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August 2010

By Crook and Off the Hook

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008)

Music Box Films

Part one of a bifurcated, four-hour magnum opus, “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” offers a close, nostalgic approximation of classical Hollywood gangster cinema. As a French picture about famed mid-century Robin Hood-type Jacques Mesrine (played by Vincent Cassel), the film benefits from an added dose of fond memories, as director Jean-François Richet’s New Wave predecessors so ably reshaped and deepened the early Warner Bros. aesthetic.

It is, in the best sense, a throwback, even if the presentation of Mesrine’s story also offers an unintended reminder of modern audiences’ decaying attention spans. To offer the film — made during one gargantuan nine-month shoot — in a palatable fashion, the producers have siphoned the second half into “Public Enemy #1” (out in the United States on Sept. 3), requiring a separate admission.

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Housekeeper Makes Herself at Home

The Maid (2009)

Elephant Eye Films

Not every movie needs has-beens preening in front of great whacking explosions. It’s so refreshing to see a movie that knows the biggest changes in anyone's life come in quiet moments, and that grants the inner life of a maid as much respect as anyone else's.

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The Expendable

The Tillman Story (2010)

Donald Lee/The Weinstein Company

Pat Tillman was a hero. The U.S. government got that right. Yet the bungling of the story of that heroism, the misshaping of the late soldier’s legacy to fit a classical propaganda narrative stands as one of the shameful episodes of the past decade.

In covering-up the ex-football player’s friendly-fire death, transforming it into a story of demise amid enemy fire, the military hierarchy did more than simply embellish a tragic mistake with a feel-good spin. It transformed a unique, three-dimensional man — a person with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams — into a caricature of martyrdom.

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Death Fish

Piranha 3D (2010)

Gene Page/Dimension Films

The 3-D craze currently sweeping Hollywood is, at its worst, little more than a sorry excuse for price gouging. Beware movies, such as “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender,” that are converted to the third dimension in post-production. They are the cinematic equivalent of those annoying, ubiquitous airline fees.

Yet, after months of dreck, a picture such as “Piranha 3D” arrives and reminds your sorry, skeptical self exactly why that extra dimension exists. Boobs, gore and gratuitous close-ups abound in Alexandre Aja’s loose remake of Roger Corman’s original “Jaws” rip-off, which more closely evokes the B-movie spirit that gave birth to stereoscopic cinema than any of its contemporaries.

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Guitar Zero

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Kerry Hayes/Universal Studios

Fanboys and fellow critics have worked themselves into a tizzy over Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Smart, dependable reviewers have called the movie a “masterpiece” and a “generational milestone,” a “genius turn” in the "Shaun of the Dead" filmmaker’s career.

If a picture as gleefully vapid as this is what passes for a generational milestone in 2010, we’re in trouble. Mr. Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s beloved graphic novel series (unread by this reviewer) is about as complete and coherent a film as was the blur of light and sound that comprised “Speed Racer.”

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Keeping Captives in Stitches

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2010)

IFC Films

Tom Six, who made his name as a director on the original run of Endemol's revolutionary TV production "Big Brother," has since established himself as one of the most pioneering, controversial and divisive producers/writers/directors in his native Netherlands. His debut feature "Gay" was the country's first gay feature film; and with his latest effort "The Human Centipede (First Sequence)," Mr. Six seems intent on continuing to push boundaries.

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Bum's Rush Hour

The Other Guys (2010)

Macall Polay/Columbia Pictures

In the pre-Judd Apatow era, bromance blossomed only in the buddy-cop genre. The rationale must have been that sexual tension in a homosocial environment would seem a lot less gay if these characters could kick some ass. Come to think of it, you could even get away with bestiality in the buddy-cop genre. As you might recall, the dog in “K-9” got jealous and barged in to cause coitus interruptus between James Belushi and his human romantic interest.

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