Kenneth Turan, Film Critic

Review: 'Red Obsession' takes on China and the Bordeaux mania

3:11 PM PDT, September 12, 2013

Review: 'Red Obsession' takes on China and the Bordeaux mania

Documentaries by their nature are prisoners of their moment in time. If they are fortunate, as the makers of "Red Obsession" are, that moment, even if it's brief, will be able to hold our interest.

Review: Niels Arestrup clearly dominates in 'You Will Be My Son'

6:00 AM PDT, September 11, 2013

Review: Niels Arestrup clearly dominates in 'You Will Be My Son'

The most quietly terrifying presence in film today belongs to a gray-haired, 64-year-old French actor with a Danish name. If you are familiar with Niels Arestrup's work, you don't need any convincing. If you're not, "You Will Be My Son" is all the persuading you'll need.

 Review: 'Wadjda' a notable feat for Saudi director Haifaa Mansour

3:15 PM PDT, September 12, 2013

Review: 'Wadjda' a notable feat for Saudi director Haifaa Mansour

The first feature to be shot in Saudi Arabia, and directed by a woman to boot, "Wadjda" is a remarkable film twice over. We are fortunate to have it for both of those reasons, but it's hard not to wish the result was even better.

Review: 'Populaire' a frothy French comedy

2:05 PM PDT, September 5, 2013

Review: 'Populaire' a frothy French comedy

The less seriously the genial French comedy "Populaire" takes itself, the more amusing it is. Fortunately, with small exceptions, this film doesn't take itself very seriously at all.

Review: 'The Servant' still delivers a chill

2:30 PM PDT, August 29, 2013

Review: 'The Servant' still delivers a chill

Could "The Servant" be the coldest film ever made? Glaciers might be melting, the polar caps might be crumbling, but not even the passage of half a century has taken the frozen edge off this brilliantly icy film.

Movie review: 'Closed Circuit' cranks up paranoia over Big Brother

5:15 PM PDT, August 27, 2013

Movie review: 'Closed Circuit' cranks up paranoia over Big Brother

"Closed Circuit" is a crisply enjoyable, professionally executed paranoid thriller of the "everyone is out to get us" variety. In an earlier, simpler day, its plotting would have been dismissed as far-fetched, but that was then and this is now.

 William Friedkin celebrates a Golden Lion, restored 'Sorcerer'

5:30 AM PDT, August 27, 2013

William Friedkin celebrates a Golden Lion, restored 'Sorcerer'

Thursday is going to be a big day for William Friedkin. It will be his 78th birthday ("No gifts, please, I'll just give you my address," he jokes) as well as the day his memoir, "The Friedkin Connection," will be published in Italian.

Review: Wong Kar-wai's 'The Grandmaster' has great martial arts style

3:51 PM PDT, August 22, 2013

Review: Wong Kar-wai's 'The Grandmaster' has great martial arts style

"The Grandmaster" is like a meal of all desserts, with maybe the tiniest bit of protein thrown in. You'll feel decadent enjoying it, but everything is so tasty, it would be foolish to object.

Review: The exceptional 'Short Term 12' comes by its pain honestly

2:01 PM PDT, August 22, 2013

Review: The exceptional 'Short Term 12' comes by its pain honestly

"Short Term 12" is a small wonder, a film of exceptional naturalness and empathy that takes material about troubled teenagers and young adults that could have been generic and turns it into something moving and intimate.

Review: A visual tapestry unfolds during 'Museum Hours'

2:24 PM PDT, August 15, 2013

Review: A visual tapestry unfolds during 'Museum Hours'

Jem Cohen's "Museum Hours" is difficult to describe but not to enjoy. An observational quasi-documentary with a fictional overlay, it's a film whose pleasures are much more visual than dramatic, but that doesn't mean there aren't serious things on its mind.

Review: 'When Comedy Went to School' is good for a few laughs

12:58 PM PDT, August 15, 2013

Review: 'When Comedy Went to School' is good for a few laughs

For a disorganized film that has trouble deciding what it's about, "When Comedy Went to School" can be a lot of fun.

 Review: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' significant but often contrived

1:11 PM PDT, August 15, 2013

Review: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' significant but often contrived

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is neither as good as it might have been nor as bad as survivors of "The Paperboy" may have feared. An ambitious and overdue attempt to create a Hollywood-style epic around the experience of black Americans in general and the civil rights movement in particular, it undercuts itself by hitting its points squarely on the nose with a 9-pound hammer.

 Review: 'Europa Report' gets good mileage from low-budget sci-fi

3:30 PM PDT, August 1, 2013

Review: 'Europa Report' gets good mileage from low-budget sci-fi

"Europa Report" is a Grade A version of a B picture, a streamlined science fiction story that smartly tells a familiar tale without breaking the bank.

Review: Taut 'Our Children' captures a complex power relationship

6:05 PM PDT, August 8, 2013

Review: Taut 'Our Children' captures a complex power relationship

Pitiless, devastating, unadorned, "Our Children" is an exceptional film that puts the worst, most painful part of its story on the screen first. Or so you will be tempted to think.

Review: Despite Matt Damon, 'Elysium' disappoints

5:50 PM PDT, August 8, 2013

Review: Despite Matt Damon, 'Elysium' disappoints

Despite its title, "Elysium" is no promised land.

Review: Layers of suffering and joy mingle in 'Rising From Ashes'

4:05 PM PDT, August 1, 2013

Review: Layers of suffering and joy mingle in 'Rising From Ashes'

"Rising From Ashes" gives you more than you expect. Its story line is as positive and affirmative as the title indicates, but it turns out there are dramas going on in this documentary that you wouldn't initially suspect.

Review: 'The Canyons' lives down to expectations

5:45 PM PDT, August 8, 2013

Review: 'The Canyons' lives down to expectations

If the creation of self-important tedium were a competitive sport, "The Canyons" would take home the gold. This film so corners the market on lethargy and pretension the judges might not even bother handing out a silver or even a bronze.

 Review: '2 Guns' slick, but Washington and Wahlberg grate

1:55 PM PDT, August 1, 2013

Review: '2 Guns' slick, but Washington and Wahlberg grate

The only thing simple and direct about "2 Guns" is its title. This self-consciously nihilistic action movie is one slick piece of business as well as something of a double-edged sword.

Review: 'The Act of Killing' re-creates Indonesian slaughters

3:04 PM PDT, July 25, 2013

Review: 'The Act of Killing' re-creates Indonesian slaughters

"The Act of Killing" takes more than a little getting used to. It's a mind-bending film, devastating and disorienting, that disturbs us in ways we're not used to being disturbed, raising questions about the nature of documentary, the persistence of evil, and the intertwined ways movies function in our culture and in our minds.

Review: A grumbling 'Wolverine' dilutes Hugh Jackman's powers

1:59 PM PDT, July 25, 2013

Review: A grumbling 'Wolverine' dilutes Hugh Jackman's powers

To the list of standard truisms advanced by Hollywood movies — money can't buy happiness, beauty doesn't ensure love — "The Wolverine" is eager to add another certainty: comic book heroes are forever grumbling about their lot in life.

 Review: Not even Johnny Depp can rescue 'The Lone Ranger'

6:00 AM PDT, July 3, 2013

Review: Not even Johnny Depp can rescue 'The Lone Ranger'

Within the memory of those still living, "The Lone Ranger" was a radio serial that broadcast 2,956 episodes over 21 years, as well as a beloved TV series that ran for an additional eight. Never in all that time was it thought necessary to have a villain who cut out human hearts and ate them, but, hey, these are different days, and even icons have to adapt or die.

Review: In 'Pacific Rim,' Del Toro makes magic with monsters

8:03 AM PDT, July 10, 2013

Review: In 'Pacific Rim,' Del Toro makes magic with monsters

Guillermo del Toro is more than a filmmaker, he's a fantasy visionary with an outsized imagination and a fanatical specificity, a creator of out-of-this world universes carefully conceived down to the smallest detail. His particular gifts and passions are on display in the long-awaited "Pacific Rim" and the results are spectacular.

Review: 'Fruitvale Station' an incendiary portrait of a life cut short

12:59 PM PDT, July 11, 2013

Review: 'Fruitvale Station' an incendiary portrait of a life cut short

Made with assurance and deep emotion, "Fruitvale Station" is more than a remarkable directing debut for 26-year-old Ryan Coogler. It's an outstanding film by any standard.

Review: 'Somm': Wine, men and one brutal test

3:55 PM PDT, June 20, 2013

Review: 'Somm': Wine, men and one brutal test

Note to self after watching "Somm": That nice person who helps you decide what wine to choose at an upscale restaurant just might be a little bit crazy.

Review: 'White House Down' is hard to believe, easy to enjoy

4:00 PM PDT, June 26, 2013

Review: 'White House Down' is hard to believe, easy to enjoy

"White House Down" is a hoot and a half, a shameless popcorn entertainment that is preposterous and diverting in just about equal measure.

 Review: Revisit Jean-Pierre Melville's world of crime in 'Un Flic'

4:55 PM PDT, June 27, 2013

Review: Revisit Jean-Pierre Melville's world of crime in 'Un Flic'

The air of compelling melancholy that hangs over all of Jean-Pierre Melville's classic policiers is especially inescapable while watching his 1972 "Un Flic." This was the last film the director finished before dying of a heart attack at age 55, and it has many of the traits that have made him a favorite for fans of crime films in general and the French variety in particular.

 Review: 'World War Z' gets a rise from the undead

3:55 PM PDT, June 20, 2013

Review: 'World War Z' gets a rise from the undead

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. And as it turns out, zombies do it as well. They swarm. And when they're done swarming, they swarm all over again.

