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Heaven Is for Real Is Actually Pretty Good, Save the "Heaven" Part

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Ask around long enough among your friends and relatives, and you'll likely kick up tales suggesting the permeability of whatever shrouds this world from the others we like to believe are adjoining it. My own family, of recent Ozarkian extraction, has had its share of deathbed visions — a grandparent in hospice suddenly speaking to long-gone aunt so-and-so — and of relatives feeling intuitions so sharp and accurate that I doubt even Richard Dawkins could comfortably tell them, "I'm sorry, my dear, but you knowing that your sister was in danger from 100 miles away was just a trick of chemicals, not anything divine."

Not that such moments aren't quirks of chemistry, or the flowering together of feeling and memory and faith and electricity. At best, they're pr »


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The Real-Life Story of a Teenage Drug Smuggler, Kid Cannabis is an Inane Celebration

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Closing with N.W.A.'s anti-authority anthem "Fuck tha Police," Kid Cannabis celebrates drug dealing via the real-life story of Nate Norman (Jonathan Daniel Brown), an overweight, nerdy teenage high-school dropout who, in 2005, teamed up with best friend Topher (Kenny Wormald) to smuggle ungodly amounts of marijuana across the Canadian border into Idaho.

Nate does this because he loves weed and hates being poor, and John Stockwell's film endorses his decision, not because of pot-legalization convictions, but because it sees Nate as a daring entrepreneur assured enough to partner with both a talented supplier (John C. McGinley) and an intimidating investor (Ron Perlman), as well as run his own motley crew of mules. Narrating his saga with grating clichés — "E »


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Cesar's Last Fast is Rich with Detail and Exclusive Footage of the Late Labor Organizer

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Equally lionizing but richer in detail than the recent Michael Peña-led biopic César Chávez, this occasionally stirring doc portrait of the late Latino labor organizer and civil rights icon frames his legacy around a single act of protest.

In 1988, the 61-year-old Chávez undertook a water-only fast that lasted 36 days, serving as both a personal boycott of California grape growers and penance for not doing more to protect farm workers from pesticides. Ostensibly directed by Richard Ray Perez, the film has a credited co-director in former Chávez press secretary Lorena Parlee—who died in 2006, but clearly was the caretaker of such exclusive footage as loved ones uneasily standing vigil at the weakened Chávez's bedside. »


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That Demon Within is an Exhausting Plot-Vending Machine

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Rock-dumb Hong Kong thriller That Demon Within is exhausting, and only sometimes batshit enough to be engaging. Popular action filmmaker Dante Lam (The Beast Stalker, Stool Pigeon) never capitalizes on the exciting conceit he and co-writer Wai Lun Ng have come up with to introduce Dave Wong (Daniel Wu), a psychologically disturbed cop.

Through narration addressed to no one particular, Dave resolutely but vaguely explains that his police uniform shields him from the fears that define him. He only announces this after Hon (Nick Cheung), a thief, is shown praying to demons and donning a mask before his next heist. That juxtaposition is tantalizing: Like Dave, Hon treats his work clothes as armor.

Their connection is further confirmed when Dave gives »


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Half the Road is an Enraging Portrait of the Entrenched Sexism in Competitive Sports

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Early in the documentary Half the Road, director and professional cyclist Kathryn Bertine interviews Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon — at a time (1967) when people believed that women who ran more than 800 meters would jostle their wombs loose.

As she puts it, "I can say, categorically, my uterus did not fall out." In the ensuing decades, not enough has changed in the perception of female athletes, a fact Bertine aims to alter by profiling women cyclists who push their bodies to achieve extraordinary feats of endurance despite a lack of media attention, respect, and sponsorship.

Most compelling are Nichole Wangsgard, a professor of special education who lived in the closet with her partner in order to safeguard her racing care »


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A Must-See Documentary, Vanishing Pearls Explores the Costs of the Bp Oil Spill

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

"No class of people should have to sacrifice their lives and their heritage for somebody else to get rich," says one of the men interviewed in Nailah Jefferson's wrenching Vanishing Pearls, a must-see documentary.

Exhaustively researched and meticulously reported, the film details the ongoing and mounting environmental and economic fallout of the 2010 Bp oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the halfhearted and insufficient reparations Bp doled out to Gulf Coast individuals and businesses affected.

At the heart of the film are the struggles of the African-American Encalade family, through whom Jefferson explores multiple historical, political, and cultural narratives: the fact that roughly 90 percent of the domestic seafood industry's oystermen are Africa »


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Fueled by Compelling Performances, 13 Sins is a Deftly Constructed Horror Flick

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Most of us would kill a fly if someone promised us $1,000 to do so, but not everyone would eat the dead fly for $3,000 more.

In the fast-paced thriller 13 Sins, a financially beleaguered salesman named Elliot (Mark Webber) not only eats the bug, but commits to 11 increasingly weird and violent dares (delivered by cell phone). Elliot desperately needs the mega payout the voice on the phone keeps promising. He's unemployed, with a pregnant fiancée (Rutina Wesley) and a mentally challenged brother (Devon Graye, excellent) to support.

