Shutter Island

Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese's latest film, Shutter Island, is absolutely fascinating, at times frustrating, too long by half an hour, has pacing issues - and is worth seeing twice. In fact, it's almost necessary to see it twice. A psychological drama reminiscent of Hitchcock's work, Shutter Island (despite its flaws) not only solidifies the fact Scorsese's a master filmmaker, but showcases the best performance of Leonardo DiCaprio's career.

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The Brothers Bloom

The Brothers Bloom
There comes a point when you've innovated something as far as it can possibly go, added all that you could conceivably add, discovered all that there was to discover, so that nothing can ever again be new. For the most part, the con-man genre is like this, and if you draw a line back through cinematic history, you can trace the evolution of the double-cross in the most basic of terms. It began with a lie – one character deceiving another in such a way that the audience was in on the scam. And for awhile, the lie was enough. We were content to know exactly where the ball was at any point during the shell game. Whether the target would figure out the con was thrill enough for us. But then we got smarter, wiser, more demanding, and filmmakers delivered the triple-cross, or simply added another element to the con, shuffling around the shells at such a rate and speed that while the audience was aware of the deception, the conclusion was always surprising.

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Planet 51

Planet 51
We have no idea why it’s called Planet 51, or why the pleasantly blobby green humanoid aliens wear no trousers -- jackets and ties or T-shirts for the males, and of course the ladies wear skirts (and have feet shaped like high heels, like Barbie!). We have no idea how cultural convergence allows them to speak English -- except for the proper names, which all sound like “Vernkot” and “Glipforg” -- or to be having their 1950s, complete with malt shops and alien invasion movies, just as a human from Earth arrives among them to terrorize them.

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The Bucket List

The Bucket List
"The Bucket List" is a movie about two old codgers who are nothing like people, both suffering from cancer that is nothing like cancer, and setting off on adventures that are nothing like possible. I urgently advise hospitals: Do not make the DVD available to your patients; there may be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens.

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Penelope

Penelope
One could be forgiven for approaching Penelope with a certain amount of skepticism. It has two points against it - not only is it opening in the middle of one of the bleakest cinematic seasons but it has sat on the shelf for nearly two years since wrapping production in 2006. Normally, that's not a good sign. Fortunately, however, Penelope is not undone (at least not entirely) by either of these factors. While not a cinematic classic, it delivers pretty much what could reasonably be expected from a movie that opens with the caption "Once upon a time?" It's not the best of modern fairy tales but it's sincere and Christina Ricci's earnest and vulnerable performance touches the heart. Penelope is flawed but not irredeemably so.

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Scoop
Woody Allen fans were thrilled when his 2005 feature, Match Point, signaled a return to form for the respected director. That, as much as anything, fueled anticipation for Scoop. There were reasons for optimism. The film, like its predecessor, is set in England. Also, like Match Point, the star is Scarlett Johansson. Alas, Scoop proves to be a disappointment - a return to the uninspired pre-Match Point era that nearly choked Allen's career. A blend of lackluster comedy and lazy plotting, the film feels a lot like bad Hitchcock.

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Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone
Winter's Bone offers a case study in the essential philosophical differences between independent motion picture thrillers and Hollywood/mainstream ones. The third feature from director Debra Granik and winner of two awards at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival (including the Grand Jury Prize), Winter's Bone is character-oriented. There are no gunfights or shoot-outs. The protagonist is an atypical choice: a 17-year old girl living in the rural South. She possesses no extraordinary abilities besides her intelligence and resilience; if you hit her, she will bleed. The "villains" have readily identifiable motivations that have nothing to do with mass murder or world domination. The pace is usually languid, allowing the viewer to soak up an atmosphere pregnant with danger, but is occasionally punctuated by moments of violence or extreme tension. And, as is often the case with films that veer off a familiar, formula-paved track, it's tough to see the end until it arrives.

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Very Long Engagement

Very Long Engagement
A Very Long Engagment is Jean-Pierre Jeunet's follow-up to his international success, Amelie. However, despite the return of elfin star Audrey Tautou, this is nothing like a sequel. Based on the novel by Sébastien Japrisot, A Very Long Engagment tells a darker tale. Whereas Amelie was optimistic and life-affirming, this movie spends much of its time in the bloody, muddy trenches of World War I, where death is a more likely companion than life, and optimism is only for the unrealistic.

The year is 1920. The war has ended. The trenches have been filled in and are overgrown by weeds and farmers' crops. For Mathilde (Tautou), however, there is no closure. Her fiancé, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), has been missing for more than three years. She has been told that he died in early 1917, but her intuition tells her that he may still be alive. So she begins an investigation of her own, tracking down official government documents, putting ads in newspapers to attract the attention of survivors who may have known Manech, and hiring a private investigator. The hunt is slow, but a picture gradually begins to emerge.

