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    Winter's Bone

    Winter's Bone is one of those little indie films that if you're lucky, you can find in limited release at a theater near you, where it's probably hidden away in the tiniest auditorium next to a concession stand that hasn't been open in years, and usually starts late because even the projectionist seems to have forgotten that it's playing there.  That tends to be my experience with these kinds of films, but luckily this movie was worth the aggravation.

    Based upon the 2006 novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone takes place in a ragingly poor community in rural Missouri, where 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) bears the difficult burden of having to take care of her sick mother and her younger brother and sister.  Her father Jessup is nowhere to be found after being arrested on a meth-lab charge, but they seem to be better off without him anyway, at least they think so.  When Ree learns that Jessup had put up their house to make his bail, and that they will lose the house unless he makes is impending court date, she starts a desperate search to find him.

    While it seems logical that people would want to help a kid in so much trouble, that's not the case here.  With neighbors who appear to have come from the Deliverance School of Terrifying Rednecks (yes, even a banjo makes an appearance), it quickly becomes clear that nearly everyone in town knows something about Jessup's whereabouts, but no one is talking - to the point where Ree's life is in danger just looking for answers.

    Directed by Debra Granik, Winter's Bone is bleak and pretty damn miserable.  It's not a pretty picture, seeing just how much meth addiction has destroyed entire communities already ravaged by poverty.  And it doesn't leave you believing things are going to get better anytime soon either.  But it's an extremely intense film that reaches a point where you can't imagine what the hell Jessup could have done to piss all of these people off.  While the final reveal is a bit anticlimatic, the buildup is brilliantly done and it didn't disappoint.

    Jennifer Lawrence (soon to be seen as Mystique in X-Men: First Class) really carries the entire film, and she gives a terrific, no-nonsense performance, whether she's telling off a sheriff, teaching her siblings how to gut squirrels for dinner, or dealing with scary relatives and neighbors with names like Teardrop, Little Arthur, and Thump.  Some of these characters barely spoke a word in the film and they were still scary as all hell.

    Hopefully, Winter's Bone will find it's way out of the little theater in the back of the multiplex and into a wider release soon.  Yeah, it's a small film, but a pretty riveting thriller nonetheless. 


    The Kids Are All Right

    The Kids Are All Right is about a family on the verge of becoming very messed up.  No, they're not messed up because the parents are a lesbian couple whose kids were conceived via a sperm donor.  In fact, that's the most normal part about them.  It's when the kids secretly decide to contact the aforementioned sperm donor when things inadvertently begin to unravel.

    Workaholic doctor Nic (Annette Bening) and not-so-much of a workaholic Jules (Julianne Moore) are a happily married couple with two teenaged children:  recent high school graduate Joni (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska), and 15-year-old Laser (the almost-Spiderman Josh Hutcherson).  While both kids are perfectly content with their two-mom family structure, Laser seeks a father figure in his life and pressures his now 18-year-old sister to contact the sperm bank where they were conceived to see if they can find their father.

    Thankfully, their father Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a hipster organic gardner/restaurant owner who says "Right on!" a lot, is not completely weirded out upon learning he has two children, and he agrees to meet with them.  The meeting goes well, but soon enough their moms find out what is going on and suddenly they all have to deal with this unexpected addition to their family, which threatens to send their lives into a tailspin.  

    Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right was a favorite at Sundance this year and won the Best Feature Film "Teddy" award at the Berlin International Film Festival.  While I'm not sure it's headed for that kind of acclaim come awards time later this year (although the performances were certainly good enough - especially Mark Ruffalo, who steals every scene he's in), it's still a solid little film that's a nice break from the usual summer blockbuster madness.  It has some funny moments, it has quite a few sad moments that I wasn't expecting, but it's all completely relatable and a touching look at a family in crisis. 

    The Kids Are All Right is currently in limited release, although it's already grossed an impressive $2.5 million in just 38 theaters nationwide.  It expands to 115 theaters today, and will hopefully expand further in the next few weeks.  If family dramedies are your thing, you can't go wrong with this one.


    Despicable Me

    Despicable Me is a movie that's so sweet that even the fart jokes are adorable.  In what's turning out to be a great year for animated films, this latest family adventure is definitely well worth checking out for both kids and adults.  And you don't even have to see it in 3D.

    Gru (a Russian-accented Steve Carell) prides himself on being the world's finest supervillian.  Along with his army of yellow minions, he's managed to pull off a number of high-profile thefts, most notably the Times Square Jumbotron screen.  But when a new high-tech villian called Vector (Jason Segel) threatens to outdo him, Gru plans the ultimate heist:  he's going to steal the moon.  Unfortunately, the Bank of Evil refuses to give him a loan until he gets his hands on the shrink ray needed to pull off the crime, which Vector has already stolen and hidden away in his high-security fortress.

    Desperate, Gru winds up adopting three orphaned young girls to sell cookies to Vector so he can sneak in and steal the shrink ray.  He intends to return the girls to the orphanage once the job is done, but of course within about 30 seconds they manage to melt his supervillian heart and make him realize the maybe the moon isn't the most important thing he needs in his life.

    The story to Despicable Me is very predictable, and you can see most of the jokes coming a mile away.  Overall, I'd put it behind Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon on my list of favorite animated films this year (I have yet to see Shrek Forever After).  But even so, the movie is a lot of fun and it's absolutely adorable.  The voicework is top-notch.  Even the little girls were soliciting plenty of "awwww's" from audience I saw the movie with, which was mostly adults.  In addition to Carell's usual awesomness, the movie also features Russell Brand as Gru's gadget man, Dr. Nefario, whose advanced age tends to prevent him from hearing Gru's instructions correctly, to hilarious results.  The always classy Julie Andrews is also in the film as Gru's perpetually disappointed mother.

