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April 2009

Duct-Taping the Knot

Serious Moonlight (2009)

Will McGarry/Serious Moonlight, LLC

“Serious Moonlight” reaffirms what “Waitress” proved: The murder of Adrienne Shelly not only robbed the world of a mother, wife and talented actress, but an incredibly gifted and incisive filmmaking mind. Here Cheryl Hines directs one of Shelly’s unproduced screenplays, using the sort of elaborate battle-of-the-sexes setup intrinsic to the films of classic verbal stylists like Howard Hawks to arrive at some heartfelt human truths.

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Information Superhighway to the Danger Zone

Sleep Dealer (2008)

Maya Entertainment

Intellectually and technologically ambitious, "Sleep Dealer" falls short due to execution. With the theme of electronic connectivity coupled with artificial intelligence, the film draws inevitable comparisons to "The Matrix." But "Sleep Dealer" is easier to recognize and relate to, perhaps because entities like Facebook and Twitter have annexed our virtual lives. This film adds commerce to the equation, allowing the consumption of memories as well as military strikes portrayed on reality television. It’s too bad the film falls short.

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Hit Man of La Mancha

The Limits of Control (2009)

Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features

In “The Limits of Control,” Jim Jarmusch disappears so thoroughly into his elliptical style that he’s made an impossibly obtuse, arid film. It’s a vague abstraction of images, albeit ones framed with dreamlike, painterly gusto by rock-star DP Christopher Doyle. An exercise in gaudy self-indulgence, the film plods along through a series of cumbersome encounters, testing not the limits of control, but of patience.

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Tools of the Trading Floor

The Good Guy (2010)

Walter Thomson/Tribeca Film Festival

“See how far a little trust can get ya?” Such phrases slide easily out of Tommy Fielding’s (Scott Porter) mouth in Julio DePietro’s “The Good Guy.” A clean-cut, smooth-talking Wall Street salesman, Tommy invites a kind of congenial admiration. He’s slick, but he doesn’t seem sly; he’s great at his job, but he doesn’t come across as arrogant. Above all, he’s charming to a fault and perfectly gallant toward his new girlfriend, Beth (Alexis Bledel). At least, that’s what he’ll have you believe for the first half of the film.

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Fighting the Raging Bull

Tyson (2009)

Larry McConkey/Sony Pictures Classics

Love him or hate him – and at this point most people probably opt for the latter – there’s no doubting the imprint Mike Tyson has left on the past two-and-a-half decades of popular culture. From his dominant run as undisputed heavyweight champion in the 1980s to the precipitous fall from grace surrounding his rape conviction and his resurrection as an ear-biting, heart-munching sideshow, he’s never been far from the spotlight.

That profound link between Mr. Tyson’s public identity and the zeitgeist at large makes him a worthy subject for a documentary, but only one made by a filmmaker willing to resist hagiography and ask the tough questions. James Toback has done that with “Tyson,” a film that presents the entire arc of Mr. Tyson’s life in his own words, without the armchair psychological diagnoses of talking head experts. Whatever the reason – probably their longstanding personal relationship – Mr. Tyson deeply trusts Mr. Toback and opens up about his failings as honestly as could ever be expected.

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Prodigal Son Takes Over Mom-and-Pop Grocery

The Grocer's Son (2007)

Film Movement

Suddenly we can’t turn around for French paeans to rural life. In 2008, not only did a comedy called "Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks)" smash box-office records to become the most successful French film ever, but "Modern Life" won the Louis Delluc Prize for being the year’s best French film. And now "The Grocer’s Son," which mines what is apparently a very deep vein. It has enough panache that it doesn’t feel past its sell-by date.

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Forbidden Fruit in the Cement Garden

Delta (2008)

The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival

When the young female lead in a film is introduced wearing an apron splattered with pig’s blood, it is a sure indication that the next 90 minutes are not likely to send you out of the cinema wiping tears of mirth from your cheeks. So it is with “Delta,” an on the whole downbeat experience, but a very rewarding one for those willing to make the effort.

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Total Eclipse of the Heart

Tell Tale (2009)

Eric Lee/Tribeca Film Festival

The world premiere screening of Michael Cuesta’s “Tell Tale,” held Friday night as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, was interrupted with calls for EMS as a man slumped over in his seat, possibly fainting or suffering a seizure. Without making light of the occurrence or improbably speculating about it, it’s not inconceivable that Mr. Cuesta’s film could have such an intensely visceral effect on an audience member.

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The Orient Excess


Festival de Cine Internacional de Ourense

It is such a pleasure to hear the Irish language spoken fluently as it is throughout “Fairytale of Kathmandu.” Cathal Ó Searcaigh (pronounced Ca-HULL O’Sharkey) is a well-known Irish-language poet. I have one of his books acquired in the mistaken belief it was a bilingual edition, and on the flyleaf a review by Maire Mhac an tSaoi is quoted: “Ó Searcaigh is Mozartian, following the Gaelic classical convention of the dramatic first person, which disinfects the ‘I,’ moving easily from traditional metres to free verse and back, distilling the intense emotions of same-sex love into a lyric form that has not, I think, been equaled since the days of the Greek anthology.”

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Road Warrior Makes Hollywood Detour

Love the Beast (2009)

Michael Klein/Tribeca Film Festival

Many people chase stardom, but the vast majority don’t make it far beyond auditioning by day and waiting tables by night. Ironically, the relative few who do make it often have other unrealized aspirations. Some actors prefer playing in a rock band, while others would rather be making shoes. Eric Bana wishes he could be a racecar driver. He dedicates his directorial debut, the documentary “Love the Beast,” to his lifelong obsession with a 1974 Ford XB Falcon Coupe. It’s his first car, one that he and his mates have spent endless hours fixing up while hanging out in his parents’ garage. But it’s also because of his unexpected brush with fame, that Mr. Bana has managed to perfect his ride and enter the Targa Tasmania, an imposing five-day rally and race in Australia.

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