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This Is It
The biggest movie release of the week is this somewhat bizarre documentary/concert film that chronicles what turned out to be the final weeks of global pop phenomenon Michael Jackson's life.
The flick is made up of rehearsal footage of Jackson's ill-fated 'This Is It' swansong tour, which would have seen the singer perform 50 (sold out) concert dates at London's 02 Arena. Fate intervened however, with this distillation of the hours of material shot for a making-off documentary all the public will end up seeing of the sure-to-be-spectacular show.
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When I decided to go and see The Orphanage I was unsure of what to expect. Considering the title and the setting, I was expecting a redux of the French film House of Voices. There are distinct similarities between the two, mainly in their similar setting and the central character experiencing strange goings on within the creepy confines.
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Downfall is the third major filmed account of Hitler's final ten days, following in the distant wake of 1973's Hitler: The Last Ten Days and 1981's The Bunker. A superior production to both of the earlier movies, Downfall is a windfall for anyone who, like me, is fascinated by stories from World War II. The first internationally released German production to feature Hitler as a central figure, Oliver Hirschbiegel's film has been criticized in some circles as presenting a portrait of the Fuhrer that is "too sympathetic." In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As portrayed in a powerhouse performance by Bruno Ganz, Hitler comes across as a petty, demented figure who spews bile as he rants and raves. The lone exception is an establishing scene in 1942 (when Hitler chooses a secretary), where he appears almost grandfatherly. Other than that, he is shown to be a conscienceless, hateful madman who believes his people deserve to die because they are no longer fit to live.
Margaret Cho: Assassin
Apparently, I approached this production with a misapprehension. I was under the impression that Margaret Cho: Assassin was intended to be a filmed comedic performance. What I got instead was an 85-minute political rant from a liberal Asian American woman who abandoned comedy in her desire to advocate a number of causes. I have no problem with comedians who use politics as the backbone of comedy; the problem comes when nastiness supplants humor. Even those who agree with every one of Cho's positions (and I agree more often than I disagree) may find this motion picture tough going.
I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative, but, after watching Assassin, I can understand why this country is so polarized. The divisions between the far right and the far left are so deep and wide as to be unbridgeable. Cho's monologue radiates hatred and bitterness towards those who do not share her convictions. She gets applause, ovations, and laughs, but it's important to remember that those in the audience share her views. (In fairness, I should mention that it's just as offensive to watch an arch conservative give a lengthy speech. I can't endure more than about 10 minutes of Rush Limbaugh's pontificating before I have to change the station.)
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We have reached the Season of Natalie Portman. With no fewer than six movies due to be released within a six-month period (Black Swan, The Other Woman, No Strings Attached, Hersher, Your Highness, Thor), a confirmed Golden Globe nomination (and probable win), a likely Oscar nomination (and possible win), a pregnancy, and an engagement, Portman has suddenly become ubiquitous. IFC has elected to distribute and market The Other Woman in anticipation of Portman receiving a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Black Swan. (It will run on Video on Demand beginning January 1, 2011 and will open in limited theatrical distribution on February 4, 2011.) Otherwise, this film likely would have been headed for obscurity. It's not good enough to warrant a theatrical showing but not bad enough to deserve universal derision. Riding Portman's Oscar coattails will increase its profile, and Portman is neither good enough nor bad enough in The Other Woman for her performance to impact her chances for Black Swan. This won't be another Norbit. (That movie, released during the Oscar voting period when Eddie Murphy was nominated for Dreamgirls, is widely credited for killing the actor's chances of taking home a gold statuette.)
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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.
Almost every filmmaker in the history of cinema would be thrilled by the knowledge that a feature of his (or hers) is considered an undisputed classic - a benchmark by which other, similarly themed movies are judged. Director Martin Scorsese, considered by many to be the finest American film craftsman working today, can claim a unique distinction - he has been responsible for a classic during each of the last three decades of the 20th century. In the '70s, it was Taxi Driver. In the '80s, it was Raging Bull. And in the '90s, it was Goodfellas (the most lauded, at least in terms of official awards and nominations, of the director's features). No one else, not even greats like Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, and Eric Rohmer, can make a similar claim. With patience, care, and strict attention to detail, Scorsese has staked out an impregnable position in the history of motion pictures.
