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January 2011

Film Review - Rabbit Hole

RABBIT HOLE still 1

When a child dies, what comes next for the parents left behind? Grief is inevitable, but should it become eternal? Is there hope for happiness or at least some sense of composure in the midst of ungodly tragedy? “Rabbit Hole” analyzes the messy, raw emotional aftermath of loss, and how the eventual road to recovery is not defined by simple acts of forgiveness, but a rolling effort of comfort emerging from the most unlikely of sources. “Rabbit Hole” is a beautiful picture of immense power, treating the bleakness at hand with sublime variants of intimate human response.

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Film Review - Every Day

EVERY DAY Liev Schreiber Helen Hunt

It’s another peek into the strain of marriage with the drama “Every Day,” though this particular snapshot of marital friction is blessed with a gifted cast able to pull the interior ache out of a script that eventually grows to fail them completely. A scattered picture, the viewing experience is saved by a few tender scenes of resignation and the occasional blip of honest communication.

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Film Review - The Dilemma

DILEMMA Cast

Stepping away from serious business (and the lucrative world of Robert Langdon) for a spell, Ron Howard mounts his first comedy in over a decade with “The Dilemma.” True to form, it’s really not much of a comedy at all. Though crudely marketed as a slapstick bonanza to put butts in seats, the picture is a far more peculiar machine of anxiety, flavored with only a light dusting of the funny stuff. Howard’s not drilling to the root of infidelity here, but he touches on delicate relationship issues, providing a fascinating, unexpected personality to the picture.

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Film Review - The Green Hornet

GREEN HORNET Seth Rogen Jay Chou

“The Green Hornet” is a beloved superhero franchise that has carried on triumphantly through the years on radio, television, and the silver screen. For its latest cinematic adaptation, the material confronts its greatest challenge: Seth Rogen. The giggly, goofy actor takes an implausible leap into big screen heroics; however, his “Green Hornet” is far from a stone-faced urban savior with a thirst for justice. Here, Rogen plays the masked avenger as a boob, though a financially powerful, easily impressed boob. His instincts to turn the role into comedy serve him well, making his “Green Hornet” a screwy addition to the parade of stern superhero releases.

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Film Review - Barney's Version

BARNEY'S VERSION Paul Giamatti

As an actor, Paul Giamatti has remained predictable, at least for the majority of his career. Blessed with a certain carriage of rumpled intensity, his roles have gravitated toward men of rage or duplicity, often embodying eye-bulging discontent. However, when the actor finds a special role that demands dimension and an overall throttling of disease, Giamatti is unstoppable. “Barney’s Version” offers such a challenge, gifting Giamatti a role of immense depth and mystery to explore in this outstanding, unpredictable drama.

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DVD Review - The Freebie

FREEBIE Kate Aselton Dax Shepard

The strain of love and marriage goes mumblecore in Katie Aselton’s ‘The Freebie,” which takes a largely improvised peek at the struggle of fidelity. Though cursed with a clichéd shaky HD presentation, Aselton (who’s married to co-producer/mumblecore maestro Mark Duplass) proves herself to be a formidable filmmaker with a keen eye for shame, making the picture something of a surprise, especially with its sense of marital realism.

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The Terrace Theater in Robbinsdale, Minnesota (Take Two)

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I received an unexpectedly warm response to my original Terrace Theater story. My inbox was filled with support and stories, people who wanted to share their grief over the loss of this movie palace. It was a gush of nostalgia that encouraged me to head back to the site of the crumbling theater, yet I completely forgot to post the pictures from the trip. This is a more unedited look at the state of the building, with a few peeks inside. As always, click the picture for a larger view.

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Film Review - Season of the Witch

SEASON OF THE WITCH Nicolas Cage

It’s difficult to take Nicolas Cage seriously these days. The former madman has been forced into a series of paycheck gigs for reasons obvious to anyone enjoying access to the internet, with “Season of the Witch” a solid representation of Cage’s new career direction. Unchallenged and over-wigged, the actor is merely biding his time with this serving of horror hooey, obviously more interested in hearing the sweet sound of “cut!” than trying to make a tepid screenplay shuffle with restless energy Cage is more than capable of summoning. The material needed his special sauce. Instead, Cage barely raises an eyebrow.

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Film Review - Country Strong

COUNTRY STRONG Gwyneth Paltrow

Writer/director Shana Feste aims to pattern her latest film, “Country Strong,” after the tragic love songs of the enduring musical genre. What she comes up with is far more clunky and unimaginative, scripting an intolerable Lifetime Movie-style excursion into the gloomy recesses of fame, making a complete fool out of a confident actress. “Country Strong” is excruciating to watch at times; a wholly embarrassing enterprise that renders country music insufferable, keeps Gwyneth Paltrow in an irritating state of teary distress, and makes one long for the same numbing cell of bottle-clutching isolation that alcoholism gifts to the lead character.

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Film Review - The Way Back

WAY BACK Still 1

“The Way Back” features more walking than I’ve ever seen from a film. Combine all three “Lord of the Rings” pictures, and there’s still less arduous trekking than found in this movie. It’s a true-life tale of endurance and unimaginable distance brought to the screen by filmmaker Peter Weir, who captures the agony and companionship of life on the move, where a group of strangers faced the fight of their life hiking through debilitating environmental challenges.

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Film Review - Another Year

ANOTHER YEAR Still 1

Like any dependable Mike Leigh picture, “Another Year” leisurely reveals its secrets. It’s a glacial feature representing the passage of time, observing a single year in the life of a dangerously functional couple and their troubled friends and family. It’s not a film of direct conflict or suspense, but one that nurtures a sinking feeling of unease and sadness, watching as some of these characters fall deeper into hopelessness, almost to spite the happiness around them.

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Blu-ray Review - Merantau

MERANTAU Still 1

Though there’s nothing wrong with the appearance of weighty dramatics during a martial arts extravaganza, the Indonesian film, “Merantau,” lacks a necessary component of entertainment. There’s no sense of life to this bland run of heroes and villains, reducing the bone-breaking encounters scattered throughout to merciful blasts of screen energy that break up the monotonous, poorly acted severity that turns the picture into a still frame. I’m all for the infusion of gravitas and actual stakes, but “Merantau” is a bore, only achieving a few pure moments of bloody-knuckled invention.

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