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Interstellar May Be Grand, But It Doesn't Connect

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

There’s so much space in Christopher Nolan’s nearly three-hour intergalactic extravaganza Interstellar that there’s almost no room for people. This is a gigantosaurus movie entertainment, set partly in outer space and partly in a futuristic dustbowl America where humans are in danger of dying out, and Nolan -- who co-wrote the script with his brother, Jonathan -- has front-loaded it with big themes and even bigger visuals. Interstellar is supposedly all about what it means to be human, but it's supersized in case we really are so out of touch that we need to have everything blown up IMAX-big. “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars,” says Matthew McConaughey’s farmer-astronaut-dreamer in one of his many »


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Before I Go to Sleep Is a Tidily Constructed Potboiler

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Amnesiacs make terrific protagonists for psychological thrillers: You can tell them any old thing and they’ll buy it, and their vulnerability makes them deeply sympathetic. In Rowan Joffe’s tidily constructed potboiler Before I Go to Sleep, Nicole Kidman plays a woman who, after a traumatic incident, wakes up every morning unable to remember who she is.

Patient husband Colin Firth gazes at her with lovesick concern, telling her, “I’m your husband, Ben.” But every day, after he leaves for work, her phone rings: It’s sultry shrink Mark Strong, who’s been treating her on the sly. At least one of these stone-cold foxes is trying to manipulate her. But which one? They’re both so damn...sexy.

This is Joffe’s second »


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With Goodbye to Language, Godard Has a Ball Poking Another Stick in Your Eye

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The experience of being eluded by Jean-Luc Godard has its consolations, foremost among them the 83-year-old director's prerogative to elude. If a Godard film appears held together by random imagery, whispered non sequiturs, and a roll of duct tape, that's exactly the point. To muddle through confusion, boredom, vaguely formed interest, brief elation, and confusion again is to experience the work as its creator intended. Especially with Godard's later films, including Film Socialisme and now Goodbye to Language 3D, to lose the plot — or, indeed, to watch it marched off of a short pier — is to win.

That's the story, anyway, currently attached to Godard's work, and surely to his Goodbye to Language, a neon-tinged 3-D collage about couplehood, »


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Nightcrawler's Jake Gyllenhaal Aces Being an Everyday Media Monster

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Jake Gyllenhaal, not a particularly bulky guy to begin with, dropped 20 pounds or so to play a Los Angeles misfit who finds his calling as a freelance crime videographer in Dan Gilroy's nervy thriller Nightcrawler. Even when Robert De Niro does it, weight change isn't acting — it's the antithesis of acting, merely a symbol of an actor's dedication and not the tensile, complicated act of commitment itself, which can unspool only in performance. But you could say that in reshaping his body and face, Gyllenhaal has achieved a kind of art direction of the self. His eyes, almost inhumanly enormous within that now-bony face, are as much a part of the look of Nightcrawler as its rapturous nocturnal Los Angeles streetscapes, dotted with palm trees, traffic lights, »


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Blood Ransom Boasts That Its Vampires Live by Different Rules

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Blood Ransom often feels older than it is. Sure, many of the effects are CGI, but the film's setup hearkens back to when the properties of vampirism had room to shimmer under the eye — when the creatures were less predictable, instead of codified for video-game precision. The bloodsuckers here live by different rules, the broad strokes of which a title card covers at the outset but which are nonetheless never quite clear. Crystal (Philippines star Anne Curtis) has recently turned vampire, which means she has seven days to kill a human or else she'll die in agony. But the human she's meant to kill, Jeremiah (Alexander Dreymon), has liberated her from her vampire master, and they plan to run away together — him unaware of her condition. Pursuing them a »


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Step Into the World of the Hadza of Tanzania in Last of the First

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

In Bill Benenson's brisk and didactic documentary The Hadza: Last of the First, one of the world's most ancient and traditionally self-sustaining peoples, the Hadza of Tanzania, are shown in the grip of shifting global forces. One child wears a Chieftains T-shirt; a Hadza woman named Wande explains that they've begun trading honey for cornmeal, supplanting a diet of game and foraged produce. "They get the better deal," she says bluntly. Benenson focuses on the pressures applied to the Hadza by government organizations, NGOs, and neighboring tribes (only about one-third of the 1,000 remaining Hadza practice their traditionally isolated hunter-gatherer lifestyle). This connectedness provides the backbone for Benenson's narrative, which depends largely on the intervention of »


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Magical Universe Explores the World of Al Carbee, the Late Barbie Doll Photographer

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

At one point in filmmaker Jeremy Workman's optimistic documentary Magical Universe, artist Al Carbee hovers with his camera over a semicircle of nine Barbie dolls. Barbies have been Carbee's main portrait subject for decades; these particular few, he explains, are in an intergalactic-council meeting to discuss the direction of a new shared society. A film editor whose bread and butter is movie trailers (and whose father, Chuck, creates those misty-eyed movie-magic montages at the Academy Awards), Workman has an especial talent for crafting compact emotional arcs, and he captures the poignancy of Carbee's drive to create ideal images. Carbee's obsession with Barbie — that totem of outrageous American female beauty standards — not to mention his references to a »


