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The Times of Harvey Milk

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

The ragged, powerful documentary The Times of Harvey Milk captures the beloved spirit and energy of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk who was shot down and killed in 1978 -- along with mayor George Moscone -- by fellow supervisor Dan White. Astonishingly, thanks to the infamous "Twinkie Defense" -- in which he blamed his depression on too much junk food -- White was only convicted of manslaughter and served just five and a half years in prison.

Though the film will probably mean more to San Francisco residents like myself, and to gay people everywhere, it's more than that. It's a classic document about hatred and bravery that is still essential today -- if not more so. However, thanks to the success of Gus Van Sant's biopic Milk (2008), perhaps more people will turn to this earlier film for more details.

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New and Coming Releases: March 29, 2011.

This has to be one of the more loaded DVD releases of the year so far. From Black Swan (for which Natalie Portman won an Oscar) to two connected releases from Criterion, from Disney to Dagenham, Mesrine to Nawlins, Spring has sprung.

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Reviewer: Glenn Heath Jr.
Rating (out of 5): ****½

Mike Leigh's rapturous Topsy-Turvy, now on a lovely new DVD from Criterion (supervised by cinematographer Dick Pope), isn't so much an argument against auteurism, but a concurrence for the beauty of collaboration. Over the course of the sweeping multi-character narrative, Leigh mixes performance, practice, and discourse with effortless precision, showing the "symptoms of fatigue" concerning the artistic process, but also the power of sudden inspiration.

W.S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent), Sir Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner), the troupe of actors led by Richard Temple (Timothy Spall), the costume designers, set decorators, choreographers, producers, and couriers all make a substantial impact on the gloriously textural production of "The Mikado", yet no one artist can claim sole ownership. Leigh's methodical pre-production methodologies (often made up of months of rehearsals) literally appear in front of the camera, and avenues of disappointment and possibility seem organically woven into the mise-en-scene.

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No One Knows About Persian Cats

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

In the spring of 2010 Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi received a quick, two-day retrospective, via the Film Society of Lincoln Center, of his five previous films in preparation for the theatrical opening of his latest, No One Knows About Persian Cats. While it’s taken nearly a full year to get that film onto DVD, the wait proves worth it.

It's an odd thing, initially, to see Ghobadi working in the big city because all his other films (A Time for Drunken Horses, Marooned in Iraq, Turtles Can Fly and Half Moon) have taken place in, around or between remote villages. And his urban Iran seems nothing like that we've seen from Majid Majidi in The Song of Sparrows or in any of the many films of Abbas Kiarostami. This is a home to a younger, music-oriented crowd, who spends their lives not, unfortunately, making music but simply trying to make it, given the prescriptive government restrictions on just about everything.

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Waste Land

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***½

This year has been packed with documentaries about art and about the environment, but the Oscar-nominated Waste Land manages to take on both topics comfortably, without preaching, and with a positive outlook besides. Lucy Walker's film is inspirational without seeming self-righteous, moving without being hackneyed.

It begins as the well-established Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz decides on his newest project. He goes to Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest garbage pile near Rio de Janeiro; there, he meets a handful of pickers, people who work on the garbage heap, pulling out recyclable materials. They each have amusing/disturbing stories of the things they have found. Stunning footage shows huge trucks dumping fresh piles of garbage and the pickers poised and ready to start rummaging before the junk has even settled; they often look as if they're about to be buried.

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

Hereafter, the new Clint Eastwood film about near-death experience, life after death and love in the here-and-now, may be a lot of hooey, but it’s hooey done right: moment to moment, performance by performance, with precision and grace. Apparently, my opinion of the film goes against that of much of the critical establishment, not to mention the general populace, who, if it didn’t exactly ignore the film, certainly did not send its box-office reeling. Yet this unusually-themed, for Eastwood, movie bests the filmmaker’s heavy-handed Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino via its surprising delicacy -- never more so than when dealing with one-on-one moments. Perhaps this auteur’s choice of subject matter -- less “macho” than most of his movies -- put off his fan base, and that's too bad.

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Tom McCarthy: Win Winning

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though the multitalented Tom McCarthy, 45, made his acting debut in Mike Binder's Crossing the Bridge (1992), the nineties gave him very little follow-up work. But in the 2000s things began to happen for him, including small parts in movies like Meet the Parents (2000), The Guru (2002), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Syriana (2005), and Flags of Our Fathers (2006). However, McCarthy answered his true calling when he was able to write and direct his first film, The Station Agent (2003).

That film may have seemed on the surface a slight, indie comedy, but had subtle depth of character in addition to sharp writing, clever casting, and strong performances, and it was a modest success story. The same thing happened with McCarthy's second film, The Visitor (2008), which still serves as a model for cross-cultural Hollywood tales. An achingly good Richard Jenkins earned an Oscar nomination for his lead performance. McCarthy himself earned an Oscar nomination the following year for contributing to the screenplay of Pixar's Up (2009). Now comes McCarthy's third movie, Win Win (opening today in select theaters), which is a good deal messier, but perhaps even deeper than his previous works.

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The Wildest Dream

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

Within the first decades of the 20th Century, Earth was becoming a smaller place. Most of the planet's surface had been mapped and the poles had been successfully reached. Only one natural superlative remained in defiance of man's despoilment: Earth's highest peak, Tibet's Mt. Chomolungma, known more familiarly in the West as Mt. Everest.

Anthony Geffen's film The Wildest Dream, released as an IMAX spectacular via National Geographic's theatrical imprint, documents the doomed 1924 conquest of Everest by British mountaineer George Mallory. Mallory's story dovetails into American climber Conrad Anker's modern attempt to reach Everest's summit using Mallory's route.

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New and Coming Releases: March 15, 2011.


A nice assortment of titles on DVD this week, including a subtle but heartbreaking film from Iran, a mighty mountain, Clint Eastwood getting metaphysical, a film scrappy boxer (with Oscar-winning performances), an Oscar nom'd doc and more. Check it out.

Continue Reading New and Coming Releases: March 15, 2011.

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Tamara Drewe

Reviewer: Glenn Heath, Jr.
Rating (out of 5): ***

Glazed in a dusty yellow sheen, Stephen FrearsTamara Drewe, based on Posy Simmonds' comic strip, coyly dances around a well-traveled idea: the grass is always greener on the other side. At first, this breeds comedic situations through rampant miscommunication, as deeply unhappy souls yearn for a romantic or economic situation that will produce inspiration. Eventually, these small self-deceptions turn grotesque. Tamara Drewe's collective of off-kilter characters, some purposefully and others regrettably rooted in the small English town of Ewedown, watch romantic relationships unfold from a distance, judging them with a selfish desire for tragedy that will benefit their own needs. Through their outside gaze, we feel the power of gossip and mischief mold the narrative. Perspective is everything for Frears, and often his characters see only what they want to see.

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