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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 14.0° F  Fair


Antarctica: A Year on Ice highlights ordinary people in an extraordinary place

Midway through Antarctica: A Year on Ice, a wrestling match breaks out. What's at stake? A banana. The tussle is friendly, but it conveys a lot about life on the southernmost continent. Supplies aren't replenished during the brutal winter, so when a ship finally arrives bearing fresh fruit, giddiness sets in. >More
 Witty tales of regret impress in the Oscar-nominated films of Sundance Shorts 2014

I've been reviewing programs of short films for years, and I have complicated feelings about them. That's definitely true of Sundance Shorts 2014, the program screening at Sundance Madison. >More
 In Listen Up Philip, an arrogant young writer visits the summer home of his pretentious mentor

Writer and director Alex Ross Perry has pulled off a feat of cinematic alchemy. He has made an entertaining film about a monstrously unappealing character. >More
 A dad pretends his slain son's songs are his own creations in Rudderless

If you're like me, you fell in love with Billy Crudup as the charismatic rock guitarist in Cameron Crowe's marvelous 2000 film Almost Famous. Crudup honors that memory with a fine performance in the musical drama Rudderless, even if the musician he plays is not so much charismatic as he is pathetic. >More
 Sex, drugs and grimy bathroom fixtures enthrall Wetlands' troubled heroine

John Waters fans will recall the plot of Pink Flamingos, in which warring factions compete for the title of Filthiest Person Alive. Helen, the heroine of Wetlands, could make a strong claim for the honor. Played by Carla Juri, Helen is at the center of this ambitiously disgusting German film, which is based on Charlotte Roche's controversial 2008 novel. >More
 Beloved old songs loosen dementia's grip in Alive Inside

The remarkable documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory artfully weaves together material about two topics, one inspiring, one discouraging. The inspiring topic, and the main focus, is the restorative power of music when it is played for people with memory loss. >More
 Pay 2 Play examines money's role in union busting and Citizens United

Thank Michael Moore for inaugurating the modern era of the lefty polemical documentary. Various imitators have come along in the wake of successful films like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, in which Moore promoted progressive causes. I see elements of Moore's style in Pay 2 Play: Democracy's High Stakes, about money's corrupting influence in politics. >More
 Kevin Smith's Tusk is a horror-comedy set in a creepy mansion

I'll begin with the ending. I don't like it. Of course I won't reveal any substantial details of the conclusion to Tusk, the horror-comedy film written and directed by Kevin Smith. I will say that I had developed mixed feelings by the time the finale rolled around, and my unhappiness with it tips this review into pan territory. But there are facets of the movie that I admire. >More
 Pilgrims journey to higher ground in Walking the Camino

Walking the Camino is, it seems, a good way to have a spiritual awakening while viewing incredible natural splendor and forming important human connections. And then there are the staggeringly huge blisters. >More
 British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon show off their sharp wit in The Trip to Italy

They're back, and they're still doing Michael Caine impressions. In the picaresque 2010 comedy The Trip, British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon toured England's Lake District. Playing fictionalized versions of themselves, they ate fancy meals and engaged in very funny, apparently improvised conversations. >More
 Night Moves follows two eco-terrorists plotting to blow up a dam

Night Moves is probably the only suspenseful thriller you'll see this year in which someone explains what a CSA box is. The remarks on community-supported agriculture come at a fraught moment, one of several. >More
 Life Itself is an honest, compelling tribute to Roger Ebert's life and work

What surprised me most about Life Itself? Seeing just how genuinely Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel must have disliked each other. The movie critics' bickering was part of their television shtick, of course, but in the documentary we see outtakes in which the two are fiercely, profanely hostile in their interactions. These scenes are hard to watch, and they're not the only ones. >More
 A nun-in-training meets a ruthless relative in Ida

Ida is about dislocation and shifting identity, and this explains all the arty camera setups. That's my interpretation, anyway. Cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal work in gorgeous black-and-white, and in the narrow Academy aspect ratio. >More
 Gia Coppola's Palo Alto is a shattering tale about reckless suburban high schoolers

It's a storied tradition, the teenagers-in-trouble movie. One of my favorites is 1983's WarGames, which dates back to my own adolescence and concerns a teenager in trouble for bringing the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. The stakes aren't quite as high in Palo Alto, but it's an apocalyptic vision all the same. At chaotic parties, kids swig liquor, smoke weed and have sex. >More
 Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a truck driver plagued by bad decisions in the funny, gritty drama God's Pocket

God's Pocket is a little bit Mean Streets, a little bit Weekend at Bernie's. As in early Scorsese films, working-class men in a big city on the East Coast swear a lot and are casually violent. And as in Weekend at Bernie's... well, I'll let you discover that on your own. >More
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