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October 2011

Distance Lends Disenchantment

Like Crazy (2011)

Fred Hayes/Paramount Vantage

“Like Crazy” is the story of an attachment, but without the glue. It is meant to be a romance between British journalist Anna (Felicity Jones) and American furniture maker Jacob (Anton Yelchin), who meet cute as students in Los Angeles and rapidly fall in love. Drake Doremus’s direction styles the film in a series of brief vignettes, skipping forward like a highlight reel, with the unfortunate result that we never get under Anna’s or Jacob’s skin. After a problem with American border control, they text; they call; sometimes they even meet in her cramped London apartment. But beyond the scenes of their initial attraction, their relationship is oddly hollow.

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A Kindred Spirit Gets a Lift

Las acacias (2012)

Verve Pictures

“Las acacias” is about a long-haul truck driver, Rubén (Germán de Silva), and the once-in-a-lifetime chance which arrives in his cab in the shape of Jacinta (Hebe Duarte) and her little daughter Anahí (Nayra Calle Mamani). He was hired for a three-day trip driving her past the Paraguayan border down to Buenos Aires; but the baby was not originally part of the deal. Director Pablo Giorgelli filmed in what looks like a real truck — the movie is named after the load of lumber Rubén is carrying — in patently real locations in Argentina and uses this unlikely setup as an opportunity to explore the size of the human heart.

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Welcome to the Doghouse

Dark Horse (2011)

Jojo Whilden/37th Deauville
American Film Festival

If Gregg Araki ever decides to remake “Synecdoche, New York,” Todd Solondz might sue the pants off him — because with “Dark Horse,” Mr. Solondz has already done it.

It’s the story of Abe (Jordan Gelber), an overgrown man-child who still lives with his parents, Jackie (Christopher Walken with a bad toupee) and Phyllis (Mia Farrow with some oversize red glasses). He works — after a fashion — for his father’s company; although only the competence of downtrodden colleague Marie (Donna Murphy in an impossible role) keeps him from even greater professional trouble. His main love has been shopping at a big-box toy store whose logo is conspicuously blurred. But that’s before Abe meets Miranda (Selma Blair), a sulky, oddly passive woman who also still lives at home and has a secret.

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Suicide Missionary

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011)

55th BFI London Film Festival

The ticket-holder line for the Vancouver International Film Festival special screening of Takashi Miike’s 3-D “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” snaked around the corner of the theater even in the miserable Vancouver drizzle. But these weren’t the typical Miike fanboys. Many were middle-aged and chatted about their fond memories of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 masterpiece, “Harakiri.” They wondered how this remake would measure up with caution in their voices: “It’s like remaking ‘The Godfather’.” For a film rarely mentioned outside critical circles compared to other Japanese films of the era, “Harakiri” — aided by Tatsuya Nakadai’s performance — developed a devoted following among cinephiles and even casual fans of Japanese cinema.

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Consequences of Truth

You Don't Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo (2010)

Films Transit

Omar Khadr, a 15-year-old Canadian, was barely alive when American troops captured him in July 2002 after a firefight in Afghanistan that killed an American soldier. Mr. Khadr then spent several months in Bagram before being transferred in February 2003 to Guantánamo Bay, where he was interrogated by Canadian military and intelligence agents for four days in the presence of a C.I.A. officer. The tapes of these interrogations were recently declassified by the Supreme Court of Canada; and directors Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez have built a riveting film around them.

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Child's Play Hell

The Kid With a Bike (2011)

Christine Plenus/Sundance Selects

Brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have a real talent for creating unpleasant characters. Their latest enfant terrible is 13-year-old Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret), protagonist of “The Kid With a Bike.” He’s been throwing fits nonstop ever since his father Guy (Jérémie Renier, naturellement) dropped him off at an orphanage and then disappeared without a trace. Master cinematographer Ed Lachman grumbled privately after the New York Film Festival press screening that the portrayal of the father isn’t believable. But who really can blame Guy for being so heartless when Cyril is evidently some kind of demon spawn with a case of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder from hell?

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Par for the Intercourse

Shame (2011)


British artist Steve McQueen has garnered much attention in the film world, and one has to wonder whether his meteoric rise to fame has more to do with ignorant moviegoers finding his name vaguely familiar and ergo deserving attention. Because to be frank, what critics initially interpreted as abstractionist about “Hunger” now seems like inarticulacy in retrospect.

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Raging Mechanical Bull

Real Steel (2011)



 A fictionalized retelling of the pitch meeting for “Real Steel”


Sarah Manvel



The OFFICES in this fictional, imaginary story are large, expensive, sunny and full of tie-in merchandise from blockbusters past. FIVE EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS are sitting in elegant, expensive chairs around a polished boardroom table. STEVE is a bald man with a beard and an Oscar who is the professional partner of JACK, a close-shaven man in his mid-50s who got his start as an agent. They have long experience with producing movies aimed at children. MARY, in her mid-50s, has bright blond hair and grew up in the movie business before becoming a producer. Her brother JOSH, in his early 50s, has significant assistant-director experience and is also building his career as a producer. At the head of the table is STEVEN, a bearded, bespectacled man in his 60s who is an Oscar-winning geek turned studio mogul.

A SECRETARY is also at the side, taking notes.

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Cult of Personality Disorder

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Jody Lee Lipes/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Excuse the title. It is confusing, long-winded, and it conjures images of haughty avant-garde cinema at its worst. A film’s title is supposed to lure in the viewer — it is a brand name — and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” reads like a list of names for Jewish grandmothers. So roll your eyes and shake your head, but then get over it quickly, because if you can look past the title, you will be rewarded with one of the best films of the year.

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The Man Without a Passport

Le Havre (2011)

Marja-Leena Hukkanen/Janus Films

The illegal-immigration theme has reenergized the careers of several master filmmakers of late, Ken Loach and the Dardennes among them. It’s like adding a new ingredient to a proven recipe and presto. Aki Kaurismäki is the most recent to try his hand, mixing the illegals with his usual ragtag crew of lovable outcasts. While such an experiment hasn’t proven successful for all auteurs, it has definitely worked to Mr. Kaurismäki’s advantage. “Le Havre” is easily the most humanist, generous and hopeful movie in recent memory.

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