Review: 'The Attack' deftly explores emotions after suicide bombing

6:15 PM PDT, June 27, 2013

Review: 'The Attack' deftly explores emotions after suicide bombing

"The Attack" rewards your patience. Though it's never less than involving, it grows in stature as it unfolds and ends as a more subtle and disturbing film about love, loss and tragedy than we might initially expect.

Review: 'A Hijacking' rides waves of tension

4:07 PM PDT, June 20, 2013

Review: 'A Hijacking' rides waves of tension

"A Hijacking" is as lean, focused and to the point as its title. A cargo ship is hijacked in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and this expertly done, ultra-tense Danish thriller places you in the middle of the action in the most intense way.

Review: In 'Man of Steel,' Henry Cavill soars over an erratic plot

2:30 PM PDT, June 12, 2013

Review: In 'Man of Steel,' Henry Cavill soars over an erratic plot

"I can do things other people can't," the man says with becoming modesty, and can he ever. Cauterize deep wounds with a single glance, leap tall buildings in a single bound, things like that. Those rumors you've been hearing are true: Superman is back in town.

Review: 'Big Men' hits a gusher of oil and greed

2:37 PM PDT, June 13, 2013

Review: 'Big Men' hits a gusher of oil and greed

No single resource is more essential to modern life than oil, and no film offers a more incisive look at how the enormous wealth oil creates subverts the morality of individuals, corporations, even entire countries than Rachel Boynton's compelling documentary "Big Men."

 Cannes 2013: Palme d'Or goes to 'Blue Is the Warmest Color'

4:35 PM PDT, May 26, 2013

Cannes 2013: Palme d'Or goes to 'Blue Is the Warmest Color'

CANNES, France — The hometown favorite won big time at the Festival de Cannes on Sunday night as France's "Blue Is the Warmest Color" walked off with the Palme d'Or.

Review: 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' puts backup singers center stage

2:35 PM PDT, June 13, 2013

Review: 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' puts backup singers center stage

Their voices are powerful enough to tear you apart and put you back together again, and their stories will do the same. But when you call them backup singers, you better smile.

Movie review: 'Much Ado About Nothing' a tasty snack for Bard lovers

4:40 PM PDT, June 6, 2013

Movie review: 'Much Ado About Nothing' a tasty snack for Bard lovers

Think of it as a single scoop of sorbet: Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" is both a palate cleanser for the director and a small but savory treat for Shakespeare-starved audiences.

Review: Transfixing 'Fill the Void' looks at love by arrangement

May 24, 2013

Review: Transfixing 'Fill the Void' looks at love by arrangement

A mother and daughter anxiously scan the aisles of an Israeli supermarket. They're not looking for fresh produce but rather a clandestine glimpse of a young man a matchmaker has proposed as a potential husband for the daughter. The mother's eye is practiced as he comes into view — "You're going to do a lot of laundry" — but the daughter is delighted. At least for now.

Film review: 'Deceptive Practice' weaves its own kind of magic

5:38 PM PDT, May 16, 2013

Film review: 'Deceptive Practice' weaves its own kind of magic

Regard the hands of Ricky Jay. Watch them making cards do things cards never have done before, things cards didn't even know they could do. And for this master of manipulation, cards are just the beginning.

Alexander Payne feels at home with 'Nebraska'

4:05 PM PDT, May 22, 2013

Alexander Payne feels at home with 'Nebraska'

CANNES, France — Writer-director Alexander Payne has been nominated for three screenplay Oscars and has won two. So what did the man responsible for films including "Election," "Sideways" and "The Descendants" feel about working with someone else's script for the first time?

Asghar Farhadi goes for maximum emotional impact in his films

5:45 PM PDT, May 17, 2013

Asghar Farhadi goes for maximum emotional impact in his films

CANNES, France — "Stories come to me," says Asghar Farhadi, his sharp eyes focused, intense. "This one came to me, and I decided to follow it."

Cannes Notebook 2013: A hotbed of criminal activity too?

4:00 AM PDT, May 23, 2013

Cannes Notebook 2013: A hotbed of criminal activity too?

CANNES, France — Visitors exiting the Carlton hotel's front door on this city's beachfront main street this week can't help but see a giant map of France with Cannes listed as being a "Safe Zone." "This Is the Safest Place to Be," one poster insists, though another implores the public, "Stay Off the Streets."

 Review: 'Kon-Tiki' a tale retold of determined seafarers

3:39 PM PDT, April 25, 2013

Review: 'Kon-Tiki' a tale retold of determined seafarers

"Kon-Tiki" is a ripping yarn torn from yesterday's headlines. Though somewhat forgotten now, the 1947 story of six men, an oceangoing raft and a wild and crazy theory was a media sensation that gripped the world's imagination — and launched a thousand tiki bars.

Movie review: 'Stories We Tell' looks at truth, secrecy and memory

4:53 PM PDT, May 16, 2013

Movie review: 'Stories We Tell' looks at truth, secrecy and memory

Don't be fooled by its deceptively simple title or the hesitant, unassuming way it begins. Writer-director Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell" ends up an invigorating powerhouse of a personal documentary, adventurous and absolutely fascinating.

Cannes Film Festival projects cross-cultural cinema

5:00 AM PDT, May 15, 2013

Cannes Film Festival projects cross-cultural cinema

— Invariably, the Cannes Film Festival chooses a striking image for its official annual poster. But the 2013 version can be seen as a particularly apt metaphor for the dual nature of the world's most essential cinema event.

Review: 'Gatsby's' substance overwhelmed by Luhrmann's style

3:30 PM PDT, May 8, 2013

Review: 'Gatsby's' substance overwhelmed by Luhrmann's style

"The Great Gatsby" began on paper, with F. Scott Fitzgerald's celebrated novel, and on paper "Gatsby" sounds like quite the film. On screen, though, things start to fall apart.

 Review: 'Frances Ha' a charming portrait of youth and spirit

5:45 PM PDT, May 16, 2013

Review: 'Frances Ha' a charming portrait of youth and spirit

Effortless and effervescent, "Frances Ha" is a small miracle of a movie, honest and funny with an aim that's true. It's both a timeless story of the joys and sorrows of youth and a dead-on portrait of how things are right now for one particular New York woman who, try as she might, can't quite get her life together.

Cannes keeps being film industry's place to be

6:00 AM PDT, May 15, 2013

Critic's Notebook

Cannes keeps being film industry's place to be

— It's been 42 years since I first covered the Cannes Film Festival. Arriving on the French Riviera this week, I was struck by how Cannes has remained the quintessential place for film, despite enormous changes in the cinema landscape.

Review: 'Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's' engages the senses

3:29 PM PDT, May 2, 2013

Review: 'Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's' engages the senses

If fashion is a religion, one of its sacred shrines is an emporium that takes up a whole city block on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, a store so venerated by devotees that a celebrated New Yorker cartoon had one matron confess to another, "I want my ashes scattered over Bergdorf's."

Review: 'Iron Man 3' smartly reboots the suit midflight

4:36 PM PDT, May 2, 2013

Review: 'Iron Man 3' smartly reboots the suit midflight

Batman's done it. Spider-Man too. Superman is about to try. As studios attempt to inject new life into overly familiar comic-book franchises, reboots — with changes in tone, directors and stars — are all the rage. But "Iron Man 3" proves there is more than one way to skin this particular cat.

 Review: 'From Up on Poppy Hill' a sweet triumph for Miyazaki duo

3:40 PM PDT, March 21, 2013

Review: 'From Up on Poppy Hill' a sweet triumph for Miyazaki duo

"From Up on Poppy Hill" is frankly stunning, as beautiful a hand-drawn animated feature as you are likely to see. It's a time-machine dream of a not-so-distant past, a sweet and honestly sentimental story that also represents a collaboration between the greatest of Japanese animators and his up-and-coming son.

Review: 'Ginger & Rosa' a showcase for Elle Fanning

4:51 PM PDT, March 14, 2013

Review: 'Ginger & Rosa' a showcase for Elle Fanning

As the ampersand between their names indicates, "Ginger & Rosa" are inseparable, pals since birth, best friends for as long as anyone can remember. At least until now.

Review: 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone's' title oversells movie

2:16 PM PDT, March 14, 2013

Review: 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone's' title oversells movie

What is it with Hollywood and hyperbole these days? Last week saw "Oz the Great and Powerful" and now we have "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." Calling it "The Mildly Diverting Burt Wonderstone" would have been more accurate, but how many tickets is that going to sell?

Oscars 2013: Ang Lee is worthy, but better than Steven Spielberg?

6:45 AM PST, February 25, 2013

Oscars 2013

Oscars 2013: Ang Lee is worthy, but better than Steven Spielberg?

Now that the dust has settled and cold reality has replaced airy speculation, it's clearer than ever that as far as the 2013 best picture Oscar was concerned, Hollywood's directors gave and took away.

'Perfect Stranger'

April 13, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Perfect Stranger'

There's been a lot of agonized hand-wringing about the cost to society of the possible demise of newspapers, but one major negative consequence has been overlooked. What the heck are the movies going to do for careers for intrepid heroines if newspaper reporter is out of the running?

Movie review: 'Zero Dark Thirty' tracks Bin Laden's dramatic takedown

3:55 PM PST, December 18, 2012

Movie review: 'Zero Dark Thirty' tracks Bin Laden's dramatic takedown

"Zero Dark Thirty" does focus on, as the ads insist, "the greatest manhunt in history," but once you've seen this film, a woman — or maybe two — will be on your mind.

