'Country Strong'

'Country Strong'
Frankly, Iím amazed that Gwyneth Paltrow even had time for a vanity project, what with all the hours she devotes to her blog, her famous family, feature roles in summer blockbusters and guest appearances on Glee. And as vanity projects go, Shana Festeís music melodrama Country Strong is no trifle. Itís a veritable tour-de-force: Paltrow sings, (sort of) dances, and treads stoutly though such hazardous emotional territory as addiction, infidelity, heartbreak, and even martyrdom, decorating it all with a thick Texas twang to boot. The woman spends half the film with mascara streaming down her face, for Godís sake. How does she find room in her busy schedule for such strenuous pursuits? One hopes an illuminating Elle article on the matter, chock full of useful tips, is forthcoming.

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Trick 'r Treat

Trick 'r Treat
I'm not a horror movie guy. Never have been, never will be. But in the last few years I've grown to respect certain films from the genre, whether for personal reasons or for critical reasons, but it's rare that I ever come across a horror movie that I genuinely love. Yesterday night I finally found one. I'm not sure whether it's my childhood affection for Halloween and the act of trick or treating that provoked my appreciation for this movie, but whatever the reason, by in the end I walked out a bigger fan of horror than I've ever been. Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat is, in my own opinion, the absolute best horror movie I've seen in years and it's sadly being buried by Warner Brothers. Unless I convince them to change their mind.

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Sharpe`s Peril

Sharpe`s Peril
Sharpe's Peril is a British TV drama that is based on the character Richard Sharpe from the Bernard Cornwell series of novels. All told, there are over 20 Sharpe novels that cover the time period from 1799 to 1821. Most of them take place during the Peninsular Wars - fought primarily in Spain, Portugal from 1807 through the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo.

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Persepolis

Persepolis
I attended the Tehran Film Festival in 1972 and was invited to the home of my guide and translator to meet her parents and family. Over tea and elegant pastries, they explained proudly that Iran was a "modern" country, that they were devout Muslims but did not embrace the extremes of other Islamic nations, that their nation represented a new way. Whenever I read another story about the clerical rule that now grips Iran, I think of those people, and millions of other Iranians like them, who do not agree with the rigid restrictions they live under, particularly the women. Iranians are no more monolithic than we are, a truth not grasped by our own zealous leader. Remember, on 9/11 there was a huge candlelight vigil in Tehran in sympathy with us.

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Rendition

Rendition
Much as I might like to, I cannot heap praise upon director Gavin Hood's Rendition, a political thriller with aspirations of being so much more that it is. The film treads into the minefield of debate that exists surrounding the question of Constitutional Rights versus National Security. Some day, someone is going to make a very good movie about these issues - one that will take a hard look at the dangers inherent in not walking the fine tightrope that exists. Rendition, however, approaches the subject playing with a stacked anti-National Security deck and a script that is half-baked. Hood has staked out a position and defended it in a shockingly unsubtle way. Instead of experiencing a movie thatís seriously interested in getting into all of the pluses and minuses of the policy of "extreme rendition," we are ambushed by a simplistic storyline thatís more interested in sermonizing and demonizing than existing in the real world where things aren't as clear-cut as the movie would like us to believe. The film's disappointingly black-and-white approach robs characters and situations of badly needed ambiguity.

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Unfinished Life

Unfinished Life
Robert Redford on a horse roaming the wide-open countryside of Wyoming - doesn't sound like much of a stretch, does it? What is unusual about Redford's participation in Lasse Hallström's An Unfinished Life is that the actor in as unkempt as he has ever appeared on screen (he looks like showed up on set after bypassing the makeup trailer). And, although this touchy-feely motion picture transforms Redford's character into a human being, he starts out as an unapologetic misanthrope.

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Royal Tenenbaums

Royal Tenenbaums
When I first heard the title of this movie, I thought it was a great ploy to release it around Christmas. Then I realized it was "Tenenbaums", not "Tannenbaums"... so much for that idea. Actually, Touchstone has elected a year-end release because they believe this movie, the third feature from critics' darling Wes Anderson (Rushmore), might have a shot at an Oscar or two. Despite the high profile cast, which features Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen & Luke Wilson, Danny Glover, and Bill Murray, the movie probably has limited box office potential - it's a little too quirky for mainstream America. But the mercurial Academy may feel differently about the production than the multiplex masses - at least that's the distributor's hope.

