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December 2009

Laying Vengeance to Rest

The Lovely Bones (2009)

DreamWorks Studios

Doubt Peter Jackson’s cinematic instincts at your peril. His credentials have been well established throughout a career in which he’s demonstrated mastery of a range of subjects and styles both large (“Lord of the Rings”) and small (micro-budget B pictures such as “Dead Alive”). Yet those instincts fail him in his adaptation of the acclaimed Alice Sebold novel “The Lovely Bones.”

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Just What the Doctor Disordered

Morphia (2008)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

"Morphia" is the most nihilistic moviegoing experience possible, which is meant as a supreme compliment. It's based on the autobiographical stories of Mikhail Bulgakov, whose most famous work, "The Master and Margarita," is about the devil coming to 1920s Moscow. In this film though the young Dr. Polyakov (Leonid Bichevin) is in a remote rural hospital in 1917, and the devil is morphine.

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Irish Springs of Life

His & Hers (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

The movie's gimmick is very simple. Women are filmed in their homes, talking about the men in their lives. But a little more thought has gone into "His & Hers;" the movie begins with a diapered infant being laid down on a layette, and ends with the shot of an elderly woman sitting alone in a home. In between the women featured go up incrementally in age from the first child interviewed — aged about seven — to elderly women who still live on their own.

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Cinema Purgatorio

Everybody's Fine (2009)

Abbot Genser/Miramax Films

It’s a very sad day indeed when Robert De Niro can no longer survive the mean streets. I’m talkin’ ’bout you, old man. Halfway through “Everybody’s Fine,” the career tough guy surrenders to a mugger — as if anyone would buy that for a New York minute. He’s Fredo? I don’t think so.

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Japanese Sleeper Crosses Over to World Acclaim

Martin Tsai/Critic's Notebook

When “Departures” claimed an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category, it had already hung on for six months in Japanese theaters, and its DVD was on its way to local stores. But its box-office receipts more than doubled after its Oscar triumph, even with the DVD readily available.

“Part of me wishes it wouldn’t take an Academy Award for the film to get that big,” Yojiro Takita, the director, quipped, speaking through an interpreter. “It was a mystery to a lot of people how this film might find an audience, and how to market it to reach that audience.”

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Juggling Scrub Brush and Paint Brush

Séraphine (2008)

Music Box Films

The act of painting is a visual one and therefore inherently cinematic. Artists are usually interesting individuals with complicated personal lives and dramatic outlooks — or so the stereotypes say. So movies about painters are visually and dramatically interesting. Except, of course, when they are not.

Séraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau) was a bonne à toute faire (a woman worker who could do anything in the home; literally, a jill-of-all-trades) in Senlis, a small town outside Paris, in the 1910s when she started working for Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a German escaping the city life of Paris. They interacted as a bourgeois bohemian normally interacts with his cleaner, until he realized that she painted. As it happened, he was one of Europe's premier art critics, and so Séraphine's career was born.

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Action Is No Reward

Brothers (2009)

Lorey Sebastian/Lionsgate

This is a war film only in that war is an easy background for bad things to happen. What Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) experiences could have taken place anywhere, to any terribly unlucky person. It's just that when your helicopter crashes in Afghanistan you are unluckier than most.

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