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Monday, Jun 7, 2010
Robert Connolly's film about Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor is an intriguing but problematic melodrama.

The New York edition of the cross-Atlantic Human Rights Watch Film Festival – an event that’s by definition heavy on non-fiction filmmaking – often features a fundraising benefit night of a narrative film, with guests and high-priced tickets, that’s about as close as this well-meaning gathering gets to festival glitz. Last year’s selection, Costa-Gavras’ Eden is West, was an intriguing if underdeveloped story about modern migration. This year’s film, Robert Connolly’s The Balibo Conspiracy (aka Balibo), is a similarly problematic but worthwhile picture about a deadly serious and little-discussed subject.

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Friday, Apr 30, 2010
Best of the fest! Back to back screenings late into Saturday night restores this reviewer's faith in American indies and reaffirms the brilliance of Turkish-German director Fatih Akin at the Eighth Annual Independent Film Festival of Boston.

Tiny Furniture
Screened Saturday 24 April

Lena Dunham’s hyphenate debut Tiny Furniture is somewhat of a tiny miracle, a film that should in no way succeed at all, but does so, with so much intelligence, humor and charm, that it made me wonder if Dunham had somehow tricked us into thinking this was her first full feature, and that we were watching the work of a seasoned pro. It’s the raw diamond in the rough that comes along every so often and rekindles my hope for the future of young independent film in America. 

Dunham directs herself from a mostly autobiographical script about a young college grad, Aura, who moves back home with her artist mother and precocious younger sister after being dumped by her boyfriend. Envisioning grand plans of getting her own apartment with a friend and making it big in New York City, she quickly regresses and retreats to a lazy life of dead-end restaurant work and poor choice in men. She lolls about in a ratty t-shirt and her underwear most of the day, oversleeping and whining relentlessly about her horrible lot in life. She is going nowhere fast and shows no real sign of caring.

If this sounds insufferable, like the template of so many navel gazing indies made by the same cohort of overeducated 20-something, well… yes and no. Superficially, Tiny Furniture plays out like a distaff version of the loosely grouped “mumblecore” (sorry, I hate it too, but no other term work) spearhead by Andrew Bujalski and mostly made up of male directors and male protagonists. But the gender switch isn’t what (or just) sets Dunham’s film apart.

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Friday, Apr 30, 2010
The Infidel is likely to be a crowd-pleaser, whatever the viewer’s religion.

The 2010 Tribeca Film Festival was the channel for The Infidel’s international premiere last Sunday.  Inclement weather did not deter at least two A-list celebs, Ben Stiller and Denis Leary, from turning out to join the line of Joe Six-Packs crowding the theater. Director Josh Appignanesi, writer and British comedian David Baddiel, the film’s leading man Omid Djalili and other filmmakers were also in attendance and engaged the crowd before and after the screening.

A comedy of errors, The Infidel revolves around Mahmud Nasir, played with jolly buffoonery by Djalili, a Pakistani-British man who learns he is Jewish by “birth” and not the true upstanding Muslim that his son Rashid (Amit Shah) needs him to be. The man, now formerly known as Solly Shimshillewitz, is sandwiched in a religious crisis as he tries to discover Jewish culture so he can meet his orthodox father while also observing proper Islamic practices to appeal to Rashid’s potential father-in-law, fervent cleric Arshad El Masri (Igal Naor).

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Thursday, Apr 29, 2010
Director Aaron Schneider's feature film debut and its cast are impressive.

The New York premier of Get Low was received with overwhelming acceptance last night, and rightfully so. The mixture of solemn and comical tones, along with an all-star cast (Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray), was a recipe for cinematic prominence. But with such prodigious ingredients, was first-time feature film director Aaron Schneider up for the task?

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Wednesday, Apr 28, 2010
In a true sign of the times, alarmist films about our precarious times screen at the Independent Film Festival of Boston. Meaney checks out Casino Jack and the United States of Money and Erasing David.

Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Screened Friday 23 April

Casino Jack and the United States of Money, director Alex Gibney’s follow up to his superb Enron documentary, follows a similar trail of money, power, and corruption through a winding trail of political malfeasance and irresponsibility. The scope is larger—the Jack Abramoff scandal that coursed through the halls of Congress and washed up to the very lip of the Oval Office—but the focus isn’t as tight, and though always interesting, the film loses some of its punch in an overwhelming barrage of details and stories that obfuscate, rather than illuminate, the central wrong rotting away at the center.

Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist’s lobbyist, an influence peddler of the highest caliber, who seemed to possess a preternatural ability to grease the skids and turn the tiller of power in Congress.  The film posits him as the center around which a great wheel of money and corrupt influence revolved, through the ‘80s and ‘90s, before crashing down in the early 2000s in an Indian casino scandal that seemed, for a brief moment, like it would topple the Bush White House.

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