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Hit by Lightning Is a Black Comedy Without Blackness or Comedy

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Maybe the most interesting thing about Hit by Lightning is that the only two women with speaking roles have separate, faintly unplaceable European accents. Unfortunately, they never share a scene. Through an Internet dating service, Ricky Miller (Jon Cryer), a middle-aged human cringe who manages a chain restaurant, meets Danita (Stephanie Szostak), the embodiment of a moronic, misogynist stereotype — "You're, like, Maxim-hot and you don't even know it," says Ricky. She can actually cite Steve Buscemi films Reservoir Dogs and Fargo, which is supposedly remarkable, making her the dream girlfriend of frat dudes from 1996 and also probably Kevin Smith and definitely Ricky. "Put on Espn and text me when you hear the hockey scores," she tells him, a »


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Ya Adaptation Private Peaceful Tells a Tale of Two Brothers in World War I

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Two British privates named Peaceful fight side by side in the trenches of World War I, and both face the wrath of their superior officers in a court-martial. Director Pat O'Connor constructs Private Peaceful as a mystery, using flashbacks to reveal the intertwined lives of brothers Charlie (Jack O'Connell) and Tommo (George MacKay) as one of them awaits the firing squad. Both the young-adult novel by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) and screenwriter Simon Reade's 2004 stage adaptation employ the first-person narrative of teenage Tommo, and the director's decision to open up the story to other perspectives makes this Private Peaceful feel more shaded and mature, with echoes of O'Connor's wistful A Month in the Country and haunting Cal (whose John L »


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Polygamy in Bali: Power, Violence and Divorce Explored in Bitter Honey

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

In the marital hierarchy of Indonesia, where polygamy is still legal and semi-regularly practiced, a man's second wife is known as his honey. Robert Lemelson's cleverly titled documentary, which follows three polygamous families in Bali over the course of seven years, doesn't belabor the latent subservience of these arrangements, nor does it need to — the women speaking about their marriages in a candid, conversational way say plenty. One man, Darma, can't remember all his kids' names off the top of his head; the seventh and 10th wives of Tuaji, who cops to having been involved in his country's communist purge of the 1960s, are sisters. (Tuaji's admission makes Bitter Honey something of a cousin to Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing and The Lo »


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Its Simple Conceit Intact, ABCs of Death 2 Kills

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Like its predecessor, ABCs of Death 2 has a simple conceit: There's a short film about death for each letter of the alphabet, all by different filmmakers. Naturally, some of these poison bonbons are better than others — which ones score with you depends on whether you have a taste for scares or grim humor, suspense or irony. Overall, it's a strong sampler, with surprising variety. Not all the films are horror: Juan Martinez Moreno provides a home-invasion short that's straight-up thriller, and Robert Boocheck's stylish, slow-motion drug freak-out delivers a terrific punchline. (I'm avoiding the titles; guessing what each letter will mean is part of the fun.) A few imaginative highlights: Chris Nash's tale of a woman who delays her pregnancy until her fetus »


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Political Doc True Son Finds Reason to Be Upbeat, No Matter the Odds Against It

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

How can it cost $100,000 to get to some 30,000 votes — in the poorest district of a town so broke its city hall got foreclosed on? That's one of the many dispiriting questions posed and answered by True Son, a political-campaign doc that manages to be buoyant even as its setting — Stockton, California — sinks around it. Acting on dorm-room inspiration, cheery local 22-year-old Michael Tubbs heads home to Stockton after finishing his studies at Stanford and declares his intent to run for city council in the sixth district. His candidacy is at first an uphill battle, thanks to his inexperience, his lack of a campaign staff, and Stockton's systemic disenfranchisement of poor and minority voters: Council seats in all districts are voted on by the entire cit »


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The Great Invisible Is a Stately Exploration of the Bp Oil Spill

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Margaret Brown's documentary The Great Invisible stands as a Very Important Film, and not just because of its impressive pedigree. Collectively, the creative team behind Invisible is responsible for the films The Order of Myths, God Loves Uganda, Night Catches Us, Food Inc., and dozens more socially conscious works. Invisible traces the history behind and fallout from British Petroleum's incalculably devastating rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Unfortunately, given both its content and the media's collective failure to fully report the (ongoing) story, the film only intermittently has a pulse. It's meant to be a multi-layered look at the issue, focusing on several rig workers who survived the blast, an elderly African »


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All You Need Is Love (and Money, and Basic Human Rights)

