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11 articles


The Thin Man and After the Thin Man Are Two Exemplary Noir Dramas

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

“There was a man in New York one time,” reminisces Kingsley Amis in his book Everyday Drinking, “who bet he could drink fifteen double Martinis in an hour. He got there all right and collected his money but within another minute fell dead off his bar stool.” It’s a pity Amis never met Nick Charles (William Powell) or his wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), who down a half-dozen martinis apiece within The Thin Man’s opening minutes; they’d have doubtless won the bet and swiftly ordered more. Nick and Nora remain Dashiell Hammett's most enduring pair of private detectives, and The Thin Man, adapted by W.S. Van Dyke from the mystery novel of the same name, is an exemplary film noir. Hammett’s story of a vanishing family patriarch and »


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Ruiz's Epic Lines of Wellington is a Don't-Miss on Hulu

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

In this occasional column, Michael Atkinson tells about the best movies you can stream right now over the web. Act fast, because these movies tend to come and go from the web.

When Raul Ruiz died, he was on the verge of finishing preproduction on another Portuguese historical epic, a Napoleonic-era weave like the grand hyper-narrative quilt of Mysteries of Lisbon (Hulu), but set intractably amid the wandering and flux of 19th-century warfare. The film was shot and finished by Ruiz's widow, Valeria Sarmiento, who'd also been Ruiz's editor since the '70s (and written and directed scads of her own films as well). In any case, the finished mastodon, cut down from a Portuguese miniseries, could not find re »


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Ava DuVernay's Urgent Selma Speaks to the Now

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Describing Ava DuVernay's quietly remarkable Selma to a friend, I caught myself referring to the Civil Rights Era as a historical event, a thing of the past, and then backtracked. The killing of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice at the hands of police officers — not to mention the Supreme Court's dismantling, in June 2013, of the Voting Rights Act, a quieter yet perhaps more insidious event — all indicate that the Civil Rights Era is ongoing, because it has to be. Selma, in addition to being a meticulously detailed historical drama, is the right movie for the moment: In telling the story of the three marches — from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama — led by Martin Luther King in 1965 as a protest against restrictions that prevented Afr »


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Another Great Marion Cotillard Performance Anchors Two Days, One Night

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

In the opening moments of Two Days, One Night, a working-class Belgian woman named Sandra (Marion Cotillard) wakes from a midday nap, takes a phone call, removes a tart from the oven, pops a pill, and begs herself not to cry. With a sense of having arrived in the middle of the story, we follow Sandra, and these breadcrumbs of information, as a detective might, making connections along the way. The phone call, from a co-worker, involved bad news about her job; Sandra has been on leave, and still appears quite fragile. The co-worker urges Sandra to present herself to their boss, but Sandra's is a wavering presence, even within her own skin. "I don't exist," she tells her husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione). "I'm nothing, nothing at all."

The Dardenne brothers, Luc and Jean-Pi »


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Barbecue Is a Dreary Midlife Crisis Dramedy

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Barbecue only very briefly features a cookout, yet it makes up for that absence by serving up a feast of fatuous gibberish about enjoying the time you have with friends and loved ones.

Antoine (Lambert Wilson) is a good-looking, physically fit family man who, shortly before his 50th birthday, suffers an unexpected heart attack. That cataclysmic event compels him to reassess his life, which means that the smug Antoine — who also loves cheating on his wife — decides to eat buttery foods, smoke joints, and act like a condescending prick to that wife and the group of friends who join him on vacation at a gorgeous country estate.

Eric Lavaine's midlife-crisis dramedy piles on dreary subplots involving Antoine's grating pals and their one-dimensional romant »


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Into the Woods Sometimes Soars

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Before worrying ourselves over its qualities as an adaptation, or its findings as an experiment in just how much tumpety-tump parump-pa-bump the human mind can endure, let's take a moment to marvel that Rob Marshall's Into the Woods even exists — as a PG from Disney, no less!

No matter how it performs in theaters, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's dark, glorious, and supremely messy fairytale mash-up musical/therapy session is now forever a pop-culture curio unwary kids will stumble upon to their bafflement and betterment. The princess-party punchbowl has forever been spiked.

