35 UP (1992) (****)

15 03 2013
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Starting as a one-off TV special, the UP documentary series transformed into an amazing sociological study and film achievement, thanks to director Michael Apted, who has been on the series from the beginning and has helmed it since 7 PLUS SEVEN. Watching a group of British citizens from various walks of life since they age of seven, the series chronicles the ups and downs of living like no other. For this installment, we aren’t seeing the radical personality shifts that we saw in earlier editions, but change is still evident. In many ways, this installment is the most melancholy thus far.

For this chapter, two more subjects dropped away and one other returns. We don’t get an update on Peter, who at 28, seemed dissatisfied with his job as a teacher and his marriage, dreaming of the days when he played in a band. We also don’t see Simon, the only mixed race participant, who at 28, was content with having a stable job at a meat packing plant, which provided for his family. Charles, who was a producer at 28 and did not participate in the previous film, declined again.

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THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (2012) (***1/2)

26 11 2012
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What do you get when bringing together Mary Norton’s award-winning children’s book THE BORROWERS and the talents of animation studio Studio Ghibli — magic. Scripted by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, along with Keiko Niwa, and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the film captures the innocent, wide-eyed passion that many of Miyazaki’s directed films do. It’s like they borrowed the adventurous spirit of CASTLE IN THE SKY and stitched in the joy present in films like SPIRITED AWAY and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.

Borrowers are tiny beings who live in the walls of normal sized people’s homes, borrowing things from the humans that they will not notice such as a lost pin. Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler, TV’s GOOD LUCK CHARLIE) is growing up and it is time for her father, Pod (Will Arnett, TV’s ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), to take her on her first mission to collect items for their use. Her mother, Homily (Amy Poehler, TV’s PARKS AND RECREATION), on the other hand, either oscillates between mild panic and outright terror and believes that her daughter is way too young to be venturing out into the larger house. In the end, the calm levelheadedness of her father wins out. However, what Arrietty has not told them is that she has already been spotted by the sick boy Shawn (David Henrie, TV’s WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE), who has come to live in the country home of his great aunt where his mother grew up.

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MARLEY (2012) (***1/2)

25 11 2012
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What are the words that come to mind when you think of Bob Marley. Reggae. Jamaica. Rastafarian. Dreadlocks. Peace. Political figure. Pot, maybe? Kevin Macdonald’s comprehensive documentary captures all these elements of the famed musician and more. Speaking with surviving friends and family and filled with his music, the film chronicles a man who became known worldwide for his music, but became an icon for much more.

In 1945, Marley was born to 18-year-old Cedella and 60-year-old British Royal Marines captain Norval Sinclair Marley. His mixed race status in the impoverished neighborhood of Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica defined Marley as an outcast. His father married his mother, sent money, but provided little else. But Marley rose above race and defined himself as a Rastafarian and a Jamaican first.

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RAMPART (2012) (***1/2)

24 11 2012
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Director Oren Moverman adds another entry into the growing sub-genre of over-the-top corrupt cop films which includes the likes of both BAD LIEUTENANT films and TRAINING DAY. Like Denzel Washington in the latter film, Woody Harrelson gives an Oscar worthy performance as a dirty and brutal cop. The key difference is that Washington’s Alonzo Harris has greed as his motivation — Harrelson’s David Brown just likes being bad.

Set in 1999 right before the Rampart division scandal broke in Los Angeles, Brown has a long history of violence on the job. His nickname is Date Rape and not for the reasons you might think. As he is trying to dodge his latest excessive force accusation, he finds himself videotaped beating a suspect in the street. This is the one that DA Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver, ALIEN) has been waiting for — the one to make an example of.

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SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012) (***)

23 11 2012
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If you want to redo the Snow White fairytale for modern sensibilities and still stay as true as possible to the original story this is about as good as it gets. All the key elements remain — the innocent Snow White, the evil queen who wants to retain her beauty, the Huntsman tasked with killing the girl, the charming prince, and the dwarves who look after her. Take these elements, add in a bit of female empowerment donned in shining armor and voila!

Like in the fairytale, King Magnus (Noah Huntley, 28 DAYS LATER) remarries Ravenna, the evil queen (Charlize Theron, MONSTER), after the death of his wife. Snow White is a young girl at the time and the new queen is jealous of her beauty. After Ravenna murders the king she imprisoned Snow White (Kristen Stewart, TWILIGHT) in the tower for years. When Snow White comes of age, she escapes and the queen forces the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, THOR) to hunt her down in the forest and cut out her heart. The Huntsman of course has a change of mind and decides to let her go free instead.

