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October 2008

Spikes at the Gas Pumps

MOVIE REVIEW
Splinter (2008)

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Magnet Releasing

Let’s forgo the exposition and come right out with it: Anyone looking for a horror movie fix at the multiplex this Halloween will find every bit of what he or she is looking for in “Splinter.” Or he or she would, were the movie actually opening on more than four screens nationwide. I’ve given up trying to understand how these decisions are made, but surely the folks at Magnet Releasing could have done more with this brutally efficient genre exercise than they have. The film lacks star power and comes from a first-time director, but it’s an ideal antidote to both the glossy PG-13 horror fluff that so often manages to get a wide national release and the tired brutality of the “Saw” franchise.

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The Bond Identity

MOVIE REVIEW
Quantum of Solace (2008)

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Karen Ballard/Columbia Pictures

James Bond is suffering an identity crisis. The series – which began with 1962's "Dr. No" – has always had its ups and downs, not least the changes of lead actor. Despite 22 installments of varying quality and silliness, the franchise has always bounced back, mostly unscathed by the changing times or the parodies and imitators which have also filled our screens. Then came Bond's greatest adversary, 2002's "The Bourne Identity," in which Matt Damon picked up a pen and changed permanently how violence could appear on screen. What was previously stylized or intentionally amusing now looked dated and ridiculous. EON Productions, which controls the series, has been running scared ever since. Based on "Quantum of Solace," Bond has yet to find himself.

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Risky Business

MOVIE REVIEW
The Matador (2008)

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Mauricio Berho/City Lights Pictures

“The Matador,” the new documentary by Stephen Higgins and Nina Gilden Seavey, differs pronouncedly from the better-known recent movie that shared its title – the Pierce Brosnan-Greg Kinnear dark comedy. For example, this is actually a movie about a Spanish matador – the enormously popular David Fandila – and the sport he practices. It’s interested in the uneasy, ongoing adaptation of the regal, old-fashioned sport of bullfighting to the post-modern, politically-correct world and the ways in which Mr. Fandila deals with his celebrity, not in approximating the dysfunctional buddy relationship at the heart of the fictional “Matador.” So, no one should get them confused.

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Confessions of a Delicious Mind

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Abbot Gensler/Sony Pictures Classics

Not for the fainthearted, the cinema of Charlie Kaufman challenges audiences to consider the multiple cerebral layers that factor into even the most mundane everyday moments, and to process narratives in entirely unexpected fashions. “Synecdoche, New York” – the first movie he’s both written and directed – adheres to that overarching motif, even if it’s otherwise unlike anything anyone’s ever seen.

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Echoes of Distant Voices

MOVIE REVIEW
Of Time and the City (2008)

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Hurricane City Films and Digital Departures

"Of Time and the City" had another good festival in London this week to add to its respectable tour through Cannes, Edinburgh and Toronto, among others. Terence Davies’s return to filmmaking after an eight-year absence is being hailed as an extraordinary comeback for the almost forgotten arch British miserabilist.

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The Bad Shepherd

MOVIE REVIEW
What Just Happened (2008)

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Magnolia Pictures

No one should doubt the veracity of “What Just Happened.” Based on the book by longtime producer and first-time screenwriter Art Linson, the film depicts its Hollywood milieu so realistically it could easily be a documentary. That’s both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness.

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Of Mice and Men

MOVIE REVIEW
Three Blind Mice (2008)

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The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival

There are three admirable things about "Three Blind Mice": Firstly, the use of language. It's not just that this is an Australian film where the accents are mercifully closer to "Flight of the Conchords" instead of "Kath & Kim." It's the fresh banter, the overlapping arguments, the repetitive light conversation and the way the characters argue. Secondly, the staging. This is an obviously small-budget film, clearly made with little money, on real locations, and filmed wholly at night; but for once, these restrictions enable cleverness and freedom, and don't box the movie in. Thirdly, Matthew Newton – who wrote, directed, and starred – has done something which many big cinematic players can only hope to achieve: "Three Blind Mice" is not about what it's about. Three compelling reasons to see this most excellent film.

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Mother, Interrupted

MOVIE REVIEW
Changeling (2008)

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Tony Rivetti, Jr./Universal Studios

Clint Eastwood's latest film, "Changeling" – starring Angelina Jolie – dramatically explores the true story of a woman, her son, and an unusual abduction. The plot centers around a single mother, Christine Collins (Ms. Jolie), whose son Walter disappears one day in 1928. Desperate with grief and concern, she puts her faith in the Los Angeles Police Department, which is suffering from major public-relation problems due to excessive force and corrupt dealings. Months later, she receives news that her boy has been found. But when she meets him at the train station, she is less than joyful. The boy is clearly not her son, and she makes her feelings known to the people who brought him to her. The LAPD is unable to own up to the mistake, insisting that he is her boy but – due to his abduction and time away from home – perhaps he has "changed."

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No Gain From This Payne

MOVIE REVIEW
Max Payne (2008)

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Michael Muller/Twentieth Century Fox

My heart quickened during the opening segment of “Max Payne.” Shot in a stylish, video-game-meets-noir style that emphasized deep shadows and soft pockets of artificial light, the film looked cool. With Mark Wahlberg in full, scowling bad-ass mode, a motley collection of demonic villains, some hyperkinetic visuals set to a driving beat on the soundtrack and the odd, mysterious specter of shadowy creatures circling overhead, it seemed reasonable to anticipate a fun time at the movies.

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And You Can Dance, for Desperation

MOVIE REVIEW
Filth and Wisdom (2008)

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IFC Films

Directed by a mysterious first-time director named Madonna, “Filth and Wisdom” suffers from the amateurism that so often comes attached to such vanity projects. The story of three London roommates experiencing the highs and lows of their highly sexualized modern lives, the film relies too heavily on techniques that better filmmakers try to minimize: excessive first person narration and music-video montages. It also has the misfortune of starring Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz, who with his large mullet, thick mustache and even thicker accent functions as such an Eastern European caricature that he’s impossible to take seriously.

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