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Friday Film      

Review: Match Point

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Expectations have a lot to do with how any given movie is received. Just as a slightly stale muffin will taste reasonably good after a week-long diet of cold gruel, so critics are getting just a little overexcited about Woody Allen’s unexpectedly solid Match Point, the cynical tale of an ambitious tennis instructor (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who successfully ingratiates himself with one of England’s wealthiest families, then risks his newfound stature via a dalliance with his brother-in-law’s American hotcha gal (Scarlett Johansson). Essentially a gloss on Crime and Punishment, complete with multiple allusions to same, this is easily Allen’s best film since [blank], where [blank] depends on who you’re asking — I’d go back to 1999’s Sweet and Lowdown, but others have cited titles as ancient as Crimes and Misdemeanors, to which Match Point bears a significant family resemblance (Martin Landau half only).
    Most of Allen’s late films have begun with fine ideas but suffered from sloppy or halfhearted execution; here, he’s on top of his game throughout — it’s invigorating to be reminded of what a superlative storyteller he can be when he puts in a little effort — but in service of ideas that he’s already explored in greater depth. As someone who’d more or less given up hope of ever fully enjoying a Woody Allen film again, though, I’m not really of a mind to complain. The London setting seems to have kickstarted him somehow: His dialogue is sharper than it’s been in years, his actors (also including Brian Cox and Matthew Goode) less mannered, his plotting superb (one ingenious twist actually provoked a round of spontaneous applause at the film’s Cannes premiere). I’m so impressed, and relieved, that I’ll even forego the obligatory tennis simile. — Mike D’Angelo

DVD Review: The Abortion Diaries
Penny Lane hoped the stories of the twelve diverse women featured in her abortion documentary would make her feel “a little bit less alone” about her own abortion. But what she accomplishes in this direct, consciously unsentimental but undeniably sobering thirty-minute film is far greater: she gently reminds us that everyone screws up.
   Amanda, who had an abortion at fourteen, says, “The only time I have ever felt sad about the abortion is when I realized the social stigma . . . and the silence.” Gwen, an ardent feminist who grew up in the ’70s, remembers reading The Happy Hooker and learning young that “the most important thing was to please a man.” Erika was an insecure, eager-to-please teenager when she got pregnant by her thirty-two-year-old boyfriend, who “always pulled out” and later confessed that he’d already fathered seven other children.
   Lane frames the interviews of these articulate women with her own journal entries, underscoring it all with the dreamy pop of Jump Cannon and Guitars Hearts. Lane’s film is an honest look at compromise, indecision and lapses in judgment. — Marie Lyn Bernard
Date DVD: Grizzly Man
If you haven’t already seen 2046, Wong Kar-Wai’s sumptuous sci-fi romance, you and your date should spend a few hours in its uncomparably lush, if often perplexing, company. Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang are so sexily suave you’ll believe in old-school cinematic glamour all over again. But if you are — or the person you adore is — a scruffy tree-hugger, well, there’s only one film for you: Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.
    The crazy-ass German auteur’s brilliant documentary is a tribute to a bear par excellance: Timothy Treadwell was a soft-voiced mountain man who loved wild grizzly bears far more than humans, and counted them among his very best friends for decades — up until the moment an Alaskan grizzly killed him and his unlucky girlfriend in 2003. Herzog, a filmmaker who has always followed his idiosyncratic obsessions to the point of folly, has an enormous amount of sympathy for Treadwell, and retraces his quiet personal life and strange obsession with great respect. Herzog mines beautiful images from Treadwell’s mammoth amateur-video archives, including some unbelievably intimate footage of bears and foxes. Treadwell’s story unspools as something like a mystery. Herzog asks, again and again, how a man could come so unhooked from society, and so intimate with such dangerous creatures. By any conventional social definition, Treadwell is a freak. Talking heads say even his advocacy for bears was misplaced — ineffective at best, and quite possibly harmful. But you can’t hear Treadwell’s extensive video diaries, or watch his beautiful shots of remote locations without sympathizing with this charming madman and even, in a way, falling for him. For the dater, it’s a good reminder of how often we fall for people who are — if not as ostentatiously bonkers as Treadwell — nuts nonetheless. — Logan Hill

   

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