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Cinematronic by Michael Snyder
Film
cinematronic
  The Lives Of Others cinematronic
  director

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

cast

Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme

year

2006

rating rating cinematronic
 

Although Germany has been a unified democracy since 1990, its eastern sector was a Soviet satellite from the end of World War II through the 1980s — and home to a repressive totalitarian government that used the Stasi, the secret police, to control its citizens. The terrific, incisive drama "The Lives of Others" — an exceptional first feature by screenwriter/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck — shows the horrors, hysteria and tragedy of life in communist East Germany, circa 1984, through the machinations of dedicated Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler.

Certain that everyone has something to hide, Wiesler (the outstanding Ulrich Mühe) spies on acclaimed East Berlin dramatist Georg Dreyman and the playwright's leading lady and lover, Christa. Dreyman (a stalwart Sebastian Koch) is idealistic and well respected; Christa (Martina Gedeck, in a compelling performance that's a world away from her lead role in the romantic comedy "Mostly Martha") is a popular actress. They've done nothing to merit Stasi attention, but Weisler, whose entire being is wrapped up in his job and his allegiance to the state, isn't convinced of their loyalty. Meanwhile, a powerful politician in the ministry of culture covets Christa, and when she resists his advances, he pressures Weisler to find dirt on Dreyman. As Weisler gets deeper into his investigation, his fascination with the couple grows and begins to exact a toll on all involved in the case.

cinematronic
Film
cinematronic
  Children Of Men cinematronic
  director

Alfonso Cuarón

cast

Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston, Peter Mullan

year

2006

rating rating cinematronic
  In his skilled, unsettling, unforgettable screen adaptation of P.D. James' dystopian sci-fi novel The Children of Men, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón embraces the project's inherent topical resonance to potent effect. It's a harrowing tale from the get-go: Most of the world is reduced to anarchy by the year 2027. Humankind has lost the ability to reproduce and is heading toward extinction. A fascist British government is roiled by terrorism, and maintains order by sending illegal immigrants and other undesirables to internment camps. While listlessly moving through this violent, hopeless situation, cynical bureaucrat Theo unexpectedly encounters Julian, a woman from his activist past. Julian asks him to help transport a girl who has a secret that could save civilization. Theo is reluctant to take on the task, but he's soon caught between warring forces that covet the girl or are trying to kill her. Clive Owen is marvelous as the conflicted, basically decent Theo; he's supported by a superlative cast that includes Julianne Moore as Julian, and the always reliable Michael Caine as Theo's aging stoner pal Jasper. Over the past few years, Cuarón has directed a number of beautifully crafted, provocative, extremely watchable movies that combine art-house smarts with a commercial sensibility (e.g. "Y Tu Mamá También," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"). "Children of Men," an exciting and convincing invention, holds to that high standard.
cinematronic
Film
cinematronic
  Volver cinematronic
  director

Pedro Almodóvar

cast

Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Antonio de la Torre, Carlos Blanco

year

2006

rating rating cinematronic
  With "Volver," flamboyant Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodóvar uses the tribulations of an extended family of women to take a loving, slightly twisted look at female bonding, betrayal, death, and survival. It's a considerable shift away from the steamy, male-centric journey through forbidden passion, shifting identities and the fluidity of memory that was his previous movie "Bad Education." Yet "Volver," featuring a complex, seductive performance by the stunning Penélope Cruz, is no less dark, fiery, mysterious and playful than the rest of Almodóvar's venerated filmography. Cruz is the pragmatic Raimunda, who works at a Madrid restaurant, warily copes with her loutish husband, and tries to be a good mother to her teenage daughter. When their infirm Aunt Paula requires attention, Raimunda and her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) pay a strained visit to the old woman in the rural village where they were raised — and where, years earlier, their parents died in a house fire. The sisters' childhood friend Agustina (Blanca Portillo) still lives in the village, and wrestles with serious medical and emotional problems. Even more disturbing, Sole believes that she was visited by the ghost of her late mother Irene (Carmen Maura), and can't bring herself to tell Raimunda. The whole project, particularly the sequences in the desolate village, has an otherworldly feel, enhanced by vivid cinematography. But it serves as an appropriate backdrop for the hyper-real women of "Volver." Brought to the screen by Almodóvar and his superb cast, they are a touching lot, determined to endure the setbacks of daily life and the whims of faithless men, and to transcend the tragedies of a past that refuses to go away.
cinematronic
Film
cinematronic
  Little Children cinematronic
  director

