Category: 4 stars


Dir. Charlres Ferguson
(2010, PG-13, 108 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Some weeks ago I listened to an eye-opening podcast of This American Life that explained economics with a startling revelation: money isn’t real. Though I’m oversimplifying a complex issue, the value of money is, in a sense, a lie agreed upon ever since the US left the gold standard. That’s why consumer confidence is so important to a functioning economy – when you exchange a dollar for goods or services, you are engaged in a tacit agreement that those goods and services are worth the value known as “dollar,” and that that dollar is represented by the slip of paper in your hand with the green ink and numbers on it. Maybe, psychologically speaking, that’s part of the reason the financial crisis happened; in the information age, those slips of paper have largely been replaced by sequences of digits and decimal places on someone’s hard drive, less tangible even than Monopoly money, so it’s easy to become divorced from the practical consequences of what you do with those decimals. Except, of course, in the real world, when you play around with money, there are real people in the houses and hotels … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

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Dir. Lixin Fan
(2010, Not Rated, 90 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

The 2-Train runs along the west side of Manhattan and into the Bronx. I used to ride it home from the city but stopped doing so because it took too damn long. During off-peak hours, sometimes you’d wait twenty minutes for a train to come. Twenty minutes! And then you’d have to wait as long as thirty minutes for a bus to take you the rest of the way. Intolerable! But the journey shown in Last Train Home, which is a matter-of-fact reality for 130 million Chinese migrant workers (that’s almost half the population of the United States), makes me and my similarly impatient New York brethren look like pussies.

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Dir. Spike Lee
(2010, Not Rated, 255 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Spike Lee’s If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise doesn’t have quite the impact of its predecessor, 2006’s When the Levees Broke, which is not only a masterpiece but an essential document of modern American history, but it’s just as important, or perhaps more so. Where Levees showed an urgent crisis in progress, God is Willing addresses more complex problems – bureaucratic, institutional, social, and economic challenges, some of them caused by Hurricane Katrina and the breach of the levees and others merely exacerbated by the catastrophe. Five years after the fact, the Gulf Coast region is still struggling, and Lee reinvests in the community with undiminished passion. He is a poet of moral outrage.

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Dir. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
(2010, PG-13, 87 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Xander: This Malcolm guy. What’s his deal? Admit that it wigs you slightly.

Buffy: Slightly. I mean, just not knowing what he’s really like.

Xander: How about who he really is? Oh sure, he says he’s a high school student. I could say I was a high school student.

Buffy: You are.

Xander: Okay, but I could also say I was an elderly Dutch woman, get me? Who’s to say I’m not? If I’m in the elderly Dutch chat room …

Buffy: I get your point.

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Dir. Samuel Maoz
(2010, R, 93 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Lebanon considers familiar themes about war – its split-second life-or-death decisions, its deleterious effects on the men who fight – but makes them startlingly urgent through the outstanding screenplay and direction of Samuel Maoz, who was inspired by his own service in the Israeli army during the Lebanon War of 1982. The action takes place entirely within the confines of a tank where four soldiers undergo the stress of combat, and in its dramatization of claustrophobic dread it takes Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours to school.

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Dir. David Michôd
(2010, R, 113 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Animal Kingdom begins with possibly the best opening scene from any film I’ve seen in the last year. It introduces us to a teenage boy, Joshua Cody (James Frecheville), watching a television game show alongside his mother. But what appears to be a mundane scenario is revealed to be something quite different, something traumatic and sad. The rest of the film functions much the same way. As Joshua tells us early on, his experiences seem normal to him as he’s experiencing them. He settles into the status quo, and though he knows there’s something not quite right about his family, he doesn’t see how drastically his life is about to change.

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Dir. Derek Cianfrance
(2010, R, 112 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Blue Valentine tells a story about a young couple that’s really two stories: one about falling in love, and the other about falling out of love. In a way, it’s a fitting companion to Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, which considered with comic exaggeration what Blue Valentine considers with gritty emotional realism: how to understand the course of love, its ebbs and flows, its stops and starts. In one scene, Cindy (Michelle Williams) asks her grandmother how one can rely on feelings when feelings can change so unpredictably; she’s thinking especially of her parents, who she assumes loved each other once upon a time, but all she remembers is distance and yelling. Her grandmother doesn’t presume to have a definite answer, and neither does the film. You can’t know if love is forever. You just have to feel it and take it from there.

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Dir. Banksy
(2010, R, 85 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

There has been speculation about whether Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by a mysterious street artist known as Banksy, is fact or fiction. Banksy himself is an elusive figure, anonymous, and much of his art seems to be about itself, created to be seen and to comment on the seeing; our reactions are his canvas. But after watching the film the question of reality seems irrelevant. Either way it’s about the same thing: the intangible nature of art, which may be created with thoughtless delusion yet be valued as a work of genius. Why? Because we’ve been convinced that it is, we convince ourselves, and then we convince each other. The art of this film is showing how art may be a blank page; whether a work of painstaking discipline or the hapless fumbling of a dilettante, if we imbue it with meaning it has meaning, and if we do not it does not. So whether Exit Through the Gift Shop is true or a complete fabrication is beside the point. Art itself is a joke, and the joke is always on us … Read the rest of my review at Culturazzi.org.

Dir. Richard Curtis
(2003, R, 129 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Here’s why I love Love Actually: it’s not perfect, but in its occasionally awkward, occasionally sitcomish, rough-around-the-edges way, it’s poetic. Ranked among my top twenty films of the last decade, it opens with a thesis so optimistic it’s square: that in the midst of post-9/11 anxiety is an undercurrent of love, seen at airports in arrivals and departures, reunions and separations, hugs and kisses. Love, it says plainly, is all around. You don’t even have to look very hard to find it.

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Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
(1993, R, 98 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Juliette Binoche is the marvelous anchor of Blue, the first part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. Her face is mysterious and full of emotion even when it seems still. She plays Julie, the wife of internationally renowned composer Patrice de Courcy, who dies in a car accident at the start of the film, along with their five-year-old daughter. Julie survives the accident, wants to kill herself, but can’t bring herself to.

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