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February 2012

A 3-Generation Ascend Up the Social Ladder

Position Among the Stars (2011)


This Dutch-financed documentary about an Indonesian family in a favela in Jakarta spans approximately two years and is apparently the final film in a trilogy. Director Leonard Retel Helmrich seems to have chosen this family because it is a microcosm for many of the challenges of modern life in Indonesia. But the movie also brings up many more first-world questions.

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Forgive and Forget

The Vow (2012)

Kerry Hayes/Screen Gems

Disclaimer: Nicholas Sparks had nothing to do with the production of this film. Such a warning is necessary before examining “The Vow,” because all of the movie’s marketing begs potential viewers to believe they are about to see some second coming of “The Notebook.” This type of ploy may result in financial success in the coming weeks: Valentine’s Day is close by; and the two leads — Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum — have previously succeeded in Nicholas Sparks adaptations. But, herein lies the most crucial problem with “The Vow”: The obligation to a specific target audience steers the plot into chick-flick territory that has been mechanically repeated into monotony.

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Don’t Leave the Safety On

Safe House (2012)

Universal Pictures

Clichés in “Safe House”: skilled C.I.A. agent gone rogue, naïve rookie agent with superb talents, bureaucratic director, gruff and mysterious senior officer, unnecessary blonde girlfriend, shaky camera, fight sequences with quick cuts, an obligatory car chase, poor character development, a double cross, a triple cross, an action-thriller without thrills, boredom.

Most of the film’s opening act focuses on the illegal trade of a high-security file in South Africa. The buyer is Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a rogue C.I.A. agent who is also wanted for treasonous activities in ten different countries. Frost plans to sell the ambiguous file for millions of dollars on the black market, but he is ambushed by armed men and only escapes death by turning himself in at the American embassy.

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Lives Wash Up on the Wasteland

Bombay Beach (2011)

Alma Har’el

The tiny settlement of Bombay Beach nestles on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea in southeastern California. It’s a fractured piece of Americana, a relic of an abortive 1950s tourism development that now lies neglected, forgotten and rapidly decaying. It’s also home to a small but eclectic posse of folk who exist very literally on the fringes of society. Confronted by death and decay at every turn, one could be forgiven for thinking this was a place shorn of hope, a haven for those who had given up on normal life. But Alma Ha’rel’s stunning documentary paints a very different and utterly beautiful picture of life lived on the edge.

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