Here's wicked stepsisters who hack off toes to cram their feet into Cinderella's slippers. Here's a noble heroine who cheats on her husband just because she gets lost in a mome »


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Tim Burton's Big Eyes Is About an Artist as Middlebrow as He Is

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

The waifs Walter Keane made famous were known for their huge peepers. But look down at their mouths: Every one kept its lips pressed tight, as though to prevent a secret from escaping. That's where you see the real artist: Walter's shy wife Margaret (Amy Adams),who bitterly allowed her husband to take credit for a host of true, but unfair, reasons. (He made a better salesman; people don't buy “lady” art; his own ego.)

Walter (Christoph Waltz) was a jerk. But was he right -- or at least, right-ish? That's one of the questions Tim Burton's candy-floss biopic, Big Eyes, dances past. Burton's film takes square aim at Walter – boy, was he a charismatic creep. However, the director also allows us to ask whether, frankly, Margaret's paintings were even any goo »


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The Gambler is a Dressed-Up Genre Picture -- and a Good One

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

In Rupert Wyatt’s highball-cool reworking of Karel Reisz’s 1974 The Gambler, Mark Wahlberg does not play a cop, does not shoot bad guys with a gun, and does not spend considerable time shirtless (though we do see him sulking in a bathtub, and there’s a fleeting wet T-shirt moment, too). Unable to fall back on any of his trademarks, Wahlberg, playing a disillusioned literature professor who springs to life only at the gaming table, must work mostly with his eyes. Player wins.

The Gambler is a polished entertainment about a raggedy subject: It’s not meant as a gritty study of the tragedy compulsive gambling can wreak on human lives, but as a fantasy about an obsessive risk-taker who kicks the habit by kicking the stakes sky-high -- and »


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Unbroken Is More About Punishment Than Heroism

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

There's something curiously airless about director Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, the story of real-life Olympian and WWII P.O.W. Louis Zamperini. Early on, Louis (Jack O'Connell) and his fellow American soldiers are zipping through the golden skies, dogfighting with Japanese planes, and, though the B-24's doors are open and the wind is wild, their hair is perfectly in place. When shot, the men do not bleed. When they die, their corpses smile. When enemy planes explode, they do so in glorious puffs. The effect is applause-worthy and antiseptic -- a war film that wants to sell bleach.

Unbroken is the most literal film of the year -- it's wholly the tale of a victim who won't crack. Make that three films -- it plays like several shorts edited end-to-end. The first »


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Russia, a Whale, and a Way of Life Moulder in Leviathan

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

Where we come from defines us more than we even realize: That’s the idea implicit in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s somber, sturdily elegant drama Leviathan, in which a mechanic who has lived on the same parcel of land all his life — as his father and grandfather did before him — resists being forced out by his town’s corrupt mayor.

Kolia (Alexeï Serebriakov) resides with his young wife, Lilya (Elena Liadova), and son Roma (Sergueï Pokhodaev) in a simple but striking house overlooking the Barents Sea in Russia’s far north. Seemingly out of nothing but greed and spitefulness, the town’s mayor, Vadim Shelevyat (Roman Madianov), has long been angling to seize Kolia’s land for himself, and he’s just about succeeded: Kolia& »


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American Sniper Is a War-on-Terror Fantasy

23 December 2014 9:00 PM, PST

In Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) — an astoundingly talented marksman credited with over 160 confirmed kills in Iraq — runs into a fellow veteran at a mechanic's shop between deployments. The soldier shows Kyle an artificial leg and thanks him for saving his life. Cooper, all thick with new muscles, smiles tight and false. He's just trying to get his oil changed, man.

The real-life Kyle was murdered two years ago by another fellow veteran, Eddie Routh, a scrawny, 25-year-old Marine with Ptsd. As Cooper plays him, Kyle wears his heroism like a heavy saddle — he's spurred to do more, fight more, kill more because he feels the weight of all the American soldiers he must save. Cooper and Eastwood's Kyle is a hum »


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