Todd Field

cast

Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley, Gregg Edelman, Noah Emmerich, Phyllis Somerville, Raymond J. Barry, Sadie Goldstein, Ty Simpkins

year

2006

rating rating cinematronic
  Avoiding the smack of highbrow soap opera or lowbrow "Desperate Housewives"-style ribaldry, "Little Children" is the incisive, troubling, expertly-acted screen adaptation of Tom Perrotta's novel about marital infidelity, paranoia and aberrant behavior in a well-manicured Massachusetts suburb. Attractive, discontented young mother Sarah (Kate Winslet) spends the afternoon with her daughter at the local playground, where they encounter handsome, restless stay-at-home dad Brad (Patrick Wilson) and his son. After pulling a harmless prank on a coterie of gossiping playground moms, Brad and Sarah are drawn together and become increasingly estranged from their respective spouses (Jennifer Connelly, Gregg Edelman). Meanwhile, the community is rent asunder by the return of a convicted sex offender (Jackie Earle Haley) who moves back into his mother's house and becomes the target of an obsessive, disgraced cop (Noah Emmerich). The bemused tone of an unseen narrator provides a dryly humorous counterpoint to the proceedings. Director Todd Field, whose previous feature was the celebrated suburban tragedy "In the Bedroom," wrote the screenplay for "Little Children" in collaboration with Perrotta, so the original author had a chance to oversee his vision. The film's milieu and its trip into the dark underbelly of modern life recall the similar setting and theme of 1999's "American Beauty," minus the hallucinogenic reveries and overheated caricature. Because of its more realistic tone, "Little Children" may be the more disquieting of the two movies. Title aside, it's not kid stuff.
cinematronic
Film
cinematronic
  The Science Of Sleep cinematronic
  director

Michel Gondry

cast

Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou, Pierre Vaneck, Emma de Caunes, Aurélia Petit, Sacha Bourdo, Stéphane Metzger

year

2006

rating rating cinematronic
  By directing the inventive, surprisingly tender, sci-fi-tinged romantic comedy "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," filmmaker Michel Gondry banked a vault full of good will. So one is inclined to forgive the clutter and slapdash tone of the surreal rom-com-dram "The Science of Sleep," his first stab at directing a movie he wrote. Much of what made "Eternal Sunshine" memorable was the intricate, way-out-of-the-box script by Charlie Kaufman. Gondry's screenplay for "The Science of Sleep" isn't in that league, although it's certainly ambitious. Latin American heartthrob Gael García Bernal portrays childlike Stéphane, a would-be artist who travels to Paris to spend time with his mother after his father dies in Mexico. He moves into Mom's apartment, next door to winsome career girl Stéphanie (Franco-British gamine Charlotte Gainsbourg). Stuck in a dead-end job at a calendar company and fixated on diffident Stéphanie, Stéphane retreats into a fantasy life. His dreams feature him hosting a metaphysical talk show from a crude cardboard-and-tinfoil TV studio — and winning the girl. For Stéphane, waking up is the problem. Some comic moments fall flat, the drama can seem half-baked, the chemistry between the leads is wonky, and the deliberately amateurish milieu of the fantasy sequences gets tiresome. But Gondry should be commended for refusing to take the conventional route. After all of the humdrum narratives that pass for feature films, this "Sleep" is refreshing.
cinematronic
DVD
cinematronic
  The Triplets Of Belleville cinematronic
  director

Sylvain Chomet

cast

Michèle Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas

year

2003

extras

Widescreen; closed caption; French, English, Spanish audio tracks; three behind-the-scenes featurettes with scene commentaries — "Opening Sequence," "Restaurant Performance," and "Tuning the Wheel"; making-of featurette; "The Cartoon According to Director Sylvain Chomet" featurette; deleted footage; music video of the Academy Award-nominated song "Belleville Rendez-vous"; production notes; theatrical trailer.