Best movies of 2012: 'Argo,' 'Lincoln,' 'Dark Knight Rises,' more

9:00 AM PST, December 14, 2012

Best movies of 2012: 'Argo,' 'Lincoln,' 'Dark Knight Rises,' more

If the movies are a feast or famine business — and they are — we are in the heart of the feast at the moment. Both the studios and the smaller distributors, having hidden away their strongest films like squirrels hoarding especially tasty nuts, release them all in a rush in the last months of the year.

 Review: Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln' a towering achievement

12:35 PM PST, November 8, 2012

Review: Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln' a towering achievement

Hollywood's most successful director turns on a dime and delivers his most restrained, interior film. A celebrated playwright shines an illuminating light on no more than a sliver of a great man's life. A brilliant actor surpasses even himself and makes us see a celebrated figure in ways we hadn't anticipated. This is the power and the surprise of "Lincoln."

 Tony Scott, Hollywood's shooter extraordinaire

4:46 PM PDT, August 20, 2012

Tony Scott, Hollywood's shooter extraordinaire

In the to-the-point argot of Hollywood, director Tony Scott was known as a shooter, a term of respect that cut two different ways.

 Film critic Judith Crist taught her students well

3:15 PM PDT, August 8, 2012

Film critic Judith Crist taught her students well

Who remembers the great names of the city room? In a single generation, someone said, paraphrasing Kipling, they are one with Nineveh and Tyre, covered over with dust and forgotten.

Movie review: Jolie is worth her 'Salt'

July 23, 2010

Movie review: Jolie is worth her 'Salt'

"Salt" the film and Evelyn Salt the character are perpetually in motion and that's a good thing for its own sake and because it keeps audiences from dwelling on how unapologetically preposterous the plot in question is.

Movie review: 'Warrior'

September 9, 2011

Movie review: 'Warrior'

"Warrior" is too much of a good thing. A family drama set in the ultraviolent world of mixed martial arts, it shows promise but finally hits things so hard, both literally and metaphorically, that it's hard not to feel pummeled yourself by the time it's over.

Review: Oliver Stone overdoes the brutality in 'Savages'

3:24 PM PDT, July 5, 2012

Review: Oliver Stone overdoes the brutality in 'Savages'

"It's that kind of a story where things got so out of control," says O, the narrator of"Savages."She's talking about the plot, but she might be talking about the filmmaking as well.

Review: 'Araya'

November 6, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Araya'

"Araya" has been hidden in plain sight for decades, which is especially ironic for a film whose glories are so visual. A critical sensation in Europe when it was released half a century ago, this insistently poetic quasi-documentary has until now not had the kind of proper American release that could put it on the map for domestic filmgoers.

'Damned United' is pretty darned good

October 9, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

'Damned United' is pretty darned good

Having the skill to bring authentic stories to forceful and persuasive dramatic life is a gift not all writers have, but no one has it more than Britain's Peter Morgan. Best known for having written "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon," Morgan does it again in his potent script for "The Damned United."

Joe Papp's 'Championship' genius

November 1, 2009

BACKSTAGE

Joe Papp's 'Championship' genius

The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater has been the most significant not-for-profit theater group in this country since it was founded by Joe Papp more than 50 years ago. During his lifetime (he died in 1991), Papp made theater in America both accessible and essential.

Review: 'Alice in Wonderland'

March 4, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Alice in Wonderland'

One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, and the pills Tim Burton gives you don't do very much at all.

Review: 'Forbidden Lie$'

April 10, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Forbidden Lie$'

Is she or isn't she? Even after you've seen "Forbidden Lie$," the dizzying, drop-dead fascinating documentary on Norma Khouri, you won't be absolutely sure if she's on the level or a con artist ranked as "one of the best ever." That's how good she is.

Video review: 'Watchmen'

March 5, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Video review: 'Watchmen'

Alan Moore was right. There isn't a movie in his landmark graphic novel "Watchmen" -- at least not a really good one. What we get instead is something acceptable but pedestrian, an adaptation that is more a prisoner of its story than the master of it.

Review: 'Coraline'

February 6, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Coraline'

The third dimension comes of age with "Coraline." The first contemporary film in which the 3-D experience feels intrinsic to the story instead of a Godforsaken gimmick, "Coraline" is a remarkable feat of imagination, a magical tale with a genuinely sinister edge.

Review: 'Sugar'

April 3, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Sugar'

Sports is life writ large, the place where everything -- the triumph, the boredom, the despair -- gets magnified and scrutinized. The best films about sports, and the baseball-themed "Sugar" is surely one, understand that when a character says, "it's just a game, right?" the answer is both yes and no.

Review: 'Valentino: The Last Emperor'

April 3, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Valentino: The Last Emperor'

"Valentino: The Last Emperor," the title of a new documentary about the icon of haute couture, may sound like canny hyperbole, but once you've seen this smart and incisive film, it will seem like a simple statement of fact.

Turan: Take your Oscar snark someplace else

February 24, 2009

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Turan: Take your Oscar snark someplace else

Here's a modest proposal: Next year, let's ignore the Oscars. I'm not talking about the winners or the show itself, but I sure could do without the obsessive buildup to the event that devours everything in its path. Let's let the Oscars sneak up on us on those proverbial little cat's feet and see how that plays.

Review: 'Of Time and the City'

January 30, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Of Time and the City'

"Of Time and the City" is a difficult film to describe but a distinct pleasure to experience. A cinematic essay, a documentary and a memory piece, all at the same time, it is more than anything an unapologetically poetic film that allows British director Terence Davies to ruminate on Liverpool, the city of his birth, and his own life and times there.

Review: 'Defiance'

December 31, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Defiance'

A Russian partisan commander looks dismissively at the Bielski brothers, eyeing tough Zus (Liev Schreiber) and tougher Tuvia (Daniel Craig) and proclaiming, "Jews don't fight."

Review: 'Rachel Getting Married'

October 3, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Rachel Getting Married'

The Internet Movie Database, the mighty monarch of cinema sites, lists more than 600 films with the word "wedding" in the title. And no wonder. Where else can the passions of the moment, and recriminations born of unresolved family issues, mix to create the kind of emotional wallop that the best kind of cinema thrives on?

April 17, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Ballerina'

Those passionate about ballet will need no encouragement to experience the new documentary "Ballerina," and those who don't care will be tempted to change their minds should they see it. As the lyric from "A Chorus Line" insists, "everyone is beautiful at the ballet," and this film is dedicated to proving that point.

The Oscars: Best picture is best bellwether

February 22, 2009

OSCARS

The Oscars: Best picture is best bellwether

Tonight's Oscar ceremony will be the 81st in the award's venerable history, and like people who've reached an advanced age, the institution has had a hard time getting respect in a contemporary culture that cares mightily about being up to the minute and ahead of the curve.

Review: 'The Secret of the Grain'

January 30, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'The Secret of the Grain'

"The Secret of the Grain" is a film with a lot on its mind. Intense and realistic, equally involved with personal stories and social issues, it takes us inside a slice of France we rarely see and makes our time there hard to shake off.

In 'Amreeka' and 'Big Fan,' the personal is potent

January 19, 2009

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

In 'Amreeka' and 'Big Fan,' the personal is potent

Some things change at the Sundance Film Festival, but not everything. There may now be more cab companies licensed than in New York City and a Jumbotron screen installed at the foot of Main Street to broadcast the inauguration, but the festival's search for gifted young filmmakers remains a constant.

Review: 'Milk'

November 26, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Milk'

It was partly an accident of history that made Harvey Milk the first openly gay man elected to major public office in this country, so it's fitting that yet another accident of history has made "Milk," the earnest biopic about the man, more involving than it would otherwise be.

Review: 'Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh'

February 6, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh'

"Blessed Is the Match" is not only the title of a solemn, respectful documentary about Israeli Holocaust martyr Hannah Senesh, it is also the opening of the poem that helped make her famous.

Academy Award voters opt for the sunny over the dark

January 23, 2009

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Academy Award voters opt for the sunny over the dark

Like some Zen master clandestinely operating in the heart of Hollywood, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has perfected the art of offering surprises without being surprising. Though specific Oscar nominations can be unexpected, the overall picture remains the same: the academy will always be the academy, doing the things it has traditionally done since what seems like the dawn of time. Some years, however, certain trends get more emphasis than others, and the nominations offered yesterday did say one thing loud and clear. Reacting to one of the bleakest years in recent American history, the academy shunned the dark side and stayed away, as audiences have traditionally done in hard times, from films that emphasized doom and gloom. So the buoyant " Slumdog Millionaire," a rags-to-riches film that nearly went straight to video, had 10 nominations, including best picture, and the optimistic animated feature "Wall-E" walked off with six, including screenplay. And it can't be forgotten that the partisans of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which topped the chart with 13 nominations, insist against considerable evidence to the contrary that the film is a positive emotional experience. That avoidance of melancholy is perhaps the best explanation for why two very different films, "The Dark Knight" and "Revolutionary Road," both considered serious Oscar contenders, were all but shut out of the eight categories major enough to be announced on national television.

Review: 'Gran Torino'

December 12, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Gran Torino'

At this point in his career, when Clint Eastwood stars in and directs a film, all bets are off. Things that would be old-school and sentimental in other hands morph into something different when he is involved. If Tina Turner's motto is that she doesn't do anything nice and easy, Eastwood's would be that the ordinary is just not his style. Which brings us to "Gran Torino," Eastwood's second directing project this fall, his first work as an actor since 2004's "Million Dollar Baby" and a film that would be less interesting if he were not involved. Working from a script by first-time screenwriter Nick Schenk, Eastwood has, with his impeccable directing style and acting presence, turned "Gran Torino" into another in his ongoing series of films that ponder violence, its place and its cost. It combines sentiment and shootouts, the serious and the studio, in a way that has become distinctly Eastwood's own.

