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October 2009

Wondering in the Night What Were the Chances

MOVIE REVIEW
Woman Without Piano (2009)

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The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

FIPRESCI award-winning director Javier Rebollo teams up with Spanish TV stalwart Carmen Machi for an atmospheric character study that touches on feelings of helplessness and discontent and the lengths some people will go to define their existence.

Ms. Machi is Rosa, a middle-aged Madrid housewife who wiles away her time watching daytime television and tending to trite chores; Mr. Rebollo neatly highlights the banality of her routine with shots of a made bed and a plate of food. She has long, tedious conversations with people she doesn’t want to speak to: a salesman on the phone, an unhelpful woman at the post office. It all makes for a fairly miserable and meandering existence, which Mr. Rebollo emphasizes by filling the picture with shots of clocks highlighting the slow passage of time. Yet when night falls, Rosa appears to lead a secret life and donning a wig she disappears into the night.

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Finding Neverland

MOVIE REVIEW
Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009)

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Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty Images

Genuine tribute or cynical money making ploy? That question has surrounded “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” since the project — a compilation of rehearsal footage and behind the scenes interviews accrued during the run-up to Jackson’s planned 50 dates at London’s O2 Arena — was announced shortly after the King of Pop’s death. By keeping the film shrouded in secrecy, first showing it to most critics last night and at a courtesy screening this morning, Sony Pictures and AEG Live did little to stem the tide of suspicion.

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La Douche Vita

MOVIE REVIEW
Starsuckers (2009)

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The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Chris Atkins may be the most influential documentary maker currently working in Britain. His 2007 BAFTA-nominated film, “Taking Liberties,” examined the gradual erosion of civil liberties and the rise of a surveillance society under New Labour; it’s an informative and terrifying picture. His follow up, “Starsuckers,” is a damning indictment of the power of the media and the cult of celebrity; and it’s perhaps the most relevant and hard-hitting picture of the year.

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Slow Boat From China

MOVIE REVIEW
She, a Chinese (2009)

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The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

The enigma that is 21st-century China and the effect that rapid modernization has had on its younger generation forms the crux of Xiaolu Guo’s latest film, “She, a Chinese.” Ms. Guo’s inherently sad tale follows the personal journey of Li Mei (an exceptional Huang Lu) from the Chinese countryside to the big city and eventually to London as she vainly searches for an identity and meaning.

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Holding Breath for Romance

MOVIE REVIEW
Giulia Doesn't Date at Night (2009)

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Donatello Brogioni/
The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Italian director Giuseppe Picconi’s latest picture is a touching, wonderfully understated tale of boredom, love, deception and ultimately tragedy. It’s a well observed and beautifully shot film that benefits from some fine central performances and — despite its inherently solemn tone — is a fascinating and thoroughly compelling watch.

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Laying the Foundation Stone for a House of Horrors

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Magnet Releasing

The next time you’re idly browsing for new threads in the nearest clothing chain store, don’t underestimate the guy hawking his services for a larger commission check. Because if this were 2005, and you were in a Diesel outlet in Philadelphia, Ti West would be regurgitating his rehearsed two-pairs-for-the-price-of-one sales pitch, yet beneath the spiel would rest the foundation for what will become one of 2009’s best horror films, “The House of the Devil.”

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Brothers of the Road Bear a Heavy Load

MOVIE REVIEW
Passenger Side (2009)

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The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

With “Passenger Side,” writer-director Matt Bissonnette has managed to produce a picture that boasts not only a screenplay that is nowhere near as witty or sharp as he thinks it is, but also lacks a single discernible likable character. It’s a road movie of sorts, but it meanders rather than drives towards its (not overly surprising) conclusion utilizing a series of claustrophobic car rides as a metaphor for the protagonist’s emotional journeys.

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There Beneath the Blue Suburban Skies

MOVIE REVIEW
Don't Worry About Me (2009)

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The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

David Morrissey makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of stage play “The Pool,” effectively a double-hander exploring a developing relationship between Londoner David (James Brough) and Liverpudlian lass Tina (Helen Elizabeth) over the course of a single day in the city.

Venturing north to Liverpool on the pretext of returning a misplaced presentation to his one-night stand, David gets short shrift from his conquest’s boyfriend and ventures off into the night to drown his sorrows. Waking up in the street sans wallet, David attempts to win his fare home at the bookies but instead catches the eye of pretty assistant Tina who gives him a tip on the dogs. Buoyed by his good fortune, they go for coffee, and on a whim David persuades Tina to throw a sickie so they can spend the day together. As Tina gives David a guided tour of her hometown, they tentatively get to know each other, sharing a moment in time away from their real lives.

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Role Model of the Runway

MOVIE REVIEW
Amelia (2009)

Original
Ken Woroner/Fox Searchlight Pictures

In the age of convention-defying biopics — films such as “I’m Not There” that reflect the lives of their subjects in content and form — it’s strange to encounter “Amelia.” There could not be a motion picture more diametrically opposed to that aesthetic, more resolutely classical Hollywood in its making. Taking the snapshot approach to a fraction of aviator Amelia Earhart’s (Hilary Swank) life — running through the highlights in rough chronological order — it borrows such old-fashioned conceits as the use of newsreels and headlines to propel things forward and mannered, overly-calculated impressions posing as performances.

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The Thai That Spellbinds

MOVIE REVIEW
Ong Bak 2/Ong-Bak: The Beginning (2008)

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Magnet Releasing

In “Ong Bak 2,” Thai martial artist Tony Jaa flips above, kicks, punches and places choke holds on his many opponents, all when he’s not leaping across and taming a herd of elephants. Mr. Jaa, the star and co-director (with Panna Rittikrai), sends the camera on frenzied fits of pans, zooms and swoops, with shock cuts taken from all sorts of angles. Frequently, the film stock is sped up or slowed down, while the actors enthusiastically enter the heightened world of extreme battles and betrayals.

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