Loath Thy Neighbor

The Complex (2013)


Presumably by choice, "The Complex" finds Hideo Nakata retrenching so firmly onto more comfortable territory after the misfire of "Chatroom" that the whole enterprise seems distressingly familiar. Mr. Nakata had a big hand in forging a flavor of J-horror with solid international appeal when he made "Ringu" back in 1998; but that tone and style (and visual shorthand, and volume level) have become a rigid template, and "The Complex" opts not to rock the boat. Rigidity also brings the risk of incidental humor: This film features the most useless screen exorcism ever, a protracted ceremony of wailing, chanting and food preparation that produces no discernible reaction from the evil spirit infesting a haunted apartment building, but which could easily prize a guffaw from an audience.

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The Music Lovers

Breathe In (2013)

2013 Sundance Film Festival

Male midlife crises don't come much more photogenic and tastefully shot than the one endured by music teacher Keith (Guy Pearce) in Drake Doremus's "Breathe In," a film of quiet pastoral anguish that almost entirely does without the loud urban variety. Barring a certain amount of crockery damage and tearful car-driving toward the end, Mr. Doremus keeps the nature of Keith's wandering eye nicely understated, a 17-year itch with roots lying further back than the audience can see. In the absence of explanatory shouting, the air is filled instead with tasteful silences, classical cello and the frequent sighs of Guy.

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Internship for Credit

Monsters University (2013)

Monsters-university-movie-review-james-p- sullivan-mike-wazowski-sulley

Caveat: This review of “Monsters University” will spare no spoilers. These are ultimately immaterial to your enjoyment, but by all means read no further if you do not wish to be spoiled. Alonso Duralde over at The Wrap very aptly compares the film with “The Internship,” and that comparison is not as far-fetched as one might think. The two aren’t almost identical, say, the way that “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down” are: “Monsters University” is naturally far superior just as one would expect from anything by Pixar. If nothing else, it’s actually hilarious whereas “The Internship” was not. Nevertheless, both films involve a lovable odd couple rallying a squad of misfits through a series of obstacles in hopes of attaining the holy grail — in the case of “Monsters University,” seats in the prestigious scare class as opposed to lucrative full-time gigs at Google.

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Troubles in Mind

Shadow Dancer (2012)

Rob Hardy/Sundance Film Festival 2012

In the growing portfolio of BBC Films — whose output is not to be sniffed at — "Shadow Dancer" sits comfortably in the same section as siblings such as "Page Eight." It's another polished, festival-friendly film that can easily fit into a second life on television without scraping the sides. It features a fine inwardly directed performance from Andrea Riseborough as a troubled I.R.A. informant in 1990s Belfast, a setting that also allows director James Marsh to return to perhaps the most highly charged example available of the environment he loves to film: insular British terraces of secrets and lies, crime and punishment, friends and enemies. The only thing missing is any actual cinematic impact.

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Pusher (2012)

Vertigo Films

After biding his time for 16 years, Nicolas Winding Refn seems to have sprung into action and lent his name to variants of his original "Pusher" film across Europe in an attempt to corner the market. Hence his executive producer credit on "Black's Game," a vibrant and darkly engaging story of Icelandic drug dealers at the turn of the millennium; and almost simultaneously the same credit on the new British remake of "Pusher" itself, from which anything engaging and vibrant seem to have been ruthlessly purged.

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CSI: Yunnan

Dragon (2011)


"Dragon" is theoretically a wuxia tale, built on a riotous barrage of martial-arts wire work, kinetic energy and busted heads; but it also happens to be blatantly tooled for Western sensibilities in pacing, editing style and magpie borrowings. It finds room for existential ponderings about the human condition and a dash of mysticism, while also sticking in some explanatory animations of blood clots, bruises and broken bones. No wonder The Weinstein Company's corporate antennae have twitched at the commercial possibilities.

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Viva la vida

7 Days in Havana (2012)

Rezo Films

Portmanteau anthology films — not exactly fashionable, but never quite extinct either — enjoy a shot in the arm every few years from producer Emmanuel Benbihy's Cities of Love franchise, the cycle that has so far produced "Paris, je t'aime" and "New York, I Love You." But Mr. Benbihy's all-star bite-size format feels like a shallower option than the approach tried in "7 Days in Havana," which lets seven diverse directors get their teeth into longer-form stories all penned by the same Cuban screenwriter, Leonardo Padura. The aim is to get under the skin of a city with enough juice in its veins to power any seven stories and another 70 to boot.

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Malice, Texas

Killer Joe (2012)

Skip Bolen/
2012 Seattle International Film Festival

William Friedkin's broiling film version of "Killer Joe" is uncompromising, uncompromised and alluringly grubby, catching all the black comedy laid out for the taking in Tracy Letts's play while mining a few new seams of Southern-fried dysfunction to boot. Collaborating again after "Bug" — which stared unswervingly into two unhappy people coming unglued in a closed room — they turn "Killer Joe" into a broader farce: a film prepared to admit that whole families can go so far off the rails that the only fair response is to laugh at the poor tortured bastards and learn.

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The Value of Nothing

Stone Angels

David Cronenberg's skills as an adapter of existing stories (eight of his movies have originated in other works, says a back-of-the-envelope calculation, even without counting "The Fly") are seeming more robust than ever, as he moves away from body horror and dives deeper into the life of the mind. And it's appropriate that, after "A Dangerous Method" dramatized debates about human sexual drives in the form of two erudite talking heads, he should tackle Don DeLillo's "Cosmopolis," in which a deeply disturbed young man wanders off the edge of sanity under his own steam, talking constantly while articulating hardly anything definable at all.

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Laugh, Clown, Laugh

The Last Circus (2010)

Diego López Calvín/Tornasol Films

Staking an immediate claim as the most delirious cinematic fever of whichever year it may eventually see the light of day, "The Last Circus" is unhinged. Directed by Álex de la Iglesia in a style which knows no restraint, it sets off at a mad sprint through a borderline-tasteless allegory of the Spanish Civil War and then just barrels straight ahead. It lassos echoes of the country's subsequent history into an overheated and baroque revenge tragedy, in which a pair of disfigured amoral circus clowns blaze away at each other with automatic weapons until narrative logic is a distant memory. None of which should be taken as a complaint.

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