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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Signal

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

A weird, unexplained psychedelic pulse just starts droning out of TVs and radios, and pretty soon most of the residents of fictional Terminus City turn into erratic, homicidal savages, making this an ostensible zombie movie without any supernatural baggage. It’s also a pretty canny mash-up of dozens of genre movie plots, all reduced to a funky, high-energy, postmodern apocalypse. Cute adulterous hipsters Mya (Anessa Ramsey) and Ben (Justin Wellborn) awaking after a night of stolen passion to find that the world has gone bat-shit crazy without them. And things get graphically gory in a hurry.

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Steep

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

With jaw-dropping visuals, this documentary is a spectacular introduction to the death-defying extreme sport of big-mountain skiing. The skiers, interviewed by director Mark Obenhaus, describe a spiritual connection to the wild peaks they descend in language that’s echoed in the way surfers talk about riding waves. And when you come down to it, it's all about the gravitational pull.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Nothing short of great

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

In recent years, the finalists have been a decidedly mixed bag. While it’s rare that something truly awful slips in, there’s been a surprising amount of mediocrity lately. 2007, however, boasts an impressive and inspired slate of contenders. Is it a coincidence that not a single one hails from the U.S.A.? Not only are four of the five live-action nominees worth a look, all of this year’s animated shorts are first-rate, with nary a Pixar or Blue Sky production in sight.

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Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Tour: 30 Days & 30 Nights — Hollywood to the Heartland

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Vince Vaughn is a funny guy. Just ask him. And the thin line between self-regard and auto-eroticism gets obliterated very early on in this film that documents Vaughn and his show-biz buds on a 30-day tour. To hear Vaughn tell it in a series of local media interviews — each one more fatuous then the last — this flick ain’t just some roving band of comedians dispensing dick jokes; rather, it’s a sacred pilgrimage to the mystic heart of America. Yup, that's why this doc gathered mold on a shelf for two years before being dumped on the public in February.

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Fool’s Gold

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Kate Hudson scrunches up her dimpled cheeks and Matthew McConaughey flexes his shiny pecs furiously, but all their easy charisma can’t overcome a hopelessly dopey script and painfully inept direction. Minus a few references to hip hop and text messaging, this empty-headed romp could have been a vehicle for Frankie and Annette, if not Bob, Bing and Dorothy.

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Graphic sex

Seattle cartoonist Ellen Forney does kinky right

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

From violent, fetishistic orgies to pitiless scrutinizing of their own bodies and ids, the underground cartoonists of old were notorious for filling their comic books with weird sex. But for something really weird it's hard to beat a one-off comic from 1974 called Sex and Affection, by Jim Himes. Apparently...

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A Detroit Thing

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

This doc covers the Detroit music scene in the mid-late ’90s. Brothers Nick and Anthony Brancaleone spent several years turning cameras on area musicians, and spent several more kicking around the festival circuit trying to get some attention for their work. Unfortunately, their scruffy, underdog film takes as its principal subject Tino of the Howling Diablos, who’s depicted here as nothing short of a visionary in a black leather car coat. That's a weird focus for a scene that included so many great bands. Ultimately, the film fails to capture the real depth and breadth of the fertile music talent that was popping up like weeds through the sidewalk.

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4 months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

A film about abortion set in 1987 Romania. Director Christian Mungiu re-creates those days with a bleak, washed-out look. The story unfolds in a 24-hour period. Two young women, college roommates, are forced through the treacherous machinery of the country’s medical underground. Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is a sunny-eyed realist, faced with arranging an illegal abortion for her pretty, naïve friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who continues to hide from the facts at every step of the process. The climax is as wrenching as any thriller, but never breaks rules that’ve been established here, never breaking trust or taking us out of the story. Yet by the film’s finish, escape is very welcome, since we know what the characters don’t — that dictator Nicolea Ceausescu’s regime was coming to an abrupt end, and some better days are ahead.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Caramel

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Set in a smallish beauty salon in an unglamorous corner of Beirut, this tale of interweaving lives of women has the salon as its nexus of activity, gossip and sisterly bonding. The setting is exotic but the characters are familiar types. Of course, some of the dilemmas they face are somewhat different. What are for these women everyday nuisances, like being harassed by the police for simply sitting in a car with a man at night, might shock Western audiences. Or consider the silent struggle of young shampoo girl Rima, who longs for one of her lovely lady customers, but is so deeply closeted it’s never an option. Upping the realism is that most of the actors aren’t professionals, yet they give nuanced, instinctive performances without the slightest hint of forcing it.

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Fable at a crossroads

John Sayles crows wildly in his 16th feature

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Tyrone “Pinetop” Purvis is a man with a heap of woe on his shoulders. He has a haunted past, the debt-ridden nightclub of the title and a gun-toting enforcer out to collect or evict. He’s got the unctuously racist sheriff leaning on him. He’s got a desperate plan for a big-draw Saturday that’s falling apart. He’s got a long-suffering wife on the verge of complicating his life by giving herself up to the Lord. He’s got a perky teenage stepdaughter with a weak heart, and a guitar-slinging drifter is making eyes at her. He’s got the all-seeing blind bluesman on the corner jabbering ominously about his fate. And, oh, yeah, the trouble brewing yonder among the cotton field hands is headed straight for the Honeydripper.

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