Madame Strangelove

MOVIE REVIEW
In Another Country (2012)

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Kino Lorber

As regular as returning film festivals is the output of Hong Sang-soo, the hugely prolific South Korean writer-director. “In Another Country” conforms closely to his previous efforts, so familiar viewers will know what to expect; but the added difference this time is the presence of a major Western star in the cast, Isabelle Huppert, which may bump the film’s profile a little.

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Praying the Gay Away

MOVIE REVIEW
Beyond the Hills (2013)

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Sundance Selects

Cristian Mungiu’s third full-length film divided opinion when it premiered at Cannes in May, where it won some enthusiastic admirers it but failed to achieve the consensus of critical appreciation that coalesced around “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” a few years earlier.

It’s not hard to see why, because it doesn’t quite satisfy the distinct requirements for Cannes’s respective core crowds. Although it’s long and foreboding, it doesn’t quite display enough fanatical austerity or philosophical rigor to appeal to hard-core slow cinema adherents. But neither is it the relatively accessible and salable arthouse product that might appeal to buyers and distributors, unlike Mr. Mungiu’s previous film. Lying somewhere between these two dominant schools of art-cinema appreciation, the film may fall between the cracks when it comes to 2012 retrospective lists, but there’s still much to admire about Mr. Mungiu’s filmmaking.

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In Sickness and in Health

MOVIE REVIEW
Amour (2012)

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Sony Pictures Classics

It’s long been argued by social commentators that advanced Western societies have yet to come to terms with the moral and philosophical implications of our rapidly aging populations and the subsequent issues around longevity, euthanasia and death. Symptomatic of this avoidance is our cultural neglect of these issues, with very few films and artworks examining themes of infirmity, dementia and the often ignoble circumstances in which many live out their final days. While no subject is too taboo for a cinematic culture that’s willing to parade all manner of unimaginable graphic imagery in front of us, it seems some matters are just too damn depressing to contemplate.

Luckily a filmmaker as intrepid as Michael Haneke is at hand. His new film — about an elderly couple’s valiant attempt to retain their dignity at all costs in the face of inevitable physical deterioration — feels like as timely and necessary film for our wider cultural discourse. Hopefully it will have enough impact to make its own meaningful contribution to the debate.

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Presumed Guilty

MOVIE REVIEW
The Hunt (2012)

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Per Arnesen/TrustNordisk

If it’s not too unfair to say it, Thomas Vinterberg’s films often convey the uncertainty of an artist casting around for a directorial identity. The enormous critical success of “The Celebration” in 1998 was followed by the flashy sci-fi ambition of “It’s All About Love,” an attempt to distance himself from both the artificial austerity of the Dogme regime and the work of his compatriot Lars von Trier.

Despite the signs that he wanted to escape the shadow of his former collaborator, the next few films followed an inarguably Mr. von Trier-like trajectory, with “Dear Wendy” being a “Dogville”-esque slice of subverted Americana and low-key parochial comedy “When a Man Comes Home” mirroring Mr. von Trier’s simultaneous diversion into chastened backtracking, “The Boss of It All”.

Following the partial return to form of “Submarino,” Mr. Vinterberg is firmly back on track with “The Hunt,” a film that satisfies his interest in hard-hitting taboo issues while retaining flashes of the old Dogme-era mischievousness. It’s a film that’s truly cinematic and refuses to be hidebound to earthy realist roots simply because of its gritty subject matter, while also displaying a structural cohesiveness and maturity often absent from the work of his more famous cohort. Thankfully it’s a balance that Mr. Vinterberg finally seems comfortable with.

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The Auteur Brood

MOVIE REVIEW
Antiviral (2012)

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Caitlin Cronenberg/IFC Midnight

Following in a parent’s creative footsteps in far from uncommon in Hollywood circles, but children of famous directors usually progress to become successful actors (think of the Minnelli, Rossellini, Huston and Downey clans). In the rarer cases where the progeny decides to take up directing themselves, they often go to great lengths to distinguish their output from the style and preoccupations of the parent. So Marcel Ophüls gravitated towards dissecting documentaries that were the antithesis of his father’s swooping melodramas, and the younger Coppolas favor intimate quirkiness over the grander follies of father Francis.

Only in Canada do they do things differently. The deadpan humor of Jason Reitman’s films could reasonably be characterized as coming from the same stable as his father Ivan’s. And now Brandon Cronenberg follows the template initiated by his father David so closely that comparisons will inevitably be included in any review of the film.

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Bat Out of Hell

MOVIE REVIEW
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

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Ron Phillips/Warner Brothers Pictures

Although “The Dark Knight Rises" is chock-full of revelations and twists, this review doesn't reveal anything but the odd spoiler contained — so proceed at your peril.

