Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Orphanage

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Laura (the lovely Belén Rueda of The Sea Inside) and her husband (Fernando Cayo) have reopened the orphanage of her youth with plans to provide handicapped children with care and teaching. With them is their 7-year-old son, Simon (Roger Princep), a fragile little kid with an entourage of imaginary friends. When a strange old woman-ghost begins haunting the property, the invisible companions become spookily real, taking on names of children with whom Laura grew up — even revealing to Simon that he’s adopted and infected with HIV. This sets in motion a confrontation with tragic consequences: The boy goes missing and Laura is crushed with guilt. Did he run away or is something ugly at work? Desperate to find him but running out of options, Laura considers supernatural possibilities, which lead her to unearth the dark history of the orphanage itself.

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Gushing over

P.T. Anderson’s portrait of a ruthless, complicated oilman strikes it rich

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Daniel Plainview is an oilman; it’s how he repeatedly defines himself. Love, community, camaraderie; all these things are irrelevant. He cares about no one, possibly not even himself. He’s the kind of guy who, when a colleague dies in the oil field, he adopts his infant son, not out of love or duty, but because he sees the advantage of being perceived as a family man. He’s not unfair but he is merciless. Unfortunately, for all Anderson’s skills as a filmmaker — and he delivers one remarkably arresting moment after another — his skills as a storyteller aren’t equal to his ambitions. There Will Be Blood builds up an exhilarating head of steam only to run out of track in its last 15 minutes. After 2-plus hours of hinting that the Daniel Plainviews of the world are made of flesh and blood, it’s either a failure of nerve or ability that leads Anderson to sacrifice emotional revelation for a bloody and redundant exclamation point.

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First Sunday

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Surly Cube and goofy Tracy are best pals Durell and Lee John, dimwit bumblers who want to go legit but can’t quite shake their petty crime habits, like boosting flat-screens from their jobs at an AV store. Their attempts to make a quick buck fencing stolen wheelchairs only gets them in even deeper with the loan sharks, and puts Durell in danger of losing contact with his son. So what better way to settle the matter than with more crime? The pair’s bright idea is to knock off the neighborhood church, which is in a blighted section of Baltimore. Trouble is, they can’t just snatch the collection plate and run; it seems the choir, the pastor and a host of parishioners are still hanging around the pews in the middle of the night. Also, it appears that someone else has already raided the church’s kitty. Hence, a prolonged whodunit and hostage standoff ensues. Based on this premise, the film plods along for what seems like forever, slogging from lame gags to even lamer sermonizing, offered up by stock black characters. There’s the snooty pastor (Chi McBride), his shapely daughter (Malinda Williams), the sneaky Deacon and the brassy Secretary (Loretta Devine), all ready to shuck and jive.

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Youth Without Youth

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The movie concerns Dominic Matei (Tim Roth), an elderly linguistics professor who describes himself as a failure. One stormy day in 1938, he plans his own suicide, but is struck by lightning before he can follow through. Badly burned, he survives the hit and wakes up in the hospital a changed man. He has changed in many ways: His bald head is full of new hair, and new teeth push out their rotting predecessors. He’s also a much smarter man; he learns Chinese in a few days. He’s living in a dangerous period too; both the Romanian secret police and Nazis are after him. But he survives World War II by living under a pseudonym, using his mental agility to beat the casino. As Francis Ford Coppola's first film in 10 years, the movie is an interesting, honorable failure sure to win (and deserve) its cult status.

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For the Bible Tells Me So

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

By tackling a hot-button issue in a calm and deliberate manner, director Daniel Karslake defuses the heated rhetoric surrounding homosexuality and Christianity, and allows the voices of reason to quietly, powerfully speak out. For The Bible Tells Me So is unabashedly activist filmmaking, but Karslake believes in confronting hostility with dignity, and using education to counter irrational fears. His goal is nothing less than to bring everyone into the light.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Terror’s Advocate

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

With Terror's Advocate, director Barbet Schroeder has done more than simply profile French attorney and international provocateur Jacques Vergès. He has created a startling and compelling history of modern terrorism. Vergès has been intimately involved with terrorists of various political persuasions for more than 50 years, representing notorious clients from bombers and hijackers to deposed dictators accused of mass murder. Schroeder makes a convincing case that Vergès functions not only as a legal advocate, but is an active supporter of his clients, regularly crossing ethical boundaries to aid and abet those he so vigorously represents. Not that the elusive Vergès would ever directly explain his extracurricular activities. (The closest he comes is an abstract statement that crossing the "white line" leaves lawyers "vulnerable.") Throughout this documentary, Vergès coolly addresses the camera — never allowing the discourse to get too heated — with an all-knowing, cryptic smile that says more than he’s willing to articulate. Schroeder may never crack this tough nut, but he methodically puts Vergès in his place.

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Plainspeak

New doc shows how Carter was never some limp-wristed turncoat

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Two things are apparent early in this film: Demme's deep affection for his subject; and that James Earl Carter didn’t expect the vitriolic response to his latest bestseller. It takes a while for it to sink in that things are not going normally. Large and enthusiastic crowds greet his book signings (where Carter is a ruthlessly efficient autographing machine), eager for their brush with political celebrity and basking in his particular brand of dignified congeniality. Yet interview after interview seems to get stuck on the use of the word "apartheid," and Carter is constantly thrown on the defensive. Despite the Ronald Reagan-perpetrated image of his predecessor as a weak capitulator, Carter does not back down. Ever. He sticks to his assertions, and maintains that his experience and deep knowledge of the region’s thorny history give him the authority to discuss the Palestinian situation in Gaza and the West Bank in terms of segregation and oppression.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Charlie Wilson’s War

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Once upon a time, before Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, Afghanistan was the frontline for the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Cold War. Only no one knew about it. This is partially because of liberal Texas Congressman, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks). An unrepentant boozer and lady’s man, Wilson was also smart, popular and remarkably adept at foreign affairs. This prompts right-wing Houston debutante Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) — who Wilson had bedded in the past — to enlist his aide against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. A commie-hating activist, Herring wanted the United States to covertly fund and arm local freedom fighters (the Mujahadeen). Partnered with a hilariously droll CIA operative named Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Wilson concocts an outrageous plan to bring together Egyptian, Arabic and Israeli players while ballooning Defense appropriations from $5 million to $1 billion to help Afghans shoot down the Russian helicopters that have ravaged their country. Hanks is masterfully understated and charming while Roberts acquits herself ably. But it’s Hoffman who steals the show. No matter which character he’s playing alongside, the scene becomes a comedic soft-shoe of clever banter and political incisiveness.

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Balls-out bravado

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Fictional hard-living music icon Dewey Cox is played with balls-out bravado by John C. Reilly, in this epic life story that's a mash-up of biographic details cribbed from Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and just about every other hard-partying, self-destructive musical genius of the last half century. The flick takes a field trip through decades of R&B, pop and rock ’n’ roll, all in lovingly rendered tunes that are pitch-perfect genre copies, though most are curiously unfunny. The exception is the bawdy “Let’s Duet” a volley of innuendoes exchanged with comely backup singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer), who becomes Dewey’s love interest, much to the chagrin of his barefoot, perpetually pregnant wife (Kristen Wiig). In addition to womanizing, and drug use, Dewey's story has it all: sex, violence and full-frontal male nudity.

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