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84 reviews in total 
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No victors, just victims, 29 December 2013

Physically and emotionally traumatized veterans of the Iraq War tell their stories in this straightforward and poignant documentary. Each narrative seems eerily similar to the others—beginning with the initial lure of the Army or Marine recruiter's pitch (laced with half-truths), proceeding to the thorough mental indoctrination of basic training(essentially, psychological conditioning to master killing as a fundamental job skill), bottoming out with the paralyzing shock of actual warfare and bearing witness to death and destruction, and concluding with the return home carrying both physical and emotional scars for which the military and the government provide sporadic—if any—support. The veterans who tell their stories seem insightful, reflective, and articulate. They are not embittered or angry malcontents who feel cheated out of entitlements (although they'd have every right to be). They are simply compassionate human beings who realize that they have lost the lives they once knew and wonder why that's happened.

Gripping, gruesome, and disturbing, 29 December 2013

This is by far one of the most gruesome and disturbing films that I have ever seen, perhaps because the horrific events in this story actually happened. Based on the case of John Bunting, Australia's most notorious and prolific serial killer, "The Snowtown Murders" contains scenes that literally caused me to shield my eyes and scream in fright. I'm not sure what standards to apply to a film like this in evaluating whether it's "good" or not—but it is undeniably effective at conveying the inhuman brutality and base sadism behind these murders. The performances (especially those of Daniel Henshall as Bunting and Lucas Pittaway as his psychological victim/accomplice) are masterfully creepy, and the story WILL haunt you. A tip for most American viewers—the cast's Australian accents are quite thick, so I recommend viewing this one with the subtitles turned on for greater comprehension.

Good film, great performance, 28 December 2013

As told from the perspective of Latif Yahia, who was forced to serve as Uday Hussein's body double, it's impossible to tell how much of this horrific story is true and how much is embellished. Although we can safely infer that Uday was just as sadistic, monstrous, narcissistic and power- mad as this film portrays him, it's less clear whether Latif was actually as virtuous and heroic as he's made out to be. One thing is certain, however—Dominic Cooper's portrayal of both characters is an impressive feat, considering the challenge he faced. He must create two distinctly different characters whose physical resemblance is almost exact while simultaneously striving to make the two indistinguishable from each other. Although the film contains many compelling scenes of Uday's barbarism and macho excess (he kidnaps a 14 year-old girl for his pleasure, exacts revenge on his father's top aide for facilitating his father's infidelity, and rapes a bride on her wedding day), it's worth seeing for Cooper's performance alone.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Raw power and emotion, 26 December 2013

Rarely does a film use its source material (in this case, two powerfully devastating short stories by Craig Davidson) and transform it into something new and equally formidable. That, however, is precisely what Jacques Audiard has done with "Rust and Bone," a moving and raw look at how two rather ordinary people respond to extraordinary circumstances. Stephanie, a whale trainer played by the brilliant Marion Cotillard, must face life as a double amputee after a freak accident. Alain—played by the painfully handsome Matthias Schoenaerts—is a single father who must juggle his need to support his son while eking out a living for himself as a security guard. Stephanie's and Alain's lives intersect in unexpected but perfectly plausible ways, and their story generates equal parts despair and inspiration. This is an emotionally difficult but ultimately life- affirming film. And I sincerely hope that it helps catapult Schoenaerts to fame in the US. He embodies an atypical combination of ruggedness and heartfelt emotion rarely seen on film.

Unanswered questions about what it means to grow up..., 31 March 2013

This quiet film stealthily approaches some rather profound questions about growing up, finding an identity, maturing, and developing a sense of responsibility—and it just kind of leaves them there, unanswered. That's not to say the film is without merit. Mark Duplass is perfectly cast as Sam, the 30something "true adolescent" who finds himself without a job, a girlfriend, or a home. While crashing at his aunt's place, he gets recruited to chaperone his cousin and his cousin's best friend on a camping trip. A silly prank in the middle of the trip accidentally uncovers a delicate moment, which propels much of the subsequent action of the film even as its importance remains marginalized and only tangentially alluded to as the movie progresses toward an inconclusive resolution. "True Adolescents" is what I would call a "problem film"—but one I enjoyed nonetheless (even though I still can't decide whether I actually like Mark Duplass).

The Grey (2011)
9 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
A misfire, 29 December 2012

Here's the issue with "The Grey"—either you buy into the idea that this movie is in fact more than just a poorly executed tale of wilderness survival, that it is actually an existential consideration of the human condition and the significance we must extract from our struggle to defeat the absurd obstacles life throws in our way.

I don't buy it.

Perhaps it's the choice of the villain in this film. Wolves already get a bad enough rap in our culture. Here they are cast as bloodthirsty predators who hunt humans for sport (but wait—maybe they're metaphors for humans…the only species that hunts for sport…nah, that doesn't work either). To confuse matters even more, some attacks that are filmed to look brutally deadly turn out to be anything but. And then there's the confusing matter of Liam Neeson's lost love. I don't begrudge a film its effective use of ambiguity, but when that ambiguity turns to obscurity and seems to unnecessarily complicate the plot and the protagonist's character development…well, then I take issue.

