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November 2008

Crying Over Slain Milk

MOVIE REVIEW
Milk (2008)

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Phil Bray/Focus Features

The story of Harvey Milk has never seemed timelier than it does right now, with this month’s defeat of Proposition 8 in California and the ongoing war over equal rights for the American gay population. That particular bit of happenstance amplifies the considerable dramatic impact of Gus Van Sant’s “Milk,” which chronicles the activist period in its subject’s life. Brilliantly acted and laced with verisimilitude, the movie convincingly delves into the front lines of that war in its earliest stages.

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War Crimes of the Heart

MOVIE REVIEW
The Reader (2008)

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Melinda Sue Gordon/The Weinstein Company

Adapting any old book into a film isn't too difficult. Adapting a good book into a good film seems near impossible. Stephen Daldry's latest film, "The Reader," is no exception. Originally a sparse, straightforward and quietly brilliant book at 218 pages, the movie version of "The Reader" is over two hours long and advertises with the bombastic tagline: "Behind the mystery lies a truth that will make you question everything you know." It's a tall order; and while they certainly give it a shot, the film can't quite deliver.

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And They Called It Puppy Love

MOVIE REVIEW
Wendy and Lucy (2008)

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Simon Max Hill/Oscilloscope Laboratories

“Wendy and Lucy” is the simple story of a girl and her puppy, but it may well be the best girl-and-pup movie ever made. Michelle Williams stars as Wendy, a drifter en route to Alaska whose junkyard car gives out in the middle of Oregon. She manages to get arrested for shoplifting from a grocery store, and upon her release she can no longer locate her pet dog and traveling companion, Lucy. For the remainder of the film, Wendy wanders through small towns and the Oregonian wilderness, trekking across parking lots and railroad tracks in hopes of finding Lucy.

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Living (and Dying) in the Gangster's Paradise

MOVIE REVIEW
Gomorrah (2008)

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Mario Spada/IFC Films

Based on journalist Roberto Saviano’s 2006 bestseller about the Napolitano Mafia, “Gomorrah” is a sprawling Altmanesque epic about how organized crime has thoroughly contaminated every facet of life in Naples, Italy. Aside from having a vice grip on the local drug supply, the Camorra has also strong-armed its way into contracts for the manufacture of designer fashions and the illegal disposal of toxic waste. Two warring gangs have suddenly turned even child playmates into sworn enemies while everyone angles for the best position to make a killing or to simply avoid getting killed. Mr. Saviano’s account is so incendiary that he is now on the mob hit list and receives a permanent police escort.

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Let the Right One Bite

MOVIE REVIEW
Twilight (2008)

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Deana Newcomb/Summit Entertainment

For those knowing close to nothing about the “Twilight” phenomenon, it's tempting to approach this heavily promoted adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s novel with extreme trepidation. Oft-circulated clips of thousands of teenage girls descending upon star Robert Pattinson in a possessed frenzy further reinforced the notion that this is probably not something made for another demographic. Indeed, the film lives up to your expectation – for better or worse.

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You Can't Go Home Again, Unless the Dealer Wants His Stake

MOVIE REVIEW
Lake City (2008)

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Kent Eanes

“Lake City” uncomfortably weaves two of the most time-worn indie film formulas into a messy, convoluted 92 minutes. Hunter Hill and Perry Moore, the writer-directors, cram into their screenplay both the dysfunctional-family-uncomfortably-reunited plot line and the trouble-with-the-drug-dealer one. The movie adheres so closely to those standards that it feels like Sundance by committee.

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Impaired Post-Apocalyptic Vision

MOVIE REVIEW
Blindness (2008)

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Ken Woroner/Miramax Films

In an unidentified, multi-ethnic city, people start going blind. The first man is waiting at a red light when he finds he can no longer see. Another man (Don McKellar, who wrote the screenplay) offers to drive him home and then steals his car. When the first man's wife appears, she takes him to a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who goes blind the next morning when he wakes up next to his wife (Julianne Moore). The other people in his waiting room (including Alice Braga and Danny Glover) are separately brought to a quarantine unit and held under armed guard. Eventually, everyone is blind, in the whole city and maybe the country. Everyone except Ms. Moore.

The author of the book on which "Blindness" is based, José Saramago, recently won the Nobel Prize for literature. The director of this film, Fernando Meirelles, was Oscar-nominated for his first international success, "City of God." The five main actors in this film are among the most garlanded and respected working in the industry today. And yet "Blindness" never takes off. This is because of a failure of imagination at the very source.

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An Alpine Triumph of the Will

MOVIE REVIEW
North Face (2008)

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Majestic Filmverleih

"North Face" can pass as a horror film. It takes place over a short mountain climbing expedition, which doesn't much sound like fun. There is something tall you can fall off of. There is no easy way to get up without nearly slipping and falling to your death. There are things like rocks and avalanches which can drop on you. Your ropes can cut your hands, your gloves can get lost so you get frostbite, you rest where you can without hot food or a place to lie down and you can't fall asleep so you don't freeze. Some vacation! So the drama of "North Face" is there just in the premise. But the 1936 setting means the climbers are working in the same type of clothes we all have laying around at home - one of them wears a flatcap, for pity's sake - and there is no high-tech solution to their basic problems.

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Another Taste of Cherry

MOVIE REVIEW
Goodbye Solo (2008)

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Travis Van Sweden/65th Venice Film Festival

I have not seen either of director Ramin Bahrani's previous two films, "Man Push Cart" and "Chop Shop," but I have read an endless list of raves about them both. Mr. Bahrani can't seem to step wrong. In his first two films, he shot in New York on real locations using non-professional actors with whom he'd worked closely in rehearsal for months before shooting. So even though my local video store doesn't carry either one, I was really looking forward to "Goodbye Solo" and my personal discovery of this great new talent. I left the cinema not quite sure if I'd seen what everyone else has.

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Eyes Wide Shut

MOVIE REVIEW
House of the Sleeping Beauties (2006)

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First Run Features

Taken at face value, Vadim Glowna’s “House of the Sleeping Beauties” consists of little more than a lot of endless scenes of an old man delivering deeply personal monologues to nude, somnolent young women. Of course, this adaptation of the Yasunari Kawabata novella of the same title actually amounts to something more than an unsettling voyeuristic fantasy. It’s a meditative evocation of the particular, complicated emotions so fundamental to old age, and the ever advancing knowledge that your time on this earth is running out.

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