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Step Brothers

Step Brothers
When did Will Ferrell stop being funny? It wasn't that long ago that this Saturday Night Live alum looked to be following in the footsteps of the likes of Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler but, somewhere along the way, Ferrell's train derailed. Now, once again paired with John C. Reilly, he tries so hard and with so little effect to make us laugh that the result is almost physically painful. Few films are worse to sit through than comedies that don't work. Step Brothers is one of those. Humor is subjective, but this movie made me feel as if I had been subjected to something unpleasant.

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Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado about Nothing is Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of one of Shakespeare's better-known comedies. Centered around two romances - Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard), and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson) - the story follows these very different courtships. For Hero and Claudio, it's love at first sight and, as with any immediate attraction, they have a lot to learn about each other. Beatrice and Benedick, on the other hand, have known each other for quite some time and it takes a little none-too-subtle prodding from their friends to help them realize and admit their feelings.

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George and the Dragon

George and the Dragon
Gallant knight, Sir George (James Purefoy) returns from the Crusades, eager to settle down on a small plot of land and rear cattle. In exchange for this meagre reward, George promises King Edgar (Simon Callow) he will rescue Princess Luna (Piper Perabo) from the clutches of the worldís last, fire-breathing dragon.

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Thir13en Ghosts

Thir13en Ghosts
Ghost hunter Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) and his psychic assistant Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) lead a team on a mission to capture a spirit, called the Juggernaut, in a junkyard. Several of the men are killed during the ensuing fight, including Cyrus himself. However, the team is able to catch the ghost. Cyrus' nephew, Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub), a widowed math teacher, is informed by Cyrus' estate lawyer Ben Moss (JR Bourne) that he has inherited a mansion. Financially insecure, Arthur decides to move into the mansion with his two children, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts) and their nanny Maggie (Rah Digga).

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Joh's Jury

Joh's Jury
Dramatisation of the 1991 perjury trial of former Queensland state Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

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Expecting a Miracle aka The Miracle Of Dommatina

Expecting a Miracle aka The Miracle Of Dommatina
L.A. engineer Pete Stanhope wants to stop expensive, frustrating IVF treatment with his wife, Donna, and consider adoption but his wife disagrees. In the hopes of defusing the marital tension they go on a a romantic holiday to Mexico. Car trouble strands them in tiny Dommatina, a peaceful village where the locals are content. Pete accepts the help of the only car mechanic, Juan Salazar, while aiding the philosophical father Arturo with preparations for the annual fiesta. Juans kid brother, disabled Pepillo, will then star in the flying act. Getting to know the boy and experiencing simple happiness may reshape the Stanhopes own future.

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From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn
Two fugitive brothers at gunpoint get an ex-minister and his two children to take them accross the border into Mexico. They drive to a Mexican biker bar to rendevous with other crooks. While at the bar, a few unusual things happen.

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In from the Night

In from the Night
After ten years without contact, Bobby Miller (16) shows up famished, exhausted and nightmare-ridden at would be-author Victoria Vicki Millers home. He ran away from his wicked, selfish mother Priscilla and spineless dad, Vickys brother Rob. Their late dad took Bobby away as a neglected baby to be raised with Vickys sister Ruth, her husband and their kids, until dads death allowed his Bobbys dad Rob to file successfully to regain custody. Soon after, Victoria has to choose between concentrating on her novelist career, aided by brilliant publishing adviser Aiden Byrnes, or help doing the right thing for Bobby, and blood proves strong enough to engage lawyer-friend Ned Alvarez to fight for emancipation. But gaining that doesnt solve everything for the uneducated though bright knave, who soon makes makes dubious punker friends and harbors a dark trauma.

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Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang
Nanny McPhee (Thompson) arrives to help a harried young mother (Gyllenhaal) who is trying to run the family farm while her husband is away at war, though she uses her magic to teach the womans children and their two spoiled cousins five new lessons.

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