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The Historian Lays Bare the Cost of Academic Life

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Smart people (in this case, academics) do stupid things in The Historian, and since first-time writer/director Miles Doleac has the tendency to spell things out, one professor actually asks another how anyone so smart can be so stupid. Likewise, an embittered Valerian Hadley (William Sadler) feels compelled to tell Ben Rhodes (Doleac) that he'll end up just like him, even though it's obvious that the resentful department head is the ghost of tenured future for the upstart, who arrives at a new university with a successful book, a shattered marriage, and an exalted view of academic rigor. SAn assistant professor of classics at the University of Southern Mississippi (where he shot The Historian), Doleac captures the rhythms of academic life in a leisurely t »


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You Children Deserve Better Than Penguins of Madagascar

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Talking-animal spy comedy Penguins of Madagascar, a spin-off of talking-animal prison-break comedy Madagascar and its sequels, plays like a sampler of Dreamworks Animation's worst creative impulses: sugar-rush pacing, pandering meta-gags, and a slick, flavorless animation style. These pervasive shortcomings make it impossible to enjoy this desperate-to-please film's two most distinctive assets: voice actors John Malkovich's and Benedict Cumberbatch's comically unhinged performances as the film's wet-blanket antagonists. Malkovich's Octavius Brine, a malevolent octopus, and Cumberbatch's Classified, an uptight wolf-cum-superspy, serve as comic foils for the hyperactive, happy-go-lucky penguin protagonists: bossy Skipper (Tom McGrath), level-headed Kowalski (Chris M »


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Detective Comedy Murder of a Cat May Win You Over with Its Off-Kilter Charm

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Clinton Moisey (Fran Kranz), the man-child in Murder of a Cat, calls his sleuthing alter ego Doghouse Reilly, after Philip Marlowe's jokey alias in The Big Sleep. This choice sums up the tone of Christian Magalhaes and Bob Snow's screenplay (on the 2010 Black List), which sprinkles hard-boiled detective jargon onto a comic mystery that mostly reveals Clinton's obliviousness to the world outside his mother's basement. Director Gillian Greene's debut feature plays up these elements with Deborah Lurie's full-throttle film noir score, but she never gets heavy-handed, even when things take a dangerous turn. The death of his beloved Mouser (played by a cat named Bogart) triggers Clinton to leave his comfort zone and begin investigating, albeit in a bathrobe instead of a tre »


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The Immortalists Asks What If We Could Live Forever but Not Should We

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Scientists Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey, the former a square-ish American ultramarathon runner, the latter a British decadent in the cult-leader mold, both believe aging and death to be a kind of humanitarian crisis in urgent need of addressing. The Immortalists compares and contrasts their work in molecular biology toward the end of ensuring there need be no end to any single human life. Directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado present a study of two eccentrics without pushing too hard against their premise. Should you find the prospect of immortality terrifying, as I do, the film has a vast philosophical hole at its center, and passes with only occasional spikes of interest. Both of the subjects are settled into childless middle age, each finding the spe »


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The Tedious Before I Disappear Should Disappear Already

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

In case you needed more proof that the SXSW festival has become an overblown tech and marketing event with zero artistic credibility, look no further than Shawn Christensen's Before I Disappear, the Audience Award Winner at 2013's festival. Expanded from a 2012 Oscar-winning short, this tedious debut feature hits on every typical American indie cliché: siblings who don't get along, bad parenting, a (man's) refusal to grow up, dancing, droll attempts at humor, and a protagonist with a crappy job who can still afford a giant Manhattan apartment. Of course, the greatest cliché of all — writing, directing, and starring in your own emotionally mealy movie — is, well, the entire problem here. Aside from having no distance from this project, C »


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Bummed Over Miyazaki's Retirement? Watch The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Riveting behind-the-scenes documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness offers some comfort for viewers facing a world without new feature films directed by anime legend Hayao Miyazaki. By distinguishing Miyazaki from Studio Ghibli, the production company he co-founded, writer/director Mami Sunada presents Ghibli as an institution that has grown beyond Miyazaki's personal vision, juxtaposing Miyazaki's tireless perfectionism with his employees' unsentimental feelings about their own work. Filmed during the production of The Wind Rises, Miyazaki's final feature-length project, this doc presents Ghibli as a creative collective united by what an unidentified employee calls a common need to make superior art. "What's important here is doing what you want," he says, before adding »


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Olympic Swimming Doc Touch the Wall Warrants a Silver, at Best

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Unlike most competition-based documentaries, Touch the Wall shrewdly maintains a narrow focus, splitting its attention between four-time Olympic silver-medal-winning swimmer Kara Lynn Joyce and teenage rising star Missy Franklin. Unfortunately, however, Grant Barbeito and Christo Brock's film still proves doggedly shallow, detailing their year-long efforts to make the 2012 Olympic team (in a variety of races) with considerable momentum but scant insight. At 25, Kara finds herself struggling to stay afloat in the sport just as her practice-mate and friend Missy becomes a world champion and Olympic favorite. The fact that, professionally speaking, Missy and Kara seem to be heading in opposite directions helps Touch the Wall address athletes' fleeting windows for suc »


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First-Rate Doc Remote Area Medical Reminds You How Bad Things Were Before Obamacare

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

In 1985, philanthropist Stan Brock founded Remote Area Medical, a charity intended, according to the title card that opens Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman's exceptional documentary, "to bring free medical care to inaccessible regions of the Amazon rainforest." Today the majority of their work is concentrated somewhere rather less secluded: the United States.

