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The Future's Stranger Than He Thought: An Interview with Zero Theorem Director Terry Gilliam

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

"I'll always be anti-authoritarian, as long as I live," says Terry Gilliam, the comic provocateur who's been taking aim at the establishment for over four decades. The only thing that changes: his targets. In Life of Brian, it was religion. In Brazil, the government. And in his latest film, The Zero Theorem, it's the biggest oppressor of all: big business. Says Gilliam, "Governments are second rate compared to corporations when it comes to power and influence on our lives." The Zero Theorem stars Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth, a reclusive computer drone whose life is at the mercy of his employer, Mancorp. His boss, a godlike figure named Management (Matt Damon), and his underlings dictate everything from Qohen's therapist (Tilda Swinton) to his sexual »


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True-Story Narrative Tracks Recounts a 1,700-Mile Trek Across Australia

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

'I think you have a problem with people," Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) informs Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) in the middle of the desert. The utterance comes midway through Tracks, John Curran’s true-story narrative of Davidson’s 1,700-mile 1977 trek across Australia. As Davidson engages more with her animals (four camels, one dog) than any human, viewers might be inclined to agree. Yet the film’s strength derives from how Wasikowska makes Davidson’s seemingly suicidal wanderlust relatable. Here is a woman who wants something even more rare in 2014’s world of perpetual connections than in ’77: privacy! Trekking without means of communication, Davidson’s journey genuinely seems to be after that all-too-often-mocked goal of f »


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Art and Craft's Trickster Forger is an American Original

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Knocking out the first-rate forgeries that fooled 60 American museums? That was a curiously mundane miracle, something for Mark Landis to do while watching TV. A frail and ascetic Mississippian who resembles Michael Stipe playing Truman Capote, Landis sketched and painted minor Currans, Averys, and Cassatts with one eye on last century’s reruns. He could carry on a conversation as he flipped back and forth between a print of the original and his quick copy, committing to memory a line or brushstroke and then re-creating it with all the thought a military barber gives to buzzing any individual head. As Landis tells it, this “memory trick” is just a thing that he has always been able to do: “In Sunday school, they always tell everybody to make use of your gi »


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Terry Gilliam's Latest Sci-Fi Adventure The Zero Theorem Serves Up Wild and Wonderful Images

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Terry Gilliam is a gifted, ambitious filmmaker who, sadly, may now be more famous for being misunderstood and underfunded than he is for actually making movies. The Zero Theorem isn't likely to reverse that equation. In this half-squirrely, half-torpid sci-fi adventure, Christoph Waltz, with a shaved head and a face devoid of eyebrows, plays Qohen Leth, a lonely, put-upon programmer who toils away for a megacorporation known as Mancom. Qohen is unraveling emotionally. He's been waiting for years for a phone call, one that he's sure will magically change his life. He's so obsessed that he puts in a request to work from home, so he won't miss it when it comes. After a number of humiliating medical evaluations and an encounter with Mancom's big cheese (Matt Damon), his wish »


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Nick Cave Doc 20,000 Days on Earth Surprises

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Should we trust artists to tell the story of artists? On the plus side, who understands them better? If there's a secret language of imagination and creativity, then the members of this sprawling tribe must be the ones who speak it best. On the other hand, could there be anything more insufferable than artists talking to artists about art? We come to these people — painters, musicians, actors, photographers — all the time for answers; somehow we believe, often correctly, that they can get at all manner of delicate truths that can't be captured in the words of everyday life. But when artists talk to one another, there's always the risk that we'll be shut outside their bubble of understanding.

20,000 Days on Earth is a documentary about an artist, Aust »

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A Walk Among the Tombstones Is an Uncommonly Well-Made Thriller

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

They've done it at last: made a Liam Neeson-stomps-some-ass flick where, as the credits roll, there's more stuff to be glad you saw than Neeson himself. Based on one of those Lawrence Block novels that's pretty smart but also too invested in the mechanics of rape and torture, the movie's a grim beauty, shot like nobody told writer-director Scott Frank he's supposed to be churning out schedule-filling late-summer product. Instead, Frank has crafted the kind of thriller that Neeson's brooding elder-toughs have deserved all along, a tense and prickly picture more interested in shoe-leather investigative work than in making a lark of brutal deaths. Neeson's Matt Scudder — the glum ex-cop hero of many bloody Block books — bobs about Frank's colorless pre-millennial New York like »


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If You're Not a Rich Dope, This Is Where I Leave You Offers Nothing

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

“I’ve spent my whole life playing it safe,” whines Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), the middle-class milquetoast at the center of This Is Where I Leave You. Yes, well, so has director Shawn Levy, but on the basis of his latest vacuous trifle he has no apparent intention, as Altman does, of effecting a much-needed change. Doubtless there are more incompetent filmmakers working in Hollywood today, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a more uninteresting one; the dozen-odd dramatic comedies he’s churned out over the past 15 years represent the height of by-committee blandness, each in turn number-crunched and market-calibrated to appeal to the broadest demographic. Films like Date Night and The Internship are nothing if not rousing feats of four- »


