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June 2009

Life Through a Lens

The Windmill Movie (2009)

The Film Desk

To most people Richard P. Rogers probably seemed like a lucky man. Born of the privilege of life on the Upper East Side and the Hamptons, he reached the upper echelon of academics in his professorship at Harvard, thrived as a documentarian and experimental filmmaker, and was graced with three decades of love from the same woman. Yet, as Alexander Olch’s “The Windmill Movie” reveals, a dark and conflicted soul brewed beneath that idealized exterior.

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Return of the Hitler-Loving Dead

Dead Snow (2009)

Sveinung Svendsen/Euforia Film

With an ingenious premise that needs only two words ("Nazi zombies") of sales-pitching, "Dead Snow" is a film that benefits from a small level of expectation. Deliver an excess of flesheaters clad in SS uniforms ripping limbs and chomping on innards, and audiences will applaud. Fortunately, for any moviegoer hooked in by the film's paper-thin arch, Norwegian director and co-writer Tommy Wirkola does just that by simply frowning upon the old adage, "less is more." A free-wheeling, anything-goes homage to America's glory days of blood-soaked camp, "Dead Snow" never takes itself seriously, piling on one grossout gag after another, all streamlined with a consistent tone of corpse-skin-dark humor. The end result doesn't quite reinvent horror's zombie subgenre, but it's still one hell of an entertaining ride despite its flaws.

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Have a Gay Old Time

Year One (2009)

Suzanne Hanover/Columbia Pictures

“Year One” is precisely the sort of clunky high-concept comedy that’s become the norm for Harold Ramis. It’s a collection of throwaway gags in search of a narrative and some characters, made more in the tradition of “Bedazzled” than “Groundhog Day.” Lots of talented people slum their way through halfhearted comic situations that usually devolve into fart jokes, gay jokes or biblical puns.

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And of Clay Are We Created

$9.99 (2009)

Regent Releasing

Some of the best animated films are the ones in which the story could not be told any other way. Perhaps you need a flying house held aloft by balloons as in "Up," or you are attempting to re-create spotty memories of a traumatic past as in "Waltz with Bashir." Either way, for whatever reason, live action just won't do. An Israeli-Australian stop-motion film directed by Tatia Rosenthal, "$9.99" joins the ranks of well-written and beautifully-rendered modern animated films, but it ultimately lacks that essential relationship between form and function achieved by the best.

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With Fare Hikes and Service Cuts Looming, M.T.A. Riders Take Another Hit

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

Rico Torres/Columbia Pictures

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is similar to the cinematic version of a greatest-hits album, perfectly calibrated for the summer movie season. It features big stars and an established director doing exactly what they normally do, and doing it well.

The film pits John Travolta and Denzel Washington against one another as, stop me if you’ve heard this before, a maniacal villain and a suave hero respectively, while director Tony Scott (“Man on Fire,” “Domino”) amps up the action with assorted stylistic flourishes. That it works so well testifies to the skills of the principal figures and the continued potency of the mano-a-mano premise.

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The Year We Made No Contact

Moon (2009)

Mark Tille/Sony Pictures Classics

Sam Rockwell faces an enormous challenge in “Moon,” an existential science-fiction drama from Duncan Jones (better known as Zowie Bowie), son of Ziggy Stardust himself. The actor plays Sam Bell, a futuristic astronaut completing a three-year stint living alone on a lunar base, working to mine the moon of clean energy for a giant corporation. Remarkably, aside from the occasional flashback, there’s not a single other character in the movie save for a robot named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), until another Sam Bell (also played by Mr. Rockwell) shows up.

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Road to Parturition

Away We Go (2009)

François Duhamel/Focus Features

“Away We Go,” which Sam Mendes shot while in post-production on “Revolutionary Road,” is the first movie he’s made that openly engages with the vagaries of contemporary life. It’s not a hyper-stylized, heightened museum piece like its predecessor or a whip-smart satire like “American Beauty,” but a film straight from the heart of screenwriters and acclaimed authors Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. The movie palpably evokes the feelings, concerns and challenges confronting parents and homeowners seeking to live out the American dream in the 21st century.

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Amnesia Is What You Get for Waking Up in Vegas

The Hangover (2009)

Frank Masi/Warner Bros. Pictures

Lots of comically gruesome things happen in “The Hangover,” a cautionary tale about the dangers of bachelor-party debauchery spun out of control, but the movie presents them with such cheerful eloquence it’s impossible to have anything less than a great time. The casting of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis as the leads has a lot to do with that.

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Love and Habeas

Anything for Her (2008)

Pour elle_131_31a_jm_leroy
Mars Distribution

The writer and director Fred Cavayé is not a man given to idle dawdling. Within 10 minutes of setting up the perfect Parisian lives of his lead characters in “Anything for Her,” he swiftly tears them apart by having the gendarmes come crashing through their apartment door. Up to this point, the couple – mild-mannered teacher Julien (Vincent Lindon) and his beautiful wife Lisa (Diane Kruger) – were blissfully happy. In spite of having a three-year-old son, they find the time and energy to make love with the enthusiasm of a pair of adolescents but with decidedly more panache. Well, they are French after all.

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