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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kisses

Sincere and vulnerable, aching with youthful insight

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM

When his dad punches his mom in a fit of anger, young Dylan (Shane Curry) fights back, only to unleash the full force of his father’s brutal fury. With the help of the girl next door, Kylie (Kelly O’Neill), he flees, and the two hitch a ride with a friendly barge-driver. This sends them on a runaway odyssey into Dublin, where they search for Dylan’s older brother, encounter a busker and sympathetic young woman, go on an illicit shopping spree (who says money can’t buy happiness?) and, possibly, run into Bob Dylan. But as night settles in, the kids discover that for every good-natured person who’s willing to help them, the streets are filled with those who would do them harm. Simultaneously sweet and tough, Kisses is like Before Sunrise as imagined by Roddy Doyle, an incisively written drama with strangely magical moments and memorably offbeat characters that’s never afraid to cross into unsettling instances of danger. Dylan and Kylie’s developing relationship is both authentic and moving, a tribute to extraordinary resilience and open-heartedness of kids, and their inevitable naïveté. It’s also the glue that holds Daly’s film together, as he spices their foul-mouthed dialogue with sparks of humor and humanity.

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Kitchens of distinction

Food, dance, sex and music? Who’s to complain?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM

The “Soul Kitchen” in question is both a restaurant and state of mind. A low-rent grease-pit eatery run by rumpled but cuddly Zinos Kazantsakis (Adam Bousdoukos), it’s far from health code-compliant, but the regulars like their beer, fried food and potato salad from a bucket. Nevertheless, even this threadbare slice of heaven is destined to come crashing down. The tax man — or woman, as the case may be — comes calling, Zinos’ girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) takes off for China, his ex-con brother Ilias (Moritz Bleibtreu) shows up looking for a work-release job, a violently temperamental but brilliant chef (the amazing Birol Ünel) drives away his customers, he slips a disk in his back, and a sleazy Aryan real-estate speculator (Wotan Wilke Möhring) sics health inspectors on him in order to steal the property. To say complications ensue would be redundant.

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Valhalla Rising

A Nordic odyssey straight down to Jerusalem

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Set between the eighth and 11th centuries against the stark, gloomy and filth-ridden world of pre-Christian Denmark, we’re introduced to One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen, the villain in Casino Royale). He’s a fearsome and mute warrior and slave for a Norse clan, and he disposes of his opponents with frightening efficiency while earning coin for his captors. One Eye is sold off, but after the sale he gets free of his shackles (literally) and makes a bloodbath of his new owners, except for a young boy named Are (Maarten Stevenson), the one sympathetic person who’d bring him food and water. Up till this point, Valhalla Rising plays like some sparse deconstructionist version of Gladiator — hyper-realistic violence, stunningly filmed desolate landscapes and little to no dialogue. One Eye soon encounters an army of Vikings who’ve been sent on a holy mission to spread Christianity and have been slaughtering the Danes (who were pagans) as part of their crusade. The Vikings enlist One Eye in their religious journey promising him that his sins will be forgiven once they reach Jerusalem. They’re barely on their boat before the journey turns sinister.

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Alamar

A slow-burn that shows us connections between what’s real

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM

A slow-burn that shows us connections between what’s real Not quite a docudrama (there’s little drama here) and not quite a documentary, this personal travelogue of sorts is a lovely and gorgeously wide-shot exercise in subtle activism, immersing the viewer in an idyllic world, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Natan is the unquestionably beautiful son of Italian mother Roberta Palombini and Mayan father Jorge Machado. From the couple’s opening voiceover we learn that their relationship ended because they lived in two very different worlds. It’s the only part of Pedro González-Rubio’s film that relies on words to tell its story. From there we watch as city-dwelling Roberta prepares her son for a summer with Jorge, a fisherman who lives in a small hut on stilts in the Banco Chinchorro, an immense coral reef off the Mexican coast. Subtly fictionalized by González-Rubio, Alamar is a gentle, unhurried and observant examination of love, separation and the bonds between man and nature, and father and son.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The American

Artfully conceived, existential, Euro-style thriller has everything except thrills

Posted By on Wed, Sep 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM

George Clooney plays Jack, a very bad man. How bad? Well, he shoots his innocent and unsuspecting girlfriend in the head in order to preserve his anonymity (don’t worry, I’m not giving away a key plot point). Bad as Jack is, life has become a wearying exercise in paranoia, violence and personal detachment. Not a good place to be for someone whose eyes smolder like Clooney’s. After vengeful killers track him down in Sweden (we’re never made privy to their motives), the morose assassin and arms expert holes up in an Italian mountainside town. While laying low, he’s hired to build a specialized rifle for a fashionably gorgeous gunman (Thekla Reuten), meets an aphorism-spouting priest (Paolo Bonacelli) who seems like a parody of a Graham Greene mouthpiece, and, of course, hooks up with a beautiful young prostitute with a heart of gold (Violante Placido). To be fair, Placido has wonderful nipples. It doesn’t take a degree in film theory to guess how hard it will be for Jack to make this his last job and who’ll end up in the crosshairs of that very special rifle.