"The Grey" has actually turned up on a few critics' end-of-year "Best of" lists, so I took a chance and watched it in spite of the panning it had received from so many other critics. I rarely regret my cinematic choices, but "The Grey" is one that I do wish I had opted against.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sweet and quirky male "chick flick", 10 December 2012

Paul Rudd is excellent in this smart little quirk of a film that slyly but clearly portrays the ways in which we rely on mutually agreed-upon lies to make it through our lives. As the "idiot" brother Ned of the title, Rudd infiltrates the lives of his three sisters, each successful by her own definition: Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), the pansexual lesbian-ish sister in a loving monogamous relationship with Cindy (masterfully played by Rashida Jones); Liz (Emily Mortimer), the hyper-conscious and sensitive Mom committed to raising self-actualized kids; and Miranda (Elizabeth Banks, who bears a very spooky resemblance to Parker Posey in this film), the cutthroat journalist who writes for Vanity Fair. By sheer virtue of his almost child-like honesty, Ned manages to learn secrets about each one of his sisters—secrets that, once revealed, have very amusing but also very profound consequences. The script is intelligent, the performances are superb all around (including Adam Scott, T.J. Miller, and Shirley Knight in supporting roles), and the comedy is leavened by a very subtle wisdom that permeates the film. In some ways, this is a male version of a "chick flick," and I mean that in the best way possible.

Thor (2011)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Solid comic book movie, 30 July 2012

I suppose any review of *Thor* ought to begin with the reviewer's expectations—if you're expecting a solid comic book/mythology movie with a strong sense of the comics ethos, a solid leading man who thoroughly inhabits all aspects of his character (from bathos to boorishness), a rather one-dimensional villain, and lots of rock 'em-sock 'em action encased in a simple, mediocre plot—then you will probably be satisfied with *Thor.* If you're expecting anything else, you can pass on this one. The best parts of the movie are Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Thor's adopted brother and the villain of this film (he's also the villain in *The Avengers,* a film that displays Hiddleston's acting talents to much greater effect). Ironically, the worst parts of the film are the two Oscar winners who inexplicably find themselves in a comic book movie trying to ACT all over the place. I'm talking about Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Thor's father and the chief god, and Natalie Portman, who is allegedly a scientist/researcher but who turns into a mushy, goofy middle school girl whenever Thor flashes her a smile. Despite these two casting mistakes, the film is an enjoyable diversion, and it works well—as long as you're not expecting it to be something other than what it claims to be.

Contagion (2011)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The story of a virus, 16 July 2012

Although this film might appear to be a slightly more sophisticated take on the deadly virus meme than, say, "Outbreak"—and featuring an A-list ensemble cast—it is actually something a bit more peculiar than that: it's a film in which the protagonist never actually appears. That protagonist is, of course, the virus itself.

Although every character's story revolves around the deadly outbreak— from the unfortunate Patient Zero (Gwyneth Paltrow) to the compassionate WHO doctor (Marion Cotillard) to the earnest CDC investigator (a disturbingly stiff Kate Winslet) to the muckraking blogger (Jude Law) who sees a conspiracy at work —the film tells the story of the virus: its insinuation into the world population, the havoc it wrecks on humanity, the race to find a vaccine, and the ultimate resolution. Steven Soderbergh creates an appropriate sense of chaotic detachment, mirroring what in all likelihood would actually happen in the event of such an outbreak, and he quite realistically depicts the almost bureaucratic way in which such a pandemic would be "managed," leaving us with a sense that a global viral outbreak would prove to be more than "just" a health crisis. What is most chilling about this film is its eerie verisimilitude and its uncanny portrayal of business-as-usual amidst the calamity of a global catastrophe.

Peculiar and provocative, 14 July 2012

This is a peculiar film indeed—that doesn't mean it's bad. It just means it's quite different from most films you might see. Most unusual is the fact that we get no "backstory" for the main story. The film opens with Martha/Marcy May/Marlene (Elizabeth Olsen in a tortured yet incredibly nuanced performance) escaping a cult in upstate New York to reunite with her estranged sister and her sister's husband. Flashbacks fill us in on what happened to Martha/Marcy May/Marlene while she was a cult member, yet we never learn how or why she became a member of the cult or why she stayed as long as she did.

The present action—Martha/Marcy May/Marlene's awkward attempts to reconnect with her family despite what her brother-in-law characterizes as her "insane" behavior—focuses mainly on what can only be described as the post-traumatic stress that Martha/Marcy May/Marlene is incapable of dealing with. Her time in the cult has rendered her inert and paranoid, and the film ends as abruptly as it began, with a bizarre traffic incident, the meaning of which seems to fade into oblivion along with Martha/Marcy May/Marlene's future.

Fans of quirky, introspective, and artsy films will have a lot to chew on after watching this one. If it's action or conventional storytelling you want, best look elsewhere.

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