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Nothing Like the Holidays

Nothing Like the Holidays
There are no ingredients in Nothing Like the Holidays that you're not already familiar with from other big-crazy-family Christmas movies. Then again, so what? The Christmas breakfast my mom makes every year never has anything new either -- in fact, there would be open rebellion if it did -- and that suits everyone just fine.

Nothing Like the Holidays is warm and comfortable in that way, mostly pleasant, mostly well acted, and moderately entertaining. Directed by Alfredo De Villa (Washington Heights), it boasts a luminous ensemble of Latino actors as two generations of Puerto Ricans living in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. It captures the cultural flavor of their yuletide festivities and intra-family squabbling without being so specific that non-Latino audiences can't appreciate it. Details aside, anyone with a family can relate to most of what happens here.

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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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Once
In an age when "musical" usually means jungle animals singing Elton John songs or the splashy, sequined Hollywood drag-show theatrics of DREAMGIRLS, writer-director John Carney's scrappy, song-driven tale of love among Dublin's street musicians seems downright revolutionary. Focusing strictly on stripped-down performances of great music and the charming chemistry between the two leads, it's a perfectly realized yet unassuming movie that deserves to find a big audience.

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Be Kind Rewind

Be Kind Rewind
Despite some solid laughs and a feel-good ending, Michael Gondry's Be Kind Rewind exists far from the mainstream and its appeal will be limited to those who embrace the kind of awkward quirkiness that defines the production. This comedy/fantasy/drama constantly reinvents itself as it progresses, skipping gleefully across genres, discarding subplots and plot threads, and occasionally turning nonsensical. It's a hodgepodge of tones and styles but, given a chance, it may grow on a viewer. It's not always easy going, however. For every genuine, hard-earned laugh there are at least two missed chances for something more outrageous, and what starts out as a zany Jack Black physical comedy ends up as a heartfelt homage to independent filmmaking. Predictable this isn't, but that can be seen as both an asset and a detriment.

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Good Woman

Good Woman
It has taken this workmanlike adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play, "Lady Windermere's Fan," more than a year to reach U.S. movie screens. The reason it's here now probably has less to do with a sudden interest in Wilde than it does with the white-hot rise to stardom of one of its leads, Scarlett Johansson. The actress made the movie as she was on the rise, and it showed at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival (a year after Lost in Translation and The Girl with the Pearl Earring). But it wasn't until last year that Johansson's art house popularity spilled into multiplexes, and now she's the kind of commodity that Lions Gate Films sees a chance to exploit.

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Scorpion King

Scorpion King
Watching The Scorpion King, the question that came to mind was whether Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could become a Schwarzenegger for the '00s. Having asked that, however, it's worth considering whether Schwarzenegger in his prime could have had the same kind of career had he started today. The '80s were a different decade, and the kind of muscle-bound, hulking hero that Arnold represented might no longer have a place in cinematic circles. WWF mega-star The Rock resembles a younger Schwarzenegger in many ways: he has the same kind of physique, the same complete lack of acting ability, the same screen presence, and the same general appeal. Only the accent is missing. And, much as Arnold made his feature film splash in Conan the Barbarian, The Rock is using this low-rent Conan as his first starring vehicle.

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Hollywoodland

Hollywoodland
The question of whether actor George Reeves committed suicide or was murdered will go down in history as one of Hollywood's great unsolved mysteries. Allen Coulter's Hollywoodland, a fictionalized account (it uses both apocryphal stories and confirmed events) of an investigation of the death, presents the three most common scenarios but, taking a page from Rashomon, it never settles on one. The film is balanced in its presentation of the evidence for and against suicide. Ultimately, however, Hollywoodland is only peripherally about the life and death of George Reeves. The film's real main character is a seedy P.I. who attacks the mystery and, by chasing Reeves' ghost, finds his own path to redemption.

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Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven
With Just Like Heaven, director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) wants to have his cake and eat it to. That's not necessarily a bad thing, until you consider that the recipe used for this confection is missing a few ingredients and the final product is half-baked. And, rather than eating it, he kind of chokes on it. Just Like Heaven tries to be an unholy union of Ghost and All of Me, and the result is rarely humorous, rarely romantic, and rarely affecting. Plus, the suspension of disbelief curve is so steep that even Lance Armstrong wouldn't be able to make it to the top.

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Get Shorty

Get Shorty
The better you know movies, the more appreciation you'll have for the wit and energy of Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty. While it's quite possible for the cinematically unaware to enjoy this film -- it's got a fair amount of readily-accessible comedy and action -- this is a real treat for movie buffs. The story is as much about the love of motion pictures as it is about gangsters.

Scott Frank's script for Get Shorty, which lifts huge chunks of dialogue directly from the book, captures the spirit of Elmore Leonard's work the way no previous adaptation has been able to (The Moonshine War, Stick, Cat Chaser). This film is wry and sardonic all the way through, with the actors and director knowing exactly how to play each scene for maximum effect. Get Shorty is much more a comedy than anything else, and a very funny one at that.

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L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential
Crooked cops. The mystery and allure of Hollywood in the '50s. Death, double-crossing, and secret alliances. Paparazzi waiting to get that one breakthrough picture. These are just some of the elements that make Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential one of the most exhilarating noir thrillers to reach the screen in recent memory. With a script that pays homage to the films of the '40s and '50s and may remind some viewers of the likes of Chinatown, L.A. Confidential proves that every period piece thriller doesn't have to go the way of Mulholland Falls.

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The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear

The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear
The most accurate way to describe the Naked Gun series is comparing it to Marmite.
You either hate it or you love it.

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When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town
When a one man sideshow rolls into Granger, TX claiming to showcase "the fattest boy in the world," the lives of two small-town teens are changed forever in this touching coming-of-age tale based on the National Book Award-winning novel by Kimberly Willis Holt. Zachary Beaver (Sasha Joseph Neulinger) is a morbidly obese teen who travels from town to town with his best friend and business partner Paulie Rankin, earning money off of his unusual appearance.

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The Darkroom

The Darkroom
A teenage boy befriends an escapee from a mental institution who sees visions of horrible murders being committed.

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Metamorphosis: Beyond the Screen Door

Metamorphosis: Beyond the Screen Door
A man awakens one morning to find himself incapable of leaving his room. Since he financially supports his parents and teenager sister, this is a problem. HIs abusive boss keeps appearing to insult him, as if he was still at work. His family feed him leftovers, hoping his health will return and he will go back to work. After a while, the family plots to get rid of the bedridden, rotting person in the room. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka provides the ingredients to this pitch black comedy.

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Mentor

Mentor
A thought-provoking drama about the power that a famous university professor holds over his students and assistants.

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Man to Man

Man to Man
1870. Dr. Jamie Dodd is elated he has finally succeeded in capturing not one, but two pygmies. He brings them to Scotland with the help of Elena Van den Ende, an adventurous woman who sells wild animals to the zoos of Europe. His two anthropologist friends, Alexander and Fraser, and himself are certain they have discovered the missing link, which will make them famous. They start examining the pygmy couple from every angle and Jamie gradually discovers that Toko and Likola are just as sensitive and intelligent as any other homo sapiens. His two colleagues strongly reject this idea as it is glory they are after not the truth. Will Jamie be able to prove the two short people are genuine human beings and not freaks to be shown in a zoo?

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