Full disclosure: This reviewer is not much of a fan of superhero or comic-book films. In fact, I haven’t even seen “Marvel’s The Avengers” or “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which for some may disqualify me from being able to write about their rival in the 2012 summer blockbuster stakes, “The Dark Knight Rises.” Luckily, Batman is the least superhuman of all the comic-book heroes, blessed — as he is — with a distinct lack of superpowers. And Christopher Nolan hasn’t seemed particularly interested in making traditional comic book films in his helming of the franchise so far. As such, I really loved “The Dark Knight” and still believe it to be up there with the best American films (Hollywood or otherwise) of the last 30 years. But that was essentially a crime film, if a slightly fantastical one.

The first thing to say is that “The Dark Knight Rises” is a very different from its predecessor. If “Batman Begins” was a dark, psychological martial arts film and “The Dark Knight” was demented tech-noir, “The Dark Knight Rises” is in many ways situated in much more recognizable action/spectacular territory. It contains underground lairs, bombs with ticking countdown timers and a frenetic, bombastic finale which ends with everyone looking to the skies in broad daylight, rather than the grimy, dank back alleys that Batman (Christian Bale) slinked down at the end of “The Dark Knight." In this film, the story is opened out to the world outside Gotham in a way that seems uncharacteristic: We even see the U.S. president talking about Gotham on television at one point, like it’s some kind of late-’90s asteroid-collision movie.

There’s little point in recounting the plot because it’s been public knowledge for the year or so since the first of many trailers was released. What’s so enticing about that “twilight’s last gleaming” trailer in particular was Selina Kyle’s (Anne Hathaway) whispered warning to Bruce Wayne about the oncoming reckoning from arch-villain Bane (Tom Hardy), and her asking how he “could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” In that line is the suggestion that Bane might in some way be a warped hero for our time. In the years since the last installment, we in the real world have endured the bulk of the financial crash and a collapse in belief in many of our most respected societal institutions. Might billionaire Bruce Wayne be cast as the semi-villain of the piece and have to undergo a redemption and reincarnation of sorts to emerge as a recalibrated hero for our time?

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Three-Martini Naked Lunch

MOVIE REVIEW
Cosmopolis (2012)

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Stone Angels

The two prospective core audiences for this collaboration between cerebral auteur David Cronenberg and teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson will each have a pertinent question in mind before entering the cinema: Younger Pattinson fans looking for more of his tortured “Twilight” smoldering may ask themselves just how digestible this apparently adult and difficult film will be. Cronenberg watchers may be equally curious as to how the film stacks up at this particular juncture of his career. The director is currently three films into a relatively restrained mainstream phase of a recurring cycle. Last time, in the early 1990s, he brought a similarly respectable diversion to a juddering halt with “Crash” following the failure of “M. Butterfly.” With “Cosmopolis” being the first Mr. Cronenberg-penned screenplay since “eXistenZ” and “A Dangerous Method” widely criticized for lacking bite, hopes are high that “Cosmopolis” might be a return to the edgier Mr. Cronenberg of old.

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Haunted Housekeeping

MOVIE REVIEW
The Innkeepers (2012)

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Magnet Releasing

Ti West and his regular collaborator Larry Fessenden have forged a reasonably successful independent horror studio with Glass Eye Pix, from which “The Innkeepers” is the latest offering. While Mr. Fessenden’s directorial efforts are broader (in all senses), Mr. West has been steadily refining a specific style over the course of three features (discounting his mainstream diversion, “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever”), namely a kind of measured, reserved, retro horror that eschews gore and obvious schlock tactics. “The Innkeepers” is the apogee of this project, and it could mark a turning point for Mr. West and his future ambitions.

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Family Viewing, Outside the Cry Room

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Kino International

A newborn in the family reduced my cinema visits to the lowest number in many years, although I did finally manage to catch up with most significant releases by the end of the year. There are a few notable exceptions, such as "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Drive," and I’m yet to catch the recently released "The Artist" and "Las acasias." Looking back, I’d say it’s been a reasonably good year. Certainly it’s been a very good one for British cinema. I’m a bit disappointed not to have any out-and-out comedies on my list, but some fell just outside my top 10.

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Climb Down Ev'ry Mountain

MOVIE REVIEW
Alps (2011)

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Yorgos Lanthimos

A young girl practices gymnastics under the tutelage of a near-psychotic coach. Another studiously memorizes lists of light fittings. And they are part of a bizarre group whose leader assigns each member code names based on the Swiss Alps. From these mysterious beginnings, the audience is required to unpick exactly what this eccentric gang of four is up to and why. The resulting puzzle is similar in tone to director Yorgos Lanthimos’s unforgettable debut, “Dogtooth,” but this time we’re following several different characters in their respective stories and the dots are more difficult to join for a while.

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