“Words and Pictures”: Love comes to the teachers’ lounge

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“Words and Pictures” opens Friday at Point and Star Cinemas. PG-13, 1:51, three stars out of four.

The danger of trying to make a smart movie is that when you do something truly dumb, it really sticks out like a sore thumb. Fred Schepisi’s comedy-drama “Words and Pictures” has a couple of truly dumb moments, the worst being when the screenplay has Clive Owen say the name of the movie. That’s corny enough, but he says it with a shameless “See what I did there?” grin. Oh, Clive. Continue reading

“Citizen Koch”: This is what dollarocracy looks like

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“Citizen Koch” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:50, two and a half stars out of four. Co-director Tia Lessin will be at the 7 p.m. screenings Friday through Sunday.

The documentary “Citizen Koch” is uneven and scattershot at times, but when you’re target is as big and fat as corporate money in politics, you can afford to be a little scattersot and still hit your mark.

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“Capital”: Costa-Gavras tries to topple a House of (Debit) Cards

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The 2008 financial meltdown is a tricky subject for a filmmaker to tackle — the reckless and greedy actions of a few financiers, and the lack of consequences they faced when it all blew up in their faces, remains one of the defining chapters in the new century. And yet few have access to their world, and even fewer understand how it works and how it went wrong (including the finance players themselves). As John Oliver said on “Last Week” a couple of weeks ago about net neutrality: “If you want to do something evil, hide it inside something boring.”

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Instant Gratification: “Stories We Tell” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant

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Pick of the week: “Stories We Tell”:  My full review is here. Actress turned filmmaker Sarah Polley, after making a couple of strong narrative features in “Take This Waltz” and “Away With Her,” turns the camera on her own family, and a family secret that everybody sort of knew but nobody ever confirmed. The result is a family drama, a mystery and a fascinating exploration into the shifting nature of memory, and how we construct the stories about our lives that make sense to us. One of the best movies of 2013.

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“Edge of Tomorrow”: Tom Cruise regrets he has but 3,874 lives to give for his country

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“Edge of Tomorrow” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. PG-13, 1:53, three stars out of four.

If you like Tom Cruise, then you will like “Edge of Tomorrow,” and if you don’t like Tom Cruise, then you will like it even more. Cruise gets shot, smashed, drowned, run over by a truck, burned with acid, and ripped apart by whirling calamari aliens over and over again. Somewhere, Brooke Shields is smiling.

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The five movies you have to see in Madison: June 6-12, 2014

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The Immigrant” (all week, Point Cinemas) — Harvey Weinstein still insists that there was no tension in the editing room between himself and “Immigrant” director James Gray. But the quiet rollout of the film (a press screening was scheduled in Milwaukee at the last minute, then cancelled without explanation at the laster minute)  suggests that all is not well in Harveyland. The thought that the film is being woefully mistreated has rallied a lot of critics to its defense, but the proof is in the movie itself, a lush and grim 1920s drama about a Polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard) manipulated by men (Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner) after she arrives in New York. Guessing this won’t stick around long, so it’s a must see.

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Instant Gratification: “Annie Hall” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant

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Pick of the week: “Annie Hall” — Upon further review, “Manhattan” may be a slightly better movie, but “Annie Hall” is still that one Woody Allen film that feels perfectly balanced between comedy and something more serious, as young Alvy recalls his love affair with the daffy and unforgettable Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). La-di-da.

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“The Color of Lies”: Claude Chabrol and the art of the offhanded thriller

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Claude Chabrol made thrillers that didn’t seem to realize they were thrillers. From his first film of the French New Wave, “La Beau Serge (modeled on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt”) to his later films a half-century later (like 2004’s haunting tale of obsession “The Bridesmaid”), his films had a very distinctive take on the thriller genre. Rather than amp up the lurid details, Chabrol’s camera felt almost detached from the action, letting the actors give naturalistic, almost languid performances, until they sort of just happen into a murder plot.

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