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August 2011

Time Doesn't Pay

The Debt (2010)

Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

You know the awards season is officially upon us when Focus Features teams up with zombie Miramax to bring us the new film from an Oscar-nominated director that touts Oscar-pedigree British thespians playing second fiddle to up-and-comers who are supposedly their younger selves yet look nothing like them. To top it off, the movie also invokes the Holocaust. It’s so golden, it’s as if Harvey Weinstein had put it together himself. (He didn’t.)

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Tooth Will Out

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Carolyn Johns/Miramax Films

The marketing wizards working on “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” want you to believe that because the film is based on something that traumatized Guillermo del Toro as a child, it must be the next “Pan’s Labyrinth.” They conveniently neglect to mention that such an analogy is only possible after co-screenwriters Mr. del Toro and Matthew Robbins calculatedly changed the protagonist of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” from a housewife to a 9-year-old child — way to pull a fast one on the moviegoers and get them interested in a novice filmmaker’s remake of an unspectacular 1970s TV movie.

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Life of the Party

Tales From the Golden Age (2009)

IFC Films

“Tales of the Golden Age” consists of six Ceauşescu-era anecdotes told by writer-director Cristian Mungiu of the Palme d’or-winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” along with co-directors Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Höfer, Răzvan Mărculescu and Constantin Popescu. It begins with droll vignettes of party-mandated pageantry and progressively shifts its focus toward rebellious personal transgressions. An omnibus film like this is almost always a mixed bag, and this one is unfortunately no exception. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t come close to a historical document or a communist parable like Hungary’s “Taxidermia.”

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Iran Into a Stonewall

Circumstance (2011)

Maryam Keshavarz/Roadside Attractions

“Circumstance” embodies everything that is wrong with American indie flicks that masquerade as foreign films. This phenomenon has persisted for at least two decades — the most notable example being the “Father Knows Best” trilogy by the Taiwan-born, New York University-educated Ang Lee. Indeed, the main offenders responsible for these pseudo-foreign films are generally nonwhite American filmmakers who exploit their ethnic heritages for professional gain. Their modus operandi usually involves transplanting a concept that is widely acceptable in the West to a foreign culture where it’s supposedly taboo. And homosexuality seems to be their favorite theme time and again — it’s the topic of Mr. Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet,” Alice Wu’s “Saving Face” and now Maryam Keshavarz’s “Circumstance.”

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School of Continuing Education

One Day (2011)

Giles Keyte/Focus Features

By the time “One Day,” a decades-spanning nonromance, gets around to making one of its main characters seem like an actual human, the film’s just about over. That’s a fundamental problem for filmmaker Lone Scherfig, who follows up her overrated “An Education,” and screenwriter David Nicholls, adapting his novel.

For the first two-thirds of the picture, protagonists Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) are ciphers at the whim of a gimmicky narrative, which charts the evolution of their close friendship (and repressed romance) beginning on July 15, 1988 before continuing on the same date each successive year.

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The Growl Next Door

Fright Night (2011)

Disney Enterprises

The “Fright Night” remake is scary both in terms of its terror quotient and its completely soulless assembly-line filmmaking. Screenwriter Marti Noxon, best known for her work on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series, has done a credible job updating Tom Holland’s original 1985 setup. But her screenplay is devoid of expositions, solely depending on moviegoers to fill in the blanks and connect the dots. Even after spending 106 minutes with the protagonist, Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), you still don’t know enough to care about him. If anything, Mr. Yelchin’s congenial presence seems contradictory to the insensitivity his role calls for.

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A Shell Gamine

Beautiful Lies (2010)

Trinity Film

"Beautiful Lies" immediately reminds you of half a dozen other better movies: Its original French title, "De vrais mensonges," literally translates to "true lies" in English. The film reunites "Venus Beauty Institute" alumni Audrey Tautou and Nathalie Baye on a salon set. We have the plot twist of "Cyrano de Bergerac" mixed with the setup of "The Hairdresser's Husband." And of course, by naming Ms. Tautou's character Émilie, the specter of Amélie Poulain is firmly present throughout.

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Tenet of the Apes

Project Nim (2011)

Susan Kuklin/Roadside Attractions

The fascinatingly bizarre life of a chimpanzee delectably named Nim Chimpsky forms the basis of James Marsh's latest documentary feature, "Project Nim." Punningly named after father of linguistics, Noam Chomsky, Nim was so called as he was to be the subject of a pioneering experiment into ape language capabilities.

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The Toad Warrior

Bellflower (2011)

Joel Hodge/2011 Sundance Film Festival

“Bellflower” is an infantile hipster fantasy about an aimless pyromaniacal gearhead with an outsized sense of entitlement. Woodrow (Evan Glodell, also the writer-director) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) devote much of their time testing out flamethrowers and fixing up a dream ride. Recalling the trust-fund-baby art majors you know from college, they are free of practical concerns yet posture with an inauthentic air of world-weariness. In fact, the main characters here all carry out the requisites of a boho existence — such as trading a car for a motorcycle on a whim — when none of them appear to have or need a job.

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