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In Her Shoes

In Her Shoes
Some movies are simply made for women, and heterosexual men have no hope of appreciating them, I suppose. Do you like shoes? False sentimentality? Something that mistakes generalizations for insight? Then In Her Shoes is the film for you. Curtis Hanson's slack follow-up to his rapper hero-worship outing, 8 Mile, is a disappointing look at sisterhood based on the chick novel by Jennifer Weiner. A frequently saccharine and false motion picture, In Her Shoes wants to elicit tears it never earns and tie everything together into a tidy bundle that leaves no cliché untouched. Artificial in both its dialogue and its construction, the film only works - on those occasions when it works - because of the sincere performance by the underrated Toni Collette.

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Hamsun

Hamsun
Nobel prize winning writer. Nazi sympathizer. Deep thinker. Naive fool. To some, Knut Hamsun was a hero, but to most, he was a villain and a coward who sold out to Hitler for the price of safety and respect. In Hamsun, a powerful 1996 feature from renowned Swedish director Jan Troell (The Emigrants), the tragedy of Hamsun's life is laid bare before the camera over a 17 year period (from 1935 until his death in 1952). This is a singularly striking and unforgettable portrayal of a great man whose hubris led to his fall. Shakespearean in its approach and structure, Hamsun represents the first time I have ever felt real pity and sorrow for a figure linked by history to the rise of the Third Reich.

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El Dorado

El Dorado
Having struck pay dirt with his 1958 western Rio Bravo, Howard Hawks more or less remade the picture twice in the 1960s. The first of these rehashes was El Dorado, with Rio Bravo star John Wayne back for more. Wayne plays a gunfighter who rides into El Dorado to link up with his old pal, sheriff Robert Mitchum ("It's the big one with the big two!" declared the film's advertisements). Wayne has turned down a job with evil land baron Ed Asner, who'd hoped to drive a family off the land that he needed for its water. That family, headed by R.G. Armstrong, is convinced that Wayne is working with Asner; when Armstrong's son Johnny Crawford dies, Wayne is held responsible, earning him a bullet in the spine from Crawford's sister Michele Carey. A year passes: Wayne returns to El Dorado, in the company of his new saddle pal James Caan.

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Faust: Love of the Damned

Faust: Love of the Damned
An artist, John Jaspers sells his soul to the mysterious M in order to get revenge on the people who killed his girlfriend. Soon, he realizes everything has a price, and he is transformed into a horned demon with a passion for killing. He learns that M plans to release the Homunculus, a giant Lizard-like monster onto the earth, opening the gate to hell. Now, Jaspers must stop M before he can let the apocalypse begin...

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Brother's Justice

Brother's Justice
Motivated by Box Office statistics, Dax Shepard has made a decision to leave comedy to pursue his dream of becoming an international Martial Arts action star.

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Love On A Branch Line

Love On A Branch Line
Jasper is the perfect English Civil Servant - polite and refined. But to his girl friend, and even to himself, he is a bore. So he decides to become a painter in Paris. Not so fast. The powers-that-be send him to the country to dismantle a forgotten research unit which is headquartered in an old mansion. The eccentric owner lives in a railway train, on his own branch line, letting the government pay for the upkeep of his ancestral home. The small research unit enjoys running the stately home and everyone is content with the status quo. Enter Jasper who quickly meets Lord Flamboroughs three daughters, who, in one way or another contrive to make Jasper feel very much at home. Jaspers life is turned upside down, and he must eventually decide where his own personal future will lie.

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Mad Money

Mad Money
Three female employees of the Federal Reserve plot to steal money that is about to be destroyed.

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Neon City

Neon City
In the year 2053, the earth has been devastated by a military experiment gone awry. The ozone layer is gone, radioactive clouds drift across the plains, and unpredictable, intense bursts of ultra-violet sunlight (called brights) incinerate anyone caught outside. In these conditions, a group of travelers are trying to get from the frontier town of Jericho to the paradise safe haven of Neon City A doctor named Tom, an old man with a mysterious past, a prostitute, a spoiled rich girl, an untalented comedian, and a bounty hunter named Stark with his valuable prisoner Reno. They board an armored truck converted into a passenger transport driven by an ex-convict named Bulk. Along they way, the travelers deal with passing though radioactive Xander clouds, 150F degrees of brights, unstable paved roads, and nomadic motorcycle riders who kill anyone venturing though their territory. During the journey, few, if any, of the passengers turn out to be what they initially appear.

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