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Kes

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of 5): ****½

Poor 15 year-old Billy Caspar. His father is gone, his mother is distant, his brother is a bullying lush, and his schoolmaster has dubbed him inconsequential, another disposable member of "the generation that never listens." All that awaits Billy is to fail high school and join his peers over at the coal mine that functions as the only industry in the depressed Yorkshire hamlet Billy calls home.

But on one of Billy's frequent wanderings through the surrounding woods and farmlands, he discovers a young kestrel (the eponymous Kes). He endeavors to train the bird and, in the process, discovers a purpose outside of the brutal determinism governing his working class milieu. The above synopsis - boy escapes oppressive childhood via feathered friend - could easily devolve into cliché and treacle. However, with Kes, Ken Loach rose to the forefront of visionary, British social realist directors by turning a time worn tale into an indelible meditation on childhood and (naturally, this being Loach) class struggle.

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New and Coming Releases: April 19, 2011.

     

This is definitely one of those quality over quantity weeks for DVD releases, leaning heavily toward drama. But some excellent films, from the Oscar winner for Best Picture to an extraordinary classic British drama to Sofia Coppola to Nicole and Aaron and more. All this and some titles coming soon, within.

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Heartless

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Philip Ridley is back to theatrical movie-making after nearly fifteen years. In Heartless, he's come up with something so strange and frightening, marvelous and moving, apocalyptic and chilling -- and perhaps undecipherable (but you probably won't mind) -- that all I can say is: See it. (I’ve just seen it for a second time, and, yes, it’s still undecipherable, though I may be getting closer.) The man who made the cult movie The Reflecting Skin (sadly not on DVD) and who wrote The Krays (also not on DVD) is an artist, and I don't think that it's so much that he won't compromise his vision, as it is that he can't. Just as well, too -- when one’s visions are this original.

 

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I Love You Phillip Morris

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

 

"Even though, sometimes, I don't know who you are, I still love you."

These words, uttered by a sweet-like-you've-never-seen-him Ewan McGregor toward the conclusion of I Love You Phillip Morris, are so fitting, both for that moment and for the two characters who make up the lion's share of the movie -- and, in fact, for so many love relationships: Do we ever really know the one we profess to love? -- that they effectively sound the theme for this unusual, surprising film. So full of quirky truth is it that, on one level, the fact that its protagonists are gay is almost beside the point. This is the film love story of the year (last year's prize went to Wendy and Lucy, demonstrating, I think, that where movies are concerned, it's the love that counts rather than the type of lovers).

 

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White Material

Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Rating (out of 5): *****

Not even the gnarliest horror film has left me as haunted as White Material. The 2010 film by Claire Denis, a kind of specialist in themes of French colonization and its repercussions, is the work of a director at the top of her game. You can sense the deep craft on display because the unusual, even confusingly enigmatic construction of a narrative – which relies on extremely subtle flashbacks – makes the movie somehow more compelling. It's a kind of mystery, really, and one that unfolds without a scrap of assistance from its key persona, the indefatigable Maria (Isabelle Huppert), the manager of a coffee plantation in an African country that is about to boil over into civil war.

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Marwencol

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): ****

 

After nearly dying from a vicious attack that left him brain damaged, Mark Hogancamp had to learn to walk, talk and write again—only finding solace in the building of a small-scale WWII European village in his backyard. Named for this fictional, war-torn town, Marwencol is filmmaker Jeff Malmberg's four-year chronicle of Hogancamp's life and project, a film as much about the restoration of a human psyche as it is the story of an intricate art form rising out of tragedy.

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Casino Jack

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***

Casino Jack's ace-in-the-hole is Kevin Spacey, once more playing the cynical, snappy type of character he made so memorable in American Beauty. He's clearly enjoying every manic moment here, throwing in the occasional celebrity impression besides, and the screenplay by Norman Snider does a nice job of feeding his frenzy. There isn't much room for others in this kind of one-man show -- such as Kelly Preston, stuck in the sidecar playing Spacey's wife -- but Jon Lovitz gets in some nice moments as a sleazy, small-time hood.

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Made in Dagenham

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

With Saving Grace, Calendar Girls and now Made In Dagenham, director Nigel Cole proves that, with decent writing and a good cast, he can give us smart, topical, mainstream movies that will fill up American art cinemas -- at least briefly -- after which they will find their way to healthy ancillary profits. Cole's work gets better, film after film, and Dagenham is his strongest yet. This is a movie with a message that could hardly be more timely [see: Wisconsin]. Cole, and his team – including writer William Ivory, actress Sally Hawkins and an exceptionally fine ensemble, each of whom captures his/her character in delightful and very specific fashion -- takes us back to pre-Thatcher England, to an important piece of labor (and Labour Party) history and turn it into rabble-rousing life, even if that life is sometimes a tad too convenient.

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New and Coming Releases: April 5, 2011.

Both Tron films are out today, and that's just the start of an eclectic batch of releases - including a couple of under-released and underappreciated titles. All this, plus some of the cool titles coming soon, to be found within!

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Cool It

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

I hadn't heard of Bjorn Lomborg before I sat down to view Ondi Timoner's new documentary about Lomborg and his unorthodox but seemingly more intelligent (and probably infinitely more useful) approach to climate change and global warming than what we've been served up until now. Cool It is a smart title on several counts. It's swift and even a bit cute, while telling us not to get so worked up and apocalyptic about global warming and its results upon our tired and increasingly put-upon Mother Earth.

 

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