In this remake of a 2006 Thai film, writer-director Daniel Stamm and co-writer David Birke assign Elliot tasks that are alternately brutal and comic, from torturing a man with an electric saw to hauling the corpse of a suicide »


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A Turbulent Tale, Soft in the Head Is Never Less Than Thrilling

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Nathan Silver's last feature, Exit Elena, earned the Brooklyn-based director comparisons to John Cassavetes, with whom he shared an almost perverse affection for domesticity at its most volatile. And yet for all the discomfort its familial warfare sometimes provoked, Elena nevertheless remained a basically good-hearted film, exuding warmth and sweetness even as hostility threatened to take hold. Not so for Soft in the Head.

Silver's latest finds the sweetness of its predecessor curdled, its warmth set ablaze, the result altogether possessed of a fiercer sensibility. Silver has gravitated away from Cassavetes, it seems, and toward the influence of another Hollywood maverick: Samuel Fuller, whose idiosyncratic riff on the hooker with the heart of gold, Th »


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Awkwardly Scripted, A Promise Is Plagued With Uninspired Performances

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

No bodices were harmed in veteran French filmmaker Patrice Leconte's chaste and bloodless English-language debut, a love-triangle costume drama that never sparks the artful sensuality found in his earlier hits like The Girl on the Bridge, Ridicule, or The Hairdresser's Husband.

Perhaps diluted in translation, this awkwardly scripted adaptation of Stefan Zweig's novella Journey into the Past casts Anglo-Saxon actors in Belgium as an austere stand-in for cusp-of-wwi Germany. Recognizing ingenuity and dedication in his newest employee, steelworks baron Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman, stately and bored) quickly promotes modest engineering prodigy Friedrich Zeitz (Richard Madden, a handsome wet noodle) to be his personal secretary.

Herr Hoffmeis »


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The 1954 Godzilla Succeeds Where Many of Its Modern-Day Descendants Fall Short

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

In an era when Hollywood considers destroying whole cities obligatory for blockbusters, it's refreshing to recall a time when such fantastical demolition had a poignant significance. You can feel it in Ishiro Honda's Godzilla, receiving a 60th anniversary re-release.

Honda's miniatures are both charmingly quaint and touchingly physical (a sequence where a miniature village is bombarded with flames is strikingly pulse-raising). They stir that queasiness peculiar to mayhem that's actually "real," even if on a miniature scale, as opposed to the effect often produced (or not produced, rather) when it's created through computer graphics. Yet most unnerving isn't the realism but the pathos as Godzilla destroys Tokyo. It's these sequences that bear the closest resemblance to H »


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Authors Anonymous Is a Mockumentary That Punches Down

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

Ellie Kanner's Authors Anonymous concerns a writing workshop for aspiring novelists, but on the strength of the film you get the sense that Kanner would benefit from attending a few workshops of her own. Although perhaps the blame ought to be directed elsewhere.

This is the debut screenplay by a certain David Congalton, who is described in his Amazon profile as "a speaker, radio talk show host, and animal welfare advocate"; he's also the author of such estimable works of nonfiction as When Your Pet Outlives You: Protecting Animal Companions After You Die and Three Cats, Two Dogs: One Journey Through Multiple Pet Loss.

Congalton seems to have moved on from themes of feline mortality and grief, as what pets appear in Authors Anonymous survive »


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Tasting Menu Is Gag-Worthy

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

So sloppy it can't even adequately follow through on cooking its various plot strands to completion, Tasting Menu concerns the dreary goings-on at the closing night of world-renowned chef Mar's (Vicenta N'dongo) seaside Barcelona restaurant.

There, a motley collection of guests engage in lifeless mini-dramas, from author Rachel's (Claudia Bassols) reunion with her ex-husband, Marc (Jan Cornet) — a meeting complicated by the surprise arrival of Rachel's obnoxious editor boyfriend, Danny (Timothy Gibbs) — to a widowed countess (Fionnula Flanagan) showing up with her husband's urn and involving herself in Rachel and Marc's affairs, to two Japanese investors (Togo Igawa and Akihiko Serikawa) suffering through the company of a grating Spanish guide (Marta Torn&eac »


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Conspiracy Thriller Proxy Raises More Compelling Questions Than Answers

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The phrase "not for the faint of heart" was made for Proxy's opening sequence, an eruption of more-is-more body horror beginning with a routine Ob-gyn checkup and ending in an emergency C-section.

From there, Zack Parker's film transitions into a lumbering psychodrama with minimal staging and the utmost self-seriousness. "Everything is just pieces, fragments," the aggrieved Esther (a very good Alexia Rasmussen) tells her doctor of the attack that led to the loss of her pregnancy. "I couldn't tell you what was real or not."

Parker draws out mundane scenes in a manner that emphasizes the intermingling of dread and banality; you develop the sense early on that any sort of idyll is temporary, likely to be shattered at a moment's notice. The writer-director tries to »


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Fathers-and-Sons Story Small Time Sinks When It Tries to Go Big

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

"This was the summer I figured out who I am," someone states toward the end of Small Time, Joel Surnow's filmmaking debut. The sentiment isn't implausible or completely unearned, but its on-the-nose articulation exemplifies a problem with this character-driven dramedy: When a film about relationships features sentiments expressed as neatly and simplistically as that, the storytelling feels mechanical and contrived.

