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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Every mother's son

Unaffected, spontaneous doc captures the traumas of a lonely teen spaz

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Billy P. is a precocious, achingly earnest 15-year-old, endlessly talking about Kiss, serial killers, karate, French painters and more. Like a teenage Don Quixote, he cruises streets of his small Maine community, looking for maidens to protect and villains to thwart. Despite his painful vulnerability, you can’t help but be impressed by his eloquence and insight. Of course, there are darker currents working in Billy’s life, and casting director-turned-filmmaker Jennifer Venditti’s Billy the Kid puts its focus on the profoundly raw and unfiltered clumsiness of adolescence. Though it could have easily descended into a freak show, Venditti’s smart and intimate doc is completely authentic and original, effectively wielding its home movie sensibilities.

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Vantage Point

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Inspired as much by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon as the TV series 24, this fractured tale of a presidential assassination attempt pumps the adrenaline by rewinding and replaying its elaborate terrorist attack, rotating the perspective to eight different characters played by an ensemble of veteran actors. As each version unfolds, the movie cleverly rearranges pieces of the puzzle, building on past clues and revealing earlier misdirections. It’s an engaging device that draws you in and keeps you alert but begins to tire around the fourth or fifth take. That said, Irish director Peter Travis convincingly exploits current technological trends and post-9/11 paranoia about terrorism and surveillance to deliver a competent thriller that’s built for speed. The cast is, as you might expect, excellent and surprisingly mature; it’s not often that Hollywood fills a big-budget actioner with middle-aged actors.

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Be Kind Rewind

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

This scruffy and inventive film is a cinematic call to make your own entertainment. Mike (Mos Def) is the hard-working cashier of a dispossessed video rental shop in Passaic, N.J. The neighborhood’s clearly working-class and the dingy videotape-only business is on its last legs. Entrusted with watching the store while his boss (Danny Glover) leaves town, Mike struggles to keep his abrasive and paranoid friend Jerry (Jack Black) from driving away the store’s few remaining customers. Unfortunately, Jerry becomes magnetized after attempting to sabotage the local power plant and accidentally erases every tape in the shop. Desperate to keep business going, the two concoct a plan to re-enact popular films with an old video camera. Soon, their custom-made movies are all the rage, pulling in unlikely fans (and cast members) from the surrounding neighborhood. That is, until Hollywood copyright lawyers come calling.

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Charlie Bartlett

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is the perfect confidante for his classmates at Connecticut’s West Summit High School, a public institution miles away from the tony private schools that have systematically booted Bartlett for creative misbehavior. At Summit, he stands out as an aristocratic freak, albeit one with a compassionate streak. It’s the way he manages to help whomever he encounters — be it an ostracized kid or his own tormentor — that turns him into a much-sought-after counselor. His peers get his advice and the prescription drugs he doles out with the zeal of a pharmaceutical rep. None of this sits too well with the self-medicating school principal, Nathan Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.), who prefers booze to pills. This film’s tone is distinctive even in the current Junoverse. Charlie Bartlett represents a new sincerity, evidenced by the utterly unironic use of the Cat Stevens song “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” written for 1971’s Harold & Maude (whose giddy mix of comedy and tragedy is an obvious influence). These teens are certainly jaded, but not cynical: they’ve seen too much and want to create a whole different view.

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Diva

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Even though it takes place largely in a Paris underworld rife with corruption, there’s nothing gritty about Diva, which is so polished it gleams. French critics derisively dubbed director Jean-Jacques Beineix’s feature debut as cinema du look, but seeing Diva again, it’s clear that style did not trump substance. Moped-riding postman Jules (Frédéric Andréi) loves opera, but his real passion is the elusive American diva Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), who refuses to make albums. So this young audiophile sneaks sophisticated sound equipment into her recital, and captures a crystalline recording of the aria from Alfredo Catalini’s La Wally. At once her exploiter and protector, Jules begins to insinuate himself into Cynthia’s closed world, and Beineix’s attitude is breezily nonchalant; his moral neutrality lets Diva crackle with real tension.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jumper

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

David Rice (Hayden Christensen) — a guy who can teleport anywhere in the world — isn't really much of a hero at all. In fact, despite the movie's suggestions that Rice might develop a conscience — he lives a self-serving life of leisure financed by the banks he robs — he never rises up to do anything honorable except rescue the woman he loves (Rachel Bilson) from a vague organization of religious zealots led by Roland (a white-haired, familiarly menacing Samuel L. Jackson).

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The Spiderwick Chronicles

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Mark Water's film has two things going for it: a laudable degree of craftsmanship and the promise of no sequels. Condensing five short juvenile novels into a single 90-minute film, the screenwriters (including indie director John Sayles) have done a decent job of constructing a tale that will entertain tots without insulting parents' intelligence. Separated from her husband, Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) moves her kids from New York City to decrepit Spiderwick mansion, which hides a powerful secret that angry young Jared (Freddie Highmore) stumbles across. Suddenly, the kids are deep in the intrigues of a fantastical world that lives invisibly alongside our own.

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In Bruges

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

A pair of hit men are ordered to cool their heels in the fairytale-like city of Bruges after a job goes terribly wrong. Whatever happened isn’t at first clear, but young Ray (Colin Farrell) is clearly worse for the wear. Twitchy and haunted, he hates the idyllic Belgian town and ends up picking fights with tourists and desperately trying to befriend a dwarf film actor. In contrast, Ray’s more experienced partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson) is determined to enjoy their unexpected R & R, embracing Bruge’s quaint mediaeval sights and his role as a tourist. But the longer these misfits stick around, the more complicated things get. Ray turns suicidal, and the duo’s boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), calls to give Ken an impossible order. Guns are drawn, tears are dropped and nothing goes the way it’s supposed to. As with all road movies, it all comes down to chemistry, and almost every character in In Bruges convincingly connects, selling the story’s absurd twists and turns.

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A franchise with brains

Latest Romero flick shows zombies are food for thought

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The film begins with a small crew of college film students and their boozy professor, shooting a horror film in the Pennsylvania woods. Their shooting is cut short when they start hearing news stories on the radio about the dead coming back to life. Some of them are skeptical — who the hell believes the news these days? Still, they pack up their Winnebago and hit the road hoping to find loved ones safe at home. What they find is something wholly different, captured by student director Jason (Josh Close), who tellingly observes, “If it’s not on camera, it’s not like it really happened.” Romero exploits this film-within-a-film, life-imitating-art device well.

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Definitely, Maybe

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Young dad Will (Ryan Reynolds), on the evening of a divorce, recounts for his daughter (Abigail Breslin) the story of how he met her mommy in the first place. It's framed as a race between three likely suspects from his past, Emily (Elizabeth Banks), April (Isla Fisher) and Summer (Rachel Weisz). Then it's time for flashbacks to the era of Kurt Cobain, brick-sized cell phones, and the halcyon days of the Clinton campaign — you know, the first one.

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