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Review: Winter Passing

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The chemistry between Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell spiced up a charming, happy tale of Christmas spirit and familial bonds in Elf; here, it’s in the service of a first-novelesque downer about a coked-up young actress named Reese, her reclusive Salinger-like father (Ed Harris), and his handlers. There’s plenty of standard-issue dramatic dialogue: “What are you so afraid of?” a boyfriend asks as he’s ushered out. “I don’t know,” replies a wistful Reese, smoking yet another cigarette. And yet, there’s also lots of genuinely original banter. When Reese runs into her ex, also an actor, he tells her he’s doing “a Molière workshop, set in a boxing ring,” a witty jab at New York’s Off-Off Broadway theater community (screenwriter-director Adam Rapp is a prolific New York playwright). Winter Passing is messy and romantic in equal measure, rather like Garden State (how can you go wrong with a dead mother and substance abuse?), but darker and more literary. It’s a good, smart date movie, assuming you want to spend the rest of your night at the bar arguing about the fate of a certain kitten and whether or not Will Ferrell looks good in eyeliner. — Ada Calhoun

Review: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
At first glance, the Oscar-nominated Sophie Scholl seems to be another talky World War II movies about the banality of evil. But look closer and a different kind of story emerges. A Munich university student (Julia Jentsch, in the first truly great performance of the year) is caught with anti-Nazi pamphlets at school; her interrogation, trial, and conviction plays out as a series of point-counterpoints. (The film was reportedly based on Gestapo transcripts, so much of what we’re hearing may well be what was actually said.) But the Nazis onscreen here are a far cry from the possessed cartoon villains we’ve seen countless times before. They’re not even the efficient, deluded taskmasters of more high-minded films. No, these characters, even the worst ones, are shatteringly human.
    The film takes place in 1943, at a point when the Battle of Stalingrad suggested to the Germans that things might not be going as they had planned. Does Sophie’s interrogator, a grim-faced man who at one point admits to having a child near her age, suspect that the nation might be falling apart? Do the officers who stonily watch Sophie’s trial really believe that their war is still winnable? Even the portrayal of the shrieking judge who condemns Sophie suggests a side to him that may not be so certain of his country’s glorious destiny. Indeed, Rothemund’s film seems to be about doubt more than anything else. Sure, the deck is obviously stacked against the Nazis, but Rothemund even allows a hint of uncertainty to creep into Sophie’s face. In fact, he constructs a universe of such palpable moral unease that questions of right and wrong actually become surprisingly, tragically slippery. The result is a film that, for all its historical specificity, actually challenges our own contemporary moral smugness about the world we currently live in. It’s an excruciating experience. Don’t miss it. — Bilge Ebiri
Review: Love
This unnecessarily complex and often melodramatic thriller about scarred immigrants trying to stake their claim in the unforgiving streets of NYC opens with the image of a young girl’s fingers tangled in string — a metaphor for the bleak web of deceit, lust, and murder in which the film’s characters are caught. Set in Brooklyn, an ex-Yugoslavian soldier turned hit-man crosses paths with his ex-girlfriend and her cop boyfriend. Things go wrong, backs are stabbed, and chases ensue — including one inspired scene where the violently melodic sounds of an eastern European drag bar are inter-cut with a frantic pursuit through the streets of Williamsburg.
    Serbian writer/director Vladan Nikolic makes the film mirror its complex story, repeatedly doubling back and looping scenes from different angles and points of view. Nikolic is a talented director, and the visuals are often strikingly beautiful. If only the script were half as compelling. — Michael Mitchell
Date DVD : Proof
It’s no shock that Proof didn’t do well at the box office. Despite all her magazine covers, Gwyneth Paltrow has never really been a blockbuster draw, and in this film she plays the depressed, grieving daughter of a genius mathematician (Anthony Hopkins) who discovers a mysterious mathematical proof in her late father’s home. Math movies have never done as well, as, say, zombie movies — in theaters or on dates — but don’t let that stop you. The film may be grim, but it’s based on a terrific, Pulitzer-winning play by David Auburn (who also wrote the screenplay) and there’s a mathematical precision to the way its puzzle pieces click together. As performed on Broadway, Proof was a fairly traditional well-made play, so the film’s a bit stagey, but it doesn’t interfere with the sharp exchanges and gutsy performances. Paltrow, who acted the role onstage for months, seems utterly at home as the frustrated woman who clashes with her sister (Hope Davis) and new beau (Jake Gyllenhaal). She filmed the role shortly after her own father passed away, and is so palpably devastated her performance is painful to watch. Not the cheeriest choice for a date, of course — but the love story at the film’s core is a sharp look at how the best intentions can go awry when you don’t know your lover as well as you should. — Logan Hill

   

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