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March 2009

With Careers Stalled, Restarting a Franchise's Engine

Fast & Furious (2009)

Jaimie Trueblood/Universal Pictures

“Fast & Furious,” the fourth picture in the car-fetishizing quadrilogy begun with 2001's “The Fast and the Furious,” inspires some interesting questions. For example: What changes in the audience’s response to a movie, and what does it signify, when all that separates a film from its predecessor is the absence of “the” in the title? What are we to make of the implication that Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), reunited at last, are now simply fast and furious instead of “the fast” and “the furious?”

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A Simple Country Life Turns Upside Down

The Country Teacher (2008)

3_Country Teahcer_Haystack
Film Movement

Bohdan Sláma’s “The Country Teacher” begins deceptively as a story about a natural science teacher, Petr (Pavel Liška), who has given up his job at a prep school in Prague for a post in the idyllic Czech countryside. His decision makes no sense to a new colleague, although it seems apparent to moviegoers that his affinity for nature has something to do with it. But half an hour in, the film proves that we are just as clueless as his fellow teacher. Petr has been leading a double life, and the past he left behind is gradually catching up to him.

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Hit 'em Baby One More Time

Bronson (2009)

Vertigo Films

Deep inside Wakefield prison sits Britain's most violent prisoner. Born Michael Peterson but enthusiastically embracing the alias of Charles Bronson, he has served 34 years in Britain's penal and psychiatric systems, thanks to such a history of violence and non-lethal brutality that the authorities don't know what else to do with him. Allegedly, he once took three hostages and demanded a cheese sandwich and a flight to Cuba.

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Tell and Kiss

Shall We Kiss? (2007)

Pascal Chantier/Music Box Films

“Shall We Kiss?” examines sex as a social contract and not an act between those in love, at least for awhile. Can two people have a meaningless kiss? Depending on how neurotic the two people, yes and no. With a plot that involves characters’ neuroses and their romantic inklings, “Shall We Kiss?” has all the markings of a Woody Allen film.

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Close Encounters in the Third Dimension

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

DreamWorks Animation

The DreamWorks Animation product “Monsters vs. Aliens” occasionally flirts with Pixar levels of brilliance before resigning itself to more tempered goals. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The unquestioned brand leader’s knack for melding technical excellence with complex, literate storytelling cannot be easily replicated. A movie like this one, which ably disguises its conventional kids’ fare premise in a clever satiric shell, deserves admiration even if it never reaches comparably artful heights.

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Dives for Swingin' Lovers

American Swing (2009)

Magnolia Pictures

Jon Hart and Matthew Kaufman have chosen a fertile subject for a documentary in Plato’s Retreat, the famed late 1970s New York swingers' club that emerged towards the end of the era of sexual innocence and couldn’t survive its downfall. More than a haven for the erotically minded, Plato’s captured the zeitgeist in no uncertain terms. It translated the downtrodden distrust rampant in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate period into a hopeful vision of a sort of communal utopia.

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Que viva México

Eniac Martinez/Focus Features

Making a first feature film is guaranteed to be an enormous challenge, but there are ways to alleviate the burden. One such method is to bring aboard creative talent with whom you’ve had a history, be it in short films, film school or some other outlet. Another is to keep the film small and personal, writing and directing what you know without having to worry about big budgets and the attendant complications.

Instead of making things easier on himself, Cary Joji Fukunaga made them harder. For his debut, the New York University MFA student and native of Oakland, Calif. traveled to Honduras and Mexico, learned a foreign language and directed non-professional actors in a complicated world with which he hadn’t the slightest personal familiarity, with a crew bereft of prior creative partners.

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It Takes Two Choreographers to Tango for Life

Carmen and Geoffrey (2009)

First Run Features

No couple has shaped modern dance as wholly as Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder. Over the course of their five decades of marriage, they have ascended to the upper reaches of their shared profession as both dancers and choreographers. Ms. de Lavallade, who worked closely with Alvin Ailey and served as her husband’s principal muse, and Mr. Holder, Tony winner for “The Wiz,” are indelible cultural icons and worthy subjects for the documentary “Carmen and Geoffrey” by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob.

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An Infernal Affair to Remember

Duplicity (2009)

Andrew Schwartz/Universal Pictures

“Duplicity” crams into its two-hour running time enough outwitting, outplaying and outlasting for a season of “Survivor,” just as many international destinations as a season of “The Amazing Race,” and more corporate intrigue than five years of “The Apprentice.” Of course, writer-director Tony Gilroy’s follow-up to “Michael Clayton” is by no means a response to reality television, but it does make apparent why so many casual viewers have jilted the dramatic form altogether during the past decade. You simply haven’t had this much fun at the multiplex in a long, long time.

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The Object of His Disaffection

I Love You, Man (2009)

Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Paul Rudd and Jason Segel grace the cover of the April issue of Vanity Fair, where they join Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill as the faces of a group the magazine calls “Comedy’s New Legends.” It’d be hard to argue about the pronouncement or, really, about the choices of cover stars, although Will Ferrell and Steve Carell might have something to say about that.

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