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The Illusionist

Director: Sylvain Chomet
Cast: Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin
The Illusionist


As The Illusionist (L’illusionniste) begins, Tatischeff, the titular performer appears in black and white. On a stage in a small Parisian theater, he shuffles and bows, reveals a couple of playing cards, then pulls a rabbit from a top hat. Following a montage of theater marquees (the magician works hard for his meager money), the film transitions to color. Now you see that Tatischeff wears a red suit, that his socks are orange and match the band on his top hat. The change to color underscores a couple of things. As adept and assured as Tatischeff may be, as many years as he’s been working and as much attention as he pays to details of appearance—his stock in trade after all—he is also part of an era that’s passing. Based on an unproduced screenplay Jacques Tati wrote in 1956, Sylvain Chomet’s film—rendered in his signature hand-drawn animation and nearly wordless—recalls a kind of entertainment once popular, now largely forgotten. Cynthia Fuchs


 

 



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The Infidel

Director: Josh Appignanesi
Cast: Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Archie Panjabi, Amit Shah, Yigal Naor, Matt Lucas, Ricky Sekhon
The Infidel


Mahmud Nasir, a casual British Muslim who loves rock music and the occasional alcoholic beverage, discovers a secret that throws his comfortable existence into chaos. Mahmud actually was born to Jewish parents, who then gave him up for adoption. This revelation could not come at a worse time. His son plans to marry, but first he and his fiancée must obtain the blessing of her radical Islamist father. Mahmud reluctantly agrees to act the part of a fundamentalist Muslim to win the zealot¹s favor. But his identity crisis subverts all best-laid plans, as his hidden Jewish origins become public knowledge. As in classic farce, everything works out in the end. But before it comes to its happy conclusion, The Infidel wittily explores the touchy topics of cultural identity and religious intolerance. The film¹s biggest asset, though, is the performance of Omid Djalili as Mahmud. The bald, tubby Iranian-British Djalili makes Mahmud a rich comic creation—endearing, sometimes off-putting, and hilarious, never more so than when he¹s performing his idea of Jewishness, with stage Semitic facial expressions and body language. George De Stefano


 

 



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Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Director: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
Cast: Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Don Rickles
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work


Functioning on a little less than three hours a sleep a night and driving herself far beyond the capacity of even the youngest performer, Joan Rivers appears to be running out the clock like it’s an actual foot race—and she doesn’t intend to lose. In fact, if she could find a way to keep the sweep second hand from making its ritualistic rounds, she’d gladly give a portion of her income to halt its endless marching. Some may consider her a dinosaur, a red carpet crawling, home shopping shilling relic who’s demotion to the backend of comedy’s folklore is long overdue. But that would be selling Joan Rivers short. She is indeed a piece of work. But it’s a product of her own design, and as long as someone is willing to buy it, she’ll be out there, making it available. It explains why she is so driven. It explains the draw of this excellent documentary. It also explains why she is so sad. Author


 

 



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The Killer Inside Me

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Bill Pullman, Ned Beatty
The Killer Inside Me


Everything I had heard about The Killer Inside Me, made me cringe, even before watching it. I heard it was incredibly violent with brutal depictions of rape, torture and BDSM. I mentally prepared myself to expect something along the lines of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible meets Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Yet, I was not prepared for what I ultimately experienced – a well-scripted, beautifully-shot and thoughtful adaptation of Jim Thompson’s pulp novel of the same name. Casey Affleck has been making a habit of stealing the show in every picture he has been in recently and this film is no exception. His turn as Deputy Lou Ford provides an intimate look at the mind and mannerisms of a sociopath, hidden behind the exterior of a Texas gentleman, whose mercurial nature allows him to toggle instantly between dehumanizing monster and oozing charmer. When we learn of his less-than-normal upbringing and sexual abuse, the viewer actually feels pity, even as we see him batter Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson and commit other random acts of violence. If there was ever a film in recent times that was unfarily and prematurely doomed by critics, The Killer Inside Me is it. Quoting Public Enemy, “don’t believe the hype” and go and see it for yourselves. Shyram Sriram


 

 



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Lebanon

Director: Samuel Maoz
Cast: Oshri Cohen, Zohar Shtrauss, Michael Moshonov, Itay Tiran
Lebanon


Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon follows on the heels of Beaufort and Waltz with Bashir as the latest of Israeli films to offer a compelling and often very personal reflection on the 1982 Lebanon War. Maoz served as a gunner in the tank division during that war, and he confines his film to what he knows best: all the action takes place inside of a tank on the first day of the invasion. The personal and historical aspects of Lebanon’s story are not particularly emphasized, though. You can find some more of the personal side in the short making-of documentary that comes as a special feature (although it’s unfortunately the only special feature besides a trailer). In the film itself, we are given little context besides the start date of the war and vague declarations of who the allies and enemies are. For an Israeli already familiar with the details of the war, the film no doubt would speak specifically to that moment in their history. The success of Lebanon, though, lies in the fact that for those with only cursory knowledge of Israeli history, the movie is a story about modern warfare generally as much as it is one about the 1982 Lebanese War specifically. Tomas Hachard


 
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