Review: 'W.'

October 17, 2008

Review: 'W.'

"W." MAY sound like the story of the initial that rocked the world, but it turns out to be the tale of a mouse that roared. Director Oliver Stone and writer Stanley Weiser's unexpected take on the life and times of our 43rd president will surprise a lot of people, especially those not used to seeing the words "Oliver Stone" and "carefully modulated" in the same sentence.

'The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe,' Gershon David Hundert, editor in chief

July 27, 2008

BOOK REVIEW

'The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe,' Gershon David Hundert, editor in chief

The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe

Review: 'Quantum of Solace'

November 13, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Quantum of Solace'

Outside of its title, "Quantum of Solace" offers little solace for fans of the venerable James Bond franchise. All dressed up with no particular place to go, this 22nd Bond film tries hard but ends up an underachiever. That's especially disappointing because several of the key players, including star Daniel Craig, have returned from the last Bond film, 2006's "Casino Royale," which seemed like such a promising retooling of the antediluvian franchise that dates all the way back to "Dr. No" in 1962. Also back is the traditional Bond emphasis on exotic locales -- "Quantum" was shot in six countries, apparently a franchise record -- and forceful action. According to the press notes, more than 200,000 rounds of blank ammunition were purchased for the film and 54 controlled explosions were set off for the finale, but not even all this bang is enough to secure our interest. For while star Craig, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade along with Paul Haggis, and stunt coordinator Gary Powell, among others, are unchanged, the film's director -- and its direction -- have been altered, and that has made a difference. For the first time, a Bond film has been envisioned as a pure sequel, with Craig's Agent 007 ferociously fixated on getting revenge for the death of the woman he loved, the languid and treacherous Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, who did not make it to the closing credits of "Casino Royale."

'The Universe of Keith Haring'

October 31, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Universe of Keith Haring'

The bane of documentaries on creative people is that they're often little more than a fan's note, of interest only to those who already know and love the work in question. "The Universe of Keith Haring" starts out that way but the force of the late artist's energy and personality is strong enough to win over the skeptics.

Review: 'Happy-Go-Lucky,' directed by Mike Leigh

October 10, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Happy-Go-Lucky,' directed by Mike Leigh

" Happy-Go-Lucky" is something different from virtuoso British writer-director Mike Leigh. For what feels like the first time in his more than 35 years of bringing an exceptional level of insight and intensity to the exploration of human behavior, Leigh has put a thoroughly happy person front and center in one of his films.

'Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.'

July 4, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

'Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.'

To make a documentary, you must be passionate about the subject. But too much admiration can lead to a film with more of a fan's view than is good for it. Such is the case with "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson."

'Tell No One'

July 2, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

'Tell No One'

Tell everyone about "Tell No One." Not just because this is a top-notch thriller so twisty you may forget to breathe, but because for a long time it looked like you wouldn't be able to tell anyone at all.

'Hancock'

July 1, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

'Hancock'

WHERE IS it written that superheroes have to be selfless? What would happen if an individual with supernatural powers was surly, self-absorbed and acid-tongued? Would he still be a hero? Would people still want him around?

'There Will Be Blood'

December 26, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'There Will Be Blood'

"THERE Will Be Blood," the joint venture between actor Daniel Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson, might be the most incendiary combination since the Molotov cocktail. Though it can be over the top and excessive, this morality play set in the early days of California's oil boom also creates considerable heat and light and does some serious aesthetic damage.

'Wall-E'

June 27, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW

'Wall-E'

IF Pixar Animation Studios has an enviable record of consistent success -- and with a worldwide box-office gross of $4.3 billion from its eight films, it certainly does -- it's because the company has an uncanny gift for pushing things further without pushing too far. Pixar's adventurous new film, the one-of-a-kind "Wall-E," shows how it's done.

'American Gangster'

November 2, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'American Gangster'

IT takes nerve to call a film "American Gangster": It's more than a movie title, it's the name of a venerable genre that dates to cinema's beginnings. But once you see this finely made and richly satisfying film, you understand it's the only title possible.

'Lars and the Real Girl'

October 12, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Lars and the Real Girl'

"Lars and the Real Girl" is the darndest thing. Starring Ryan Gosling as the romantically challenged Lars, this is a film whose daring and delicate blend of apparent irreconcilables will sweep you off your feet if you're not careful.

'The Great Debaters'

December 25, 2007

Movie Review

'The Great Debaters'

Opponents found it easy to underestimate the 1930s debate team of Wiley College, a small, all-black institution in a remote corner of Texas, but they did so at their peril. The same will likely hold true for those who underestimate the new film on the Wiley phenomenon, "The Great Debaters."

September 28, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Rape of Europa'

When people think about World War II, wondering what it meant for the fate of museum-quality art is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet as the documentary "The Rape of Europa" demonstrates, this is a surprisingly vast and involving topic.

September 14, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Shadow Company'

Though the war in Iraq was the impetus for getting this documentary made, "Shadow Company" casts a wider if somewhat haphazard net, examining a troubling phenomenon that has been around for centuries.

'Things We Lost in the Fire'

October 19, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Things We Lost in the Fire'

"Things We Lost in the Fire" is rough going at times, and not just because of its downbeat subject matter, its examination of catastrophic loss and the different ways people attempt to deal with it.

September 28, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Great World of Sound'

This is a country where everyone is convinced they have undiscovered talent, but what's truly widespread is the talent to connive and the willingness to be taken in. Witness "Great World of Sound," an involving, offbeat and truly unusual American independent film.

'Lust, Caution'

October 5, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Lust, Caution'

IT'S unnerving to see "Lust, Caution" as the title of Ang Lee's provocative new film because these states, each capable of obliterating the other, exist at the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. They can never be reconciled, and characters who are forced by circumstance to live on the knife's edge between them not only endure unbearable tension but risk savage emotional destruction as well.

September 7, 2007

REVIEW

'Le Doulos'

French director Jean-Pierre Melville is the great poet of crime cinema, and 1963's "Le Doulos" -- starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and set in Paris, the most criminally romantic city in the world -- is a tour de force.

'Michael Clayton'

October 5, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Michael Clayton'

AFTER what must seem like a lifetime of writing screenplays for other people to direct, Tony Gilroy has come out from behind the curtain. With the George Clooney-starring "Michael Clayton," he's not only saved his best script for himself, he's also turned out a smart and suspenseful legal thriller that comes completely alive on-screen.

September 14, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'In the Valley of Elah'

Though it sounds like a picturesque spot, no one is bringing a picnic lunch or having any fun "In the Valley of Elah." The characters in this somber film have the glum look of individuals delivering a Very Important Message to the world. And though this film in fact does have something crucial to convey, this is not the way to go about it.

'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'

September 21, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'

Put in simplest terms, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a film whose reach exceeds its grasp. Hugely ambitious and not without moments of success, this indulgent 2 hour and 40 minute epic ends up as unwieldy as its elongated title. It's a movie in love with itself, and few things are more fatal than that.

'3:10 to Yuma'

September 7, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'3:10 to Yuma'

If "3:10 to Yuma" feels familiar, and it does, it's not just because it's a remake of the classic 1957 western. Almost every plot point -- psycho gunslingers, savage Apaches, even doctors who say "that bullet has to come out" -- is a trope that has been a genre standard for decades.

'In the Shadow of the Moon'

September 7, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'In the Shadow of the Moon'

THEIR number is small and their status is elite: They are the only humans to have visited another world, to have actually walked on or been in close proximity to the moon. Their story, as captured in the riveting documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon," is an unexpected knockout.

August 31, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Manda Bala'

Edgy and provocative but with a weakness for sensationalistic footage, "Manda Bala" (Send a Bullet) is a series of snapshots of Brazil that focuses on perceived connections between the country's violence, poverty and political corruption.

August 17, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'King of Kong'

Obsession creates its own fascination, and never more so than in "King of Kong," a sprightly new documentary that's as compulsively watchable as the vintage video game it focuses on is addictive.

August 31, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Private Property'

There are no horrors like family horrors. The nightmares hidden in the everyday are more frightening than any extreme situation, and the real horror films take place in cozy family kitchens, not deserted motels. Witness the powerful emotional impact of "Private Property," the devastating new film starring Isabelle Huppert.

'The Invasion'

August 17, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Invasion'

"Help me," the young woman screams. "They're coming, they're among us." No one on screen is paying attention, but we know what it means.

'Sunshine'

July 20, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Sunshine'

Brightness has never seemed as menacing as it does in "Sunshine," the nail-bitingly tense science-fiction thriller that emphasizes both the fearsome power of our friend the sun and how bereft we earthlings would be without its warming rays.

'My Best Friend'

July 13, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'My Best Friend'

Too serious to be an out-and-out comedy, too funny not to be one, "My Best Friend" is a lot easier to enjoy than to classify. Like all the films of French writer-director Patrice Leconte, it doesn't fit into a tidy category, and this is very much part of the plan.

'Ratatouille'

June 29, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Ratatouille'

Brad Bird's 'Ratatouille' is so audacious you have to fall in love with its unlikely hero. If we are living in a golden age of animation — and we are — one of the reasons is writer-director Brad Bird. That's somewhat ironic, because as his new "Ratatouille" demonstrates, what makes Bird so unusual is that he doesn't really think of himself as an animator at all.

