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April 2014

Christian Values

CIM Productions

Dior and I (2014)

Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary “Dior and I” juxtaposes the compressed first eight weeks of Belgian designer Raf Simons’s reign as incoming creative director at the fashion house of Dior — from the announcement of his appointment to the runway of his first haute couture collection — with founder Christian Dior’s preparation for his own 1947 “New Look” collection (as recounted in passages from his 1956 memoir, “Christian Dior and I”).

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Married Life

Jeong Park/Sony Pictures Classics

Love Is Strange (2014)

In Ira Sachs’s “Love Is Strange,” newlywed longtime companions Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) must separate when their matrimony causes the latter to lose his breadwinning job as a music teacher at a Catholic school.

Ben quickly wears off his welcome at the household of his nephew (Darren Burrows), stay-at-home writer wife (Marisa Tomei) and young son (Charlie Tahan). Meanwhile, George barely puts up with frequent parties thrown by his hosts/former neighbors (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) that prevent him from crashing on their couch.

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Cirque désolé


Silent Sonata (2014)

This is a movie of such strangeness that it is surprising it was able to secure financing and, subsequently, distribution. It is a testament to the backers of the Slovenian-Irish-Swedish-Finnish co-production that financiers were willing to risk backing such an unusual and demanding project. It is a pity that the movie itself does not quite stand up to its concept.

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Iron Chef

Merrick Morton/Open Road Films

Chef (2014)

The film “Chef” heralds the glorious return to the big screen of food porn, a term once ascribed to “Babette’s Feast,” “Eat Drink Man Woman” and “Big Night” but now mostly relegated to the Cooking Channel. At a Tribeca Film Festival screening, the audience collectively let out an audible gasp at the sight of Aaron Franklin’s fresh-from-the-pit Texas barbecue oozing meat juices when sliced with a carving knife.

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Turned Off by the Dark

Niko Tavernise/Columbia Pictures

It was a huge relief to many comic-book fans that Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” was such a charming, witty and enjoyable return to form, after the action-packed but plot-mangled mess that was “Spider-Man 3.”

It’s hard enough to reboot a series that is only five years old, but even harder to supply a worthy sequel. Much of the success of the first film was down to the on-screen chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, a sharp script and a few logistical changes (mechanical rather than genetic web slinging for example). The temptation would always be to go bigger and throw in everything in an attempt to stun the audience into submission, and this has resulted in some of the common problems that sequels always face.

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A Mangled Web

Niko Tavernise/Columbia Pictures

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Some superhero stories can shoulder excess baggage with ease, but by rights a Spider-Man film should drill down to their simplest essences: the transformed human body; the exhilaration of flight; urban strife; youthful revolt; hubris. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" isn't really into simple essences, obliged instead to do that modern thing of providing $200-million-worth of mild legal highs, via scripts in which all relevant bullet points are actioned. The only properly new element is an air of collective panic about Disney, judging by the fractured clip from the next "X-Men" film shoehorned into the end credits of this one to try and bolster a mutual defense. Would-be wild and crazy cinema with all strings attached, "ASM2" is an average superhero film in every way, and so has to shoulder its share of the blame for the fact that the average is now decaying with a pretty rapid half-life.

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Pipe Dreams

Erik Aavatsmark/Vertigo Média

Pioneer (2014)

Norway's natural environment was a big factor in "Insomnia," Erik Skjoldbjærg's 1997 debut in which Stellan Skarsgård struggles with a murder case and the extended daylight hours, and comes off worst on both counts. It's at the heart of "Pioneer," too — the director's new film set in the early 1980s — right at the moment when exploitation of the North Sea oil lying offshore is about to alter the country from top to bottom. Part paranoid conspiracy thriller and part blue-collar procedural, it maneuvers deep-sea diver Petter (Aksel Hennie) into position as the fly in the ointment for those awaiting Norway's transformation into one of the world's richest countries. They duly set about removing the irritant obstacle; a plot whose fidelity to real events hinted at in the credits is hard to judge, but whose broad authenticity for those caught up in the transformation at the time would seem tough to deny.

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Halfway Housekeeping

Jamie Kingham

The Motel Life (2013)

This is a movie about people who’ve slipped between the cracks. They have no settled life of any kind — no steady jobs, supportive families or stability. Some of this is their own fault, since they drink too much and make bad decisions. Some of it is pure bad luck. You can’t pick your parents. But what you can do is figure out how you’re going to deal with it, and “The Motel Life” is about three people who cope in different ways.

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