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15 articles


Above and Beyond Recounts Awe-Inspiring True Stories of the Early Israeli Air Force

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

The first airstrikes for the Israeli Air Force, led by a round of boisterous Jewish American WWII veterans in the spring of 1948, were actually flown in swastika-bearing Nazi planes — Messerschmitt Bf 109s — that had been grounded in Czechoslovakia. (Wisecracking pilot Gideon Lichtman, who ended up flying 30 missions, called these decrepit single-propeller crafts “Messershits.”) Though their bravery was vastly appreciated, these boozing, womanizing, macho volunteers, all under 30, often clashed with the far more somber, poverty-stricken Jews in Palestine, who were wary of a “second Holocaust” if Egypt, Iraq, and other Arab nations prevented the formation of Israel. Paul Reubens’s (a/k/a Pee-wee Herman’s) father was a daredevil pil »


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Sundance: Eat Through L.A. With Pulitzer Winner Jonathan Gold

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

Halfway through Laura Gabbert's documentary City of Gold, a salute to Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize–winning food critic's brother Mark reveals a dark family secret: Gold grew up devouring iceberg lettuce and orange Jell-o. Every day, we eat. It's a must. And those meals tell a story: The peanut sauce Grandma invented, the Korean tacos that signify L.A.'s mash-up culture, and even that Jell-o, a shorthand for a childhood in South Central, where Gold's father, a probation officer who dreamed of being an English professor, cared more about filling his sons' heads with high culture than he did filling their bellies with fancy food. He fed them right. Gold doesn't just judge a black mole — he compares it to sculpture. In his reviews, the »


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Sadly, The Devil's Violinist Is About Paganini, Not Charlie Daniels

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

Nineteenth-century Italian violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini was rumored to have made a Faustian pact in order to play like the devil, though the flexibility that enabled him to cover three octaves across four strings with one hand was more likely a side effect of a genetic connective-tissue disorder. Bernard Rose's elegantly staged but tonally flat biopic embraces the myth, even underscoring Paganini's rising fame, scandalous hedonism, and womanizing as an anachronistic form of rock-star fantasy. (It's like a humorless take on Ken Russell's Lisztomania, and who wants that?) Unlike the writer-director's 1994 success Immortal Beloved — owned by Gary Oldman's chameleonic transformation as Beethoven — Rose's cult-of-personality approach here suffers »


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Military Sci-Fi Horror Flick Alien Outpost Has Too Little Sci-Fi and Too Little Horror

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

The promise of the multi-screen future-history info-dump that kicks off Alien Outpost isn't enough to mask this military sci-fi indie's repetitive familiarity: Yes, it's set in the 2030s, a decade after a failed alien invasion, when the U.S. military sweeps the deserts of Pakistan for laser-blasting E.T. stragglers, but the upshot is that viewers are still stuck for 90 minutes watching actors in camo gear shout "Go! Go! Go!" while dashing around drab scrubland. Occasionally there's a firefight, but that mostly means the movie gets louder and harder to follow. The Americans blast and holler, but the shots of them firing their conventional arms from behind cover have a coherent payoff only occasionally. The aliens turn up half an hour in, but mostly have CGI cameo roles: T »

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Fashion Designer Agnes B's My Name Is Hmmm… Looks Great But Doesn't Hold Together

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

There's a tension between directness and obfuscation in My Name is Hmmm..., with first-time director Agnès Troublé (better known as the fashion designer agnès b.) wavering between the approaches of Breillat and Godard. Troublé and cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bouyer envision working-class desperation with raw imagery stripped of beauty or hope, while peppering the film with fanciful visuals (superimposed images, shifting aspect ratios and color schemes). In a more cohesive film, this might reflect the perspective of eleven-year-old Céline (Lou-Lélia Demerliac), who's being sexually abused by her father and seeks escape. But here it's a hodgepodge of artistic gestures grafted onto a traditional narrative, neither fully linear nor »


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Danny Glover vs. a Neo-Nazi: Hostage Drama Supremacy Isn't Supreme at All

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

Multiple generations of an African American family slowly mollify the gun-crazed neo-Nazi (Joe Anderson) holding them hostage in the dour, dreary drama Supremacy. Tully (Anderson) is escorted from jail by Doreen (Dawn Olivieri), a jittery, drug-abusing Aryan groupie, to a meeting with his associates. But after Tully fatally shoots a cop, they hide out in a backwoods house, where they terrorize the elderly Mr. Walker (Danny Glover) and his close-knit brood. For the next 90 or so minutes, Glover — playing yet another gentle, whispery sage — and the various relatives preach platitudes about love and tolerance to their captor, who tells them to "shut the fuck up" or taunts them with racial slurs. Very little else happens. Director Deon Taylor punctuates »


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The Parisian Tale Girlhood Has a Radiant Shine

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

Céline Sciamma's pained, thrilling, observational tale of growing up broke and black in slablike Paris flats is no rebuke to Boyhood, but its besties-dancing-to-Rihanna rhapsody eats the lunch of that bit where Richard Linklater has Ethan Hawke drone on about Wings. They sing: "We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky!" Raw and insistent, bold and brawling, Girlhood throbs with the global now, illustrating the ways an indifferent society boxes in the people who grow up in project-style boxes. Superb newcomer Karidja Touré stars as sixteen-year-old Marieme, a somewhat listless student, just about to fail out of school, but a pretty good big sister. She's quick to laugh and dish advice about handling the onset of puberty: Wear baggier shirts.