August 10, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'12:08 East of Bucharest'

The most unlikely subjects often make for the most deliciously comic films. That's the case with "12:08 East of Bucharest," which carefully builds a sly and unexpected human comedy out of a dispute over whether a revolution would still be a revolution if nobody showed up.

July 13, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Lady Chatterley'

MOVIE REVIEWS In France's 'Lady Chatterley,' lovers cross class boundaries as their desire unfurls slowly, beautifully.

'Sicko'

June 29, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Sicko'

No one ever accused Michael Moore of not having a point of view.

'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'

July 10, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'

"HARRY Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is no stand-alone film or even part of a constantly reinvented franchise like James Bond. Rather it's a cog in a brisk, well-oiled machine, the fifth in what ultimately will be a series of seven films that function like chapters in the world's longest-running serial. If you've sampled the previous episodes, you'll likely see this one, no matter what its qualities, and if you haven't seen any of the others, there isn't much justification for jumping in at the middle.

'Live Free or Die Hard'

June 27, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Live Free or Die Hard'

No one winces like Bruce Willis. A man with a million-dollar grimace, the actor gets lots of opportunity to play to his strength in "Live Free or Die Hard," the latest adventure of ultra-violent Energizer Bunny John McClane: He's not exactly cuddly but he keeps on coming on.

'A Mighty Heart'

June 22, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'A Mighty Heart'

"A Mighty HEART" has to serve a number of masters — the somber story surrounding the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the magnetic star quality of actress Angelina Jolie, the quasi-documentary style of director Michael Winterbottom — and it does so remarkably well.

'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer'

June 15, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer'

Strange things are happening on planet Earth. A bay in Japan freezes solid. It snows on the Sphinx. All the electricity in Los Angeles turns off just like a light. Some are starting to wonder, a breathless TV journalist intones, if the hand of God is involved.

'Once'

May 16, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Once'

Do you believe in magic? Do you think small can be beautiful? Are you looking for a little film you can make your own, an enchanting, unpretentious blend of music and romance you can watch forever? If you do, "Once" is about to come into your life and make it whole.

'Spider-Man 3' shows a dark side

May 2, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Spider-Man 3' shows a dark side

'The opening credits for "Spider-Man 3" showcase moments from the 2002 original, pieces of time that remind us that once upon a time the story of a spider-bit boy turned love-struck crime-fighter was just another movie hoping to be a hit.

'In the Land of Women'

April 20, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'In the Land of Women'

In his first feature, "In the Land of Women," Jonathan Kasdan has made good use of several things he inherited from his father, fellow writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, including a strong supporting actress (JoBeth Williams) and an experienced editor (Carol Littleton). And something more.

'Casting About'

June 15, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Casting About'

Movies would be unimaginable without actors and actresses, but there is a tendency to take what they do for granted, to not look too deeply into what an unusual profession this is and what a remarkable class of people have elected to be part of it.

'Ocean's Thirteen'

June 8, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Ocean's Thirteen'

"Ocean's Thirteen" shows that while you can counterfeit many things in Hollywood, you can't fake inspiration. The latest Steven Soderbergh-directed caper movie starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt is better than the fiasco that was "Ocean's Twelve" (how could it not be?) but not as engaging as "Ocean's Eleven." One of the film's characters sums it up best: "It's not a great idea, but it's an idea."

'Jindabyne'

April 27, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Jindabyne'

Four men head down a hill toward a glistening river in anticipation of glorious fishing in a remote secret spot. "No women allowed!" one of them yells in a burst of over-exuberant male bonding, and no one disagrees. What none of these men know, however, is that a woman is already there, and her presence will change their lives forever.

'Stephanie Daley'

April 27, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Stephanie Daley'

"Stephanie Daley" is the last person you'd pick to have a film with her name on it. A high school student from an unnamed small town, she's a regular 16-year-old who plays flute in the band, the kind of shy person who goes upstairs to hide out during hot parties.

'The Valet'

April 20, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Valet'

Making people laugh is the specialty of the house where French writer-director Francis Veber is concerned, and he is awfully good at it. A complete master of cinematic farce, Veber's latest venture, "The Valet," makes creating deliciously funny comedy look a lot easier than it has any right to.

'The Ritchie Boys'

April 13, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Ritchie Boys'

"The Ritchie Boys" begins, like many another World War II documentary, with scenes of German soldiers marching and Hitler saluting. But don't be misled. This is a film with a story we have not seen before, a story about American troops so unusual it needed a German director to ferret it out.

'Zoo'

May 4, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Zoo'

"Zoo" is a cool sensibility married to a hot topic, a poetic film about a forbidden, unsettling subject. Elegantly made and eerily lyrical, it deals with what director Robinson Devor has accurately called "the last taboo, the boundary of something comprehensible." It's a subject so unnerving that just the notion of it can send people over the edge.

'The Hoax'

April 6, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Hoax'

'The Hoax' is a smart tale about a man who told tall tales.Compared to harsher words like "fraud," "cheat" and "swindle," "hoax" is a rather gentle term, a word that even has artistic implications. It's the word Clifford Irving used to title his book about one of the great deceptions of modern times: his nearly successful 1971 attempt to pass off his own manuscript as the much-coveted autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.

'Killer of Sheep'

April 6, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Killer of Sheep'

"Killer of Sheep" is a wonder any number of ways, from how it was originally made to its reappearance now in handsomely restored form to its getting its first-ever theatrical release (at the Nuart in West Los Angeles) a full 30 years after it was completed.

'Black Book'

April 4, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Black Book'

Like many of its characters, "Black Book" is engaged in acts of deception. It appears to be an old-fashioned World War II movie, but that turns out to be a ruse. As epic as its two-hours-and-25-minute running time indicates, "Black Book" is as subversive as it is traditional, both enamored of conventional notions of heroism and frankly contemptuous of them.

'The Lookout'

March 30, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Lookout'

Director Scott Frank brings a writer's ear for language to 'The Lookout,' a skillful thriller."The LOOKOUT" is a writer's thriller. True, it's cleanly and efficiently directed, and it showcases some crackerjack acting, but the reason it's a real pleasure to watch is that a writer's sensibility is the foundation everything is built on.

'The Page Turner'

March 30, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Page Turner'

From Alexander Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo" through Francois Truffaut's version of "The Bride Wore Black," no one has understood the old proverb that revenge is a dish best served cold as well as the French. Now, in "The Page Turner," comes perhaps the iciest version of delayed vengeance yet.

'After the Wedding'

March 30, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'After the Wedding'

Director Susanne Bier mainlines emotion. She has a connection to feelings and passions that is as direct and potent as an addict's needle piercing a vein. Her fierce and compelling dramas, like the new "After the Wedding," serve it up straight, no chaser, and dare anyone to flinch.

'Offside'

March 23, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Offside'

In the language of soccer, to be offside is to have gone too far, to have crossed an invisible line past which it is forbidden to go. As the exceptional Iranian film "Offside" demonstrates, if you are a woman in Iran, just attempting to go to a men's soccer game puts you over that line and into territory that is completely out of bounds.

'Shooter'

March 23, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Shooter'

It's a sentiment not found on the poster, but if you had to sum up Hollywood's latest action thriller in one sentence, you'd select the traditional "Mark Wahlberg is 'Shooter.' " He really is, and that is a good thing.

September 8, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Bridesmaid'

Claude Chabrol makes his particular kind of unnerving, deliciously amoral thrillers look easy. Once you've made as many of them as he has, they probably are.

'The Wind That Shakes the Barley'

March 16, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Wind That Shakes the Barley'

For director Ken Loach, the personal is always political, the political personal. The dean of British independent filmmakers, Loach has the gift of finding the intensely moving private emotions in broad, societal dilemmas. He does that with his fine new film, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," and he does a few new things as well.

'Into Great Silence'

March 9, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Into Great Silence'

"Into Great Silence" is a transcendent, transporting experience, a trance movie that casts a major league spell by going deeply into a monastic world that lives largely without words. In the hands of filmmaker Philip Groning, it becomes clear that silence is not the absence of sound, it's a physical place, a destination with value and meaning in a chaotic world, arrived at with difficulty and departed with regret.

'300'

March 9, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'300'

No one can say how many Spartans it might take to screw in a lightbulb, but the number needed to reach immortality is firmly established: "300."

'Pan's Labyrinth'

December 29, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Pan's Labyrinth'

The Mexican-born writer-director Guillermo del Toro is the most accomplished fantasist in contemporary cinema, a master creator of images, atmosphere and mood who uses his visionary's gifts to do what others cannot: make imaginary worlds seem more real than reality itself.

'Grbavica'

March 2, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Grbavica'

Wars seldom end when a peace accord is signed, and that is especially true of the conflict in what survivors still call "ex-Yugoslavia." Because what combatants did was so savage, and because enemies, especially in the city of Sarajevo, had been so close, the war is a wound that has difficulty healing, a nightmare that even daylight can't dispel.

'Amazing Grace'

February 23, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Amazing Grace'

"Amazing Grace," a story of idealism, idealists and speaking truth to power, understands there is something inordinately moving and dramatic about a man who stands up for what is right and makes a difference in this life.

'Becket'

February 2, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Becket'

More than 40 years after a dazzling first run that earned a dozen Academy Award nominations, "Becket" is back on the big screen and just in time to cast a fascinating light on this year's Oscar race.

'Avenue Montaigne'

March 2, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Avenue Montaigne'

"You can be truthful," French filmmaker Danièle Thompson has said, "without being realistic." A philosophy that perfectly sums up her latest effort, "Avenue Montaigne."

