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December 06, 2013

Movies You Missed & More: Stories We Tell

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 12.58.54 PMThis week in movies you missed: A movie star airs her family's dirty laundry on film.

Thing is, the star in question is Canadian — not to mention the talented director of Away From Her and Take This Waltz. So Sarah Polley's documentary is considerably more tasteful and thoughtful than my initial description makes it sound.

What You Missed

A young woman ushers an older man into a recording studio and asks him to read a lengthy narrative he's prepared. We soon learn this is Polley and her dad, British-born actor Michael Polley. Most of the other interviewees we see her settling in front of the camera are members or friends of her Toronto family, too.

These interviewees begin to talk — mostly about Diane Polley, the director's deceased mother. A gorgeous, vivacious, larger-than-life woman, Diane made headlines in the '60s, when she and Michael appeared together on stage. We see her in real Super 8 footage, and then recreated in fake Super 8 footage by actress Rebecca Jenkins. Meanwhile, the interviews begin to hint at a family secret to be revealed.

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November 29, 2013

Movies You Missed & More: Computer Chess

569This week in movies you missed: It's 1980 all over again in this period piece from mumblecore mainstay Andrew Bujalski, who shot it on vintage black-and-white analog video for a painfully authentic look.

What You Missed

Programmers from the nation's top tech schools have converged on an unassuming hotel for their annual computer-chess tournament, in which the computers play each other.

The winner gets to square off with a self-satisfied human chess master (played by film critic Gerald Peary) who has made a bet that no computer will best him for a decade. (In fact, it took until 1997 for IBM's Big Blue to score a fairly decisive victory over a human chess master.)

Meanwhile, a '70s-style encounter group composed of middle-aged couples roams the halls, trying to enlist some of the nerds for birthing rituals and swingin' sex. Grad student Peter (Patrick Riester) despairs of his software, which appears to be trying to commit suicide rather than beat its opponents. Mysterious freelance programmer Mike Papageorge (Myles Paige) can't find a room. And all the programmers are bemused and fascinated by the sole female geek in their midst (Robin Schwartz).

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November 22, 2013

Movies You Missed & More: Only God Forgives

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 11.31.04 PMThis week in movies you missed: Ryan Gosling and Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, together again. To little purpose.

What You Missed

Brothers Julian and Billy (Gosling and Tom Burke) are drug smugglers who run a fight club in Bangkok. One night, Billy employs and murders a 16-year-old hooker. As the boys' mom (Kristin Scott Thomas) says when she shows up, "I'm sure he had his reasons."

The nature of those reasons is moot, because Billy quickly falls victim to vengeance engineered by a cop (Vithaya Pansringarm) with a sharp blade, a fine singing voice and strong notions of right and wrong.

Julian wants to let the matter rest there, given that Billy was kinda indisputably a dick, but Mom is having none of it. She taunts him with insults to his manhood until he reluctantly agrees to seek counter-vengeance. Big mistake.

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November 15, 2013

Movies You Missed & More: The Achievers: The Story of Lebowski Fans

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.37.28 AMThis week in movies you missed: This very night, Seven Days is calling all Achievers to a party at Champlain Lanes called the Big LeBOWLski.

In honor of the event, I watched this 2009 documentary about The Big Lebowski fan phenomenon.

What You Missed

In 1998, Joel and Ethan Coen put out a movie called The Big Lebowski, a shaggy-dog story involving crime, bowling, White Russians and rugs that really pull the room together. It was not one of their hits.

Over the years, certain people discovered The Big Lebowski on video and started quoting it. Obsessively. They found one another on internet forums and began calling themselves "Achievers," after the "Little Lebowski Urban Achievers" briefly referenced in the movie. They got together at bowling alleys to celebrate their fandom like a more mellow version of Trekkies.

So was born the first Lebowski Fest, in Louisville, Ky., in 2002. Today, it happens all over the nation and the world. Eddie Chung's documentary takes us to several Lebowski Fests, including an LA event where star Jeff Bridges showed up to perform and mingle with fans (wearing his jellies, of course).

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November 08, 2013

Movies You Missed & More: The Playroom

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 2.50.18 PMThis week in movies you missed: Two "Deadwood" stars play parents too busy finding themselves to notice their kids in this drama set in 1975.

What You Missed

Teenage Maggie Cantwell (Olivia Harris, pictured right) and her three younger siblings return home from school to find their parents' suburban living room full of liquor glasses and party detritus — a mess they tidy without comment. Said parents are nowhere to be found.

