Capsule reviews of films playing the week of August 18 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of August 18



THE A-TEAM "Overkill is underrated," opines group leader "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson) at one point during the course of The A-Team. Clearly, the man isn't talking about summer films, wherein the whole point of many of these heavily hyped efforts is to render everything louder, larger and more expensive. Still, as far as costly packages go, this is one of the better ones in recent memory. The film is of course based on the TV series that aired during the middle stretch of the 1980s. The series was crapola, a cheesy crash'n'smash rally that often played like The Dukes of Hazzard stripped of the hick accents. This film is occasionally cheesy in its own way, but it's also far smarter than the series ever was. As B.A., Quinton "Rampage" Jackson isn't nearly as memorable as Mr. T — the latter always looked like he could beat you to a pulp just by staring — but in the case of the other three actors, they're improvements over their small-screen counterparts. They provide the human hook that draws us into the action, much of it more imaginative than what we usually encounter in CGI-heavy efforts: The cheerfully ridiculous sequence involving the "flying tank" rates a half-star all by itself. The A-Team is basically a B-movie writ large, and in that respect, it gets the job done. ***

DESPICABLE ME When James Stewart offers to lasso the moon for Donna Reed in Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life, it's purely a romantic gesture. When Gru (Steve Carell), the star of the 3-D opus Despicable Me, plots to shrink the moon to a size small enough so that he can make off with it, it's clearly to show that he's the baddest dude around. After all, if a supervillain isn't feared and respected, then what good is he? Despicable Me is a witty, congenial lark that obviously won't have the staying power of Toy Story 3 but serves quite nicely as a pleasing placeholder in the cinematic summer of 2010. Sweet-natured yet also avoiding the cloying sentiment that tarnishes any great number of toon tales, this finds Gru enlisting the aid of three oblivious orphan girls to help him one-up his biggest competitor in the supervillain sweepstakes, a self-satisfied nebbish (Jason Segel) who calls himself Vector. Naturally, Gru knows nothing about children, and just as naturally, the girls will teach him about family and responsibility. But that comes later. First, the movie has to let loose with a volley of inspired sight gags, a smattering of adult-oriented humor (note the homage to The Godfather), and some screen-pushing innovations to justify the 3-D expense. ***

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS France's The Dinner Game was a subversively funny picture about a smug book publisher named Pierre who takes part in a game in which he and his buddies all invite the most boring or idiotic people they can find to a dinner simply to make fun of them. Sentimentality and sympathy had no place in this ruthless comedy, as Pierre was a thoroughly venal character. But, to paraphrase Homey the Clown, Hollywood don't play that. In this remake, the detestable Pierre has been transformed into the likable Tim (reliable Paul Rudd), and even his treatment of his chosen one (Steve Carell) has been softened. But here's the surprising thing: Despite its squishy center, the picture still manages to sport a prickly exterior that leads to countless scenes of squirm-inducing hilarity. For that, primarily thank Carell, whose performance nails the character's social ineptitude and physical retardation to an almost painful degree. Unfortunately, the film peters out once it reaches the actual dinner party, as the finale crams in a number of broadly played "schmucks" and asks us to laugh at them before pitying them. But the laughs came earlier, when the movie stood by its comic convictions. The clever coda notwithstanding, the ending mainly offers a mild case of indigestion. **1/2

GROWN UPS Adam Sandler's worst film since the one-two punch of Little Nicky and the inexplicably popular Big Daddy a decade ago, Grown Ups marks the umpteenth collaboration between the comedian and director Dennis Dugan. Dugan is to screen comedy what the atomic bomb was to Nagasaki, and with this film, he and ostensible writers Sandler and Fred Wolf serve up a mirthless affair in which the only people laughing are the ones on screen. In fact, that's basically the plot of the movie: As five school chums reunite 30 years later to honor the passing of their former coach, Lenny (Sandler) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. Then Eric (Kevin James) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. And so on through Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade) and Rob (Rob Schneider). As they're laughing, those of us in the audience are cringing. Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph are wasted (in arrested-development movies like these, nerdy schlubs always have hot wives), yet even these actresses don't escape the script's indignities, as evidenced by the scene in which Bello squirts Rudolph in the face with milk from her tit. Countless sequences like this one reverted me back to my own infancy, as I wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a fetal position and block out the screen. *

