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The Wrestler The Wrestler   A
review by Rob Vaux

It physically hurts to watch Mickey Rourke move in The Wrestler. The opening shot holds on him as his washed-up former übermensch tries to compose himself after a match. He pulls off his padding with labored breathing, slouched over in a folding chair tucked into the corner of some abandoned New Jersey rec center. Everything about him reeks of constant, futile struggle -- of trying to stay in a game that has long since passed him by and of grappling with the consequences of not preparing for this day.

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Timecrimes Timecrimes   B+
review by Rob Vaux

Timecrimes is small enough and modest enough to need little more than a supremely nifty idea to work. If developed properly and arrayed successfully, it can transform such a low-budget effort into something memorable. Director Nacho Vigalondo had less than two-and-a-half million dollars to play with, but because his work is built on such a solid foundation, the results feel right at home with far more lauded (and expensive) science-fiction films.

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Frost/Nixon Frost/Nixon   B
review by Rob Vaux

The central complaint about Ron Howard is that his films rarely merit the praise they receive. He specializes in middle-of-the-road prestige pictures -- marked by the occasional flat-out disaster -- which look good, feel nice, and provide the kind of harmless moralizing that Oscar voters love to no end. It can be exasperating to listen to words like "masterpiece" tossed about so casually, knowing full well that the movie in question won't even be a blip on the radar this time next year.

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Milk Milk   B+
review by Rob Vaux

Few films this year feel as timely as Milk. With the aftershocks of Proposition 8 reverberating across California and both sides gearing up for a long and bitter struggle, its heartfelt portrayal of gay rights' most visible martyr could have been pulled from tomorrow's headlines. In many respects, it's an extremely routine biopic -- a surprise coming from a director as nontraditional as Gus Van Sant -- but its insight forms eerie parallels with the ongoing movement for which San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk gave his life.

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Twilight Twilight   D
review by Rob Vaux

I'm about to tear this film a new one, but before I do, it's worth mentioning that Twilight most definitely does not have my demographic in mind. I am not now nor have I ever been a 12-year-old girl, and whatever magic this grab-bag of badly articulated vampire clichés holds, it's clearly intended for them and them alone. I understand that and even sympathize to a certain extent. Folks my age had a movie like this too. It was called The Lost Boys and back in the day we thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then we grew up and realized how tacky and cheesy it really was, but it was still our cheese and so we forgave it.

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Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire   A-
review by Rob Vaux

The rejection of realism plays a large part in Slumdog Millionaire's success. It never makes claims to plausibility, instead embracing the heightened social melodrama favored by Charles Dickens and his ilk. Its central idea depends upon extreme contrivance, and it leaves little doubt about its final destination. But at the same time, it immerses itself so completely in the vibrant rhythms of its world -- an exaggerated Bombay where hero and heroine play out a star-crossed love affair -- that its truths feel as real as any docudrama.

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Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa   B-
review by Rob Vaux

Douglas Adams coined the perfect term for Madagascar 2: mostly harmless. It exists as nothing more than a cash cow, here because the first film made a ton of money and the producers had no reason not to double down. The target demographic is remarkably undemanding, interested only in seeing cartoon animals act silly before Mom comes in and tells them to clean up their room. Critics can scoff very easily at such a product: the cynical merchandizing ploys, the storyline by committee, and the tired way it relies on simplistic lessons to cover up for its lack of inspiration all make for excellent targets.

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Zack and Miri Make a Porno Zack and Miri Make a Porno   B-
review by Rob Vaux

Kevin Smith may never grow up and from where I sit, that's perfectly OK. He basically has one trick in his cinematic arsenal, but after 13 years, he's gotten really good at it. His latest effort indulges in the usual raunchy wit that made his name, delivered with impeccable timing and concealing an underlying core of sweet romanticism. None of it comes as a surprise and it hits a few bumps on the way, but longtime fans shouldn't be bothered in the least.

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Fear(s) of the Dark Fear(s) of the Dark   B+
review by Rob Vaux

Early negative reviews (and there aren't many) of Fear(s) of the Dark castigate it for not being intense enough. It's too passive, they say: there's not enough blood and guts, and it doesn't engage in the shock-and-awe tactics of, say, the Hostel films. Such complaints only underline the rarity -- and to a certain extent the necessity -- of its quietly creepy approach. With American horror dominated by shoddy remakes, vile torture porn, or some combination of the two, it helps to remind audiences that the genre is far more than just a blood-spattered freak show. This film's heart lies in its mood: evoking the goose across your grave, the nerves you just can't shake, and the delicious chill of staring out a darkened window and realizing that something is staring back.

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Changeling Changeling   C
review by Rob Vaux

Generally speaking, there are three basic signs that a movie is shamelessly trolling for awards: 1. I0t contains an impassioned courtroom speech of the Ji0000mmy Stewart filibuster variety. 2. It champions the beloved wisdom of the mentally challenged or insane. 3. It exhibits a righteous expression of motherhood, as when a female lead screams things like "Give me my son," "Where is my son?" or "My son wants me to have that Oscar." Changeling uses #3 as its bread and butter (you can base a drinking game around Angelina Jolie's use of "my son," but you'd be unconscious inside 20 minutes), and it dabbles uncomfortably in the remaining two as well.

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  •  The Wrestler
  •  Timecrimes
  •  Frost/Nixon
  •  Milk
  •  Twilight
  •  Slumdog Millionaire
  •  Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
  •  Zack and Miri Make a Porno
  •  Fear(s) of the Dark
  •  Changeling
  •  Let the Right One In
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  •  Body of Lies
  •  The Express
  •  Religulous
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