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Separation anxiety

Drew Barrymore and her boy toy try going bicoastal

Posted By on Wed, Sep 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Drew Barrymore plays Erin, a clever 31-year-old graduate student and intern at a New York newspaper. She meets Garrett (Long), an indie record-company employee freshly dumped by his girlfriend, and they bond over shared interests in 1980s music and vintage arcade video games. Their budding romance is propelled with some help from a montage of citywide cavorting, in which Burstein resurrects split-screen techniques that hark back to 1959’s fluffy Pillow Talk. Six weeks into this romantic idyll, Erin must return to California to finish school (Stanford, no less), leaving Garrett to his goofy pals Dan (Charlie Day) and Box (Jason Sudeikis) and his unrealistic music-industry job. The relationship reaches a crisis point when Erin, attempting the quixotic feat of obtaining a fulltime job as a newspaper reporter, receives an offer that will keep her on the West Coast, leaving Garrett to sulk petulantly in his dumpy Manhattan apartment and consider seeking solace with a pretty co-worker (Kelli Garner).

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Borders on absurd

New film spoofs real-world failures of immigration policies

Posted By on Wed, Sep 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM

One of the funnier things about Machete, the new action flick from Robert Rodriguez, is envisioning how much it will fluster anyone supporting border walls and Arizona SB 1070-style immigration laws. The film’s subject, an uprising of Mexican-American immigrants spurred by corruption on both sides of the border, practically begs...

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Last Exorcism

Eli Roth-produced frighter looks neat, but that’s it

Posted By on Wed, Sep 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM

The Last Exorcism — which is only produced by Roth, but that’s enough — rides TV’s wave of mock-doc reality shows that “debunk” paranormal activity, sorta like Ghost Hunters meets Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files. Cotton Marcus (who is actually played with panache by Patrick Fabian) is a Baton Rouge minister and one-time child evangelist. Marcus teams up with a documentary film crew to show tricks of his trade — namely using sound effects, slight of hand and good ol’ fashioned religious histrionics — while performing an exorcism. (Are these intentional nods to 1972’s Oscar-winning doc Marjoe, which exposed one-time child evangelist Marjoe Gortner?) Marcus is the good guy motivated by a news clipping in which a child died while being exorcised. Marcus randomly chooses the Sweetzer family from letters he receives of folks looking for an exorcist. But when he and crew enter the family home, it’s quickly apparent that something’s very odd about the Sweetzers. Lewis Sweetzer has gone all fundamentalist Christian in the wake of his wife’s death; he pulled his kids from school, banned secular music, distrusts modern medicine and stopped attending church. The real action starts in the last 20 minutes when Nell is suddenly speaking in tongues, but we’ve seen it all before, and the motion-sick camerawork ruins most frights by obscuring everything behind what could be a Vaseline-smeared lens.

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Takers

Matt Dillon’s the only thing going for this heist flick

Posted By on Wed, Sep 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM

The Takers are a group of criminals who drive Porsches and live in high-rise condos. They pick and choose heists with discretion. So when old pal Ghost (played by ex-con rapper T.I.) returns from prison with a plan to hijack an armored truck, they’re a bit suspicious. But because Ghost used to be part of their crew before he got nabbed during a bank robbery, they decide to go along with him. Not so surprisingly, things don’t go exactly as planned — especially since a relentless cop with anger-management issues (Matt Dillon) is hot on their tail.

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Wild kingdom

Crime family dysfunction, Down Under-style, is survival of the fittest — and watch out for granny!

Posted By on Wed, Sep 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM

This menacing Aussie family crime drama makes clear that bad guys, no matter how bold, operate in a world of suffocating desperation. Like animals backed into a corner, they’ll react with brutal self-serving savagery, but the fear is ever-present. This is the toxic food chain into which 17-year-old Josh (dull-eyed James Frechette) is dropped. After his mum dies of a heroin overdose, the teen is taken in by sweet-voiced Grandma Smurf (Jacki Weaver) and the Codys, her three bank-robbing sons. Targeted by rogue police who’ll all-too happily assassinate before asking questions, the family lives like caged rats. And the head rat is eldest Uncle Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), a ferret-faced psychopath whose lack of common sense is matched only by his utter ruthlessness. When police suspect his involvement in the murder of two officers, a senior inspector (Guy Pearce) identifies Josh as the family’s weakest link and puts pressure on him to turn. This traps the kid between a rock and a very hard place. On one side he’s got violence-prone uncles, on the other, corrupt cops. Worse, the film’s third act reveals that Grandma Smurf is a compassionless lioness ready to devour her brood in order to get what she wants.

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