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON Adults can rest assured that this is one of those smart animated flicks that needn't be reserved solely for the merriment of the young'uns. Based on the children's book by Cressida Cowell, this centers on a village wherein the Viking population is constantly at war with the neighboring dragons. Bumbling young Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the son of the fearless Viking leader Stoick (Gerard Butler), wants to join the ranks of the dragon slayers, and he gets his chance when he wounds a feared Night Fury. But rather than go for the kill, Hiccup ends up releasing the creature, and before long, the two become inseparable — a real dilemma, considering the lad is expected to soon complete his schooling and start slaughtering dragons. Writer-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (scripting with William Davies) gently advance the themes of acceptance and understanding without any pushy shoving, and the animators do a bang-up job in their designs of the various breeds of dragons on view throughout the picture. Craig Ferguson contributes some good moments as Hiccup's trainer Gobber, and how odd is it to see Butler involved in a film that doesn't suck? ***

I AM LOVE How devoted is Tilda Swinton to her craft? Thespians occasionally learn another language in order to play a certain role, but Swinton plunged even deeper: For I Am Love, she not only learned to speak Italian and Russian, she also learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent. Or at least that's what Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino have stated — for all I know, she could be speaking Italian with an Inuit accent. The point is that her fine performance is the cornerstone of this foreign import whose initially chilly demeanor will melt away for any viewer willing to stick with it. A drama centering on a wealthy family in Milan, this follows dutiful wife Emma Recchi (Swinton) as she embarks on a love affair with the younger Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a splendid chef and best friend to Emma's sensitive son Edo (Flavio Parenti). Accustomed to keeping her emotions on a low simmer, Emma finds her senses aroused by her extramarital tryst. The plot threads involving the family business (textiles) aren't nearly as involving as the ones centering on the characters' various relationships, and I didn't buy the late-inning tragedy for one minute. But through both its bird's-eye view of a world of privilege and its personal look at a woman's self-realization, I Am Love is easy to admire. ***

INCEPTION Christopher Nolan's first film since the eye-popping success of The Dark Knight is a moviegoing marvel with the ability to get cineastes intoxicated on the pure pleasure and the pure possibility of the medium of film. Offering any sort of synopsis is a risky business, since this is one of those pretzel-shaped pictures that rewards the unaware. Suffice it to say that it's set in what appears to be the near future, when it will be possible to enter other people's dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best in the business of creeping into targets' minds and extracting valuable secrets for which others will pay a hefty price, but his latest assignment doesn't go exactly as planned. Tackling such prominent themes as (to borrow from dream expert Salvador Dali) the persistence of memory, Nolan has created a head-scratching one-of-a-kind that's both knotty enough and ambiguous enough to lead to conflicting opinions down the years. Nolan also slyly borrows from the classics of yesteryear, with particularly obvious nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Citizen Kane and select Hitchcock titles. It all adds up to a superb motion picture, one with the ability to infiltrate both our dream state and our waking life. ****

IRON MAN 2 Iron Man 2 doesn't quite degenerate into Transformers 3, but those of us who thought the weakest part of the enjoyable original was the hero's climactic showdown with Iron Monger will doubly wince upon seeing the battle royale chosen to end this installment. Even before this supersized slugfest, this follow-up to the 2008 blockbuster has its fair share of problems. Whereas its predecessor kept its eye on the narrative ball, this one ends up all over the place, impatiently cramming in extraneous subplots and supporting characters that might have been better served by being placed in a holding pattern until the next film. On the plus side, Mickey Rourke, as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, makes for a spectacular villain, and Sam Rockwell adds some salty humor as a nerdy weapons manufacturer. Mainly, though, there's Robert Downey Jr., who again invests himself completely in his character. His Tony Stark is at times a drunken lout, an egotistical prick and a poor friend. Downey takes the role to the edge before snapping him back into place, a high-wire act that's thrilling to behold. In fact, Downey's so good as Stark that we miss him whenever he becomes the man in the iron mask. Then again, it wouldn't be a superhero movie if the superhero never showed up, would it? **1/2

