Dead at 17

Dead at 17
Itís a sad fact that most of us have lost or will lose a close friend while we are still young. My first childhood casualty happened when I was in sixth grade. A good friend succumbed after a long battle with leukemia and he was gone forever.

That was a bitter medicine when I was a child and it didnít get any easier to swallow as I got older. Within the first year of my high school graduation I had lost another friend, and then another. Honestly, I donít even like to think of how many young lives ended too soon, each as tragic and unnecessary as the first. Yet somehow you find the strength to carry on with your own existence, even if you are never quite the same person you were before.

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Antichrist

Antichrist
Antichrist, like many films by its Danish director Lars von Trier, has had the foaming-mouthed witch burners of the popular press out in full, end-of-the-world effect. It is, they hiss and scream with the moral certainty of which only the most self-regarding ideologues are ever capable, a work of pornography.

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The Beaver

The Beaver
The idea of a guy talking through a puppet is inherently funny. Like many of you, I watched a lot of Full House and especially loved when Joey Gladstone brought out ďMr. WoodchuckĒ and would make wood-puns. The Beaver, however, is no laughing matter. Directed by Jodie Foster, itís a story about a manís inner turmoil and the lengths he will go to in order to shut himself off from the world. The puppet isnít a prop for jokes; instead, itís a sign of desperation. Despite having what many would consider a hokey premise, The Beaver turns out to be a sweet and effective movie, though little snags keep it from as great as it could have been.

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Defiance

Defiance
A lot of the time, watching a movie, we recoil or start at something in it: That's fake, we say, and dismiss the whole film. On many occasions, that impulse is correct because the film is fake, but on rare occasions, we feel that sensation of dislocated wrongness not because the film is fake but because our world is; we can't wrap our heads around the facts and ugly truths of what we see, can't comprehend how such things are possible, and recoil from them out of refusal to believe, not because they aren't believable. This is one of the challenges Defiance, the newest drama from Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond) faces as it tells the true story of the Bielski brothers, three Belorussian Jews and outlaw petty criminals who, during World War II's pogroms and purges, protected hundreds of Jews from the Nazis, some surviving and others actively fighting back.

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Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation
The idea underlying Fast Food Nation is intriguing: take the premise of the best-selling non-fiction book by Eric Schlosser and convert it into the backstory of a fictional film. Where director Richard Linklater runs into trouble is in the execution stage. The narrative he has fashioned is not only unfocused and rambling, but presents thinly developed characters that have little life or screen presence. The only interesting elements of Fast Food Nation are when it offers insight into the fast food process from slaughter house to Styrofoam container. This argues that the movie might have worked better had the ensemble cast been dumped and the project re-imagined as a documentary.

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W.
It would be grossly unfair to criticize W. as a hatchet job - it's too clumsy for such a description to apply. This movie frequently feels like the shotgun marriage of Nightline and Saturday Night Live. Superficial, uninformative, and inert, this two hour snoozefest isn't even inflammatory enough to stoke a righteous anti-Bush brushfire. W. does for recent history what Oliver Stone's epic Alexander did for ancient times.

W. uses pop psychology to "analyze" the 43d U.S. President and "uncover" his motives. Stone's thesis is that all George W. Bush does is with the goal of earning the love and respect of his father, two things that have been withheld from him. Or, to put it another way, he has Daddy issues. This is the only potential insight offered by W. and it is hammered home with a relentless lack of subtlety and sophistication. Putting aside the buffoonery that characterizes Josh Brolin's over-the-top mimicry of the title character, this is Bush's sole personality trait. Instead of taking this opportunity to provide viewers with a compelling portrait of one of the worst Presidents in this country's short history, Stone has taken the easy way out. W. is a newspaper op-ed cartoon come to life - a broad, unambiguous picture of a dunce. One expects controversy from Stone; one does not expect something this shallow and insubstantial.

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Freshman Orientation

Freshman Orientation
For some movies, timing is everything, but that's one thing Freshman Orientation doesn't have going for it. After languishing in distribution limbo for an astounding three and one-half years (it premiered under the name Home of Phobia at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival), this film has finally arrived in theaters. Unfortunately, it follows in the wake of Superbad, another rude-and-crude teen movie that raises the bar for the genre. In 2004, Freshman Orientation might have been near the top of a lame pack; in 2007, it's behind the curve. The problem isn't the dramatic material which, for the most part, is nicely handled. However, the "outrageous" comedy is consistently unfunny and sometimes bordering on cringe-worthy.

Freshman Orientation starts out on shaky ground, packing the first 30 minutes with a significant percentage of the failed humor. The over-the-top jokes feel forced and are often more awkward than amusing. Fortunately, after the uncertain beginning, the film's gradual shift toward more subtle parody and light drama redeems the final hour. The central relationship is developed with care and the movie addresses the issue of intolerance on college campuses (and, by extension, in society as a whole) without resorting to too much preaching. (There is one overt sermon but the irreverent punch line makes it somewhat forgivable.)

