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{ Recent posts by Big Picture, Big Sound }
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Crime and "Punisher"

"Punisher: War Zone" No Stars (out of four): Disproving the old adage "Third time's the charm", this mess doesn't even deserve a straight-to-video release.

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Figuring out exactly what went wrong with "Punisher: War Zone" is a little like trying to piece together the cause of a plane crash. And much like the typical plane crash, there is not just one fault, but rather a series of faults that all contribute to a cascading failure of epic proportions.

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"Milk" - it does a bio good

"Milk" ***1/2 (out of four): Sean Penn gives a moving, masterful performance as slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.

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In San Francisco on November 27th, 1978, a lone gunman snuck into City Hall and shot the Mayor and a City Supervisor -- Harvey Milk, the city's first openly gay elected official and a leader of the Gay Rights movement. Thirty years later, director Gus Van Sant brings this fascinating and moving story to life in "Milk", starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.

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Season's Beatings

"Four Christmases" *1/2 (out of four): In spite of the great casting, this is one gift that you'll want to return.

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Vince Vaughn is funny. Since taking Hollywood by storm in "Swingers" he has tinkered with slight variations on the same character (see "Old School" and "The Breakup") often enough that that he has found the right balance of charm, self-interest, and unapologetic childishness. Intellectually, you may not like what his characters stand for, but you can't help but smile as these boy-men skip through a steady stream of rapid-fire mini-monologues driven by satirical self-interest.

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Down Wonder

'Australia" *** (out of four): Baz Luhrmann's epic story of love and adventure isn't quite the classic it hopes to be, but it paints a vivid portrait of the titular continent on the brink of World War II.

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Fans of Baz Luhrmann know what to expect from his movies. Playfully sweeping cameras, big, heartfelt emotions, and lots of spectacular spectacle. Subtlety, not so much. The multi-hyphenate director doesn't release a film often (his last was 2001's fab musical potpourri "Moulin Rouge!"), so when he does it's usually something to look out for. "Australia" is his first crack at a true epic - a film in the tradition of "Lawrence of Arabia", and a clear love story to his homeland, set against the backdrop of World War II. While it isn't quite the classic it hopes to be, "Australia" paints a vivid portrait of the titular continent during an important period of history, and it tells a good (if mostly familiar) story along the way.

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The Vampire Strikes Back

"Let the right one in" ***1/2 (out of four): If you see one vampire movie this season, it shouldn't be the one you're probably thinking of. It should be this quietly beautiful, fiendishly gripping Swedish import which is likely to stay with you longer than your average teen romance novel.

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As most of you have heard, there's a terrific new vampire movie opening this weekend. As most of you haven't heard, it's called "Let the right one in (Låt den rätte komma in)", a quietly beautiful, fiendishly gripping Swedish import which is likely to stay with you longer than your average teen romance novel.

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Putting on the Dog

"Bolt (3D)" *** (out of four): A derivative, but beautifully animated action-adventure tale with a Pixar pedigree.

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"Bolt" is the first Disney Animation release under its new head, Pixar's John Lasseter. With the Pixar pedigree (but not the studio), "Bolt" has a lot to prove for Disney. Incorporating Disney Digital 3D technology, the film looks to push the envelope of what can be artistically achieved with animation. But can it match the Pixar reputation for quality story lines and -- dare we say -- heart?

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Lady and the Vamp

"Twilight" *** (out of four): Stephenie Meyer's lovesick vampire tale provides more than enough passion and slashin' to sink your teeth into.

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There's something about doomed love affairs that gets people all aflutter, whether it's Romeo and Juliet or Jack and Rose or even Ryan and Reese. "Twilight," based on the first book of Stephenie Meyer's uber-popular young-adult series, capitalizes on this notion and is featured on posters worldwide, declaring "Nothing will be the same." It's true -- there's no going back to mere mortals once you've tasted a vampire.

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Bond and Determined

"Quantum of Solace" *** (out of four): The latest Bond entry is Bourne again - it delivers the action goods, but is it a Bond movie?