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The Handheld Stop the Pounding Heart Is Filled with Piercing Isolation and Sadness

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

You keep waiting for catastrophe to strike in Roberto Minervini's taciturn Stop the Pounding Heart. The handheld camera drifts without judgment through scenes of home-schooled children in forced prayer, shirtless trailer-park boys riding a makeshift mechanical bull, those same boys mounting a dangerously unqualified elementary-school kid on the bull. But nothing wrenching happens, just unforgettable moments of piercing isolation and sadness. Stop the Pounding Heart is part of what Minervini calls his "Texas trilogy" (the two other films, The Passage and Low Tide, are not sequels but feature some of the same cast and themes; all three will run between September 19 and 25 at Lincoln Center). There's scant plot or dialogue, just glimpses of the »


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Swim Little Fish Swim Plays Like a New York-Set Reality Bites

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

From its crackpot opening — a tied-up, prostrate girl in lingerie poses for a creepy, buck-naked painter — you wouldn't expect Swim Little Fish Swim to play like a New York-set Reality Bites crossed with the most cloying elements of mumblecore cinema (uke players, quaint pop lyrics like "Let's pretend we're radiators," Ballantine-swigging hipsters). But that's exactly what co-writer/directors Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar have pulled off in their coy debut. As in Bites, that earlier war cry for respecting artistic slacker integrity, the heroes are a struggling experimental video auteur (Bessis) and a proudly unemployed musician (Dustin Guy Defa). Bessis's character, who is French, has 10 days to throw together a project for a P.S.1 gallery »


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Brush With Danger Is an Inexplicably Racist Indonesian Action Film

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Almost nothing makes sense in Brush With Danger, a bewilderingly incompetent and inexplicably racist Indonesian action film. Written, directed, and produced by stars Livi and Ken Zheng, Brush With Danger pits sibling immigrants Alice and Ken Qiang against wealthy art forger-cum-underground fight manager Justus Sullivan (Norman Newkirk). Being the film's token evil white dude, Sullivan tries to trick the Qiangs into giving him kickboxing purse money and forged paintings after he sees Ken demonstrate his martial arts skills at a Seattle street fair while Alice struggles to sell her — in Ken's words — "Asian art." Ken's clueless but sincere description of his sister's work is not the Zhengs' attempt at criticizing immigrants' capitulation to natives' apat »


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Sexploitation Auteur Joe Sarno's Post-Porn Life Chronicled in A Life in Dirty Movies

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Joe Sarno may be, in the words of performance artist Annie Sprinkle, "the Ingmar Bergman of porn," but A Life in Dirty Movies doesn't dwell on his accomplishments as a pioneering sexploitation moviemaker. Instead, director Wiktor Ericsson makes Sarno's career (Confessions of a Young American Housewife, The Wall of Flesh, All the Sins of Sodom) of secondary importance to his relationship with wife Peggy Steffans. Ericsson's focus on Sarno's marriage is striking since Sarno himself, then 89 and a month away from death, focused much of his energy on a never-realized return to the softcore pornography he mastered in the 1970s. Sarno's work is generally unexamined here but presented in an uncritically positive light. For example, Sarno objects to hardcore porn »


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Martial Arts Remake Iceman Makes a Strong Case to Revisit the Original

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The Iceman Cometh, Clarence Fok's 1989 Hong Kong martial arts film, achieved classic status on the strength of Fok's facility with multiple elements: humor that could be silly without being juvenile, dazzlingly choreographed action sequences, a story filled with wit, and charming lead performances (Yuen Biao, Maggie Cheung). There's a kind of elegance to it. Iceman, the new remake starring Donnie Yen and directed by Law Wing-cheong, is aggressively inelegant. When Ming warrior He Ying (Yen) awakens in modern Hong Kong after centuries frozen in slumber, he's burdened by his history — being unfairly accused of treason, stripped of honor, his family slaughtered. He's carrying a time-travel device that is activated by a metaphorically crude act, and tha »


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Fort Bliss Allows Michelle Monaghan to Display Her Range

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

It figures that Michelle Monaghan, one of too many underutilized actresses usually relegated to playing the hero's wife, would have to go shoestring in order to find a role that allows her to display the range of her talents. She's at her best as Army medic/staff sergeant Maggie Swann in writer-director Claudia Myers's Fort Bliss, a returning-soldier drama that answers the annoyingly ubiquitous "Can women have it all?" question with an exasperated "no." After a 15-month deployment, Maggie returns home to a young son who hardly remembers her. Comfortable living with his dad (Ron Livingston) and soon-to-be stepmother (Emmanuelle Chriqui), he'd much prefer to keep things as they are than honor his parents' agreement to have him go home with his mother. Maggie is ins »


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Life's a Breeze Is a Bittersweet Working-Class Irish Comedy