rating rating cinematronic
  From the fantastically peculiar mind of director Sylvain Chomet comes the must-see French animated feature "The Triplets of Belleville." It's a singular achievement that proudly absorbs its influences — from the '30s and '40s cartoons of Fleischer Studios and Warner Bros. to the gentle slapstick and quirky social commentary of Jacques Tati's live-action comedies of the '50s and '60s — and reconfigures them with a skewed, darkly humorous attitude similar to that of filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amélie," "City of Lost Children"). Champion is a pudgy boy living on the periphery of Paris with his grandmother Madame Souza and his plump, pugnacious dog Bruno. The kid grows up to become a lean, monomaniacal bicycle racer dedicated to winning the Tour de France. When Champion is kidnapped, mid-race, and spirited away to the megalopolis of Belleville for nefarious purposes, Madame Souza and Bruno set off to rescue him. The liberation of Champion is in doubt until the three weird, elderly sisters of the vintage song-and-dance act the Belleville Triplets offer their help. With loony verve, an infectious title song, unique character designs — angular, squat, flagrantly Gallic — that are the antithesis of Disney, and a gleeful disregard of the laws of physics, "The Triplets of Belleville" is the trippiest of trips — and then some.
cinematronic
DVD
cinematronic
  Maîtresse cinematronic
  director

Barbet Schroeder

cast

Gérard Depardieu, Bulle Ogier, André Rouyer, Nathalie Keryan

year

1973

extras

Criterion Collection — In French; widescreen; English subtitles; exclusive video interview with Barbet Schroeder; new essay by film critic Elliott Stein.

rating rating cinematronic
  Filmgoers who know Barbet Schroeder as an adept, playful director of Hollywood crime thrillers — from 1990's "Reversal of Fortune" to 2002's "Murder by Numbers" — will be surprised and challenged if they delve deeper into his résumé. Early in his career, Schroeder experimented with the hallucinogenic hippie travelogue "La Vallée" and the offbeat documentaries "Idi Amin Dada" and "Koko, a Talking Gorilla." And the first traditional narrative movie he directed and co-wrote was the memorable, profound and unconventional love story "Maîtresse," starring a rough, young Gérard Depardieu and the petite yet resolute Bulle Ogier. While robbing an apartment, Olivier (Depardieu) and his confederate discover a fully equipped dungeon, the workspace of professional dominatrix Ariane (Ogier). Ariane comes upon the thieves in the act, and she and Olivier make a connection. Although disconcerted to learn how this delicate-looking woman makes her living, he's drawn to her. Their mutual attraction pulls Olivier deeper into her world, until he's assisting her as she punishes clients. But the relationship and its deviant trappings throw both of their lives askew. If you can endure a few painful scenes of real masochists being tortured, the performances of Depardieu and Ogier in this twisted, disturbing romance are spankin' good.  
cinematronic
DVD
cinematronic
  21 Grams cinematronic
  director

Alejandro González Iñárritu

cast

Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melissa Leo, Clea DuVall, Danny Huston

year

2003

extras

Widescreen; closed caption; English, French audio tracks; French, Spanish, English subtitles; "'21 Grams': In Fragments" featurette.

rating rating cinematronic
  Although not so fetid and excruciating as his powerful breakthrough "Amores Perros," "21 Grams" is a masterful English-language feature debut from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. It resembles the anthology-styled "Amores Perros" in its interweaving of three stories linked by a single catastrophe, yet "21 Grams" differs in its use of a nonlinear, time-shifting narrative. The piecemeal structure turns "21 Grams" into a nerve-racking puzzle with a methodically revealed solution. Most of the action in "21 Grams" leads to or radiates from an automobile accident that rips apart the lives of the main characters. Sean Penn is brilliant as a college professor who has a literal change of heart that plunges him into a deep emotional abyss. Naomi Watts is utterly believable as a well-off suburban wife and mother who reverts to her old drug-abusing ways when she's overwhelmed by unforeseen tragedy. And Benicio del Toro is a fearsome, tragic figure as an ex-con/recovering alcoholic who aches to do the right thing and is mocked by the cruel vagaries of fate when his temper gets the better of him. Reuniting the director, screenwriter and cinematographer of "Amores Perros," "21 Grams" packs a wallop comparable to that of its predecessor.  
cinematronic
cinematronic

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