Category: 2.5 stars


'The White Ribbon'

Dir. Michael Haneke
(2009, R, 144 min)
★ ★ ½

The first twenty minutes and the last twenty minutes of The White Ribbon are intriguing. The hundred minutes in the middle are a tough sit. After it was over, my thoughts overflowed. Written and directed by Michael Haneke (Caché, Funny Games), it’s set in a rural German town on the eve of World War I and concerns itself with the children — children who will grow up to be the adults of the Third Reich. Searching the film’s IMDb page, I notice that the child characters have names, but not the adults, who are known as the Baron, the Pastor, the Steward, the Doctor, and so on. They’re not individuals, but examples of a social order. The children are products of that order, and we all know how well that turned out.

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Michael Caine, in 'Harry Brown'

Dir. Daniel Barber
(2010, R, 103 min)
★ ★ ½

Michael Caine is a good choice for the title role in Harry Brown because he doesn’t seem like a tough guy. The Cockney actor, better known for softer-spoken, urbane roles in films like The Cider House Rules and as the even-tempered butler Alfred in the recent Batman movies, is jarring to see as a hardened vigilante. The against-type casting makes the film altogether darker; the violence plays less like revenge fantasy and more like tragedy.

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Hichem Yacoubi and Tahar Rahim, in 'A Prophet'

Dir. Jacques Audiard
(2010, R, 155 min)
★ ★ ½

There’s a style of filmmaking that I don’t seem to respond to. I find it in A Prophet — a nominee this year for Best Foreign Language Film, representing France — and I’ve found it in recent French films Flight of the Red Balloon and Summer Hours, which are alike in that they received near unanimous praise from critics but failed to make much of an impression on me. Surely it’s not exclusively a French trait, but I’m noticing a trend — in myself as much as in the films … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, and Anne Hathaway, in 'Alice in Wonderland'

Dir. Tim Burton
(2010, PG, 109 min)
★ ★ ½

Director Tim Burton goes to a lot off trouble to impress us in Alice in Wonderland, his CGI-heavy, live-action treatment of the Lewis Carroll classic, with a reported budget of $250 million. All that money is up there on the screen in lavish costumes, visual effects, and production design, and as spectacles go it’s genuinely diverting. But if it’s lacking in a greater sense of wonder, perhaps it has more to do with the presentation of the visual elements than the elements themselves.

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Matt Damon, in 'Green Zone'

Dir. Paul Greengrass
(2010, R, 115 min)
★ ★ ½

Green Zone is a political thriller that works well as a thriller but not so well as politics. Set in 2003 during the early days of the Iraq War, it stages the search for WMDs as a network of cover-ups, lies, and abuses at high levels of power. That may sound very dramatic, but I’ve seen more disturbing revelations about our government in documentaries and nightly on The Daily Show.

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Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, in 'Crazy Heart'

Dir. Scott Cooper
(2009, R, 112 min)
★ ★ ½

I don’t know how much I can say about Crazy Heart that I haven’t already said about troubled-musician films like Ray and Walk the Line. Substance-abusing legend meets long-suffering woman and seeks redemption. There have been great films to come out of similar plots, most recently Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, with its deeply personal performance by Mickey Rourke, but this isn’t one of them.

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Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington, in 'Avatar'

Dir. James Cameron
(2009, PG-13, 162 min)
★ ★ ½

Leaving James Cameron’s science-fiction epic, I didn’t think it was possible to reconcile its parts into a single review. So I wrote two.

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Dominique Reymond and Charles Berling, in 'Summer Hours'

Dir. Olivier Assayas
(2008, Not Rated, 102 min)
★ ★ ½

There are touching moments and meaningful connections in Olivier Assayas’s Summer Hours, which is nevertheless lackadaisical in its telling of the story of three French siblings who must decide how they will manage their inheritance after the death of their mother. In style and theme it reminded me of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, which despite its universal adoration I just couldn’t connect with. I had the same trouble here.

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Meryl Streep, in 'Julie & Julia'

Dir. Nora Ephron
(2009, PG-13, 123 min)
★ ★ ½

My food metaphors are rusty, but I’ll give it a shot. Julie & Julia is sweet. Too sweet. It’s apple pie dipped in honey, drizzled in caramel, and injected with high fructose corn syrup. What it needs is a touch of the tart, salty, or savory. Written and directed by sugar specialist Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail), with an extra dollop of cutesy meringue by composer Alexandre Desplat, it makes Chocolat look like No Country for Old Men.

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Russell Crowe, in 'State of Play'

Dir. Kevin Macdonald
(2009, PG-13, 128 min)
★ ★ ½

I have an affection for State of Play that makes me want to bump it up that extra half star, but nagging reservations that won’t let me. It starts as an intelligent, unpretentious, straight-ahead thriller about the kind of hard-boiled investigative journalist who Gets Too Close To The Story, and its gradually unraveling conspiracy is exciting, but over time it starts to give in to laziness, and its plot undergoes one back flip too many before I’ve just lost interest.

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