Category: 2.5 stars


Dir. Rodrigo García
(2010, R, 127 min)
★ ★ ½

Mother and Child is a film about adoption that never lets us forget it’s about adoption. It’s the subject of scenes even when it doesn’t make sense for it to be, as when the owner of a high-powered law firm asks his new associate why she never searched for her birth mother, or when, at a family picnic, another character’s step-daughter asks out of nowhere why she’s never searched for the daughter she gave up. We’re not watching characters who have experienced adoption. We’re watching characters written entirely around adoption.

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Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
(2010, R, 147 min)
★ ★ ½

Biutiful is two-and-a-half hours of tragedy porn. It tells the story of Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a father of two young children who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. If that’s not sad enough, the film also provides an ex-wife with bipolar disorder. Not crying yet? You will be after you witness the plight of Chinese and African immigrants living in Barcelona, including a man soon to be deported and forced to abandon his wife and infant child. Your heart will further be wrenched by a back-story about Uxbal’s own father, who fled Franco’s regime in 1966 only to die of pneumonia in Mexico two months later. None of these are significant spoilers; wait ’til you see the stuff I’ve left out.

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Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
(1994, R, 91 min)
★ ★ ½

White follows the story of a Polish sad-sack emasculated by his French wife and forced to smuggle himself back home, where he rebuilds his life. It’s the second film in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, but in tone it bears little resemblance to the previous film, Blue, and I don’t think it’s as successful either. Instead of tragedy it delivers black comedy, and instead of depth it stays mostly superficial.

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Dir. Daniel Alfredson
(2010, R, 129 min)
★ ★ ½

I streamed The Girl Who Played with Fire through Netflix, and as soon as the credits started rolling I opened a new tab in Google Chrome to research the film on Wikipedia. I needed a summary of the plot.

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Dir. Kevin Asch
(2010, R, 89 min)
★ ★ ½

When Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg), an impressionable Brooklyn Hasid who longs to someday provide for a family of his own, is seduced into the world of drug smuggling in Holy Rollers, it’s shown as a gaudy collection of red-lit nightclubs, sexy women, wads of cash, and glamorously shady characters. Director Kevin Asch’s idea of corruption isn’t exactly subtle. In his feature directing debut, he often overplays his hand, brushing up close to sentimental Afterschool Special territory. A good Jewish boy starts swimming with sharks, gets in over his head — if only he’d listened to his tata. Goodfellas it’s not … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

Steven Weber and Michael T. Weiss, in 'Jeffrey'

Dir. Christopher Ashley
(1995, R, 93 min)
★ ★ ½

Jeffrey is sort of a sitcom Angels in America, set about a decade after Tony Kushner’s masterpiece about gay life at the dawn of the AIDS crisis, a mid-point between ‘80s terror and ‘00s complacency. Paul Rudnick wrote the screenplay based on his 1992 play, and though made around the same time as Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work it feels a lot more dated, which is less the result of its subject than of its treatment. Directed too broadly by Christopher Ashley, a stage vet who treats the screen too much like the stage, it’s preachy and self-conscious, at times more a lesson than a story, but it’s not a bad film, per se. It’s blessed with excellent performances — though at times those performances seem to be coming from different films altogether — and sporadic insight into a period of sexual uncertainty and dread, and in its pioneering way it’s even an important film. I have a stubborn affection for it despite its flaws.

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Michael Cera, in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'

Dir. Edgar Wright
(2010, PG-13, 112 min)
★ ★ ½

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World would be brilliant were it not for the Attention Deficit Disorder. It’s built on a clever and frequently touching metaphor of young love as a video game, filtering the anxiety of romance through the eyes of the post-Xbox generation. Love literally is a battlefield; instead of baggage, these characters have boss battles. But the film can’t keep still. It’s a funny, sweet, dizzying, over-caffeinated whirligig of disjointed gags bumping into each other at light speed. A lot of it works. It’s intelligent about romantic growing pains. But it needs a chill pill.

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Penelope Cruz, in 'Nine'

Dir. Rob Marshall
(2009, PG-13, 119 min)
★ ★ ½

Nine is a watchable and intermittently satisfying film, but I’m not sure what it’s about. It’s based on the Broadway musical inspired by Federico Fellini’s famed semi-autobiographical film . I saw a few years ago for a film class; I’m not sure I knew what it was about either.

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Catalina Saavedra, in 'The Maid'

Dir. Sebastián Silva
(2009, Not Rated, 94 min)
★ ★ ½

Are we supposed to sympathize with Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), the title character of The Maid? Few characters make it harder to do so. She never smiles, not even on her birthday, which opens the film. That in itself doesn’t make her unlikable; some people aren’t demonstrative of their feelings, keep others at a distance, but are still capable of caring and being cared for. Not Raquel. She is bitter and mean, particularly to Camila (Andrea García-Huidobro), the teenage daughter of the family she serves, for no reason we can discern. She is downright abusive to other maids, whom the family hires to “help her.” Raquel thinks she’s being replaced, and so did I, but the new maids really are there just to help; the mother, Pilar (Claudia Celedón), is a pushover and can’t bring herself to fire her long-serving maid.

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Nisreen Faour and Melkar Muallem, in 'Amreeka'

Dir. Cherien Dabis
(2009, PG-13, 96 min)
★ ★ ½

Amreeka is a pleasant, well-meaning film I wish were more than that. Starting out with a Palestinian mother and son living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, it suggests a pointed drama about everyday life for Palestinians without a homeland. Upon arriving in the United States for the first time, the mother, Muna (Nisreen Faour), is asked by an impatient customs agent about her citizenship, but she doesn’t have any citizenship, because she doesn’t belong to a country. “Occupation?” he asks. “Yes, we’ve been occupied for the last forty years.”

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