But Mariem »


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The Beautiful Timbuktu Finds Hope and Pain in a City Taken Over

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

To the idle viewer, the small acts of resistance on display in Timbuktu might seem ready-made for Upworthy, little liberal lessons just waiting to be parceled out to anyone who "won't believe what happens next." Yet that type of self-righteous sentimentality — and its opposing strawman, knee-jerk cynicism — is largely a Western luxury. Based on the real-life occupation of Timbuktu by Islamic fundamentalists in 2012, Abderrahmane Sissako's gorgeous fourth feature reflects upon the role religion currently plays in Africa, and the foundational clash of cultures that shaped the continent.

The strategy of the jihadists is briskly made clear in the opening sequence: A gazelle sprints across the dunes, desperately attempting to outrun assault rifle fire. One »


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German's Hard to Be a God Caps a Career With Glorious Muck

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

On the fringes of movieland, there have always been filmmakers who identify (in Günter Eich's phrase) as being sand, not oil, in the gears of the world. Aleksei German, dead in 2013 at 74, could be thought of as this tribe's most extreme rock star, in his work-life and in the movies themselves. He only completed six films in a career that stretched over half a century of bureaucratic battles, Soviet recalcitrance, and production tumult, being ejected from Lenfilm after each project and seeing his work get censored. Just look at these movies — they are unique, maddened explosions of eccentric auteurist will, designed to drive the mezzobrows nuts.

It seemed for years that his final work, Hard to Be a God, was a movie the gods didn't want to see finished. Six year »


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Potent Bites: This Year's Oscar-Nominated Shorts Are Best When True

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

While many of Oscar’s big shots clock in at more than two hours (led by favorite Boyhood, at 165 minutes), some filmmakers remain committed to telling unique and inventive stories that don’t require viewers to set aside an entire night to enjoy. The Academy Award–nominated short films — which, for the tenth year, will receive a nationwide theatrical run beginning on January 30 courtesy of Shorts HD — run the gamut of topics and tones. Yet together they provide a heartening view of cinema’s multiple avenues for exploration, investigation, and dramatization. Be they animated or live-action, documentary or fiction, these films frequently push the boundaries of the form’s potential, and if they aren’t always successful — and in 20 »

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Martin Starr Is Grand in American-Iraqi Rom-Com Amira & Sam

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

Look, if it's going to have any chance of stirring in us that warm, giddy, life-saving thrill of love actually working out, a romantic comedy with a happy ending probably has to cheat a little bit, to inflate its obstacles, to make those final moments truly momentous. To honor that feeling that, in real life, might spread over months, the romantic comedy must cram into minutes its lovers admitting, to themselves and each other, that they are in fact in love, and then their realization that it's reciprocated, and then their certainty that this very second right now is the one in which they must decide on what the rest of their lives will look like.

It's ridiculous, but there's a reason it's formula: It can work. Neither my wife nor I believed that the last ten minut »

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Jason Statham Is Much More Badass Than Wild Card

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

Sadly, the first film scripted by William Goldman to hit theaters since the anus-monster mess Dreamcatcher is no return to form, and this time, there's no ass-obsessed Stephen King book to blame. Goldman's script adapts Wild Card from his own 1985 novel Heat, a Las Vegas noir in which a tough with a gambling problem rents himself out to folks who need muscle — and, on the side, runs into lots of friends whose problems can only be solved through his skills weaponizing any sharp object he happens to clutch. Don't mess with him if he's got cutlery!

Director Simon West's film doesn't improve much on the 1986 version, the Heat that's not Michael Mann's, but star Jason Statham proves a more credible improv-killer than Burt Reynolds did. Overstuffed and »


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Can the Backstreet Boys Become Outspoken Men?

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

Let's leap back to 1994. Grunge and gangsta rap dominated MTV — music that claimed to be gritty and honest. Yet that year in Orlando, as far away from Seattle as it gets, a Ponzi-scheme scam artist named Lou Pearlman selected five lads aged 14 to 21 to form the Backstreet Boys. Their first gigs were in public-school gymnasiums, to which they pulled up in a Winnebago. By the end of the decade, the Backstreet Boys would upend the Billboard charts and usher in a new millennium of scrubbed pop. And by the time they had sold 130 million albums, they would no longer be boys but men, at once aware that their choreographed dance routines were totally uncool to their drinking-age peers, yet justifiably defensive of the long, hard years of work they had invested in their success. </p »


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In Black or White, the Race Drama Is Cartoonish

27 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

There are few hard-and-fast rules in screenwriting, but here's one I think we can agree on: Something's gone wrong if your crowd-pleasing family drama asks audiences to hope a child's father proves to be a crackhead. That's one baffling turn in Mike Binder's Black or White, a movie about race in America that, for all its efforts at broad-minded truth-telling, can't resist insisting its crotchety old white-guy hero is right about everything, even when he comes right out and calls the young black man who fathered his grandchild a “street nigger.”

Not since the last Dinesh D'Souza flick has a movie seemed so eager to tell us who are the good black people and who the bad ones. One black character upbraids another for coming across like what racist whites mi »


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Sundance: Samuel Klemke's Time Machine Is the Sad Sequel to Boyhood

25 January 2015 9:00 PM, PST

Richard Linklater ended his feel-good Best Picture contender on a high. His star, eighteen-year-old would-be artist Mason, graduated high school and was ready to conquer the world. But what if Linklater had kept filming? And what if Mason wasn't an actor, but a real teenage boy? Meet Samuel Klemke. He, too, was the creative kid in class. But Sam was even more ambitious and outgoing. In high school in the Seventies, Sam got a video camera and began recording everything himself—no Oscar-nominated director required. Starting in 1977, the year he turned nineteen, Sam's hobby became a vow: At the end of every year, he'd film a diary entry about the last twelve months. “The purpose of all of this is to stimulate growth and improvement,” Sam explained. “It can »


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