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The documentary All You Need Is Love does a nice job of showing how, when it comes to children's lives, the ordinary is inescapable, even in extraordinary circumstances. The Mae Sot district in Thailand is home to thousands of stateless Burmese whose situation stymies them in finding work, housing, and education. The film, narrated sonorously but undramatically by Sigourney Weaver, focuses on the Good Morning School (which would have been a superior title), founded by a Burmese woman who fervently values her own education. Despite living in huts without running water or electricity, and facing the danger of kidnapping by sex-trafficking thugs, these toddlers, tweens, and adolescents nevertheless play together pretty much as their privileged American counterparts »


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Plot for Peace Is an Enthralling Doc About Preventing War

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

A shadowy figure with a habit of making deals to line his own pockets inserts himself into global politics, helping to end wars and topple South Africa's apartheid system. It sounds like the premise to a television show like, say, The Blacklist, but the documentary Plot for Peace reveals how real that kind of intrigue can be. French commodity trader Jean-Yves Ollivier in the mid 1980s had the francs and the chutzpah to leverage his business acumen and high-level African contacts to meddle in the Cold War–fueled conflict in Angola and, ultimately, in South Africa's bleak politics. Ollivier is a delightful character, and it's nice that this is a documentary — he'd be played in a Hollywood thriller by some handsome rogue. But he's a bespectacled, »


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Thriller Missionary Is a Taut Look at the Dark Side of Door-to-Door Evangelism

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Anthony Diblasi’s taut look at the dark side of door-to-door evangelism starts off innocuously enough, but things go from The Tabernacles of Madison County to Play Moroni for Me in short order. Elder Kevin Brock (Mitch Ryan) isn’t the most devout, but he speaks the universal language of football. That’s important to single mom Katherine (Dawn Olivieri), whose son Kesley is desperate to make his junior-high team. Events progress in the way you’d expect between an attractive, semi-available woman (she’s separated from her husband) and a virile young man forbidden from acknowledging his throbbing urges.

Kevin’s instability isn’t initially apparent, but Katherine’s apparent reconciliation with husband Ian (Kip Pardue) is »


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Nightcrawler's Jake Gyllenhaal on Why We're to Blame for Tabloid News

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Jake Gyllenhaal is used to exhaustion. During his research for the Lapd drama End of Watch, he spent five months patrolling the streets with real-life police officers until 7 a.m. It was good preparation for his new movie Nightcrawler, a blistering portrait of a morally corrupt crime-scene videographer who works the literal graveyard shift. Writer-director Dan Gilroy would start filming at dusk and wrapped after sunrise, a sight Gyllenhaal now knows well. The 33-year-old actor would nap for four hours, and do it all again.

“There wasn't a lot of sleeping going on,” says Gyllenhaal. “Surprisingly, I had a lot of energy. L.A. is vibrating at night in a way that you'd never really know. I was not looking forward for the sun to rise, which is »


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Horns Lets Radcliffe Be Bad, But Not in a Good Way

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Alexandre Aja's Horns is the rare Ya-ish romance that doesn't make like a guidance counselor and force the characters to shake hands and forgive. It's a biblically tinged, eye-for-an-eye vengeance thriller about an emo boyfriend named Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) whose childhood sweetheart Merrin (Juno Temple) has been murdered underneath the treehouse where they wooed. The folks in his Washington State town are convinced he's guilty, as are the crews of the news vans that centipede behind him as he tries, futilely, to escape without making things worse by, say, peeing on her memorial candles. He's not much for self-control or acting innocent. “You think I'm capable of murder?” he snarls. “Just put me in a room with the guy who really killed her.” Easy the »


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The Mekons are Still Here, Still Great -- and In a New Doc

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

In Richard Lester’s 1965 Help!, two proper English matrons, dressed in balmacaans, gloves, and old-lady hats, wave to their neighbors, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, who, in the movie’s fantastical universe, live in a communal Beatle pad on an ordinary London street. “Lovely lads, and so natural!” says one to the other, noting how remarkable it is that success hasn’t gone to the boys’ heads. Her friend agrees: “Just so natural! And still the same as they was before they was.”

In real life the Beatles could never be the same as they was before they was. The Mekons, on the other hand, have pulled it off. What began in 1977 as a five-member punk band at the University of Leeds has survived against the odds for more than 35 years »


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In Point and Shoot, the Arab Spring is Second to a Nice American's Journey

28 October 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Can profundity be accidental? Marshall Curry's documentary Point and Shoot is a study in naifdom that seems to think it's about something else: masculinity, honor, war. But it's mostly about the way Americans of means see the wider world as a self-help proving ground, an exotic backdrop against which to stage movie-star adventures. The difference here? The Mitty-style American actualizing himself is also filming himself -- and, hey, look, now he is the movie star he daydreamed of becoming. He's even the de facto narrator, ensuring that nothing -- not even an Arab Spring revolution -- distracts us from his hero's journey.

Matthew VanDyke, Point and Shoot's hero/subject, can't forget the mediated, imitative nature of his adventures even when he has dedic »


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