'Breach'

February 16, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Breach'

Filled with tension, deception and bravura acting, "Breach" is a crackling tale of real-life espionage that doubles as a compelling psychological drama. Its core is not the minutiae of spying but the push-pull complexities of intricate human relationships, and in Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney and especially the formidable Chris Cooper, it has the cast to bring it all intensely alive.

'Mafioso'

January 26, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Mafioso'

You won't forget "Mafioso" and you won't be seeing another movie like it. A magnificent film almost no one knows about, this hidden classic offers a wider variety of pleasures than most contemporary works can even aspire to.

'Our Daily Bread'

February 22, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'Our Daily Bread'

"Our Daily Bread" has an astounding eye for wonders and horrors, the awesome and the awful, for hidden sights, untold stories and key aspects of our world that we rarely get to see and might not necessarily want to. Once witnessed, however, these things cannot be forgotten.

'The Situation'

February 9, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Situation'

"The Situation" is promoting itself as the first American dramatic feature film to deal with the occupation of Iraq. While that may be true, it turns out not to matter that much.

'The Good Shepherd'

December 22, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Good Shepherd'

Given that its subject matter is spying, counterespionage and the Central Intelligence Agency, it's not an accident that the first words we hear in "The Good Shepherd" turn out to be a complete lie.

'Children of Men'

December 22, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Children of Men'

The best science fiction talks about the future to talk about the now, and "Children of Men" very much belongs in that class. Made with palpable energy, intensity and excitement, it compellingly creates a world gone mad that is uncomfortably close to the one we live in. It is a "Blade Runner" for the 21st century, a worthy successor to that epic of dystopian decay.

'Rocky Balboa'

December 20, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Rocky Balboa'

Think of "Rocky Balboa" as the "Rocky" film for those who can't be bothered counting up to six, or maybe for fighters who've taken so many punches to the head they need help remembering their hero's last name. Above all this is a film for gluttons for punishment, for those who never ever can get enough of Sylvester Stallone. Everyone else, please leave the building.

'Letters From Iwo Jima'

December 20, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Letters From Iwo Jima'

Clint EASTWOOD's latest film, "Letters From Iwo Jima," takes audiences to a place that would seem unimaginable for an American director. Daring and significant, it presents a picture from life's other side, not only showing what wartime was like for our Japanese adversaries on that island in the Pacific but also actually telling the story in their language. Which turns out to be no small thing.

'Venus'

December 20, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Venus'

Three years ago, Peter O'Toole expressed dismay at receiving an honorary Oscar, saying he was "still in the game." The transporting performance he gives in "Venus" proves that he was not kidding.

'Dreamgirls'

December 15, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Dreamgirls'

"Dreamgirls" is alive with the sound of music. It's a love song two times over, a tribute to a vibrant period of American popular music as well as to a style of filmmaking we don't get to see enough of: the big-budget Hollywood musical.

'Blood Diamond'

December 8, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Blood Diamond'

An ambitious film that can be viewed as either half empty or half full, "Blood Diamond" attempts something difficult and problematic. It can be pulled apart or appreciated, depending on your mood, but it should be recognized that movies like this have become as rare and potentially valuable as the stone that sets its plot in motion.

'Apocalypto'

December 8, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Apocalypto'

Who knows what violence lurks in the hearts of men? Mel Gibson knows, and he just can't resist putting every last ounce of it on screen. He also can't resist pulling those bloody, still-beating hearts out of human bodies and putting them up on screen as well. And that's just the beginning.

'The Lives of Others'

December 1, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Lives of Others'

It may be arguably true that, in Jean-Paul Sartre's words, "hell is other people," but what "The Lives of Others" brilliantly proves is that drama fits exactly the same definition.

'Days of Glory'

December 6, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Days of Glory'

This has been an exceptional year for the unexpected World War II film, for motion pictures that combine the traditional satisfactions of combat movies with the bracing bite of contemporary relevance.

'The Nativity Story'

December 1, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Nativity Story'

As Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" powerfully demonstrated, lots of people are willing to spend serious money to see films with Christian subject matter. "The Nativity Story" is attempting to tap into that market by Leaving to Mel the Things That Are Mel's and concentrating on the uplifting beginning of Jesus' life rather than the violent close.

'Iraq in Fragments'

November 17, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Iraq in Fragments'

Documentaries dealing with the Iraq war are as numerous as those proverbial sands of the desert, but "Iraq in Fragments" stands out, both because of where it takes us and how it takes us there. Whether you've experienced all the previous films or none of them, this one demands to be seen.

'Déjà Vu'

November 22, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Déjà Vu'

Jerry BRUCKHEIMER, the producer-king of mass audience mayhem, is not in the habit of giving his films French titles, but "Déjà Vu" is in the business of confounding expectations.

'Happy Feet’

November 17, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Happy Feet’

If there is such a thing as your standard penguin movie, "Happy Feet" isn't it. But with George Miller involved, how could it be?

'Casino Royale'

November 17, 2006

MOVIE REVIEWS

'Casino Royale'

What becomes a legend most? How do you retool an icon without alienating a fan base that has been loyal for longer than the core movie audience has been alive? What, in other words, do you do with James Bond?

'Sweet Land'

November 15, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Sweet Land'

Think of "Sweet Land" as a gift, the kind of delicate but deeply emotional love story, both sincere and restrained, that, like love itself, is more sought after than found.

'A Good Year'

November 10, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'A Good Year'

Figuring out why director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe were happy as can be to make "A Good Year" is not difficult. What's harder to come up with are compelling reasons to see it.

'Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus'

November 10, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus'

Creativity is one of life's true mysteries, but that hasn't stopped people from attempting to analyze and trivialize the source of the artistic impulse. Yet the mystery always triumphs, as it does in the simplistic but strangely poetic "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus."

'Cocaine Cowboys'

November 3, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Cocaine Cowboys'

"Cocaine Cowboys," the slick and bloody documentary detailing the effect the cocaine trade of the 1970s and '80s had on the city of Miami, is more a "Scarface" wannabe than anything else. A glitzy story of drugs, greed and death, it's not an elevating film, and it's not meant to be.

November 3, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Stolen'

"Stolen" is about a puzzle that's resisted solution for more than 15 years, but that doesn't stop it from being a fascinating, adventurous documentary with a lively and eccentric cast of characters.

'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan'

November 3, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan'

You will laugh at "Borat," you really will, but the laughter will sometimes stick in your throat. This is partially intentional — "Borat's" fiendish brand of subversive social commentary comes with an ironclad shock-and-offend guarantee — but partially not.

'Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple'

October 27, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple'

Why did they do it?

'The Bridge'

October 27, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Bridge'

"The Bridge" is both a beautiful film and a disturbing one, and the connection between those two characteristics makes it the most disquieting of documentaries.

'Catch a Fire'

October 27, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Catch a Fire'

"Catch a Fire" sounds like an awfully familiar story, and in some ways it is. Movies on the nightmare that was South Africa under the apartheid system and the heroic efforts made to resist it are hardly new, and it is difficult to avoid a sight-unseen dismissal of this latest example as too familiar and too late. Which would be a mistake.

'Flags of Our Fathers'

October 20, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Flags of Our Fathers'

"Flags of Our Fathers" is a story of extremes. It's the story of great heroism on a tiny island, of a photograph taken in 1/400th of a second that wreaked havoc with the lives of everyone in it and influenced the course of a war.

Under their influence

May 21, 2006

HOLLYWOOD | MOVIE MILESTONES

Under their influence

Think of the movie business for a moment not as an entertainment enterprise but as an enormous cargo ship. Turning on a dime is not this vessel's specialty; even attempting to change direction is a herculean task that may take a while to show results.

'Infamous'

October 13, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Infamous'

As writers as diverse as Cervantes and Christopher Marlowe have noted, comparisons are odious, but in the case of "Infamous" and "Capote," they are also inevitable. Both films cover exactly the same period in author Truman Capote's life, so much so that "Infamous" was held out of release for a year to put some distance between the two films. Even a year, however, isn't long enough to disguise the gap in quality between the two. "Capote" not only did it first, it did it considerably better.

'Le Petit Lieutenant'

October 13, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Le Petit Lieutenant'

"Le Petit Lieutenant" is a quiet powerhouse of a film, an implacable, uncompromising French police drama, both old-fashioned and modern, that underlines the reasons impeccably made crime stories do so well on screen.

'The Queen'

October 6, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Queen'

Go ahead, admit it. Between the kerchiefs and the corgis, the sensible clothes and the semi-detached smile, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II has never been mistaken for the most dramatic monarch in the world, never given much of a hint that there might be a Major Motion Picture in her life.

September 8, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Iraq for Sale'

Producer-director Robert Greenwald has the soul of an 18th century political pamphleteer. An issue burns a hole in his pocket, and he just has to take it on, the sooner the better. But although someone like Thomas Paine wrote pamphlets such as "Common Sense," Greenwald makes films. As hard-hitting and as fast as he can.

'Hollywoodland'

September 8, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Hollywoodland'

"Hollywoodland" is an ambitious film that succeeds only up to a point but no further. This overly derivative motion picture thinks it is doing and saying more than it is. Instead, it ends up as little more than a reasonable facsimile of the real thing, despite a subtle and effective performance by Ben Affleck, of all people.

'Changing Times'

August 4, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Changing Times'

A new work from French filmmaker Andre Techine is always a source of pleasure, if not necessarily excitement. His latest feature, "Changing Times," fits easily into that pattern.