THE KARATE KID If your parents are Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, you're probably going to get what you want, no matter how ill-advised. And certainly, mounting a remake of one of the 80s' definitive crowd-pleasers, a movie that led to major box office, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Pat Morita and (alas) three inferior sequels, probably constitutes some sort of career death wish. Yet The Karate Kid turns out to be a pleasant enough surprise. To be sure, there's absolutely no area in which it improves on the original, yet the basic plot remains durable enough that there's no harm done by this easy-to-take update. Jaden Smith plays Dre Parker, who's forced to move from his Detroit home when his single mom (Taraji P. Henson) lands a job in Beijing. Dre catches the eye of a cute schoolmate (Wenwen Han), but most of the time, he's being beaten to a pulp by a local bully (Zhenwei Wang) and his sycophants — at least until his building's maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), teaches the lad how to protect himself. This Karate Kid clocks in at 135 minutes, which seems absurd until one recalls that the original itself runs a lengthy 126 minutes. But that version flies by; this one proceeds in fits and starts. Chan and Smith are charismatic enough, although no match for Morita and Ralph Macchio. **1/2

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as the fastidious Nic and the openhearted Jules, a married lesbian couple with two upstanding children, 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The kids decide that they'd like to meet their biological father, the man who donated the sperm that led to both their conceptions. He turns out to be the laid-back Paul (Mark Ruffalo), whose scruffy demeanor and easygoing attitude eventually earn the affection of the kids and Jules but sets Nic on edge. One more movie exploring family dysfunction might sound like a slog through well-trodden indie film terrain, yet this piece from writer-director Lisa Cholodenko is written with such perception, directed with such sensitivity and acted with such brio that the result is not only a path paved with good intentions but also one lined with loving detail. Besides, while many films of this ilk focus more on the "dysfunction" — often with a trace of bemusement if not outright condescension — this one centers more on the "family," specifically how a true family is determined not by society-approved labels but by the hard work that molds all those involved, and how simply wanting to belong to a family doesn't mean that carte blanche will (or should) automatically be given. ***1/2

KILLERS In Killers, Ashton Kutcher plays a seasoned CIA assassin, which is only slightly more believable than Miley Cyrus portraying Scarlett O'Hara or David Spade tackling General Douglas MacArthur. His character, Spencer Aimes, is tired of his bloody lot in life, though, so after he meets the sheltered Jen Kornfeldt (Katherine Heigl), he quits the hitman biz and marries her, never bothering to tell her about his dubious profession. Cut to three years later, where we find the pair living in petrified bliss — that is, until his past comes back with a vengeance. The idea of a suburban setting as a front for illicit activity is fairly original, and this could have made for a sharp satire. Instead, everyone blows their assignment. The ham-fisted direction is by Robert Luketic, who previously teamed with Heigl on the worst film of 2009, The Ugly Truth. The forced banter between the stars comes courtesy of scripters Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin, who apparently never met a dreadful line of dialogue they didn't like. Yet reserve the main brickbats for Heigl, who once again uses variations on her single, solitary, thespian expression (wide-eyed wonder) to play the only role she ever tackles in movies: the annoying, neurotic pill whose ill-placed air of superiority can't disguise the fact that she's an intolerant nincompoop. *

THE LAST AIRBENDER This live-action spectacle is based on the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, and were writer-director M. Night Shyamalan really as brilliant as his admirers insist, he would have demanded that the studio retain the word Avatar in the title — that act alone could have added an extra $10 million to the coffers from ill-informed folks thinking they were going to witness a sequel to the James Cameron smash. Left to its own devices, though, it's difficult to ascertain whether the picture's good-but-not-great gross is enough to warrant its planned sequels or not even enough to allow Shyamalan to Super-Size his next fast-food order. Unlike most of the family-friendly films of today, this has nothing to offer adults — it's strictly kid stuff all the way. That may not be the case with the source material, but it's unlikely anything here — beyond some of the special effects — will capture the imagination of anyone over 12. Those effects are occasionally excellent, and they're the only things that provide any pulse to an otherwise poorly executed story of how one young lad, Aang (Noah Ringer), proves to be the only person in his world with the ability to control all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. This is a clunky, soporific undertaking punctuated by some truly cringe-worthy dialogue. *1/2

