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June 2011

No Woman's Land

As If I Am Not There (2010)

2011 Seattle International Film Festival

"As If I Am Not There" is adapted from a novel by Slavenka Drakulić about a Bosnian woman during the Balkan wars of the early '90s, although no such identifying information is supplied until the end credits. Some works of art lend themselves well to adaptations; and some stories are so powerful that they deserve to be told in every possible medium. The main question this movie raises is: Why does it exist?

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Love Makes the Center of the World Go Round

Love Etc. (2011)


In the era of "Jersey Shore," "Super Size Me" and "Kate Plus 8," there is nothing particularly unique about a film that follows its subjects for a year of their lives. Moreover, to focus such a film on the idea of romance seems like well-worn territory. And yet Jill Andresevic's feature debut "Love Etc." keeps the format fresh, light and surprisingly meaningful. The documentary — which chronicles the ups and downs of five relationships — accomplishes the feat of communicating something very real and honest about love while never taking itself too seriously.

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The Establishment Club


Edinburgh International Film Festival 2011

"Page Eight" feels like a throwback to an earlier, wordier kind of British spy drama, the kind in which M.I.5 bristles inwardly over not knowing all the facts and character actors from the Commonwealth arrive in shifts to deal with double agents over a double brandy. In short it feels like a slice of quality BBC television, and with good reason.

Marking David Hare's return to directing full-length feature films after many years, "Page Eight" has faith in the subtle powers of actors such as Bill Nighy, Judy Davis and Alice Krige to convey annoyance about a broken paper trail with a glance or anxiety over familial strife with a sigh. As long as your requirements of an espionage story don't insist on something blowing up, all this is very refreshing.

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Sense and Insensibility

Perfect Sense (2011)

2011 Sundance Film Festival

The sheer clarity of intent and scale of ambition in David Mackenzie's "Perfect Sense" is more than enough to obliterate the memory of his Hollywood misstep "Spread" as if it had never existed. Light years away from that film's glib delve into the lifestyles of adolescents whose world was too beautiful to care about, "Perfect Sense" is an icy fable about adults whose world has decided to shrug them off completely and start afresh.

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Set in Retrain

Larry Crowne (2011)

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Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

The pairing of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts warrants some kind of all-time rom-com classic. “Charlie Wilson’s War” wasn’t it. Unfortunately, neither is “Larry Crowne” — far from it, in fact. Co-written by Mr. Hanks and Nia Vardalos, the new film recalls the most pedestrian, episodic sitcomesque qualities of the latter’s claim to fame, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It just leaves you wondering why Mr. Hanks — who also dons the director’s hat here — couldn’t at least call Nora Ephron in for a rewrite.

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March Hare of the Penguins

Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011)

Barry Wetcher/20th Century Fox

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is one of the rather regrettable updated adaptations of classic children’s books that come around every so often. “Stuart Little” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” are among those that come to mind.

Richard and Florence Atwater, authors of the Newbery Honor-winning 1938 book upon which this film is based, would doubtfully be pleased with this standard-issue slapstick-with-sentimentality family production.

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Know the Strings Attached

Friends With Benefits (2011)

David Giesbrecht/Screen Gems

Gawker declared “Friends With Benefits” its favorite movie throughout July and August 2010 during its filming in New York. Although one’s never sure if such a distinction comes with a side of sarcasm, it’s not difficult to figure why the finished product would cease to be on Gawker’s good side. At the beginning of the film, Justin Timberlake works at a TMZ-esque blog in Los Angeles as its art director. The fact that his job entails responsibilities generally dumped on some unpaid intern proficient in Photoshop notwithstanding, Mr. Timberlake uses a giant iPad-esque touch-screen content-management system that’s a thing of the future. What’s more, a recruiter played by Mila Kunis has spent some six months persuading him to interview in New York for the art director position at GQ. Not only does he get an offer despite wearing an off-the-rack outfit to the interview, but along with it a plush, spacious luxury apartment that rents for at least $5,000 a month to ease the sting of Condé Nast’s reputedly paltry wages.

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Add Head Injury to Insult Intelligence

The Double Hour (2009)

Samuel Goldwyn Films

A patron found himself rained in at New York’s Quad Cinema without an umbrella amid the unexpected showers on June 9, so he saw three films in a row that afternoon. Upon exiting “The Double Hour,” he asked if the usher had seen it. Much as he enjoyed the film, the patron said he didn’t get it. The usher concurred and referred him to photocopies of a write-up, saying he liked it but wasn’t much into reading (i.e. the subtitles) at the movies. If you feel the way they did, you’re in luck! Here’s a very service-y review complete with spoilers, so you can discuss the film in an educated way with your very cultured friends and feel infinitely superior.

In spite of its Italian origin, “The Double Hour” actually hails from the M. Night Shyamalan/Alejandro Amenábar school of unreliable narrators and if-you-blink-you-miss plots circa the 1990s. Thus, this review will divulge privileged information withheld from viewers during the first two-thirds of the movie and disseminate it in chronological order. If you haven’t seen the film, please consider yourself warned.

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Do That Congo Beat

Viva Riva! (2011)

Music Box Films

It’s wonderful to see a movie that knows exactly what it is doing, and looks great while doing it. It’s fantastic to see a movie completely frank about sex, money and the violence people are willing to commit in pursuit of those two things. It’s brilliant to see a movie where the script is as smart as the staging, and where the staging doesn’t just make you wonder how much it has cost. And it’s so much fun to see a movie that takes its perfect setup and perfectly delivers.

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Close Encounters of the Amblin Kind

Super 8 (2011)

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François Duhamel/Paramount Pictures

Paramount has engaged in a meticulous secrecy campaign with its marketing of “Super 8,” the latest directorial effort from writer-director-producer-all-around-mogul J. J. Abrams. Its trailers and other promotional spots reveal little beyond the promise of a nostalgic return to Amblin-style family entertainment.

It’s a smart, effective tactic for drumming up interest in the summer’s first major release that’s not a sequel, comic-book installment or the latest film off the lucrative Judd Apatow assembly line. It’s also a bit self-destructive, creating the promise and expectation of some sort of big, earth-shattering narrative with a major M. Night Shyamalan-at-his-best caliber surprise that’d have been frankly impossible for Mr. Abrams, given the tenor of what he was working on.

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