In 1868, within the Ruby Mountains, Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) roasts an animal over an open fire. Suddenly, gunshots ring out with one striking his left arm. He grabs what he can and races down the mountain. His attackers emerge from their cover to inspect his campsite. Colonel Morsman Carver (Liam Neeson), a former Confederate officer, is accompanied by Pope (Robert Baker), Hayes (Michael Wincott), Parsons (Ed Lauter) and the Kid (John Robinson); who are all engaged in a bounty operation to apprehend him.
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Category 6: Day of Destruction
Andy Goodman (Brian Dennehy) is a week away from a forced retirement from his position as chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service storm prediction center. However, tornadoes level Las Vegas, an area normally not prone to the storms. Concerned and upset that the storm system formed unnoticed and that they were unable to warn the people, Goodman begins closely tracking the system. Goodman receives field reports from his friend "Tornado Tommy" (Randy Quaid) and assistance from new intern Sabrina Rogers (Alicia Johnston). As time passes, he realizes the system is heading towards Chicago, joined by an unusual warm storm coming from the south, which is already causing a record-breaking heat wave in the city, and an abnormally early cold front from the Arctic.
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Lamb tells the story of a young priest, Brother Sebastian, who works in a Roman Catholic institution for troubled boys on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, referred to as "a finishing school for the sons of the Idle Poor" by its head, Brother Benedict. There, the Brothers teach boys to conform in a harsh, uncompromising regime which Brother Sebastian, whose real name is Michael Lamb, finds deeply distasteful. The Brothers teach the boys "a little of God and a lot of fear."
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Three students and a school teacher disappear on an excursion to Hanging Rock, in Victoria, on Valentines Day, 1900. Widely (and incorrectly) regarded as being based on a true story, the movie follows those that disappeared, and those that stayed behind, but it delights in the asking of questions, not the answering of them.
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Murder by Decree
Sherlock Holmes investigates Londons most infamous case, Jack the Ripper. As he investigates, he finds that the Ripper has friends in high places.
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Death and Cremation
In a typical American suburb filled with middle class morals, a lonely 59-year-old, Stan, contributes to society by offering cremation services from his basement. In fact, Stan murders neighbors he perceives to be social bullies. Jarod, a fatherless 17-year-old high school outcast, lands an after-school job in Stans cremation house and the two develop an unusual working relationship that quickly evolves into a partnership. As detective Matt Fairchild puts together clues from local disappearances, Stan must decide if protecting his newfound trainee is worth killing for.
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Kids follows a group young, unsupervised, not mature, but all-too-grown-up kids in New York. One girl has just been diagnosed with HIV and is trying to notify the boy who gave it to her, who is on a quest to sexually prey upon innocent girls. The film follows these characters and their friends through the day, hanging out, playing, carousing, and going to parties. Each scene is intriguing and disturbing -- conveying an urban reality that includes drugs, sex, guns, and disease and yet never letting you forget these are kids, some of them barely in puberty.
John Kimble is a tough city cop whos been on the trail of drug dealer Cullen Crisp for years. He finally tracks Crisp down but it seems the only person that can testify against him is his ex-wife. The problem is shes disappeared and all Kimble knows is the name of the school in Oregon where her son attends. When things dont quite go to plan, Kimble finds he has to go undercover on his toughest assignment yet - Kindergarten teacher!
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Letters to God
Inspired by a true story. A young boy fighting cancer writes letters to God, touching lives in his neighborhood and community and inspiring hope among everyone he comes in contact. An unsuspecting substitute postman, with a troubled life of his own, becomes entangled in the boys journey and his family by reading the letters. They inspire him to seek a better life for himself and his own son hes lost through his alcohol addiction.
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