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Religulous Review


Excellent
Ponder this: Christians and Muslims embrace two competing, ancient fairy tales that both end with the glorious destruction of the world, except for exclusive alternate endings for believers. And the people who currently have the greatest power to destroy the world are Christians and Muslims, whether by nuclear bomb or environmental neglect. Therefore, prophecy is destined to fulfill itself, unless people come to their senses and recognize religion for the poison it is.

Offended? Terrified? Whether you're a Sunday School regular or a godless intellectual, you're certain to find Bill Maher's anti-religion polemic Religulous to be a provocative, brilliant, infuriating documentary. It's one part Bowling for Columbine, one part An Inconvenient Truth, built upon a base of sneering mockery.

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Right at Your Door Review


Weak
Though the film version of 24 won't be released (reportedly) until 2009, its effect on cinema can be well felt in a film like Chris Gorak's Right at Your Door. As smoothly as any of the six terrorist attacks in Fox's hit program, three "dirty" bombs go off in Los Angeles, causing a slow-moving toxic snowfall of ash that barely obscures the view of the L.A. skyline bellowing smoke and flames.

Sadly, there's no Jack Bauer in this mini-apocalypse, but rather his antithesis: a stay-at-home husband/wanna-be rock guitarist named Brad, played by 1990s slacker incarnate Rory Cochrane. Furthermore, instead of finding the nearest gasmask and doing everything in his power to save his working wife Lexi (Mary McCormack), he bunkers up in their sloping-suburbs house with the next-door gardener (Tony Perez) and scotch-tapes every window, door, nook, cranny and crease the he can find. Then honey comes home: Contaminated.

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A Scanner Darkly Review


Grim

When Richard Linklater released Waking Life in 2001, he became the granddaddy of a whole new kind of filmmaking process. The film had been shot and edited like a normal feature, then sent to computer jocks who basically painted over each frame, giving the images a surreal quality of undulating colors that fell somewhere between photography and animation -- an acid-trip philosophy lesson.

Linklater returns to the same technique once again (and for the last time, from what he has said, due to rampant production difficulties) for a much more literal acid trip. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, A Scanner Darkly is a feature-length PSA on the evils of drugs and the potentially-as-damaging efforts to ferret them out of society.

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Requiem for a Dream Review


Terrible
[As a preface to Jeremiah's review of what will certainly become the most talked-about and overrated film of the year, I'd like to reiterate the extremely graphic and nauseating imagery -- to the point where many audience members find themselves physically sick -- that Requiem for a Dream relies on to tell its story. Jeremiah is absolutely right in his analysis that ultimately, the film has absolutely no message to give. It's all right there in the title: this is simply a 102-minute eulogy, mourning the death of a dream -- or rather four dreams -- of people trying to make something out of themselves and failing miserably at it. Aronofsky has style, but he's left it to the viewer to fill in the substance. That may be the kind of movie you want to see (unlike, say, Trainspotting), but you'll have to figure that out on your own. You'll also need to decide if nausea is an appropriate response to take away from any film. This critic gives Aronofsky points for sheer guts, but there's no excuse for avoiding a story. -Ed.]

Imagine Trainspotting without any trace of humor and you're on the right track. Picture Pasolini's Salo: 120 Days of Sodom shot by some MTV music video kid interested in the novelty of his new camera. Darren Aronofsky (Pi) stacks one degrading sight atop another without implicating the viewer, nor providing any framework or reference for his visual rape of his audience - all smoke and mirrors disguising a great, vapid emptiness.

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The Clearing Review


Good
There's tension in them there trees, and hopefully some cash for Fox Searchlight in the form of counter-programming. Surrounded by a sea of summer popcorn escapist vehicles, the rock-solid kidnapping thriller The Clearing feels like a frigid and somber snowball dropped into the heart of the Arabian Desert. We're typically not trained to accept weighty emotional dramas in the dog days of July, though when one this good rolls through, let's hope it has a better survival rate than said lump of frost.

The adult-oriented character piece delves headfirst into the natural landscapes of the Southeast - primarily Georgia and North Carolina - to hide the criminal wrongdoings of kidnapper Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) and his valuable target, Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford). While the men work their way to an undisclosed location in the woods, Clearing continues to focus on the consequent people affected by the impromptu abduction - from Wayne's wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), and their children (Alessandro Nivola, Melissa Sagemiller) to the businessman's mistress (Wendy Crewson).

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Waking Life Review


Essential
Today, most films are bloated, uninteresting, narrative-driven drivel, filled with beautiful people, a hit soundtrack, and closely following the storyline of some bestseller close enough so that it doesn't offend a legion of Oprah's Book Club readers. Waking Life is something altogether different, a work of abstract art that recalls Buñuel, Lynch, and Cocteau.

Most people will not understand Waking Life. Some will find it to be one of the most brilliant pieces of film ever produced. I found it to be beyond words; a combination of film, groundbreaking computer animation, and a difficult and profane script that produces a sublime interpretation of existence.

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Speed of Life Review


Terrible
When a movie opens with a scene of a naked Scott Caan bathing his character's also-naked invalid father (Leo Burmester), you know the Speed of Life is going to be pretty damn slow.

I don't know what else to make of this movie, another young-kid-can't-get-a-break flick, a kind of anti-coming of age story. Speed of Life features Drew (Caan) trying to care for dad, stricken with Alzheimer's. He's also enamored with a girl named Sarah (Mia Kirshner), a random street hussy who gets off on shooting guns, doing drugs, and having wild sex (as long as she is not required to get naked). Another friend is just trouble. And poor Drew just doesn't know what to do.

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The United States of Leland Review


Weak
In The United States of Leland, vaunted young actor Ryan Gosling ostensibly plays the mysterious title character, Leland P. Fitzgerald, a teenager facing a prison sentence for the murder of the mentally challenged younger brother of his ex-girlfriend Becky, but for the most part he's doing a passable Jake Gyllenhaal impression.

Maybe I've seen too many Gyllenhaal movies, but Leland's slightly hunched posture and quizzical facial expression, indicative of a familiar detached dreaminess, recalls indie prince Jake constantly, right down to the casting of go-to indie girlfriend Jena Malone as Becky (who acted alongside Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko). To be fair, I wasn't thinking of Gyllenhaal for every second Gosling was on screen. Sometimes I was musing over his unfortunate resemblance to Screech from TV's Saved by the Bell.

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