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June 2010

Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless

The Extra Man (2010)

Magnolia Pictures

New York's Upper East Side is lit up similar to a pinball machine in "The Extra Man," the natural home of chancers, eccentrics, predators and fruitcakes of every flavor. Clearly part of some universe not quite our own, the place exerts a magnetic pull on the loosely wound, the kind of neighborhood where fantasist and occasional gigolo Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline) can roam free without being chased down the street by men in white coats.

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Uncouth at a Funeral

Get Low (2010)

Sam Emerson/Sony Pictures Classics

Robert Duvall dominates "Get Low" from the off, easing into the part of crusty codger Felix Bush like an old shoe and spiriting the film away from under the noses of several other very fine actors. Looking so weathered that even his whiskers seem exhausted, Mr. Duvall builds Felix from a symphony of emphysemic wheezes, creaking joints, muttered wisdom and withering scorn. Chances are he got paid for it, but that might not have been essential.

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Toward a Third America

South of the Border (2010)

Jose Ibanez/Cinema Libre Studio

When the media and regular folks complain about the Hollywood elite and its ardently left-wing political yammering, Oliver Stone is always one of the first names mentioned. With “South of the Border,” he’s handed his critics a heaping dose of ammo for the rest of his life, as the picture follows the filmmaker on a U.S.-government’s-nightmare journey across South America, meeting with and fawning over Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and other anti-Washington luminaries.

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Vanilla Spy

Knight and Day (2010)

David James/20th Century Fox

Despite his couch-jumping, anti-psychiatry-ranting theatrics, Tom Cruise remains one of our top movie stars. He shows why in “Knight and Day,” a romantic caper that thrives thanks to his larger-than life-charisma.

The actor, nearly 48, gives off the devilish charm, the wily playful spirit of Cary Grant in his prime. Imbuing straightforward dialogue and outlandish plot developments with a self-aware, winking sense of their absurdity, Mr. Cruise transforms director James Mangold’s thinly plotted lark into one of those rarest of phenomena: a genuinely entertaining summer movie for adults.

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French Animator Conjures Illusions of Auld Reekie

Helena Smith/
Edinburgh International Film Festival

In an approach sure to tickle the locals, Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist" views the misty slopes of the Scottish highlands and the spooky battlements of Edinburgh though the eyes of a visiting Frenchman and finds them all unutterably magical. Born through a lucky intersection of an uncompleted Jacques Tati script and Mr. Chomet's visit to the Scottish capital with "The Triplets of Belleville" (released as "Belleville Rendez-Vous" in Britain) in 2003, his new animation sings with nostalgia, charm and the painful passage of time.

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Stalking Is Comedy

Wild Grass (2009)

Christophe Jeauffroy/Sony Pictures Classics

The English title is a direct translation of the French word for those little weeds which sprout up in the cracks in sidewalks; in French the phrase is a metaphor for people who are a little bit unconventional. This movie certainly is different, but it works neither as a straight story nor as a genre exercise; and it seems the director wanted it that way.

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Pity the '80s Fools

The A-Team (2010)

Doug Curran/20th Century Fox

Bolts of testosterone surge through “The A-Team” with blinding force. The mystifying remake of the '80s TV show is so supercharged with machismo, you’d be forgiven if you mistook it for the weight room at your local gym.

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Look Who's Talking

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

Seth Keal/IFC Films

If there’s one conclusion to be derived from Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s documentary about Joan Rivers, it’s this: The 77-year-old comedienne really is “a piece of work.” She’s also — “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” makes clear — much more than the sum of her polarizing public image. Beyond the plastic surgeries and the abrasive demeanor is a driven, passionate woman who’s achieved the miracle of retaining her show business relevance for more than four decades.

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Reality Bitten

Greenberg (2010)

Wilson Webb/Focus Features

"Greenberg" is Ben Stiller's "Punch-Drunk Love." That romantic comedy from 2001 starred Adam Sandler as an awkward, unhappy man who, while embarking on a bizarre project, falls in love with a blonde. This time, Mr. Stiller is Roger Greenberg, a carpenter with undefined mental-health problems, who returns to Los Angeles to house-sit while his brother's family is on an extended vacation. This goes great until some people show up unannounced in the pool. Rather than talk to them, Roger rattles around anxiously, peers out from behind some curtains and calls Florence (Greta Gerwig), the family's assistant.

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