MOTHER AND CHILD Three terrific performances are at the center of Mother and Child, an emotionally taxing drama that focuses on a trio of women all dealing with the issue of adoption. An excellent Annette Bening is all coiled tension and repressed emotion as Karen, who at 14 was forced to give up her newborn baby and has been haunted by the incident ever since. Naomi Watts displays a chilly disposition as Elizabeth, who was given up for adoption as a child and has been molded by her past into an icy attorney who prefers to avoid (or toy with) people rather than get close to them. And Kerry Washington packs the empathic heat as Lucy, whose infertility leads her to want to adopt a child. Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia leans toward the melodramatic during the final portion of the film, and it's annoying how neatly all the story strands manage to wrap around each other right before the fadeout. But for the most part, Garcia offers a sober, clear-eyed picture that's populated with prickly personalities and unenviable situations, and he and his actors (including Jimmy Smits, Samuel L. Jackson and Shareeka Epps in the supporting ranks) are brave enough not to flinch even during the most challenging interludes. ***

THE OTHER GUYS It makes sense for a film like, say, An Inconvenient Truth or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room to end with a plea to our sense of activism or with a mountain of hard data about the evils of unchecked capitalism. But what to make of The Other Guys, featuring closing credits that are packed with statistics concerning government bailouts and the glaring discrepancy between the average salaries of CEOs and the rest of us poor clods? No matter: The film's ample laughs had already dried up long before this ode to Michael Moore muckraking. That's a shame, because for its first hour, The Other Guys is a very funny movie, as two desk cops, meek Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and hotheaded Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), are provided a chance to step up once New York's finest (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) are put out of commission. Ferrell holds his excesses in check more than usual (though still not enough to my liking), and he and Wahlberg prove to be an amusing team — whether scripted or improvised, their banter is often top-grade. But humor largely vacates the premises during the second half, as the emphasis is placed more on autopilot action sequences and, worse, a topical, torn-from-the-headlines scam that's an ill — and dull — fit for this sort of raucous outing. **1/2

PREDATORS It may not have seemed like much at the time, but in retrospect, 1987's Predator now stands as one of the better pictures on Arnold Schwarzenegger's surprisingly underwhelming resume, behind only the first two Terminator films and Total Recall. Predators, on the other hand, won't seem like the cream of anybody's crop; instead, time will dismiss it as yet one more belated sequel hoping to turn name recognition into cash value. In this flabby outing, the hapless earthlings are all imported to a distant planet for the amusement of the alien hunters. You know priorities are out of whack when the most interesting performer, Machete's Danny Trejo, checks out waaay too early while the worst actor in the bunch, the perpetually hammy Walton Goggins, is allowed to hang around. As for the action, it's dutifully handled, but there isn't much here that quickens the pulse or jolts the imagination. In fact, if there's a central failing in Predators, it's that true innovation is in desperately short supply. The film comes armed with memorable monsters and a workable premise, but by offering little more than one-dimensional variations of the original's entertaining characters as well as basically duplicating its lush forest setting, this qualifies as little more than a bungle in the jungle. **

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME To say that this isn't as bad as other films adapted from video games is a bit like saying that day-old roadkill doesn't smell as bad as week-old roadkill: It isn't praise so much as it's looking for the silver lining in an otherwise unfortunate situation. Certainly, Prince of Persia is far better than such wretched works as Super Mario Bros. and Resident Evil, but it's still little more than an average fantasy flick. The plot concerns the efforts of a buff prince (a game but miscast Jake Gyllenhaal) to aid a princess (dull Gemma Arterton) in protecting a mystical dagger from falling into the wrong hands. The blade, you see, has the power to turn back time, although the specifics of this procedure seem to change at the writers' whims as well as sometimes allow the holder to end up at the most convenient points in time imaginable. As expected, the film is packed with CGI effects, some more believable than others. The only original characters are the ostriches, and it must be noted that they deliver the best performances. The film takes chances with the fates of some of the characters but then serves up an ending that leaves the viewer feeling absolutely cheated. I won't reveal how this plays out, but let's just say that this device should be retired right alongside the hoary "It's all a dream." **

