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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…


Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Charlie Schmidlin

Charlie Schmidlin

Charlie Schmidlin is a Los Angeles-based writer and Illinois native, whose film work and criticism has led him to China, France, and across the U.S. In 2012, he was named as one of Roger Ebert’s Far-Flung Correspondents, and he currently writes for The Playlist on

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The Condemned


The End of Love


John Dies at the End


The Crash Reel


This documentary follows snowboarder Kevin Pearce as he recovers from a traumatic brain injury, and asks hard questions about whether his family should support his desire to return to dangerous extreme sports.

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A portside gallery of thwarted Destiny

"Port of Shadows" begins a revival run at the Music Box on 1/25, and is in the Criterion Collection.

Noir revolves on a shorthand of recognition; a cruel fact expertly utilized by Marcel Carné, when he cast two of the most identifiable of French film stars in his 1938 classic, "Port of Shadows" (Le Quai des Brumes). A pressing fog floods Le Havre in the director's pre-WWII drama, but even in the thickest mists, Jean Gabin and Michel Simon, then catapulted to fame recently in "Pépé le Moko" and "Boudu Saved from Drowning" could never find secrecy from their characters' shame-ridden pasts.

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Insanity Set to Pop Culture Deconstruction

* "Detention" is available on Blu-ray and Amazon Instant, and "Girl Walk//All Day" is available for free on Vimeo.

In its drift from one receptive viewer to the next, a cinematic motif or choice soundtrack selection bristles at the prospect of first exposure. Luis Bacalov's titular, Elvis-aping ballad for "Django Unchained" washed recently for the first time over many filmgoers' ears, and thus became their primary recollection. The same can and should not be said, however, about the western's mid-climax "duet" from 2Pac and James Brown later on, which aimed for adrenaline but landed on awkward bafflement instead. Call that disappointing instance decoupage or mash-up, but a post-modern cut-and-paste can also work wonders under the right framework: Two remarkable films from 2012 - Joseph Kahn's madcap teen genre "Detention" and Jacob Krupnick's feature-length music video "Girl Walk//All Day" - operate on the opposite assumption; that their usage of pop culture sources finds audiences second-hand, and in doing so ensure their unique re-appropriation attains an euphoric fusion overall.

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Travelling with an unknown companion

* Available on Netflix Instant

The deliberate omission of a film's plot point draws intrigue, anticipation, and dread toward its eventual reveal, but in "The Loneliest Planet," director Julia Loktev's terse, quixotic drama, that secretive center should rightly be the least emphasized aspect. Its narrative indeed hinges on a gesture best left discovered (although easily imagined), but it excels instead in exploring what shifts that crucial action represents. Etching into relief the mislaid assumptions on which relationships are founded and forgotten, there is a quiet, terrifying accuracy to Loktev's work - one without fanfare or supernatural copout - that reveals itself under the guise of expressionistic travelogue into the Georgian mountains.

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Cinema through a cloudy eye

Bolstered by Akira Ifukube's trudging "Gojira" theme and the shorthand it affords, on two separate filmic occasions director Leos Carax chose to pair it with a city-scrolling vista, and in doing so reference his past work for the first time. Homage and visual motifs have always earmarked the enigmatic auteur's films, namely in the unstable romances of "Boy Meets Girl" and "Les Amants de Pont Neuf," but within his two most recent efforts -- a section of the 2008 triptych "Tokyo!" and his 2012 vexing "Holy Motors" -- he centers this rare repetition on one character that is not so much a reprisal as it is an emotional transformation.

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The film that will never exist

Had the unflagging perseverance of Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings not shown them through their trying development prior to "Cloud Atlas," its existing pitch materials and visionary test footage likely would have elevated the project into cinema's tragic archive of could've beens. Like Samuel Fuller's haphazard, ash-covered collection of unproduced scripts, the absence of product, sitting idly by the raw materials required to construct one, can coat an enigmatic gloss over the entire endeavor.

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Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

A man suited to expression but made to court contrition instead, the Georgian-born director Sergei Parajanov posed within his all-too-scarce filmography -- beginning with 1951's short "Moldavian Fairy Tale" and ending with 1988's "Ashik Kerib" -- a complete dichotomy of artistic vision and personal reality. His interpretations of the natural world's rhythms are distinctly his own, utilizing punctuations of artifice to decorate exquisite portraits of little-seen cultures set during the 18th-century. But his most critically acclaimed films, such as the tableaux-heavy "Color of Pomegranates," likewise garnered attention from Soviet authorities, and landed him outlaw status and even prison sentences with increasingly ludicrous accusations. Along with "Pomegranates," his 1964 drama "Shadow of Forgotten Ancestors" also fell at the center of controversy surrounding Parajanov, but in its blistering Shakespearian romance based on Carpathian folklore, the film offers an illuminating side to the Armenian director's aesthetic, and a perfect introduction to his stunning body of work.

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A One-Night Affair, A Day of Afterwards

Gathering the notion that excess equals legitimacy, studios as well as independents seem to have recently relegated the term "black" filmmaking to mean diversity-centric productions with market potential. In the past few years, as films like "Pariah," "Restless City," and "Middle of Nowhere" carve out singular representations of black perspectives. It seems damaging to believe that simple bait-and-switch tactics, as seen in Neil LaBute's remake of "Death at a Funeral," can fall under the same blanket classification.

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The Decorated Phrase Above All Else

Streaming on Netflix Instant

Sumptuous light, favorably bathed across richly-drawn characters and their worlds, have long been signifiers of a Patrice Leconte film, yet while such environments exist in the auteur's 1996 comedy-drama, "Ridicule," the words produced within them hold much more prominence.

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