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Irish director Lance Daly's Life's a Breeze faces a curious dilemma. How to depict the degrading effects of poverty when your central character, 79-year-old grandmother Nan (Fionnula Flanagan), lives in squalor by choice, having saved up close to a million euros? Her problems begin when her extended family, realizing that she's a virtual contender for Hoarding: Buried Alive, throws out most of her possessions, including the mattress where she's stashed the money. Led by her dim son Colm (Pat Shortt), they then go on a wild chase in search of it. Along the way, Nan and Colm's teenage niece Emma (Kelly Thornton) share many pleasant moments of conversation. Ken Loach's recent comedies of working-class life seem to be Daly's main inspiration here. Life's »


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Space Station 76 Is a Retro-Futuristic Curio

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Don't expect many laughs from this retro-futuristic curio, which doesn't really go for them, despite its parodic title and its '70s insistence that in the far future, View-Masters would be cutting-edge communication tech. Still, sympathetic audiences may be diverted by Space Station 76's period design and skilled performances, and by the mystery of what exactly the filmmakers are going for. (The less sympathetic may just ask what the point is.) Instead, director Jack Plotnick's debut mines the '70s not just for an aesthetic of kitsch but also for a narrative mode: Imagine an Updike novel set in the pinwheeling station of 2001, a Valium-in-the-void take on marital blisslessness. With jokes: Scenes with a robot therapist are inspired riffs on rudimentary AI progra »


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Simon Pegg Is Finally Allowed to Be Himself in Hector and the Search for Happiness

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Simon Pegg has always been more like a cartoon than a real boy. He's one part Charlie Brown to two parts Tintin, a round-faced runt who can channel both childlike depression and old-fashioned cowlicked pluck. In Pegg's new film, Hector and the Search for Happiness, director Peter Chelsom simply allows him to be himself, and it fits. Hector is a psychiatrist quietly churning with adult-onset anxiety. He looks and acts mature — he downs wheatgrass shots every morning — but inside he's still a kid. Hector's girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike), tries cheerfully to ignore his inability to propose. On a whim, Hector decides to make like Hergé and travel the world. He tells Clara he wants to write a book about happiness, but Pike plays the scene with j »


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The Guest Is a Hilarious Thriller

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Adam Wingard's confident, swoony, and hilarious thriller The Guest delivers on everything — the sex, the humor, the menace, the cool — and even though it climaxes in a haunted-house maze chase we think we've seen before, we've never seen it this good, this playful, or this ambitious. A discharged vet turns up at the home of a family whose son never made it back. He doesn't want to intrude; he's merely passing through. But grieving mother Laura (Sheila Kelley) begs him to stay and sleep in the son's old room, at least for a few nights. "What if he has the Ptsd or whatever it's called?" cautions her husband (Leland Orser). Their high-school-age son, Luke (Brendan Meyer), is also on edge, as is their 20-year-old goth-babe daughter, Anna (Maika Monroe), who's wor »


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Auto Industry Doc Pump Emphasizes Our Oil Consumption is Unsustainable

16 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

A car's high beams trace slow-motion lightning across the highway. An auto worker in suspenders strides the factory floor. These seductive images of the American automotive industry act as dreamy parentheses to Josh and Rebecca Tickell's compelling and cogent documentary Pump, which examines why Americans are so lacking in options at the gas station, what that means about the future of transportation and environmental health, and why the oil-driven American Dream must die — why it is dying. The core of Pump's argument comes from interviews with writers, activists, politicians, and current and former oil and auto industry executives, all of whom emphasize that the rate at which Americans consume oil is unsustainable, and that, ultimately, oil reserves »

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No Good Deed: Oh, to Be Rich and Hunted by Idris Elba!

14 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Married Women Over 30, here’s a pitch for a movie: My Dinner With Idris. You never thought it would happen to you, but one rainy night when your handsome and successful but distracted husband who doesn’t appreciate you is out of town, Idris Elba (The Wire, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) rings the doorbell of your spacious, tastefully furnished five-bedroom colonial. His rain-soaked clothes cling to his athletic frame as he apologizes for interrupting your evening, looking sexily embarrassed as he confesses he’s just totaled his car on the winding, leafy road that passes the large, semi-secluded, well-landscaped lot that affords you a measure of privacy. He wouldn’t dream of intruding while you’re feeding your adorable kids; he only want »


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Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt? Has the Year's Funniest Sex Scene

14 September 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The sex scene almost makes it worth sitting through Atlas Shrugged III, the last and least of the cheapjack adaptations of Ayn Rand's brick-thick celebration of taking your ball and going home. About an hour in, after she's toured and left the hidden Colorado enclave of the captains of industry who have “gone Galt” and dropped out of our ungrateful society, heroine Dagny Taggart (Laura Regan) faces one of the great train-scheduling crises that are forever cocking up life in Rand's retro-future choo-choo America. The pre-coital drama plays like a story problem from homeschool math class: Facing a food shortage, the useless East Coast needs trains full of grain from the heartland, but the corrupt federal government has nationalized the railroads. (Thanks »


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