'Jesus Camp'

September 29, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Jesus Camp'

You'll never think about summer camp the same way after you've seen how they do things in "Jesus Camp." And that's not the only illusion this unsettling documentary shatters.

September 15, 2006

MOVIE REVIEWS

'The Ground Truth' and 'My Country, My Country'

Like a recurring nightmare that haunts us in ever-changing forms, the war in Iraq has called forth a compelling series of documentaries — "Gunner Palace," "Occupation: Dreamland," the current "Iraq for Sale," the Sundance-winning but still unreleased "Iraq in Fragments," among many others — that tell us what is going on in that agonized country with more depth and immediacy than any other medium has managed.

'Favela Rising'

August 4, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Favela Rising'

"Never doubt," Margaret Mead famously said, "that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." A vibrant documentary, "Favela Rising," makes the case for that philosophy in the strongest possible terms.

'The Prestige'

October 20, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Prestige'

"Are you watching closely?" a voice asks at the beginning of "The Prestige." The question, like almost everything else about this passionate, atmospheric entertainment, is a calculated piece of misdirection. No matter how hard you try, you can't be watching this twisty tale closely enough to avoid its elegant traps and snares.

'Cars'

June 9, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Cars'

If there is a master list somewhere of the things most Americans love, automobiles and animated films — particularly those by the computer wizards at Pixar — are surely near the top. So it's no shock that Pixar's latest, "Cars," turned out so well, but what's surprising about this supremely engaging film is the source of its curb appeal: It has heart.

'All the King's Men'

September 22, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'All the King's Men'

"All the King's Men" is a somber film about loss, betrayal and regret. With its emphasis on human frailty, the death of dreams and wasted potential, this celebrated story of the uses and abuses of political and personal power has a strong sense of drama and tragedy. It is a chronicle of a death foretold that's familiar not once but three times over.

'Fanfan la Tulipe'

August 25, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Fanfan la Tulipe'

To see the gorgeous-looking reissue of "Fanfan la Tulipe" is to go back in time twice over: to the film's 18th century French setting and to the simpler international cinema world of more than half a century ago when this genial action farce was initially released.

'Mission: Impossible III': Can he keep ahead?

May 5, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Mission: Impossible III': Can he keep ahead?

One-hour TV has been good to writer-director J.J. Abrams, good enough to get him the job of sustaining "Mission: Impossible," an action movie franchise that also began as one-hour TV. Is it any wonder that the Tom Cruise-starring "Mission: Impossible III" plays like two consecutive one-hour TV shows, one sort of standard, the other stocked with excitement?

'The Departed'

October 6, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Departed'

Frequently excessive but never dull, "The Departed" is a little too much of a lot of the things that define Martin Scorsese films but it's also almost impossible to resist. Too operatic at times, too in love with violence and macho posturing at others, it's a potboiler dressed up in upscale designer clothes, but oh how that pot does boil.

'Half Nelson'

August 25, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Half Nelson'

In this cinematic season of vacuity and ineptitude, "Half Nelson" has to be seen. Made with assurance, restraint and psychological acuity by director Ryan Fleck and anchored by Ryan Gosling's commanding performance, this paradigmatic American independent feature approaches recurring themes in a compelling new way. You can't ask more from a film than that.

'World Trade Center'

August 9, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'World Trade Center'

It's taken the Hollywood system five years to come up with a major motion picture about what happened at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, but if you think that time was used for thoughtful introspection and careful analysis about the best way to approach those agonizing and unprecedented events, you just don't know Hollywood.

Señor Almodóvar looks back

August 20, 2006

WORLD CINEMA

Señor Almodóvar looks back

PEDRO ALMODÓVAR walks into a bar looking exhausted, and no wonder. "I have been here an entire week, working every day," he says, managing a smile, "and a week in Cannes can destroy even Superman."

'Miami Vice'

July 28, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Miami Vice'

From "Thief," his first theatrical feature, through "Heat" and 2004's "Collateral," filmmaker Michael Mann has always felt the attraction of the hard, cold criminal world, where the night is alive with menace and the day is not far behind.

'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu'

May 5, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu'

To borrow a phrase from Gabriel García Márquez, it's apparent from its title that "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" is a chronicle of a death foretold. We know how one particular long night of the soul will end for our protagonist, even if he and the people he runs into on his final journey on Earth do not.

'The Da Vinci Code'

10:04 AM PDT, May 17, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Da Vinci Code'

At the heart of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is the Priory of Sion, an organization set up to vigilantly protect "one of the most powerful secrets ever kept." Once Brown's thriller became one of the fastest-selling books of all time, a similar organization — call it the Priory of Hollywood — was set up to protect what's as valuable to the movie business as any secret: a property that had the potential for enormous box-office receipts.

Belgian filmmakers take top prize at Cannes

May 22, 2005

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Belgian filmmakers take top prize at Cannes

The 58th Festival de Cannes struck a mighty blow for socially conscious yet highly dramatic cinema Saturday when it awarded the Palme d'Or to Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's quietly devastating "The Child." It was the second Palme for the Belgian filmmaking brothers, who won the top prize here in 1999 for "Rosetta."

'United 93'

April 28, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'United 93'

"United 93" is not an easy flight to board. This staggering, draining film is exceptionally accomplished but extremely difficult to watch. It turns out to be easier to admire from whatever distance you can manage than to embrace with any kind of emotional intimacy. This may have been filmmaker Paul Greengrass' intention, but only up to a point.

'Factotum'

August 18, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Factotum'

The low-life serenade writing style of the rebellious Charles Bukowski is an acquired taste, but the good news about "Factotum" is that you don't need to acquire it in order to thoroughly enjoy this playfully bleak piece of work.

April 21, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Iron Island'

Only countries under duress turn out motion pictures quite like the new Iranian film "Iron Island."

June 16, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Giuliani Time'

There's no ill wind, the old saying goes, that doesn't blow somebody some good, and the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, blew all kinds of good Rudolph Giuliani's way.

'Look Both Ways'

April 28, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Look Both Ways'

"Look Both Ways" is a fearless movie about a fearful subject, an unusually empathetic and quite funny film that deals with death and dying in the most offbeat and casually life-affirming way. Exceptionally smart, playful and perceptive, "Look Both Ways" confronts things that people would rather avoid. Able to grapple with big issues in a style that is both heartfelt and idiosyncratic, it enhances confidence in cinema as a medium that can deal with the reality of existence in all its painful and wonderful randomness, that completely embraces the inevitably messy business of being alive.

'The Sentinel'

April 21, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Sentinel'

"The Sentinel" is an unassuming thriller, a nifty piece of genre filmmaking without frills or self-importance. It's a throwback, if you will, to the days of B pictures, when formula movies were made with a maximum of skill and a minimum of pretense.

'Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul'

August 18, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul'

It's not the expected thing for a documentary on Turkish music to open with a quote from Confucius, but that is not the only fascinating surprise that "Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul" has to offer.

'Night Watch'

February 17, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Night Watch'

"As long as humanity has existed," the somber voice intones, "there have been Others among us: witches, sorcerers, shape-shifters." And for as long as the movies have existed, they have cashed in on human curiosity about just what those Others might be up to.

April 14, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Mountain Patrol: Kekexili'

Kekexili is more than one of the most remote and starkly beautiful locations on Earth. It's a place with a spirit of its own, a spirit that's been infused into the strong and gritty Chinese import "Mountain Patrol: Kekexili." About four miles high on the Tibetan plateau, Kekexili is so remote and inhospitable, someone says, that "each step you take might be the first human footprints since the world began."

'Duck Season'

March 10, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Duck Season'

Sometimes a film about nothing can be a film about everything; a film without overwhelmingly dramatic events can delight you more than an outsized epic. The sly and disarming "Duck Season" is such a film.

'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby'

August 4, 2006

MOVIE REVIEWS

'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby'

"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is a bit of a mess, but it is a genial mess, and one that will make you laugh. Which is the whole idea.

'The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift'

June 16, 2006

MOVIES REVIEW

'The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift'

As of today "Cars" is not the only automotive movie in town. "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" has motored onto screens everywhere, and it is a whole different box of gears. Sort of.

'Inside Man'

March 24, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Inside Man'

What's going down inside Manhattan Trust's Wall Street branch may or may not be the usual bank robbery, but "Inside Man," the crime drama that details those nefarious doings, is careful to keep its distance from your standard heist movie.

May 12, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Army of Shadows'

Indifferently received when it debuted in France, never before theatrically released in the United States, Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 "Army of Shadows" stands revealed as a classic film that a trick of fate has made as relevant now as when it was made.

'Sir! No Sir!'

May 5, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Sir! No Sir!'

"Sir! No Sir!" is a powerful documentary that uncovers half-forgotten history, history that is still relevant but not in ways you might be expecting.

'The Syrian Bride'

April 21, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Syrian Bride'

The situation in the Middle East, it's been said, is such a confounding Gordian knot that its demands for justice exceed the human capacity to administer justice. No film demonstrates that dilemma better than the expressive "The Syrian Bride," a wedding narrative laced with more Kafkaesque moments than romantic joy.

'Our Brand Is Crisis'

April 14, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Our Brand Is Crisis'

Unlikely as it sounds, a documentary that details with jaw-dropping candor how contemporary political campaigning works at the highest levels of government is set not in this country but in the far-off reaches of Bolivia. Yet the implications of "Our Brand Is Crisis" for how things go down in the United States — and elsewhere — are inescapable.

