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October 2009

Missing in Action on the Side

Adrift (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Vietnamese director Bui Thac Chuyên’s second feature “Adrift” is an introspective and thoughtful study of loneliness, sexual desire and experimentation. Mismatched relationships lie at the heart of the picture, which centers around newlywed Duyen (an understated Do Thi Hai Yen) and her dalliances with her young disinterested husband Hai (Nguyen Duy Khoa), solemn friend Cam (Pham Linh Dan) and mysterious alpha male Tho (a rugged Johnny Nguyen).

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Jokesters Practically Approach Political Agenda

The Yes Men Fix the World (2009)

Shadow Distribution

In 2003’s “The Yes Men,” Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum set up a Web site mimicking and lampooning the World Trade Organization, an international organization they oppose. Their Web site, though, was mistaken for the real thing, and they were invited to speak at important meetings and functions as representatives for W.T.O. They decided to use the opportunity to hold a mirror up and show the outfit its own greed and hopefully make a difference. Now, with “The Yes Men Fix the World,” a sequel of sorts, they have gotten much better at getting people to think they represent companies that they satirize.

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Fox Can't Keep Out of Hen House

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is identifiably based on a short story by Roald Dahl: the anthropomorphized animals, the analysis of the English class system and the marginalization of one gender of characters are all his trademarks. But what makes this movie special is that it is identifiably also a Wes Anderson film: the father doing his best for his family in his own peculiar fashion, the slightly remote mother more interested in her own goals than her children and the lonely son desperately seeking his parents’ approval.

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The City of Mass Destruction

Micmacs (2009)

Bruno Calvo/Sony Pictures Classics

Bazil (Dany Boon) had the bad luck as a child to lose his father, a bomb disposal expert, in an accident with a land mine. Thirty years later, he has the bad luck to be shot in the head as a bystander to a drive-by shooting. Bazil eventually exits the hospital with nowhere to go and the bullet still in his brain, too dangerous to remove. On the streets of Paris, he soon encounters a fellow beggar, Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle), who takes him back to Micmacs, a shelter made entirely from salvaged goods beneath a Parisian underpass. There — with the cheerful assistance of the other homeless outcasts — he decides to orchestrate his revenge. That’s revenge against the C.E.O. of the manufacturer of the landmine (André Dussollier) that killed his father, and of the C.E.O. of the arms-dealing company (Nicolas Marié) that made the bullet in his head.

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Without a Trace in East Timor

Balibo (2009)

Balibo Film Pty. Ltd./Footprint Films

Inspired by journalist Jill Jolliffe’s book “Cover Up,” Robert Connolly’s controversial and highly political thriller “Balibo” attempts to uncover the truth behind the brutal deaths of six journalists in East Timor in 1975. It’s highly charged, emotive and powerful, but it’s also exceptionally brave filmmaking because it dares to challenge the long-held official line of events of not one, but two governments (that of Indonesia and Australia).

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Wiping Science Out of Fictional District 9

Shirley Adams (2009)

Jennifer Wheatley/
The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

First-time director and scribe Oliver Hermanus delivers an astounding and intimate portrait of a mother’s struggles to care for her quadriplegic son. In Cape Town slum Mitchell’s Plain, Shirley Adams (a remarkable Denise Newman) cares for her young son Donovan (Keenan Arrison), a tragic victim of a gangland shooting which has left him paralyzed from the neck down. Shirley’s husband has abandoned the pair; and Shirley — forced to give up work to care for Donovan — lives in relative poverty, relying on the good nature of neighbor Kariema (Theresa Sedras) to get by.

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Town Says No, No, No to Rehab

Shed Your Tears and Walk Away (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

The picturesque market town of Hebden Bridge is nestled in the beautiful rolling Pennine valleys of West Yorkshire. It’s a bohemian place popular with tourists and alternative types, but filmmaker Jez Lewis finds himself returning with increasing frequency for funerals of suicide victims. Seeking answers for this spate of drink- and drug-related deaths, Mr. Lewis tracks down his old friend Cass, hoping he’ll be able to provide an explanation. But the Cass he finds is suffering from alcoholism and liver damage, and has just been given two years to live unless he can kick his booze habit. What unfolds is a raw and honest insight into what can happen when hope seeps out of a community in a brutal and emotional documentary on grief and desperation.

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Hollywood Screen Kiss-Off

My Big Break (2008)

Bryn Mawr College

A young man moved into a house share in the Los Angeles suburbs in the 1990s and — to demonstrate his filmmaking skills with a camcorder, no script and no money — began documenting his housemates. They were also young men, all jobbing actors newly arrived in Hollywood looking for their big break. Two of them, Brad Rowe and Chad Lindberg, got steady and noticed work in films and television, and the third, Greg Fawcett, had an unshakable belief that his turn was right around the corner. The fourth was Wes Bentley.

Director Tony Zierra then turned this prototype reality-show footage into a film called “Carving Out Our Name,” which was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001 before being sunk by lawsuits and studio fear, among other things. This movie actually opens with Mr. Zierra smashing up the master reels of that first movie before urinating on them.

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Die Fidelity

I Need That Record! (2008)

Brendan Toller/Unsatisfied Films

Independent record stores — as with most independent retailers — are dying out. Small chains simply can’t compete with big-box or Internet retailers on price or the “long tail” — the ability to stock small amounts of the majority of items, which sell only very small numbers. But what they lack in mainstream success, the smaller shops make up for with a synesthetic shopping experience that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere. Some call this heart, others authenticity, still others community spirit.

Director Brendan Toller taps into the longing for this experience in “I Need That Record!” via the owners of Record Express and Trash American Style, two shops near his hometown in Connecticut. Record Express’s closing was the impetus for the film, in which Mr. Toller went on a road trip to other small record stores in Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts to discuss how the music industry and retail markets have changed, and what small store owners are doing about it.

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Paranormal Activists

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Laura Macgruder/Overture Films

Welsh author and documentarian Jon Ronson’s 2004 book “The Men Who Stare at Goats” examined the U.S. Army’s investigation of the psychological and paranormal and their potential uses in modern warfare. Utilizing this fascinating study of top-secret military research as source material, director Grant Heslov delivers an entertaining picture, albeit one which slightly trivializes the underlying seriousness of its content.

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