    Gru's minions, which seem to have made up the movie's entire advertising campaign, are a blast.  They reminded me a bit of the slugs from Flushed Away.  They don't necessarily add anything to the story, they're mostly there to randomly pop up and cause some kind of comedic chaos.  What cracked me up the most about them is how, as strange as they were, they all had normal names like Phil or Kevin.  

    I did not see the movie in 3D, which was fine, since it was a digital screening and looked just fine without it.  But it did seem like they had fun with a few scenes for the 3D version - such as the scene where the girls take Gru on a rollercoaster ride, and some extra scenes during the credits where the minions are trying to see how far out of the screen that they can jump.  So if you're a fan of the 3D, you'll probably enjoy that version even more.

    If you find time in between Inception screenings this weekend, definitely check out Despciable Me.  You'll have a great time. 



    Words truly can’t describe what I’ve just seen. I don’t throw this term around lightly, but this was a complete masterpiece. From start to finish I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the next moment to pass in this film, but dreading the end. It was such an emotional ride, one I wasn't at all expecting. The visuals we were treated to in the trailers were merely the icing on the cake in the grand scale of what Inception really is.

    I was originally worried I'd go in with my expectations raised so high it couldn't compare. This wasn't at all the case. As high of hopes as I had for this going in, nothing could top the feeling I felt after walking out of the theatre. Christopher Nolan in my eyes deserves a spot next to Scorsese as one of this generation’s greatest director’s.

    The plot from what everyone knows is a crime which takes place from within someone’s mind. Which to a certain extent is entirely true, but what the trailers don’t reveal, and without spoiling anything is this is about far more than the mind blowing visual and stunning action sequences. This is an amazing story more so than an action filled adrenaline pumped flick. What’s amazing about inception is it touches on so many different genres yet the plot once it comes full circle is actually quite simple. The character development and the way the scenes were shot and brought together are astounding.

    It’s very easy to get caught up in the many layers of this film. About half way in I was almost concerned that it had even gone over my own head. But by the end of the film once everything has come full circle you feel a sense of closure, but you could still very easily debate the outcome.

    The character development was far beyond anything I expected going into this. The plot works around Leonardo DiCaprio’s Character Cobb and his team, but even more so around him and his personal journey. You’re taken so far into Cobb’s mind and subconscious that you feel like you know him personally. You become extremely emotionally invested in him. You understand his motives, and the way he thinks, why he does things the way he does. Inception is almost entirely about one man’s redemption, but you find yourself questioning that very thing several times over. Nothing truly makes sense until the final credits roll, and like I said even then you could argue the outcome. Nothing is at all cliché about the way this film ends, so don’t for a second think I just ruined the film for you.

    You can go out right now and watch every piece of promotional material for this, the trailers, the clips, the interview, the synopsis, and nothing not even this raving review will tell you what the central theme or tone behind the film really are, until you see it all the way through for yourself. I plan to see it again on Friday when it opens everywhere and I suggest you do the same. This is the type of film that multiple viewing will only enhance your perception of it.

    I'm giving Inception an overall 10/10

    I might also add that I only gave The Dark Knight 8.5. If Nolan isn't at least nominated for Best Director, Inception for Best Picture, and Leo for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars than I am officially done with them.


    Batman Under the Red Hood Blu Ray Review

    The eighth direct to video release from Warner Bros and DC Comics is Batman:Under the Red Hood. Based on a graphic novel of the same name. The plot revolves around Batman's guilt for allowing the second Robin Jason Todd to die at the hands of the Joker. Five years later a new crime lord/vigilante shows up in Gotham dealing his own form of justice. He goes by the moniker Red Hood, a name once used by the Joker before being dropped into a vat of chemicals by Batman. He starts off by taking over the drug trades in Gotham from the current king pin of crime Black Mask. Batman suspects the Joker may be behind the Red Hood, but the problem is Joker is locked up in Arkham Asylum.

    When Red Hood first shows up he forces all of Black Masks top men into working for him, and gives them a set of rules to live by. If they abide by the rules and pay up to him he offers to protect them from Black Mask and Batman. Black Mask responds to this firstly by trying to kill him as he tears his operation apart and takes his men from him, but Red Hood changes his motives and begins to mercilessly kill Black Masks men at will. with no option left and nowhere to run to Black Mask breaks the Joker out of Arkham in order to hunt down and kill Red Hood.

    When ever you watch an animated film you almost look at it differently than if it were in actual live action, regardless of the subject matter. With Red Hood you get so caught up in the world they've created using a combination of 2D animation and 3D backgrounds, as well as a story gripping enough it could have been made into a feature length live action film. The fact that it's animated becomes irrelevant.

    Stepping in for Kevin Conroy the usual voice behind the animated Batman is Bruce Greenwood who does a great Job unlike Billy Baldwin in Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths. Taking over from Mark Hamill as the regular voice of the Joker was Joe DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama), who gives the character a much more sinister approach. His Joker still laughs and acts like a maniac, but sounds unlike anything you've heard before. Neil Patrick Harris is Nightwing aka the original Robin, he adds a slight touch of humor.

    Without spoiling anything for those of you who haven't read the book like myself. It's a great film, and not just as an animated feature it's great in general. The tone is much darker than anything you would likely expect from an animated Batman film, but it works for how twisted and dark the story is.

    I'm giving Batman Under the Red Hood an overall 7/10