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Matador

Matador
It's not hard to be enthusiastic about The Matador, an uncommon buddy film starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear. The movie has a nicely modulated mix of comedy and pathos, but succeeds as much because of the two lead performances as Richard Shepard's writing and directing. This is an audience-pleaser through-and-through, but one wonders whether the title (which is appropriate but not catchy) may fail to entice viewers. In fact, it may keep some sensitive animal-lovers away.

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Red
Not to be confused with the early-'90s Kieslowski film of the same name. Definitely not.

Sometimes, casting makes a difference. Under the stewardship of the same director with the same screenplay, Red might be an enjoyable-but-forgettable late year action/comedy - the kind of thing one might bypass in the theater, recognizing that the multiplex is just a brief stop on the movie's road to DVD. However, with so many A-list actors fighting for space on the marquee, it's impossible to view Red so dismissively. It's a lot of fun and, because of the high quality of the cast, there's no need to feel guilty about praising such an inherently silly motion picture. Like The Expendables, this is fast-paced, high octane entertainment for the AARP crowd. It never takes itself too seriously, which is a good thing because it's a stretch to imagine some of these actors doing the stuff they're called upon to do. All that's

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Celebration

Celebration
From Ingmar Bergman to Jodie Foster, film makers throughout the years have been fascinated by what happens when members of a dysfunctional family gather for a celebration. Inevitably, dark secrets come to light, intrigues are put into motion, old rivalries are renewed, and new revelations change existing relationships. Some films tackle these ingredients far better than others. Handled poorly, this material can be the foundation of a painfully trite motion picture. Executed intelligently, however, it can have a profound impact. Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration is one of the best cinematic explorations of this subject, and the result is unsettling.

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Can't Hardly Wait

Can't Hardly Wait
With Can't Hardly Wait, I suppose first time directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (whose previous credits include writing the script for A Very Brady Sequel) were trying to recapture the mood of a John Hughes '80s teen comedy. Unfortunately, while perhaps aiming for the level of The Breakfast Club and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, they have come a lot closer to the likes of Revenge of the Nerds. Can't Hardly Wait is a painfully predictable account of that ultimate teenage bacchanalia -- the post-graduation party. Yet, instead of bringing intriguing characters with real problems and interesting dialogue to the bash, Kaplan and Elfont take the lazy approach of pulling generic stereotypes off the shelf and throwing them into a formulaic plot that doesn't offer one genuine surprise or meaningful moment.

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My Daughter's Secret

My Daughter's Secret
When the bad-news boyfriend (Steve Byers) of 17-year-old Justine (Nina Dobrev) robs the store where her mother, Denise (Jennifer Grant), works, Justine is torn between telling the truth and sending her boyfriend to prison, or keeping the secret from her mother, which soon starts to tear her apart. (christine-conradt) Single mother Denise (Jennifer Grant) struggles with her 17-year-old daughter Justines (Nina Dobrev) behavior. After a robbery of the jewelry store where Denise works, she notices that Justines behavior has taken a turn for the worse. But what Denise doesnt know is that her daughter is harboring a dark secret -- one that will put both mother and daughter in grave danger. (SalvsNena)

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The Man from Elysian Fields

The Man from Elysian Fields
Byron Tiller, happily married with a young child, is a writer whose last novel has ended up in the remainder bins. Down on his luck and struggling to make ends meet, he keeps bashing away, refusing to admit that perhaps he is not that good.

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Panic Room

Panic Room
Recently divorced Meg Altman (Foster) and her 11-year-old daughter Sarah (Stewart) have just purchased a four-story brownstone on the upper west side of New York City. The house's previous owner, a reclusive millionaire, installed an isolated room used to protect the house's occupants from intruders. The "panic room" is protected by concrete and steel on all sides, a thick steel door, and an extensive security system with multiple surveillance cameras and a separate phone line. On the night the two move into the home, it is broken into by Junior (Leto), the grandson of the previous owner; Burnham (Whitaker), an employee of the residence's security company; and Raoul (Yoakam), a ski mask-wearing gunman recruited by Junior. The three are after $3 million in bearer bonds, which are locked inside a floor safe in the panic room.

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Desert Saints

Desert Saints
The nature of temptation. Banks is a hit man, the best, usually working for Latin American drug cartels. He picks up solitary women, uses them briefly for a job, then kills them. Hes in the Southwest, headed toward Mexico, when he picks up Bennie, a woman leaving an abusive marriage, going to Paradise, Arizona. The film follows three tracks Bankss slow recruitment of Bennie, the set-up for the hit at a swank resort in Mexico, and the FBIs close pursuit of Banks, whom they want alive in hopes hell rat out his bosses. Bennie may not be who she seems, and there may be a chink in Bankss tough-guy armor. Guns, money, and a chance at Paradise...

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Johnny Appleweed

Johnny Appleweed
Johnny Wagner is smoked-out pottery student waiting to get off probation. While evading a surprise drug test, Wagner crashes his bike and is knocked unconscious. During his blackout, the legendary Johnny Appleseed appears and urges Wagner to follow in his footsteps by planting seeds. Wagner recruits two long time friends to help him in his quest, a sensitive pyromaniac poet and her brother, a self-serving filmmaker. The three set out into the woods and countryside to plant the seed, marijuana seed that isand so becomes Johnny Appleweed.

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