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July 2009

Broken by a Word That Somebody Left Unspoken

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures

The romantic comedy genre has long been a form of escapism for women either scorned or disgusted by men. They don't call them "chick flicks" for nothing. Aside from the film's dud-to-stud prince charming, a romantic comedy's guy population is a Murderers' Row full of playboys and Mr. Wrongs – and, of course, Matthew McConaughey. So it requires little explanation as to why most men would rather read "Twilight" than voluntary see a chick flick. First-time director Marc Webb's enchanting "(500) Days of Summer" is the exception. This time, it's the guy who has to cope with a heart-stringing woman, a role reversal that could have turned into a one-note punchline. Anchored by a totally-game performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "(500) Days of Summer" hits all the right notes. Funny, energetic and – most importantly – believable, the film should be mandated viewing for ladies convinced that guys "just don't understand."

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Straight Eye for the Queer Guy

Brüno (2009)

Mark Schwartzbard/Universal Pictures

“Brüno” pushes the boundaries of good taste by taking the ribald skits Sacha Baron Cohen performed as the character on “Da Ali G Show” and supersizing them for the big screen. It fulfills that base function in the same fashion as “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” with each scene structured around the comic shock value of the star pushing the limits of taste and sanity. Yet, those individual set pieces lack the cohesive, nasty satiric sensibility that characterized the fictional Kazakh journalist’s jaunt through Americana hell.

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Agnès From 5 to 7

The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

Cinema Guild

Agnès Varda, icon of the French New Wave and its leading female voice, has continued to perfect her unique brand of filmmaking in the years since that burst of cinematic exuberance subsided. Now, at age 80, she’s come out with “The Beaches of Agnès,” a whimsical autobiography that covers the span of her career. It’s a characteristically colorful, poignant work full of exquisite compositions and dreamlike reflections that serves as an ideal encapsulation of the Vardian sensibility.

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Between Love and Marriage, Something's Gotta Give

Cloud 9 (2008)

Soda Pictures

When it comes to the perennially prickly subject of sex and nudity on the cinema screen, opinion may be divided into three broad camps: those people who regard celluloid sex as wholly offensive and unacceptable, people who see such things as just part of modern filmgoing, and a certain contingent who regard on-screen copulation as a prerequisite to a fulfilling movie experience. Presumably this latter group prefer its bare flesh to be served tight, toned and youthful. In which case those filmgoers are in for a surprise if they watch “Cloud 9,” lured in by the promise of some steamy action. There is plenty of skin on show here, but it is all proudly wrinkled, saggy and well past 60.

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Yelp It From the Rooftops

Echoes of Home (2007)

Polyfilm Verleih

Folk music has a difficult time of it in this modern world. There’s the need to preserve the old sounds and traditions, but also the need to make them relevant to people now. Without contemporary interest, the music is reduced to museum status and the performers to archivists, but when the music is moved forward into a modern style, it becomes something new and more uncategorizable.

“Echoes of Home” is about three Swiss musicians who are caught between these two conflicting needs. The traditional music of Switzerland is yodelling – the perfect way to ensure sounds and messages are carried across the enormous mountain ranges, and up and down the valley. But this specific need of theirs speaks to something wider within their culture. As demonstrated by the eager mature students featured in an evening class, yodelling seems to be an excellent way for the proper, polite Swiss to really let rip.

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Edinburgh '09: Antichrist and Antipasto Giallo at Auld Reekie

Daryl Pittman/S&Z Productions

The Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009 ended with the news that ticket sales were up on the previous year, proving that the move from August to June was helping the festival carve out a new mid-year identity as the organizers intended. The move has also clearly raised the event's appeal to mainstream distributors arranging their summer schedules, with many of the big-ticket items using Edinburgh as a springboard for a wide release shortly after the festival closes. Whether this is putting the squeeze on the number of smaller and quirkier films here will be a point worth watching.

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