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The Troubles With Shadow Dancer

For a political thriller, Shadow Dancer contains very few obvious thrills. About a Belfast family targeted by the British intelligence agency MI6 during the last months of the Struggles, it contains no sex scenes, few laughs, only a handful of chase scenes, and no clear-cut good guys. And despite the fact that this Belfast was actually shot in Dublin, it is a study in institutional drab rather than the rolling green we Americans tend to expect from our Irish movies.

Andrea Riseborough stars as Collette McVeigh, a single mother whose little brother was killed in a bombing when she was a kid. Now she and her remaining brothers—Connor (Domhnall Gleeson) and Gery (Aiden Gillen, best known to Wire fans as Mayor Carcetti)—avenge his memory by fighting for the IRA. Central to this film is the varying degrees to which she, her brothers, and mother can rationalize their actions, and the dangerous family tensions that result. Those tensions are put to the test when Collette is caught by MI6 agent Mac (Clive Owen, at his beleaguered best) and becomes a double agent so she can remain with her son.

This a film whose strength is its weakness: a restraint that at time devolves into a lazy ambiguity, albeit one offering unique, and very timely, insight into the queasy marriage of blood ties and radical politics. The issue at hand may be the conflict between the Republicans and Loyalists in Northern Ireland, but insights offered by this film apply to the recent bombings in Boston by the Tsarnaev brothers. Continue Reading →

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN pleases while it lasts

These days, you can scarcely hit a Cineplex without tripping over at least one biopic, a phenomenon I chalk up to the same one that makes reality TV so proliferate: people tend to thrill over the idea that
anything really happened, like, ever. But as thrilling as some human lives may be conceptually, rarely do any produce a satisfying narrative arc.

As a species, we tend to make the same mistakes over and over until we fade out– more the stuff of early Warhol installations or daytime soaps than a two-hour feature. Most biopics are either factually sound and dramatically dull (Sylvia, Ray), or historically inaccurate (Walk the Line). The best ones limit themselves to a very specific theme or period in a person’s life (Capote, Frost/Nixon). So structurally at least, My Week With Marilyn, based on memoirist Colin Clark’s short-lived dalliance with Marilyn Monroe during the 1956 filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, seems ahead of the game.

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Lars von Trier’s Melancholia Is a Masterpiece

Lars von Trier is not a brother who provokes a neutral response. There are those who feel he can do no wrong, and then there are naysayers like me. Although I consider Dancer in the Dark one of the best movies of the last decade, I swore I’d never sit through another of his films after suffering through the school-play machinations of Dogville. A guy who so unilaterally criticizes America without ever having stepped foot on its soil deserves a similar boycott, I declared.

But now that he’s taken psychological projection to unprecedented proportions, he’s become downright fascinating.

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"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy