Movie Reviews

Oscar-nominated `A Separation' probes social and religious oppression in Iran

Now that American and Israeli hawks are prepping us for a new war, against Iran, it might be a good time to gain a little insight into the people they want us to attack -- however Satanic we think their religious verses are.

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'This Means War': A covert battle for Reese's pieces

It's hard to think outside the box -- the box being television -- when you've made hundreds of millions of dollars inside it.

That is the financial subtext of today's homily and of director McG's approach to making movies like "This Means War," a romcom hybrid starring Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. Mr. Pine plays Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foster -- naturally aka FDR -- a "cruise ship captain." Mr. Hardy plays Tuck, a "travel agent."

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Live-action shorts best among Oscar nominees

From Renaissance cameos to cinematic ones, the art of the miniature is a many-splendored thing. Shorts in film -- as in underwear -- are expected to contain something animated or organically active. Normally, the animation is more exciting than the live-action entries, but this year it's the opposite: The cartoons are disappointing, but all five of the live entries are good -- three of them, downright brilliant.

The 2012 Oscar mini-nominees for Best Live-Action Short Film are ...

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'Dangerous Method' analyzes the twisted psychoanalytic trio of Freud, Jung and Spielrein

John Huston's "Freud," with Montgomery Clift in the title role, was underrated by the critics and under-respected by the college freshmen with whom I saw it in the mid-1960s. During the scene where Monty gives Susannah York a sexy new negligee, one wise guy shouted out, "Hey, it's a Freudian slip!"

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Glenn Close is superb in gender-bending 'Albert Nobbs'

Glenn or Glenda?

The answer in 19th-century Ireland echoes that of 21st-century America: It's about jobs, stupid!

Albert Nobbs has a painfully constricting one as butler-waiter-valet in a Dublin hotel, whose pretentious proprietress is always on the lookout and ready to dismiss her staffers for any real or imagined infraction. But she has no need to worry about Albert. He is ultra-meticulous, by inclination and necessity.

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'Tomboy': French gender-bender coming-of-age story in 'Mockingbird' tradition

Now that the Thanksgiving and Christmas-Hanukkah seasons are behind us, the cross-dressing season is upon us and our movie screens. The big-budget Anglo-American entry -- "Albert Nobbs," with Glenn Close -- opens next week.

The subtler little French one is "Tomboy," opening Friday. Its titular heroine is 10-year-old Laure (Zoe Heran), whose family has just moved to a new home and life in the suburbs. How to fit in and find new friends there during the summer break before school starts?

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'The Mill' explores Bruegel's Passion of Christ

Charlotte Rampling as Mary in "The Mill and the Cross."

Virtuoso Polish director Lech Majewski's "The Mill and the Cross" is a moving picture in three senses: It gives motion to a 16th-century oil painting. It translates the artist's unique storytelling technique from canvas to cinema. And the resultant narrative cannot fail to move its viewers viscerally.

Which is not to say it's easy viewing ... or reviewing. But it is perhaps the most extraordinary visual experience of this fiscal-filmic year.

The canvas we literally enter and inhabit here is "The Way to Calvary," by Pieter Bruegel (1525-69), the Flemish Renaissance master of landscapes and peasant genre scenes. His potent subject is Christ's Passion, set "locally" during the brutal Spanish occupation of the Low Countries. The Reformation was then flourishing in Flanders, and Catholic inquisitor forces pursued Protestants with a vengeance: Male heretics were executed by sword or torture; female heretics were buried alive.

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Robert Downey Jr.'s manic manifestation of Holmes continues in 'Game of Shadows'

The anarchists are coming, the anarchists are coming! All across 1890s Europe, bombings and assassinations are stirring up a new industrial-strength war between Germany and France for the fun and profit of evil international munitions makers. Looks like a job for -- Sleuth-Man.

Anarchy characterizes the medium as much as the message in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," the frenetic sequel to director Guy Ritchie's frenetic 2009 entry, with Robert Downey Jr. reprising his eccentric incarnation of the world's greatest forensic freelancer on steroids.

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'Skin I Live In' peels perverse layers of sex, obsession and revenge

Snakes have had a bad rap ever since the Book of Genesis hit the stands. Do one bad thing, and suddenly you're the eternal embodiment of evil, with the creepy ability to shed and replace your skin. When Flesh and the Devil are so intertwined, in and out of the Garden of Eden, that's a highly useful skill. Humans don't come by it naturally. They need the help of a very good plastic surgeon -- or a very malevolent one.

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Scorsese's 3-D 'Hugo' a visual tour de force

Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz in "Hugo."

Leave it to Martin Scorsese to redeem the wretched excess of 3-D. Unlike James Cameron's "Avatar," "Hugo" is not a bloated 3-D spectacle. It is, rather, the first movie to integrate the spectacular 3-D device naturally into the telling of a beautiful story.

It must be nice to be Mr. Scorsese at this point in his legendary career -- to be able to do what you want. And it's correspondingly nice to be his audience.

What Mr. Scorsese wants nowadays in general -- with "Hugo" in particular -- is to celebrate the history and magic of film itself. He found a perfect vehicle to do so in author-artist Brian Selznick's 2007 book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," whose elaborately detailed illustrations served as a ready-made storyboard for the film.

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