The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats
We're told at the beginning of The Men Who Stare at Goats that "more of this is true than you would believe." But the story of the U.S. Army's attempts to harness psychic powers to create super-soldiers is so bizarre it almost HAS to be true, in accordance with the "how could anyone make this up?" principle. In fact, I believe more of this admittedly fictionalized story than I do of The Fourth Kind, which claims to be 100 percent true. Surely there's a lesson in there.

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
I was hoping for a chance to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a second time before I wrote my review, but only to confirm my suspicions that it's a surprising near-masterpiece, certainly one of the year's best films, and the best Western to come across the range since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992) and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1996). I had been looking forward to the film, mainly because 2007 had previously yielded two very good Westerns in Seraphim Falls and 3:10 to Yuma (we'll say nothing more about the wretched September Dawn). I had also admired New Zealand director Andrew Dominik's previous and only other feature, Chopper (2000). But none of this prepared me for the scope, artistry and brilliance of this new film.

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I've Loved You So Long

I've Loved You So Long
I've Loved You So Long is a meditative French drama about awakening from a metaphorical death. It's about how a shared past can inform present expectations and about whether relationships can bridge a gulf of years and extend beyond a tragedy that is in many ways neither understood nor explained. Writer/director Philippe Claudel's approach to the material is straightforward and free of melodrama, but he elects to present a critical aspect of the protagonist's history as an element of mystery. Rather than peeling back the curtain on the past to the audience at the beginning, he gradually reveals pieces of the central tragedy and what it means, and has meant, for those involved.

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Orange County

Orange County
Most parents, on at least a subconscious level, would be happy if their children, when grown, followed in their footsteps. Such a career choice by one's offspring, is, after all, a kind of validation of one's own decisions. So it must be with some degree of pride that Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Sissy Spacek, and Lawrence Kasdan view Orange County, because all of them have a son or daughter involved in the production. Sadly, however, while the movie may represent a showcase of second-generation talent, that's about all it really works as. In fact, were it not for the high profile names of "Hanks" and "Kasdan", this would be a perfect candidate for a direct-to-video release.

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Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek
To like Wolf Creek, you have to be a horror fan - or a parent desperate to drive home the advice not to speak to strangers. I'm a little mystified by the strong negative reaction the film has received in some quarters. Based on the response of some critics (those who claimed to have been "sickened" and "repulsed"), I expected an exercise in pointless, gory excess. But what Wolf Creek offers is a competently made horror excursion with an unfortunate reliance upon clichés balanced off by some legitimate shocks.

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Weather Man

Weather Man
Reaction to The Weather Man may depend upon an individual's ability to tolerate spending 100 minutes in the company of an unpleasant protagonist. There's no doubt this can be an uncomfortable experience, but it can also be rewarding for those who are willing to endure the discomfort. The Weather Man is a meticulously developed character piece about a man whose personal life is in crisis while his professional life is soaring. If you don't believe in the axiom that "success can't buy happiness," director Gore Verbinski is using this opportunity to convince you otherwise. The only negative in evidence is an unnecessarily verbose, and sometimes intrusive, voiceover by Nicolas Cage. Half of what he says could be eliminated without doing any damage to the story.

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Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl
Lars and the Real Girl is an example of how even the most ridiculous premise can be used to construct a smart, touching motion picture. The film sounds like it was developed with Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell in mind, but the key here is that, while there are laughs to be had, Lars and the Real Girl is intended to be taken seriously. This is not a rude, crude, lewd comedy. It takes an idea that could easily be reduced to a series of sex jokes and pratfalls and develops it into something intelligent and thoughtful. But, yes, even taken seriously, it's nothing less than absurd, and the filmmakers know that. Such recognition is a key to debut director Craig Gillespie's success because he understands how to get the audience to the place where they embrace the characters and believe their situations rather than laugh at them.

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Downfall

Downfall
Downfall is the third major filmed account of Hitler's final ten days, following in the distant wake of 1973's Hitler: The Last Ten Days and 1981's The Bunker. A superior production to both of the earlier movies, Downfall is a windfall for anyone who, like me, is fascinated by stories from World War II. The first internationally released German production to feature Hitler as a central figure, Oliver Hirschbiegel's film has been criticized in some circles as presenting a portrait of the Fuhrer that is "too sympathetic." In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As portrayed in a powerhouse performance by Bruno Ganz, Hitler comes across as a petty, demented figure who spews bile as he rants and raves. The lone exception is an establishing scene in 1942 (when Hitler chooses a secretary), where he appears almost grandfatherly. Other than that, he is shown to be a conscienceless, hateful madman who believes his people deserve to die because they are no longer fit to live.

