing for those weekend days full of absolutely nothing to do. Eimbecke's movie is brilliant not just in its capture of that smell of pre-teen spirit, but for how he recognizes that in the still moments of adolescence, the little things can be as transformative as the big moments. The film captures the last moments of carefree play for its protagonists, curly-haired Flama (Daniel Miranda) and Moko (Diego Cantano), who are hunkered down inside Flama's home, an apartment in a Mexico City high-rise development. The boys are on the brink of full-scale puberty; they're sexually inexperienced but not world-wise enough to care yet. Their plan for an X-Box binge gets thrice interrupted, however, and the intrusions serve to punctuate the fact they're getting older, their family circumstances are changing, their hormones are kicking in, and the simple pleasure of doing nothing will all too soon be a luxury.

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Friends with Money

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Director-writer Nicole Holofcener is certainly comfortable in the realm of gal talk and sisterly bonding, having helmed many episodes of Sex and the City and two very good previous features. Her writing is crisp, sharply observed and full of intimacy and funny little nuances, and she's assembled a terrific cast. The problem is that ultimately it's hard to find sympathy for people who have so much but get so little out of it. Having been richly rewarded with wealth, glamour and something resembling love, they find themselves asking "Is that all there is?" As the credits roll, viewers may ask themselves the same question.

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The Sentinel

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM

If you believe the new thriller The Sentinel, being the president is pretty easy: You write a few speeches, ride around in a limousine all day and pose for photo ops with multi-culti kids. Meanwhile, you're blissfully unaware that terrorists are planning to take out Air Force One, anti-American protesters are dancing in the streets and your secret service guy is banging your First Lady. No, this isn't a South Park satire, at least not intentionally. It's just the latest in a long line of dull action flicks aimed at the Metamucil-and-Geritol crowd, who at this point could probably could use a jolt or two in their high-fiber, low-intensity Hollywood product.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I feel pretty …

Bringing a little glamour to war-torn Afghanistan

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2006 at 12:00 AM

If only fixing the world’s woes was as simple as getting the right haircut or mastering the art of lip gloss. Though the makers of The Beauty Academy of Kabul are not quite that naive, some of the subjects of this documentary appear to be. The story of these beauticians without borders has a few moments that make you squirm as an American, but it’s mostly a fascinating picture of women empowering other women, of a country trying to rebuild, and of cultures both clashing and coming together.

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L’Enfant

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have made a career out of chronicling the lives of people who live on the fringes of Belgian society. Their film L’Enfant is often powerful, and the grimy, desperate details of the characters’ lives do ring true; but the filmmakers have made a fatal mistake in asking the audience to be emotionally invested in the redemption of a man so soulless and sociopathic that he sells his newborn son to a black-market adoption ring without the slightest hint of doubt.

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Lonesome Jim

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2006 at 12:00 AM

The title character (Casey Affleck) reluctantly returns to his dead-end Indiana hometown with his tail between his legs after giving up on making it as a writer in New York. His suicidal, divorced brother Tim (Kevin Corrigan), cranky dad (Seymour Cassel) and cheerfully smothering mom (Mary Kay Place) drive him nuts. Even his attempt at a one-night-stand with a cute but ditzy nurse (Liv Tyler) turns pathetic when their quickie ends a little too quickly. Jim has no clinical or causal source for his melancholy, which may irk those who like their movies tied up in neat, pretty packages. But the unexplained and likely unwarranted nature of his funk makes Jim more interesting.

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Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2006 at 12:00 AM

In 1943, 21-year-old college student Sophie Scholl was a member of the White Rose, a nonviolent student group that published leaflets calling for an end to Nazi crimes and oppression. She and her brother Hans were discovered distributing the group’s fliers at the University of Munich, and were turned over to the Gestapo. They were, along with a friend, interrogated, tried by a Nazi judge (who was known for determining sentences before trial) and sentenced to execution by guillotine. This is her story.

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