Life as We Know It

Life as We Know It
Move over, cupid; it’s time for the angel of death to play matchmaker in Life As We Know It, a rom-com from director Greg Berlanti and first-time screenwriters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson which proves the old adage that there’s no better catalyst for love — and comic hijinks — than the sudden, tragic demise of loved ones.

Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) could not be more different. He’s an aspiring television sports director and an unrepentant cad whose casual, seat-of-your pants approach to life is best symbolized in the ratty baseball hat that perpetually adorns his dome (always worn backwards — classic movie shorthand for “slob”). She’s a successful caterer with a five-year plan and a strict intolerance for disorder of any kind. He has a penis; she a vagina. We’re talking Israel and Palestine here, folks.

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Tenderness

Tenderness
IN JOHN POLSON'S Tenderness, Russell Crowe is being avuncular a role he fills with an admirable lack of vanity. He wears a sleeveless cable-knit jumper over a nylon shirt together with the kind of moustache that went out of fashion long before the death of Clark Gable in 1960.

Crowe is playing Lieutenant Cristofuoro, a New York police detective caught up in the case of Eric Poole (Jon Foster), a young psychopath who's just been released from juvenile detention where he's been held for the murder of his mother and stepfather.

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High Plains Invader

High Plains Invader
For a couple years now, RHI Entertainment and Genius Entertainment have been releasing creature features that aired on the SyFy Channel (usually during their Saturday offerings of cheap science fiction and horror movies) on home video under the banner Maneater Series. The Maneater Series has become rather reliable in offering diverting, if completely forgettable, cheap creature films. There must be some kind of fan base for this series, as the line has flourished over this time. Its official website is located here.

In the past two months, I've been sent the previous installments of the Maneater Series to review: Carny and Hellhounds. It appeared at the time those two films were released that the website had not been updated for several months (and it still hasn't been as I write this). Some changes appeared to be afoot on the business level as Vivendi Entertainment's logo - and not Genius Entertainment - was now featured on the cover art. The same holds true for this month's Maneater release: High Plains Invaders. If there are any Maneater Series fans out there, it's difficult to say what the future of this long-running home video series will be, as no new titles are in the immediate pipeline. However, I can say that Vivendi Entertainment at least intends to release a triple feature collection under the Maneater logo in May, though this merely collects the three previously available aquatic flicks Croc, Sea Beast, and Shark Swarm.

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Hairspray

Hairspray
Nikki Blonsky. The name doesn't exactly sing. It's at least as flat -- and, if you'll pardon the expression, as "ethnic" -- as Tracy Turnblad, the dance-crazy Baltimore teenager Ms. Blonsky plays in "Hairspray."

But Blonsky does sing, and like this giddy, refreshing movie, her voice rings loud and clear.

Tracy is an outsider who dreams of being with the In crowd, and innocent enough to believe she'll get her chance. And so she does -- this is America, after all. But she's the wrong body shape to get a fair shake from TV producer Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), and, anyway, as someone cuttingly remarks, "The Corny Collins Show" isn't shot in CinemaScope.

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Happy Feet

Happy Feet
Call me old school, but I like my children's films to actually be written for children. With the glut of animated films flooding the kiddie film market, it seems that studios -- and the people they hire to write the scripts for them -- are convinced that the only way to get parents to take their tykes to the theater to see a kids' movie is to fill them to overflow with adult references, and Happy Feet is the latest offender. The film opens with a female penguin, Norma Jean (voiced by Nicole Kidman), swaying seductively through a crowd of male penguins. The female is drawn with an inflated chest, presumably to simulate a large bosom. Real female Empire Penguins don't have boobies, of course, but I suppose the filmmakers thought that real men can't manage to sit through a 90-minute film with their kids without some simulated penguin cleavage to keep their attention. Norma Jean moves through the males, singing, until her attention is caught by Memphis (Hugh Jackman), who channels Elvis and says things like, "Whoa, Mama" a lot.

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A Serious Man

A Serious Man
The Coen Brothers have clearly established themselves as outstanding directors, maybe the best directing duo of all time. They have so many great movies on their resume and have the awards and accolades to solidify their place in cinematic history. However, the Coen Brothers also have a tendency to make pointless films that go nowhere and sometimes they forget about character arcs completely. BURN AFTER READING is a good example of this as is their latest fare, A SERIOUS MAN. When the Coens succeed, they really succeed, but it works the other way, too.

