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May 2009

Outrage Against the Machine

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Richard Foreman/Warner Bros.

The original “Terminator” was the source of many a heart-stopping nightmare during my childhood, ever since watching a trailer for the film which showed an opening in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s calf and exposed the machinery within. The trailer left such an impression that I have no memory of the main feature it preceded. Then “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” blew my mind again with the melting Robert Patrick. Indeed, James Cameron left footsteps so titanic and impossible to follow that perhaps he just gave it up. The original film was a B picture with a $6.4-million budget, while the latest installment, “Terminator Salvation,” reportedly cost 30 times more yet possesses not one iota of originality in the hands of music-video vet McG.

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Drag 'Em to Hell

Antichrist (2009)

Festival de Cannes

I don't know if it's smart, but I like it. Or more truthfully: I like the fact that Lars von Trier, consumed by whatever black humor and profound doubts fill his days, can create a film so uncompromising, so despairing and so wickedly contrarian that it defies criticism and explanation in equal measure. And I like that he brought it to Cannes and created a storm of outrage, the perfect backdrop for the friendly folk queuing behind me to ask “Wait, this is the guy who made 'Dogma?' ”

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Happy as a Pig in Mud on Yasgur's Farm

Taking Woodstock (2009)

Ken Regan/Focus Features

All these years admiring Liev Schreiber and it never occurred to me to wonder what he would look like in heels and hose. Wonder no longer. Mr. Schreiber's cross-dressing marine-cum-security guard is the liveliest thing on show in Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock," an easygoing meander around 1969's legendary three-day music festival that ends up being neither one thing nor another. So Mr. Schreiber fits right in.

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Live Ever or Else Swoon to Death

Bright Star (2009)

Pathé Films

All the strongest points of Jane Campion's style – the banked-up emotions, circular rhythms and eye for landscapes – are on full display in “Bright Star.” Marking a return to the Cannes red carpet 16 years after she won the Palme d'or here for “The Piano.” Ms. Campion's new film follows an equally conflicted love story, and along the way confirms all over again that she is one of the finest directors of actors around.

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Vatican in the Spotlight, Losing Its Religion

Angels & Demons (2009)

Zade Rosenthal/Columbia Pictures

“Angels & Demons” is a serviceable bit of nonsense from the Dan Brown pipeline. As a Ron Howard-directed film, it’s tighter and more exciting than “The Da Vinci Code,” but still hampered by a rather thorough ridiculousness. So much can be made of the insular, mysterious inner workings of the Roman Catholic Church, that it’s a shame such a ripe milieu has, for the second time, been reduced to common thriller fodder.

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Caught in the Web, Where the Truth Lies

Adoration (2009)

Sophie Giraud/Sony Pictures Classics

Atom Egoyan’s “Adoration” takes a powerful, simple subject and mucks up its exploration with elaborate stylistic complications and moments of pure over direction. At its core is the grief-stricken story tinged with guilt, of a teenager learning to cope with the accidental death of his parents years earlier. Mr. Egoyan transforms that narrative into a murky rendition of the seedier side of the Web, and hampers it through the high-concept development of a premise centered on a convoluted role-playing assignment taken on with gusto by the main character and a central figure in his life.

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I'll Be There for You, Literally

Management (2009)

Suzanne Hanover/Samuel Goldwyn Films

If, as some people believe, that the best comedy is grounded in truth, then it is no wonder that “Management” falls so flat on its face. The film begins with an unbelievable scenario and then proceeds to get progressively sillier as it goes along. Not that there is anything inherently wrong in silly - Monty Python made a pretty good career out of it - but it needs to work in conjunction with “funny” to be successful, and “funny” is not a word that springs to mind in the case of “Management.”

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Boldly Revisit Where No Man Has Gone Before

Star Trek (2009)

Industrial Light & Magic/Paramount Pictures

Few cinematic ventures could be more fraught with peril than a revamping of the “Star Trek” franchise. No single pop phenomenon of the last half of the 20th century has amassed a more expansive, devoted following, and most ardent Trekkies tend to react to any changes to the canon as one might respond to the murder of a family member. Couple that with the fact that the most recent movies and TV spinoffs suffered a precipitous drop in quality and director J. J. Abrams can truly be said to have had his work cut out for him.

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Application of Artistic License

Sophie Giraud/Sony Pictures Classics

The Museum of the Moving Image hosted the New York premiere of "Adoration" on April 27, which included a Q&A with the director, Atom Egoyan, and two of the lead actors, Scott Speedman and Devon Bostick. David Schwartz, chief curator at the Museum of the Moving Image, moderated the discussion.

"Adoration," like many of Mr. Egoyan's films, is one that deftly plays with timelines and chronology in storytelling. Mr. Egoyan discussed this style as simply how he thinks and develops narratives, and spoke about cinematography as a tool to help break down the various moments in time. Certain scenes are rosy, softly-focused, and others slightly more surreal, giving the audience hints of un-reality and imagination. While there are scenes that veer into the sentimental, Mr. Egoyan responded to an audience question by saying that he doesn't consider his films to be melodramatic in the least. He talked about his attempt to shine a light on the complexity and nuances of relationships, while melodrama aims to simplify and polarize. He did concede, laughingly, that he had recently won the Douglas Sirk Award, so perhaps there was some truth to the suggestion of melodrama in his work.

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Hunter Becomes Haunted

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

Ron Batzdorff/Warner Bros. Pictures

The best thing about "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is that it makes no pretense to be anything other than the formulaic romantic comedy that it is. In its cheeky refurbishment of the familiar premise of Charles Dickens’s "A Christmas Carol," the film takes a certain kind of unabashed delight in its own predictability. The entertainment value comes from a series of wonderfully over-the-top performances and a string of well-placed one-liners.

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