We all have bad days, but for Driver (Gibson) his day is really taking the biscuit. It's not all bad; he's just made off with a big haul worth millions, something that would be able to secure that nice summer vacation he's been after for a while, however after the haul things begin to head south - literally!
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John Crowley (Fraser) is a manager at a pharmaceutical company who hears about the innovative theories of Dr Robert Stonehill (Ford) for the treatment of Pompe Disease, a variation on muscular dystrophy. John and his wife Aileen (Russell) have two wheelchair-bound children (Droeger and Velazquez) with the condition, plus an older son (Hall) without it. So they all have a special interest in Stonehill's work. But the eccentric doctor isn't so easy to get on board, mainly because he needs a lot of money to continue his research.
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Our narrator, who calls himself X (Derek Magyar), is a smoldering 25-year-old Seattleite who maintains a roster of one dozen high-end clients. Deeply cynical and totally self-aware, he does the job ("It's the only thing I'm good at," he says) and banks the money while fully understanding that his work has damaged his ability to have relationships, since relationships demand feelings and reciprocity.
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David Fincher directs this long-awaited follow-up to his groundbreaking Fight Club, with Jodie Foster in her first lead role since 1999's Anna and the King. The story is deceptively simple: Imminent divorcee Meg (Foster) is gaining a boatload of a settlement and, with her bratty, diabetic daughter Sarah (newcomer Kristen Stewart), decides to buy a cavernous, four-story brownstone in Manhattan's upper west side. The night they move in, three burglars pay a visit, searching for an alleged $3 million hidden somewhere in the house. Meg and Sarah hightail it to the secret "panic room," an impenetrable safe room off the master bedroom - only to learn that the money is secreted inside the panic room as well. A game of cat and mouse ensues - only the mice are definitively trapped in one tiny room.
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Secretary explodes with juicy innuendo, even from its opening moments. An extending establishing shot plays against mischievously sensual music as a woman seductively strolls through a business office performing secretarial duties. She approaches a desk, staples a few papers, pours fresh coffee into a mug, and then returns to her employer. Sounds ordinary, except that she does these things while locked inside a weird S&M device.
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Ever since Breaking the Waves, von Trier has been imposing his own self-made limitations on his movies with varying levels of success. Indeed, he comes off in The Five Obstructions as the bad guy, a carefully cultivated image that's more annoying because it's so calculated. Von Trier's sadistic glee is the least interesting part of Obstructions, and Leth is the more compelling subject: an artist grappling with the art of making movies. When faced with the first obstruction-- where no clip must last more than 12 frames, the movie must be shot in Cuba, the questions posed by Leth's experimental short must be answered, and so on -- Leth creates a vivid, collage-poem where the 12 frame structure creates beautiful, dreamlike swirls of movement and daring editing jumps. When faced with Leth's stunning and beautiful completed work, von Trier seethes in mock exasperation: "The 12 frames were a gift!"
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For most people "Secretary" may be a "love it" or "hate it" movie. Let's face it -- a dark, quirky, sado-masochistic romantic comedy isn't for everyone. But for me it wasn't the subject matter that ultimately defeated the film's captivating performances and absorbingly twisted story. It was the unfulfilling, incongruous, "wait a second, did I miss something?" ending that confirmed what I suspected all along: "Secretary" only has one-half of a story arc.
The enticing Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of Jake and his co-star in "Donnie Darko") gives a deeply immersed, credibly transitional performance as Lee Holloway, a fragile, frumpy, habitually self-mutilating psychiatric patient recently released from a mental hospital.
Back home with her drunken father and clingy, angry, victimized mother, she quickly slips into compulsive old patterns of self-abuse (she has a homemade kit full of drill bits and porcelain ballerinas with sharpened toes she digs into her thighs). But all that begins to change when she lands a secretarial job in the opulently 1970s-styled office of peculiar, soft-spoken E. Edward Gray (James Spader) -- a lawyer with an erratic temper and kinky peccadilloes.
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