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Your Highness

Your Highness
When assessing the small motion picture sub-genre of the "fantasy comedy," it's necessary to acknowledge that the impregnable pinnacle is occupied by Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride, a classic whose prominence may never be challenged. Your Highness, David Gordon Green's entry, is more than a little distance down the slope. The problem with the film, which strives for a tone not unlike that of Piers Anthony's The Magic of Xanth series, is that, although it's a better fantasy than a comedy, it never fully embraces either side of its pedigree and ends up a piebald bastard. Green and his screenwriters (Ben Best and co-star Danny McBride) might have been more successful had they toned down some of the humor (too little of which is funny, anyway) and made Your Highness more of a straightforward homage to medieval quest adventures.

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Dogville

Dogville
Warning: Significant spoilers starting in Paragraph #4. (But, in a case like this, do plot details really matter?)

Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier has gone from Dogma to Dogville. The director's latest, a three-hour political allegory, has fueled controversy world-wide. This is, of course, von Trier's intention, since his ego needs this kind of attention to remain in its bloated state. Nevertheless, although the movie's self-importance causes the project to take on water, it fails to sink it. Dogville isn't for everyone, but there's some intellectually stimulating conversation fodder for those with the patience to navigate the film's rough terrain.

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Reno 911!: Miami

Reno 911!: Miami
Reno 911!: Miami represents an argument against taking 22-minute TV comedy shows and expanding them to 80-minute feature films. Something that entertains over a short period when watched from the vantage point of a couch or a recliner does not necessarily offer a comparably enjoyable experience when expanded and lengthened. It can be done - see South Park and Monty Python for counter-examples - but those are not the norms. As a TV show, Reno 911! is diverting and amusing; as a motion picture, it's overlong and wears out its welcome. The film offers some solid laughs, but not enough to justify sitting through 80 minutes of the faux cops' antics.

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Zookeeper

Zookeeper
Zookeeper is no Mall Cop. The 2009 comedy, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, may have been one of the most unexpectedly pleasant movie-going surprises of the past few years. It was better than it had a right to be and convinced audiences that, in addition to front-lining a television show, Kevin James could also carry a film on his own using little more than his natural penchant for physical comedy and his easygoing nature. Although James may have faltered in The Dilemma, it has taken a train wreck like Zookeeper to bring his motion picture momentum to a halt. A horrifyingly inept comedy, this plays to James' weaknesses, seemingly crafted as a rejected vehicle for Adam Sandler, who has his fingerprints all over every frame. In addition to providing voice work for a rude monkey, Sandler is a co-producer and one of his handpicked directors, Frank Coraci, is at the helm. There are few things worse than bad, unfunny Sandler projects, except perhaps bad, unfunny, neutered Sandler projects. The family friendly PG-rating (which comes with the territory for James after Paul Blart) reduces the cartoonish humor to a level where even the youngest members of the audience may be unimpressed. (Neither kids nor adults were laughing much at the packed screening I attended.)

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The Animatrix

The Animatrix
Featuring nine animated shorts set in and around The Matrix, written and directed by the cream of Japanese anime creators, with the Wachowski brothers' blessing, The Animatrix arrives with a weight of expectation similar to Reloaded.

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Glass Trap

Glass Trap
When an army of radioactive ants are unknowingly carted into a skyscraper, a group of people have to find a way out before theyre eaten one by one.

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Barbarosa

Barbarosa
Karl Westover, an inexperienced farm boy, runs away after unintentionally killing a neighbor, whose family pursues him for vengeance. He meets Barbarosa, a gunman of near-mythical proportions, who is himself in danger from his father-in-law Don Braulio, a wealthy Mexican rancher. Don Braulio wants Barbarosa dead for marrying his daughter against the fathers will. Barbarosa reluctantly takes the clumsy Karl on as a partner, as both of them look to survive the forces lining up against them.

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Meet Monica Velour

Meet Monica Velour
When an awkward teen meets his favorite porn star, whose career peaked in the 80s, an unexpected friendship follows as the young man gets a glimpse inside Monica Velours current life as a single mom struggling to make ends meet.

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Murder in the Heartland

Murder in the Heartland
A wanna-be tough guy and his 14-year-old girlfriend go on a murder spree.

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Map of the Sounds of Tokyo

Map of the Sounds of Tokyo
A dramatic thriller that centers on a fish-market employee who doubles as a contract killer.

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