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February 2010

The Beat Goes Off

Howl (2010)

2010 Sundance Film Festival

The Beat Generation should be fertile ground for cinematic harvest, but David Cronenberg's treatment of William S. Burroughs's "Naked Lunch" remains the only worthy adaptation that comes to mind. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, documentarians behind "The Times of Harvey Milk" and "The Celluloid Closet," now try their hands at fashioning Allen Ginsberg's monumental poem "Howl" for the screen. The two had originally conceived the project as a documentary to commemorate the poem's 50th anniversary, but the dearth of available archival footage forced them to take the fiction approach.

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Pat Answer to a Prayer

Lourdes (2009)

Palisades Tartan

History has proven Catholicism to be the most cinematic of the Christian denominations. Drawing on a wealth of ornate iconography and millennia of artistic traditions/ceremonial pomp and circumstance, its practice incorporates sights, symbols and colors of remarkable visual beauty. There was, therefore, arresting potential for Jessica Hausner’s very Catholic new film “Lourdes.”

It depicts a mass pilgrimage to the mystical town in the south of France, said to be the site of repeated apparitions of the Virgin Mary. It centers on a busload of patients and workers from a Catholic hospital, who arrive in search of various forms of healing. Principal among them is Christine (Sylvie Testud), a nearly-mute paraplegic, content to look on at the righteous blur that surrounds her.

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Not a Care in the World


Channel 4

Lucy (Molly Windsor) doesn’t say much, because she is too busy watching. She has learned to keep her own counsel, to follow closely what is happening around her and to pay attention to all the clues she can pick up. She lives with her father (Robert Carlyle), who clearly loves her but who equally clearly isn’t a good dad. When she comes back empty-handed from an errand, he beats her with his belt. We hear the beating, but don’t see it — but we do see Lucy lying in a stairwell for a night and a day, unable to move. Once she recovers, Lucy has the composure to go to school, sit through classes and eat a hot lunch before telling her teacher what has happened.

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A Bad Case of the Blood Simples

Terribly Happy (2008)

Terribly Happy 1
Oscilloscope Laboratories

Put the Coen brothers in Denmark, and they might come out with a film similar to “Terribly Happy.” An offbeat suspense thriller involving a corruptible policeman, a creepy insular town and a giant metaphoric bog, it’s made in precisely the sort of genre busting mode the brothers have perfected in everything from “Blood Simple” to “No Country for Old Men.”

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City of Fights

From Paris With Love (2010)

Rico Torres/Lionsgate

John Travolta descends upon “From Paris With Love” with gale force, sweeping up all the innocuous Luc Besson action-flick chop-shop proceedings in a torrent of flashy overacting. He’s the primary reason to spend time with what is otherwise a standard, thoughtless shoot ’em up. The actor has done the crazy rogue shtick before, but never with quite the mischievous gleam brought to the character of Charlie Wax here.

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Art Debilitates Life

The Father of My Children (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Mia Hansen-Løve’s second feature picked up the Special Jury Prize in the Un certain regard category at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, a prize that recognizes exceptional young filmmakers. With “The Father of My Children,” Ms. Hansen-Løve certainly and confidently asserts herself as one such talent. Inspired by an encounter with legendary French film producer Humbert Balsan, Ms. Hansen-Løve delivers a touching, incredibly personal familial portrait that deals with artistic drive, pride, the inherent fear of failure and its tragic consequences.

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The Born Identity Crisis

Off and Running (2010)

First Run Features

Even by the standards of transracial modern America, Avery Klein-Cloud has had an unusual upbringing. The African-American, Texas-born adopted daughter of two Brooklyn-dwelling Jewish lesbians, they and her brothers Rafi (biracial) and Zay-Zay (Korean born) call their family the “United Nations.” With so many discordant background elements at play — such a clear sense of belonging in one way while being forever intrinsically removed in another — it comes as no surprise when teenage Avery begins an investigation of her biological background.

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