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In Master Builder, Wallace Shawn is Mercurial to the Max

7 hours ago

You might say that actor and theater director André Gregory creates theater Boyhood-style: He and his compatriots, chief among them actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, have been known to rehearse certain plays for a decade and more, gradually building on them, revisiting them, allowing them to change shape and texture as the participants age. That's how Gregory approached Henrik Ibsen's 1892 chestnut The Master Builder. Over the years he and Shawn — who had retranslated the play himself, despite the fact that he knows no Norwegian — would perform the play for friends. Now, even those of us who aren't a Foa or a Fow (Friend of André or Friend of Wallace, that is) can see what these two have been cooking up all these years: Jonathan De »


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The Late Philip Seymour Hoffman Lends Gravity to A Most Wanted Man

7 hours ago

Philip Seymour Hoffman is an island of rumpled calm in Anton Corbijn's urgent A Most Wanted Man, a glum-out-of-principle espionage story based on a John Le Carré novel. The role demands that Hoffman be quiet, steady, occasionally frustrated, and that he hold secrets — often from us, which is a bit of a shame. This is the last film that Hoffman completed, and other than a few humane flourishes — a bleat of anger, a playful wave to a video monitor showing a prisoner flipping him off — he's a poker-faced riddle. It's our job to wonder whether he's a hero, a monster, or that intersection of Venn diagram where those possibilities overlap.

As you watch, teasing out the character's mysteries, it's impossible not also to worry about the actor's. Ho »


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There's Not Much to These Very Good Girls

7 hours ago

Very Good Girls is a film one wants to like but can't. It just doesn't work. Lifelong friends Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) have just graduated from their Brooklyn high school. Lilly is headed to Yale, Gerry is a budding songwriter, and both are virgins. Gerry develops a crush on David (Boyd Holbrook), a photographer-waiter who seduces Lilly, leading to a summertime romance she's afraid to reveal.

Very Good Girls is the directorial debut of Naomi Foner, whose Oscar-nominated script for Running on Empty (1988), starring the late River Phoenix, is a thing of beauty. At age 68, Foner has stepped behind the camera, which is great, but she's written herself a script that's painfully trite.

Lilly's mother (Ellen Barkin) is a shrewish »


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Come Back to Me Is a Tired Stab at Psychological Horror

7 hours ago

Psycho has a lot to answer for: Half a century later, lazy filmmakers are still using "mommy issues" as the paper-thin motivation for killers of all stripes.

That's one problem with Paul Leyden's stab at psychological horror, Come Back to Me, a film in which every character states her motivation out loud, and even so-called "shocking" revelations are underlined with a hand-holding voice-over.

Sarah (Katie Walder) is a young wife who begins having unsettling visions of her own death. Again and again, she wakes up terrified, thinking it was a dream, but occasionally comes across disturbing evidence that says otherwise. Is her new neighbor, maladjusted mama's boy Dale (Nathan Keyes), stalking her? And if so, why doesn't she remember it?

The film's c »


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Beneath Traps Us Underground

7 hours ago

In August 2010, a collapse at the San Jose Mine in the Atacama Desert trapped 33 Chileans nearly 2,500 feet underground, where they languished, awaiting rescue, for 69 days.

"It's a bitter truth of mining," writes Hector Tobar in a recent New Yorker profile of the incident, "that sometimes men are buried alive and die of starvation, their bodies never recovered."

That truth looms over the opening of Ben Ketai's horror film Beneath, as an outfit of American miners carts its way into the bowels of the Earth, music swelling around them portentously. Our players are perfunctorily introduced -- there's an agro meathead, a sensitive intellectual, an old-timer with one day left before retirement, and a young woman along for the ride -- and, after a bit of ingrat »


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War Doc The Kill Team Finds Drama in Evenhanded Telling of Brutal Events

7 hours ago

Early in Dan Krauss's The Kill Team a soldier shares that when he was about to enter a firefight, Kenny Loggins's "Danger Zone" would pop into his head.

The emotional disconnect between a soldier's perception of reality and reality itself is the subject of this documentary, which finds drama in evenhanded storytelling that is the inverse of its characters' emotional shakiness.

The subjects are ignominious members of an Army platoon that, during the Afghanistan War, murdered three Afghani civilians for sport. Crucially, not all of the vilified soldiers deserved their shaming -- one, Specialist Adam Winfield, attempted to blow the whistle on the behavior, and it's Winfield's fate that most concerns Krauss.

Winfield attempted to alert authorities without b »


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True Blood's Cast Member Deathwatch Makes the Last Season Worth Watching

7 hours ago

Below are spoilers up to the most recent episode. True Blood hasn't been anyone's favorite show in a while. The once-addictive guilty pleasure is now a Hershey's Kiss from last year's Valentine's Day, a stale hunk of confection whose reappearance in your life inspires little desire to consume. And the show's writers -- led during the first five seasons by creator Alan Ball and these last two by Brian Buckner -- have no one to blame but themselves for the facts that viewership is half of what it used to be and critical reception has melted into a puddle of sticky sop as messy as a staked vampire. That's what happens after spending three seasons erecting bridges to no »


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James Garner's Five Best Sleeper Films

20 July 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Almost every obituary for the quietly great James Garner, who died on Saturday, July 19, concentrated on his TV triumph, The Rockford Files, which made it easy to forget that this marvelously artless actor had a fine film career, too. True, Garner didn’t have a lot of hits. Who cares? The handsome actor went for the art, not the simpleminded smash. After his career-defining turn as Hendley "The Scrounger" in The Great Escape, this understated Okie made a slew of wonderful sleepers. Here are some of the best. Box office be damned. The Americanization Of Emily (Directed by Arthur Hiller, MGM 1964) Supposedly his favorite role, Garner plays the scales of cynicism so gracefully in this anti-war gem, he makes them sound like a symphony. He »


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