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DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) (***)

22 11 2012
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DEAD OF NIGHT is considered a horror classic. The anthology film is made up of a series of small stories that have become tropes of the genre. Unlike other classics the stories have since been improved upon imitated, stolen and butchered so many times over the years that they have become cliché. You can see it’s influence on shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and movies like MAGIC. One could say that its influence has lasted longer than its impact. However, the one element that hasn’t been improved upon is how compelling the framework story is.

The framing story is simple — an architect, Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns, A CHRISTMAS CAROL) is called out to a country home on a job. When he arrives the house seems so familiar to him and when he meets the people inside he is struck with the fear that he has been dreaming this situation for years. His fears spur others to share their tales of encounters with the supernatural. Craig is convinced that during the course of the evening he will be driven mad. However, one of the guests is Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk, BAD BLONDE), a skeptical psychiatrist, who sets up the battle of wits to convince Craig that there are not demons lurking in the shadows.

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THE INNKEEPERS (2012) (***1/2)

22 11 2012
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Ti West’s horror film has the same mischievous spirit that made TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS so fun. It certainly has more in common with a film from William Castle, like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, than modern spook fests or gore-atoriums. The plot takes time to look at its characters   less worried about having a scare every few minutes. In doing so it creates suspense that builds to a compelling conclusion.

Legend has it that the Yankee Pedlar Inn is haunted by the ghost of a spurned bride who committed suicide in one of the rooms. Now the once-grand hotel is set to close. The third floor is already shut down to visitors. Claire (Sara Paxton, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) and Luke (Pat Healy, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES) are the final two employees. They live in rooms along with the final few guests. Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis, TOP GUN), an aging actress now on the psychic convention circuit; an angry mother and her young son; and an old man looking to relive his honeymoon are the only paying guests. Luke claims to have seen the ghost and has started a website to cash in on the haunted hotel’s notorious reputation. He ropes in the pretty college student into his paranormal investigation, having her take an EVP recording in an effort to capture the things that go bump in the night.

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) (***1/2)

9 10 2012
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What do you expect from a horror movie titled THE CABIN IN THE WOODS? A pretty young virgin? A handsome jock? A dumb blonde bimbo? The token nice guy? The stoner goof-off? Director/writer Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon provide all of these slasher movie clichés. You might expect the characters to be picked off one by one by, say, zombie rednecks. And you wouldn’t be all that off. And yet Goddard and Whedon turn the tropes on their ear and provide us with a new meta, modern myth.

The movie doesn’t start with the tried-and-true character types mentioned above, but begins in a very sterile-looking government facility. Sitterson (Richard Jenkins, THE VISITOR) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford, TV’s THE WEST WING) chat about their top-secret project like it is a routine event. We wonder how their work project will affect the college students heading out to a remote cabin in the forest. Why is this agency watching these kids?

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OSLO, AUGUST 31 (2012) (***1/2)

8 10 2012
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Time and place really matter in this dark drama. The film begins in a documentary style of shots from Oslo with voiceover of people describing their experiences moving and living there. Then we meet Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie, REPRISE) as he is walking through the woods. He comes upon a lake, weighs himself down with rocks and walks into the water to his impending death. This is the start of this original story about a recovering drug addict.

As you might expect Anders does not die in his attempt to end his life. He is finishing up a long stay at a drug rehabilitation center. His counselor speaks positively about his job interview that day. It’s his chance to start his life over. Anders gets in a taxi and goes back to Oslo where all the demons of his old life live.

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THE GREY (2012) (***1/2)

7 10 2012
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Joe Carnahan’s thriller is not your typical popcorn fare. It’s main character is somber and suicidal. Then it strands that man in the cold Alaskan wilderness where wolves try to hunt him down. Whether or not the film is completely accurate about wolf behavior doesn’t matter because it made me believe it was real.

The suicidal man Ottway (Liam Neeson, SCHINDLER’S LIST) is a survivalist who works for the oil companies to hunt down wolves in order to protect the workers from attacks. He boards a plane out of the remote region of the oil fields to head back to Anchorage. When the plane goes down he is forced to think on his feet and continue his job of protecting the workers in a far more extreme arena.

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