The film makes clear why. In April 2012, Ram volunteers descended upon Bristol, Tennessee, to orchestrate an elaborate three-day clinic at the Bristol Motor Speedway, the city's gargantuan Nascar stadium. Many hundreds of Bristol's ill and injured attended, eager to enjoy the urgent treatment they'd been otherwise unable to afford. This is an irreproachable work of philanthropy, and it isn't difficult for Remote Area Med »


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Miracolo! Miracolo! Monicelli's Farces -- and Magnani's Marvelousness -- Hit Film Forum

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

The more ludicrous life gets, the more we need Italian comedy. When the world gets you down, the most surefire cure might be Anna Magnani — in a blond wig and a skintight evening dress dotted with flirty crystal fringe — traipsing from one end of Rome to the next, desperately in search of New Year's Eve fun. She's the shimmery, shimmying center of Mario Monicelli's 1960 farce The Passionate Thief, which has never been released in the United States on VHS or DVD. But che fortuna! It rolls into town, newly restored, for a one-week run on December 5, as part of Film Forum's two-week celebration of the Italian comedy maestro.

Monicelli, along with Dino Risi and Pietro Germi, was one of the foremost figures of the commedia all'italiana, »


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Gape at the Wonders of the Sublime Antarctica

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

The heavens dance. From the bottom of the world, where your eyes might freeze in your face, we see stars pulse against seams of luminous dust, all in slow and dizzying rotation. Then come the lights: Ribbons of green unspool and shimmer and whip across the sky, suggesting angels and ectoplasm, strips of silk somehow imbued with bioluminescence.

If beauty and revelation is your bottom line, Anthony Powell's rhapsodic Antarctica: A Year on Ice will prove a grand time at the movies, a tour of the ends of the Earth and the marvels above it — a glimpse at the one spot on our planet that has, until recent years, carried on as if we had never been here at all. Powell's film pokes along, one miracle at a time, offering the chance to dream at the skies that Earthlings to »


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The Scarifying Babadook Is a Rare Horror Triumph

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

If we're honest, most of us who relish a good horror film don't actually hope to feel something like horror. The appeal is, instead, that of shock and surprise, all candied up, the crowd-pleasing bits staged with the kind of extended setup/payoff patience that the makers of comedies have long forgotten: When will the gag hit, what will it be, and how will the heroine survive it? The smartly booby-trapped stuck-in-the-basement scenes in Annabelle could be swapped with those in The Conjuring or the between-the-walls frights of The Pact — their selling point is variety and execution within a framework of comforting ritual. Indie or studio, well-acted or campy, these movies feel like good-enough beers from the same reliable brewery, fit for a pleasan »

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Garfield Creator Jim Davis Explains Why Cats Rule the Internet

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Garfield creator Jim Davis is well aware of the internet's cat obsession. In fact, he's got an upcoming strip about it. "But if I told you the joke, I'd have to kill you," he deadpans, before cracking his paternal composure with a chuckle. (He did tell me, and I've chosen life.)

"Cats are absolutely perfect for the internet," insists Davis. Davis himself spends hours watching cat videos on YouTube at his home in East Central Indiana, the birthplace of Garfield and James Dean. ("They do have one thing in common, and that's the cool factor," he says mock-seriously.) He's a sucker for a good pratfall -- his favorite TV show is still America's Funniest Home Videos. Sometimes he finds cat videos inspirational: "They'll fall off something and I'll go, 'Oop »


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In The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch's Codebreaker Gets Lost in the Plot

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

“Politics really isn't my specialty,” shrugs Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a naval commander (Charles Dance) in an early job interview scene in Morten Tyldum's choppy biopic The Imitation Game. Yet no less than Winston Churchill would credit Turing as the main cause of the Allies' victory over the Nazis. Turing wasn't much for manners, either — or jokes, small talk, modesty, or hints.

Today, he might get tested for Asperger's. In 1939, the year he asked the navy to hire him as a cryptographer, the diagnosis was simpler. “My mother says I'm a bit of an odd duck,” says Turing, before focusing his attention on the immediate problem: cracking Germany's Enigma code before more good English chaps have to die.

The Enigma, a »


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Horrible Bosses 2 is the comedy the first should have been

25 November 2014 9:00 PM, PST

The third-greatest scourge of the earth, right after online comments sections and bedbugs, is the unfunny comedy sequel, which may be why you think you should skip Horrible Bosses 2. The miraculous surprise is that Horrible Bosses 2 isn’t terrible at all. It’s looser, breezier, more confident than its 2011 predecessor, which tried to squeeze in as many raunchy jokes as possible, loading most of them onto the slender shoulders of Jennifer Aniston as a horny dentist hellbent on seducing her assistant, Charlie Day’s happily monogamous Dale. The movie’s big poke in the ribs was that Aniston, America’s sweetheart, was actually saying words like “cock” and “boner,” a concept that was probably funnier when it was still »


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