That summer of discovery finds used car salesmen Al Klein (Christopher Meloni) and Ash Martini (Dean Norris) bringing Al's son, Freddy (Devon Bostick), on board; Freddy's parents are divorced and he's eager to hang with his dad.

That dynamic is also explored with frustratingly obvious exposition, such as when Freddy tells Al, "I would be proud if I gr »


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Manakamana Places You Atop the World

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The Sensory Ethnography Lab, a collective of researchers and filmmakers based out of Harvard, made a name for themselves last year with the theatrical release of Leviathan, a thunderbolt of experimental nonfiction by directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel. Plunging us dizzily into the minutiae of industrial fishing, Leviathan awakened many to the visceral possibilities of documentary, the film itself heaving and churning alongside a ship's waterlogged undulations as if in the mechanical throes of a theme park simulation. Manakamana, the latest feature to arrive under the aegis of the lab and produced by Castaing-Taylor and Paravel, proves no less physical an experience — though this time around, landlocked and airborne, viewers ought to at least »


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Tribeca Film Festival Offers Almost 100 Tough-Minded Flicks

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

The 13th Tribeca Film Festival opens with Time Is Illmatic, celebrating the 20th anniversary of rapper Nas's groundbreaking 1994 record (with a Nas performance to follow), and closes with Begin Again, a narrative feature starring Keira Knightley as a budding songwriter. In between, the festival once again offers, through nearly 90 fiction and documentary films, an overwhelming menu of subjects for the tough-minded: third world communities' livelihoods threatened by modern development; unraveling families; teenage depression.

Three of this year's finest films are gritty accounts of doomed drug dealers, be they in the East Brooklyn projects (Five Star, featuring real-life Blood members in key roles), the poverty-lined streets of Myanmar »


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Fading Gigolo: John Turturro and Woody Allen Charm in a Brooklyn Sex Comedy

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

One of the great pleasures of regular moviegoing isn't seeing great films. It's finding the little oddballs, the modest entertainments that miss just as often as they hit, but leave you with the feeling that someone poured heart, soul, and a sense of humor into the work at hand. Fading Gigolo, the fifth feature from writer-director — and, of course, actor — John Turturro is one of those pictures, a three-legged cat of a movie that ambles along cheerfully and sweetly, possibly without ever quite knowing where it's going. Still, resolute if somewhat off-kilter, it always keeps moving. And where else are you going to see the très adorable French pop star and actress Vanessa Paradis as a Brooklyn lice-picker?

In Fading Gigolo, set in a vivid and i »


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Visions of Mary Frank, Screening free at Film Forum, Is a Welcome Introduction to an Unknown, Kick-Ass Artist

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

It's never not apparent that this bio-doc from John Cohen is a labor of love — you can tell by the lack of objectivity and production values. But that's not to say it's necessarily a mistake to make a movie about a close friend, especially when your friend is an accomplished, emotionally layered, still unknown, and generally kick-ass lady like visual artist Mary Frank. (The film is presented free at Film Forum from April 16–22 with Tacita Dean's Jg.)

Well-versed in the aesthetics of '60s radicalism, Frank spent most of her life hokey-pokeying in and out of New York's downtown scene, cavorting with Kerouac and Ginsberg in between raising two kids and painting in her East Village studio. We get a topical sense of her trials, or what seem to have been the tria »


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Transcendence Director Wally Pfister Doesn't Want Immortality (Neither Does Johnny Depp)

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

When Wally Pfister won an Oscar for Inception, his sixth film with Christopher Nolan, he went home and put the statuette on his mantel. "And then it moved to the corner, and then my office, and then the closet because you go away for a few months, and then it never comes out of the closet," Pfister laughs. "So it's like, 'All right, well, I got this. And there's other things I want to do.'"

Like direct his first film, Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster, an artificial intelligence expert who stays "alive" by uploading his brain into a computer network with the power to rule the world, leaving his wife (Rebecca Hall) to convince violent hacktivists that he's benevolent, not a handsome Hal 2.0. Transcendence opens with a flash-forward to »


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The Final Member Exposes Life at Iceland's Penis Museum

15 April 2014 9:00 PM, PDT

"There is more space in the house now," says the wife of Sigurdur "Siggi" Hjartarson. It's her only comment regarding her husband's decision to display his collection of hundreds of carefully preserved mammalian penises — we're talking the whole spectrum, from a mouse to a mammoth sperm whale organ — at the Iceland Phallological Museum in the small sub-arctic town of Husavik.

Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math's film is like the Vice documentary that got away. Most of it chronicles Hjartarson as he strives for the final frontier: a Homo sapiens specimen to complete his collection. Describing his search for a human male donor without loosing an avalanche of bawdy puns is going to prove hard — rather, difficult — but here goes. The top candidates are a local ge »


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