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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Hunting Party

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Coming off the critical success of his debut, The Matador, filmmaker Richard Shepard steps into the difficult-to-master arena of political satire with The Hunting Party and comes up short. The shaggy-dog mishmash of cynical black comedy, male-bonding road trip, political commentary and cautionary tale, concerns Simon Hunt (a jaunty Richard Gere), a washed-up TV war correspondent who, after an on-air meltdown during the Bosnian war, was fired by his network and now travels from one war torn nation to the next scraping together jobs.

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Sidney White

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Amanda Bynes stars as a salt-of-the-earth high-school grad who enters college with dreams of joining her late mother’s sorority, which is now overrun by a totalitarian witch and her cabal of elitist buxom blondes. So she bands together the nerd fraternity to take down the Greek establishment while converting her frat-boy love interest.

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Eastern Promises

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

When a 14-year-old prostitute dies while delivering her baby, London midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) vows to track down her family. Her only clue is the dead girl’s diary, written in Russian, and a business card for a posh Russian social club left inside. So, as Anna’s elderly uncle sets about translating the journal, she meets with Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the club’s sinister owner, hoping to learn more. What she doesn’t realize is that Semyon is actually the boss of the vory v zakone — a murderous Russian mob that trades in nefarious deeds. He wants the diary, he says, because it implicates his ne’er-do-well son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel). But Anna, fearing the newborn will end up lost in foster care, will only trade the diary for information about the girl’s family. Her naively brash confrontation with the underworld attracts the interest of Kirill’s driver and right-hand man, steely-eyed Russian mobster Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen), who makes small gestures of friendliness. Morally ambiguous but obviously lethal, both Anna and the audience are unsure of his motivations. Is this mysterious thug a sympathetic ally, a goon on the make, or someone scheming to use her for plans of his own?

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In the Valley of Elah

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Writer-director Paul Haggis (Crash) employs a cool, minimalist style — without bombast or heated rhetoric — to create a devastating portrait of the casualties of war on the home front (based on the 2003 death of Specialist Richard Davis). What makes In the Valley of Elah so effective is its straightforward directness, embodied in the person of Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones), a no-nonsense, spit-and-polish military lifer. A Vietnam veteran and retired member of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, Hank has seen two sons follow his footsteps into military service. With so powerful an example at home, his wife (Susan Sarandon) asserts, the die was cast early on. So when Hank receives word that youngest son Michael (Jonathan Tucker) has returned safely from Iraq, but has gone missing and is reported AWOL, he knows something’s not right.

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Good Luck Chuck

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The current kings of the gross-out romantic comedy (that’s Judd Apatow and crew) have nothing to fear from Good Luck Chuck. Neither do former kingpins the Farrelly brothers — though director Mark Helfrich’s debut film here tries to mimic There’s Something About Mary. Good Luck Chuck has a great central premise, but suffers from a lack of anything resembling heart. Charlie Logan is a successful dentist and serial dater (always avoiding the three little words his girlfriends want to hear), who begins to notice a strange pattern in his life: After he breaks up with a woman, she goes on to meet her ideal mate and quickly gets married. Screenwriter Josh Stolberg sets Charlie up as a basically decent guy who must contend with the gift/curse of giving women what they (presumably) want most without ever falling in love himself. Ron Livingston or Luke Wilson could juggle Charlie’s warring impulses and make him endearing, but Dane Cook isn’t up to the task.

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Tolstoy's children

A Soviet classic's epic proportions sprawl across two nights at the DFT

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

A stunning example of all-out, go-for-broke creative risk-taking on a massive scale, this audacious adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace redefines the epic film. Writer, director and star Sergei Bondarchuk transformed one of Russia’s most revered texts into one of the most expensive movies ever made, and he did it in the former Soviet Union. What sets War and Peace apart from other lavish historical dramas — including the stilted Doctor Zhivago (1965) — is Bondarchuk’s belief that a great epic tale is about more than visual grandeur (although he certainly spared no expense there), but must be emotionally expansive as well. He makes the film as much about the internal journeys of the characters as the huge social and political upheavals of Russia during the Napoleonic era. The first part of War and Peace is strongest, filled with a crazy, restless energy that blends Sergei Eisenstein’s spirit of invention with the cocky brashness of Orson Welles, all while succinctly establishing Tolstoy’s themes and story threads through voiceover narration (expressing the thoughts of individuals and the creator’s voice of moral authority). From stunning aerial photography and tilt-a-whirl camerawork, to the lush, oversaturated colors, the widescreen images are created with a painterly eye, one that appreciates clean, formal compositions, yet can also create moments of hallucinatory beauty.

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Day Night Day Night

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

What does it take to strap a backpack full of explosives to your body and become a human bomb? Reducing the question to an exercise in abstraction, Russian-born filmmaker Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night tries to provide a context-free answer but is undone by postmodernist affectation and art school minimalism. Set over the course of 48 hours, the film follows a young, ethnically ambiguous woman (Luisa Williams) as she prepares herself as a suicide bomber. From terminal to waiting car to nondescript hotel, the regimen leading up to the nameless woman’s mission is as portentous as it is banal; a shower, eating, waiting for the next phone call and its set of instructions. Eventually, her handlers show up. The next day, “she” sets off for Times Square during rush hour, ready to fulfill her destiny. Or is she? What begins as an eerily mesmerizing experience in narrative austerity becomes a tedious exercise in post-modernism, playing more like performance art or an art gallery’s video installation than a feature film.

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‘Little Red Book of Business’

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The China that James McGregor describes in One Billion Customers isn't the China of Associated Press photographs, bustling street scenes briefly broadcast on television news programs, undergraduate Eastern philosophy courses, Nixon-era Doonesbury chicanery or fortune-cookie koans. Nor is it the intensely mystical and deeply personal China Susan Sontag fetishized in...

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Florida hot sauce mogul Billy Mitchell is exactly the kind of guy you’re dying to see knocked down a peg. Featured as the ultimate video game champion in a 1982 issue of LIFE magazine, for 20-plus years his score at Donkey Kong (and Donkey Kong Jr.) went unchallenged and — in the world of video game geeks — he was God. Then there’s Steve Wiebe; the gee-shucks, straight-laced family man who can’t seem to get a break. Laid off from his Boeing job the day he signed on his new house, he’s the kind of guy used to coming in second. Unemployed and looking for a distraction, he decides to go for the world record score on a vintage Donkey Kong arcade game. With the benefit of fantastic hand-eye coordination and a healthy dose of OCD, that modest goal seems not only possible but probable. And so the stage is set for the battle of the century. Don’t believe it? I defy you to find a sports film from the last year that matches the competitive twists and thrills in this documentary from Seth Gordon.

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Mr. Woodcock

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Billy Bob Thornton plays, again, a mean man who says extremely nasty things to children. It's a time-honored formula that flops here, because Thornton's Mr. Woodcock is merely a petty little sadist in zip-up sweats. John Farley (Seann William Scott) is a former Woodcock "victim" who overcame his childhood demons to become a successful self-help author. But when he returns to his small Midwestern town to accept an award, he discovers that his old nemesis Woodcock is "boning his mom." Oh, how amusing.

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