'The Notorious Bettie Page'

April 14, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Notorious Bettie Page'

Bettie Page was neither the alpha nor the omega of pinup posing, she didn't do it first or last, but no one before or since has brought the same kind of incandescent delight to the job of being photographed in bathing suits, bondage apparatus or nothing at all. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the new film about her life and times, "The Notorious Bettie Page," is so completely glum, joyless and devoid of emotion.

April 7, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Fallen Idol'

FOR a brief but dazzling three-year period, from 1947 through 1949, Carol Reed was the director to beat in the English-speaking world. Two films of that period, "Odd Man Out" and "The Third Man," have been widely admired, but the third, 1948's "The Fallen Idol," has been more difficult to experience.

'Dave Chappelle's Block Party'

March 3, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Dave Chappelle's Block Party'

For comedian Dave Chappelle, the lure of the lively show that is the centerpiece of "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" was a chance to hear music he loved. "It's a dream come true, the concert I've always wanted to see," he says. For audiences, however, the major lure is Chappelle himself.

'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'

November 17, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'

With the fantasy kicked up a notch and a new director, Harry Potter catches 'Fire.'It's taken them long enough, but the movies have finally gotten Harry Potter right. Despite the reported $2.7 billion earned by the series' three previous attempts, it's not until "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" that a film has successfully re-created the sense of stirring magical adventure and engaged, edge-of-your-seat excitement that has made the books such an international phenomenon.

'Darwin's Nightmare'

February 10, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Darwin's Nightmare'

"Darwin's Nightmare" starts slowly, hypnotically, like a cobra with all the time in the world to strike. It immerses you in its reality one toe at a time, until suddenly you are in over your head, gasping for air as the horror of the situation reveals itself in all its savage devastation.

'Akeelah and the Bee'

April 28, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Akeelah and the Bee'

"Akeelah and the Bee" is a genuinely sweet and determinedly inspirational family film that features a charming young actress in the title role. It's a successful feel-good movie, but it would make you feel even better if it didn't push quite so hard for its desired effects.

'Howl's Moving Castle'

June 10, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Howl's Moving Castle'

Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki creates a visually breathtaking fantasy world with 'Howl's Moving Castle.' We hear it before we see it, moving ponderously with heavy, thudding steps: Something big is coming our way. Clanging, banging, wheezing, it's something magical and indescribable, something only Hayao Miyazaki, the great genius of today's golden age of animation, could put on the screen.

'In Cold Blood'

March 3, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'In Cold Blood'

Multiple Oscar nominee "Capote" is not the only film to pivot around the 1959 rural Kansas killings of wealthy wheat farmer Herbert Clutter and his family.

February 24, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'CSA: The Confederate States of America'

It begins like a standard TV spot for an insurance company, something you might see on a Super Bowl telecast, with soothing words about how "a man fills many roles in his lifetime." Except the company, "Confederated Life," doesn't sound familiar. And the closing section will not be playing on anyone's home screen anytime soon.

Some real eye-openers

July 20, 2006

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Some real eye-openers

The UCLA Film & Television Archive's Festival of Preservation is at it again. Taking over the James Bridges Theater in the campus' Melnitz Hall today through Aug. 19, the 13th preservation event is once more showing the widest and most exciting variety of films of any festival in the known world, running the gamut from Victor Mature's unmistakable grunts in "One Million B.C." to the experimental efforts of elegant aesthetician Kenneth Anger.

'Thank You for Smoking'

March 17, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Thank You for Smoking'

If you haven't heard of Nick Naylor and aren't quite sure who Aaron Eckhart is, "Thank You for Smoking" is going to change both situations once and for all.

'L'Enfant'

March 24, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'L'Enfant'

For 20-year-old Bruno, everything is fungible, negotiable, for sale. He's got the morals of a sneak thief, because that's what he is. Do you like his favorite hat? It's yours, for a price. A hustler and panhandler, living fecklessly in the moment on the streets of a Belgian industrial town, he mocks those who have regular jobs and simply does whatever comes to hand.

March 10, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Trudell'

"Trudell" makes you sad two times over. First because of the tragic things that have happened to the documentary's subject, Native American poet and activist John Trudell. Second because there is a better documentary on the man's life than this film is in a position to deliver.

'Firewall'

February 10, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Firewall'

Just as gardeners keep a fond eye out for the first hardy crocuses of spring, so film people are always eager for the year's first major Hollywood film, the one with the star big enough to plaster on bus stop kiosks all over town. It's a tough job, and Harrison Ford in "Firewall" has it this year.

'Neil Young: Heart of Gold'

February 10, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Neil Young: Heart of Gold'

"Neil Young: Heart of Gold" is a concert film and something more. It's the record of a life, a musical and spiritual autobiography, and as directed by Jonathan Demme it taps into the kind of unashamed, unsentimental emotion that's become increasingly rare in films of any kind.

'The Devil and Daniel Johnston'

March 31, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Devil and Daniel Johnston'

If you're already a fan of cult musician Daniel Johnston, you've been counting the days until the arrival of the new documentary on the man and his life, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston." If you're not a fan, you're going to wonder what the fuss is about.

'Jarhead'

November 4, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Jarhead'

What keeps a well-made film from achieving greatness? How does a motion picture with impressive parts end up a less than compelling whole? When the film is as strong in its elements as "Jarhead," no single factor is strong enough to do the fatal damage. Rather, an intricate web of interlocking reasons undermines the structure from within without anyone noticing what is happening.

'Munich'

December 23, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Munich'

"Munich" is no small thing. No film by Steven Spielberg ever is, but even for this avatar of Hollywood filmmaking this is something apart, the most questioning, provocative film he's ever made.

February 10, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Darwin's Nightmare'

"Darwin's Nightmare" starts slowly, hypnotically, like a cobra with all the time in the world to strike. It immerses you in its reality one toe at a time, until suddenly you are in over your head, gasping for air as the horror of the situation reveals itself in all its savage devastation.

'A Good Woman'

February 3, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'A Good Woman'

Oscar, is that you? And is that still your play?

February 24, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Sophie Scholl'

The very qualities we value most in life — decency, morality, heroism — are the hardest to convincingly put on screen. The more idealistic the actions, the less capable most films are of persuading us that flesh-and-blood human beings actually carried them out. Most films, however, do not have the great advantage of "Sophie Scholl — The Final Days."

January 20, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Boys of Baraka'

"The Boys of Baraka" is a moving, troubling documentary. Moving because of the nature of the problem it explores, troubling because the film can't help but underline that simple solutions are never going to present themselves, no matter how much we want them to. And we want them to very much.

'The Family Stone'

December 16, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Family Stone'

Hollywood is always making family comedies, but they are rarely about real families: relations who are as difficult as they are wonderful, people who both love and irritate the heck out of each other. Families like "The Family Stone."

'Brokeback Mountain'

December 9, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Brokeback Mountain'

"Brokeback Mountain" is a groundbreaking film because it isn't. It's a deeply felt, emotional love story that deals with the uncharted, mysterious ways of the human heart just as so many mainstream films have before it. The two lovers here just happen to be men.

'Syriana'

November 23, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Syriana'

"Syriana" is a film of paradoxes, contradictions and complications. It's a political thriller that thrives on misdirection, on hiding information just as it hides glamorous George Clooney behind a rumpled exterior and a full beard. Even its title is a puzzler: The meaning is critical, but no one on screen so much as says the word let alone explains it.

'Fun With Dick & Jane'

December 21, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Fun With Dick & Jane'

"Fun With Dick & Jane" plays like the setup for a movie that never materializes. It has all the elements for a successful comedy, but once the premise is presented, the film doesn't know how to deliver on its promise. That doesn't mean there is no fun in "Fun." With gifted professionals like Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni in the starring roles, a script co-written by Judd Apatow ("The 40 Year-Old Virgin") and direction by Dean Parisot ("Galaxy Quest"), it would have to have amusing moments, and it does.

January 27, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'William Eggleston in the Real World'

"William Eggleston in the Real World" is a look at an artist by an artist, and that is the heart of its success. Narrated, photographed and directed by Michael Almereyda, it is an elegantly discursive examination of one of the great modern photographers, a surprisingly intimate portrait of an elusive, laconic man.

January 6, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Classe Tous Risques'

To come across "Classe Tous Risques" is like discovering a bottle of marvelous French wine you didn't remember you had, opening it and finding it every bit as delicious as its reputation promised. That's how good this classic fatalistic French gangster film is.

'Mrs. Henderson Presents'

December 9, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Mrs. Henderson Presents'

Just as there will always be an England, there will always be a certain kind of English film: the highly polished entertainment, well-acted, genteelly amusing and impeccably turned out.

'Mr. & Mrs. Smith'

June 10, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Mr. & Mrs. Smith'

Marriages, even the happy ones, can sometimes feel like combat zones.

'Good Night, and Good Luck'

October 7, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'Good Night, and Good Luck'

"Good Night, and Good Luck" couldn't be more unlikely, more unfashionable — or more compelling. Everything about it — its look, its style, even its sound — stands in stark opposition to the trends of the moment. Yet by sticking to events that are half a century old, it tells a story whose implications for today are inescapable.

'The Libertine'

November 25, 2005

MOVIE REVIEW

'The Libertine'

If you don't know what a libertine is, you could look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary ("a man who is not restrained by morality, esp. in sexual relations") or watch Johnny Depp live the definition in "The Libertine." Believe it or not, you're better off with the OED.

January 13, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW

'Tristan and Isolde'

Love stories come and go, but few have the durability of "Tristan and Isolde." Everyone from German Richard Wagner to Briton Richard Burton (who starred in a 1981 version called "Lovespell") have been fascinated by this Dark Ages tale of star-crossed passion and devotion that would not die.

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