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The James Bond franchise (one of the most successful in film history) has always been about formula. So calling a Bond movie formulaic is like called Blofeld a cat-lover. It goes without saying. Occasionally, every decade or so (less in the case of the unfairly derided George Lazenby), the franchise will stir things up a bit with the introduction of a new Bond actor. It's a different face but, generally, it's the same old game. Gadgets, girls, martinis, and globe-trotting action. Bond, James Bond.

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Demented Mentors

"Role Models" **1/2 (out of four): In David Wain's childish new comedy, Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott play two slackers who seem allergic to growing up.

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Cinematic man-children are all the craze nowadays, especially if they're over 30 and still live at home, can't hold down a job and have never touched a woman. Hoping to capitalize on this not-so-lovable-loser trend, writer/director David Wain conjured up "Role Models," in which Paul Rudd ("Anchorman") and Seann William Scott ("American Pie") play two grown-up slackers on the fast track to nowhere. It's a solid formula for a comedy, though the film never quite reaches its full potential.

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Laughter is good for the "Soul"

"Soul Men" *** (out of four): Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson deliver plenty of smiles, laughs, and (of course) soul in this welcome addition to the road movie canon.

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"Soul Men" centers on two former back-up singers, Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd Henderson (Bernie Mac), who had achieved modest success as a part of the 60's soul music act "Marcus Hooks and the Real Deal". Unfortunately for them, their lead singer, Marcus Hooks (a nice cameo by John Legend), left them to fend for themselves and found fame and fortune as a solo act. Henderson and Hinds were not so lucky, spending thirty years sinking into the footnotes of music history, until they are given the opportunity to reclaim past glory by performing at the star-studded tribute concert for the recently deceased Hooks. They just have to survive their long-standing feud and a drive from California to New York to get there.

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Born to Be Mild

"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa in IMAX" *** (out of four): With this, the second film in the Madagascar series, Dreamworks Animation gives us more of the same. And by that I mean a fun-filled romp through the wild with our friendly foursome of zany zoosters.

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When is "more of the same" a compliment? When it describes a sequel to a successful and enjoyable original animated film. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the follow-up to 2005's Madagascar, falls squarely into this camp. The lovably quirky original foursome of zoo animals from the first film is back, along with their friends, the penguins, the monkeys, the lemur king Julien (and his two sidekicks) plus an entourage of new characters.

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Great Sexpectations

"Zack and Miri Make a Porno" *** (out of four): After an exhausting dry spell, Kevin Smith finally scores with "Zack and Miri."

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Once upon a time in a land far, far away, called the '90s, Kevin Smith churned out memorable, uproarious films such as "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy." Then for a long stretch, he lost his way, getting plowed by the sentimentality train ("Jersey Girl") and forgetting that louder doesn't necessarily mean funnier ("Clerks 2"). Devout fans have been waiting, patiently, for the writer/director to return to form, and their wish has finally been granted with "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

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Change is Not Always for the Better

"Changeling" ** (out of four): A nine-year-old boy disappears and his mother's search is chronicled in this based on truth tale that engenders curiosity but leaves one strangely detached.

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Clint Eastwood is here to unveil his yearly "mega-depth" film that will no doubt garner lots of attention based on its strong showing at Cannes. In his latter years he has gone from movie tough guy to noted auteur, at least to some degree. While I've enjoyed some of his recent films, I've also found others to be grandly overrated. "Million Dollar Baby" immediately pops to mind as an example of this.

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Imitation of Life

"Synecdoche, New York" **1/2 (out of four): Don't expect any "Eternal Sunshine" in "Synecdoche".

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Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich", "Adaptation", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") makes his directing debut with "Synecdoche, NY" ( rhymes with Schenectady), the story of a self-involved artist who struggles to understand life, death and heartbreak.

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Prez Dispenser

"W." *** (out of four): Oliver Stone delivers a surprisingly entertaining, almost sympathetic look at our much-maligned 43rd President.

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Has Oliver Stone softened in his old age? One would think, based on previous works like "Platoon", "JFK" and "Nixon", that his portrait of the man who led us into the Iraq war would be yet another burning in effigy. Instead, Stone offers a surprisingly entertaining, almost sympathetic look at our much-maligned 43rd President.

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