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Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road
Since 1997, Titanic fans have been yearning for a re-teaming of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Revolutionary Road is the opportunity they have awaited, but the results may cause as much distress as joy. Directed by Winslet's husband, Sam Mendes, and faithfully adapted by Justin Haythe from the novel by Richard Yates, this is the dissection of an imploding marriage and a contemplation about life in surburbia. It's a sad, grim movie that asks pointed questions about the compromises we make and the lies we tell in an effort to maintain a sense of equilibrium. And is it more courageous to face up to one's responsibilities or to follow a dream, no matter how impossible it may seem?

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Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl

Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl
Certain historical periods provide rich and varied soil for the cultivation of motion picture storylines. The twilight of the Roman Empire is one. The American Civil War is another. World War II marks a third. And a fourth is the Chinese "Cultural Revolution," which spanned roughly a decade from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. This time of great upheaval, which was started by young ideologues forcing their harsh political views on the entire populace, led to frightened men and women denouncing others to save themselves. The events of those ten years have given rise to a number of stirring, powerful motion pictures, including Farewell My Concubine and To Live. Now, Xiu Xiu can be added to that list. This is a devastating and unforgettable portrait of hopeless love and the corruption of innocence set against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution.

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Ready to Wear

Ready to Wear
"[Ready to Wear/Pret-a-Porter] is just a silly little movie, it's not a serious epic. So just enjoy, laugh with it, have a good time. It's no big deal."
- Robert Altman, director of Ready to Wear

One wonders whether Robert Altman arrived at that conclusion before or after the much-anticipated Ready to Wear was complete. Despite some delicious moments, this sluggish, overlong, halfhearted satire feels like a movie that wanted to go somewhere but never got there. With punches pulled and fangs capped, this look at high fashion is not at all what was expected from the director of The Player, one of the most vicious and biting sendups of the last two decades.

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Gutterballs

Gutterballs
The film opens at Xcalibur Bowling Centre, a disco-themed bowling alley in Surrey, British Columbia. Egerton (Dan Ellis), the janitor, has allowed two groups of teenagers to bowl against one another after hours. The "prep", Steve (Alistair Gamble), is still bitter after his best friend Jamie (Nathan Witte), the "jock", had sex with Lisa (Candice Lewald), a girl with whom Steve was smitten and even took to their senior prom. After Steve and his friends Joey (Wade Gibb), Patrick (Trevor Gemma) and A.J. (Nathan Dashwood) harass the "tranny", Sam (Jimmy Blais), they are chastised by Jamie. This leads to a brawl between Steve's team and Jamie's. Lisa breaks up the fight by dropping a bowling ball on Steve's foot just as Steve is about to kick Jamie again. Egerton, brandishing a shotgun, tells the teenagers to leave and they can continue their tournament the following night.

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Duets
Duets is a road-trip comedy which revolves around the little known world of karaoke and the whimsical characters who inhabit it. Theres the struggling singer who dreams of making it to the big time, a frustrated salesman who ends up on an unexpected road trip, the dysfunctional family performers which includes a con-artist and his long lost daughter, and an escaped convict with the voice of an angel. All roads lead to Omaha, site of a national karaoke competition where this motley group of singers and stars come together for a blow-out sing-off.

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Goal II: Living the Dream

Goal II: Living the Dream
After gaining experience with the football club Newcastle United, Santiago Munez (Becker) gets a huge break when hes transferred to Real Madrid.

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Kingdom of Gladiators

Kingdom of Gladiators
A king makes a pact with an ancient demon and after years of ruling his kingdom in peace, the demon has come to collect. Now a group of rival gladiators must fight for the survival of the kingdom.

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Los bastardos

Los bastardos
A 24 hour period in the lives of Fausto and Jesus, two undocumented Mexican day-laborers in L.A. Each day another task, each day the same pressure to find money. They go about their daily routine, standing on the corner at the Home Improvement Store waiting for work to come. Today, the job they are given is well paid compared to their poor usual wages. Today, Jesus carries a shotgun inside his backpack.

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