Mom (Molly Parker, left) eventually arrives while Maggie is attempting to lose her virginity in the garage. Things just get more awkward from there, as Mom swills drink after drink at dinner, banishes the kids upstairs, and flirts with a married neighbor (Jonathan Brooks) as her husband (John Hawkes) looks on.

Meanwhile, upstairs in their attic playroom, the kids build imaginary worlds insulated from the turmoil. Maggie, on the cusp of adulthood, vacillates between her loyalty to her siblings and her urge to escape.

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November 06, 2013

R.I.P. Vermont Filmmaker Ed Pincus

Edb&w2UPDATE 11/8: Here is Ed Pincus' obituary in the New York Times.

We've received reports that Vermont filmmaker Ed Pincus passed away yesterday.

Pincus spent decades farming in Roxbury, Vt., but his renown as a documentarian of the '60s and '70s is national. His film Diaries (1982) helped kick off the trend of personal documentaries that continued in later years with Ross McElwee and prefigured the YouTube generation.

Pincus founded MIT's Film Section and coauthored The Filmmaker's Handbook, a standard text for generations of aspiring filmmakers. In 2012, when the Film Society of Lincoln Center did a retrospective of his work, Tom Roston of PBS compared him to such documentary giants as D.A. Pennebaker, Frederick Wiseman and the Maysles brothers.

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November 01, 2013

Movies You Missed & More: Of Dolls & Murder

OfDollsandMurder3This week in movies you missed: Elaborate tiny doll abodes are just so adorable. But wait, what's that blood spatter doing on the wall? Why are all the inhabitants of this miniature home ... dead?

What You Missed

In the 1930s, a Chicago heiress named Frances Glessner Lee began creating a series of intricate miniatures. This was no idle rich lady's hobby — it was a key step in the development of forensic science.

Lee, a Sherlock Holmes fan with a passion for criminal justice, crafted the 18 Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death as a teaching tool for homicide investigators. Each diorama presents an ambiguous death (or deaths) and is designed to test the observer's ability to follow clues methodically to a deduction. The Maryland Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore, where the Nutshell Studies now reside, still uses them to educate officers.

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October 30, 2013

Magical Moving Halloweeny Images at Stowe's Helen Day Art Center

Magic-lanternHalloween doesn't have to be about costumed ghouls and overloading on high-fructose corn syrup. For the artistically curious, Helen Day Art Center in Stowe is offering, on Halloween night, a visual smorgasbord of short films, accompanied by an original score by DJ Ikail del Toro. 

The second annual Magic Lantern Show Art Film Festival evokes the bygone tradition of magic lantern shows, which were an important precursor to cinema. The original magic lantern shows, which date back several hundred years, were often put on by itinerant impresarios, who would project light through fanciful, painted glass plates while providing an early form of voice-over narration. 

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October 25, 2013

Movies You Missed & More: The Pact

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 11.50.24 AMThis week in movies you missed: In honor of Halloween, I go looking for a scary movie that scares me.

First contender: The Conjuring (just released on video). The first hour was genuinely disturbing, and I wouldn't give it one star. But once they started explaining everything with hokey backstory, my chills evaporated.

Second contender: a super-low-budget indie called Resolution about a dude who chains his buddy up in a Cabin in the Woods to force him to shake a meth addiction. The few critics who saw it, liked it. The concept was interesting, but I didn't find it scary for a second and had trouble staying awake.

Luckily, the third time was the charm. Returning to the deep and indiscriminate well of Netflix Instant horror, I discovered The Pact.

What You Missed

Young mom Nichole (Agnes Bruckner) is alone in her childhood home preparing for her mother's funeral. She's Skyping with her kid when something odd happens. "Mommy," the little girl asks, "who's that person behind you?"

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October 15, 2013

A Movie Not to Miss: The Act of Killing

TAOK_MakeupWhen people commit mass murder, they get locked up. Or maybe they evade prosecution, in which case they keep a low profile for the rest of their lives. When reporters come around with cameras and ask them about the massacre, they say, "I wasn't there" or "No comment."


Not always. In the documentary The Act of Killing, we enter a place where mass murderers are still wealthy, respected, supported by the ruling regime. They don't just confess to their crimes. They boast of them. With help from a film crew, they re-enact incidents of torture and murder using costumes, fake blood, music and cheesy Hollywood clichés.

It may be the most surreal and disturbing thing you've ever seen on screen. It's certainly the most powerful movie I've seen this year.

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