SALT A neo-Cold War thriller would seem like just the ticket for cineastes who fondly recall Iron Curtain-courting capers on the order of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and select James Bond tales. And the title even suggests a nod to that chunk of 20th century history involving U.S.-U.S.S.R. tensions, as SALT was the name given to discussions centering on reducing both nations' arsenals of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the majority of this film fails to honor either its cinematic predecessors or its real-life milieu: Extracting the occasional misplaced titter from viewers, it stirs memories less of John le Carre and more of Yakov Smirnoff. Angelina Jolie headlines as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy; as she follows a trail of clues in an effort to clear her name, it begins to appear as if maybe even she's not completely certain about her own identity. Jolie is practically the whole show; the rest is negligible, from the repetitive (if well-staged) chase sequences to the absurd plotting, which — thanks to obvious casting in a key role — culminates in a final twist that can be spotted even before moviegoers manage to crack the top layer of their buttered popcorn. There's already talk of a sequel to Salt, but it's going to have to provide a lot more flavor than this bland offering. **

SEX AND THE CITY 2 As I wrote in my review of the first film, "Sex and the City works because its ability to mix real-world issues with reel-world fantasies interestingly provides it with both gravity and buoyancy." In SATC2, only half of the equation really works. That would be the dramatic side, represented by those sequences in which the principals cope with issues that resonate beyond the screen. These segments prove to be so affecting and sometimes even insightful that it's a shame the film's more lighthearted elements turn out to be so clunky. A major plot point takes the foursome out of New York for a trip to the United Arab Emirates, and while the thought of these liberated ladies confronting Middle Eastern misogynists sounds tantalizing on paper, clumsy writing strips the material of any import. And it's not just the plotting that's below par: This lengthy segment of the film also produces some atrocious quips that cause the ears to bleed. "Abu Dhabi Doo!" and "I'm having a mid-wife crisis" are bad enough, but the nadir is easily when Samantha (Kim Cattrall, here forced to endure various humiliations) meets a hunky Australian in the desert and moans, "Lawrence of my labia!" If that doesn't have Lawrence of Arabia director David Lean spinning around in his grave at mach speed, nothing will. **1/2

SHREK FOREVER AFTER The Shrek series now stands at 2-2 thanks to the latest addition to the cartoon canon. After the first two entertaining (if wildly overrated) installments made enough money to seemingly feed and clothe the entire U.S. population, the filmmakers opted to give us a pair of desperate lunges at more filthy lucre. Shrek Forever After is an improvement over Shrek the Third, but it's not enough of a step up to revitalize the ailing franchise. This entry gives us a Shrek (again voiced by Mike Myers) who's none too happy with his domesticated lot in life. Feeling stifled, he ends up signing a contract whipped up by the devious Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), one that eventually leads to an alternate reality in which Shrek never existed. Thus, Rumpelstiltskin rules the kingdom, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is a resistance fighter, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is an unwilling servant to the witches that serve as Rumpelstiltkin's enforcers, and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has grown lazy and fat. Living on the contract's borrowed time, Shrek has less than 24 hours to make everything right. While the plotline aggressively lifts from It's a Wonderful Life, it's clear that this isn't a wonderful movie, just an average one whose primary function will be to serve as a babysitter once it hits DVD. **

THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE The penchant for creating faux-excitement simply by making everything blaring and calamitous is a specialty of both producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub, who previously gave us two daft National Treasure movies. This is basically more of the same, although unlike that twofer, this at least has the decency to clock in at under two hours. Nicolas Cage is miscast as Balthazar Blake, one of Merlin's original disciples(!) who turns up in modern-day NYC searching for a novice wizard. He finds him in geeky college kid Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), and they team up to battle another Merlin disciple: treacherous Maxim Horvarth (Alfred Molina). Inspired in part by the delightful Mickey Mouse sequence from Disney's 1940 Fantasia (there's even a scene in which Dave battles dancing mops), The Sorcerer's Apprentice is strictly standard action-fantasy fare, not too bad as these Bruckheimer boom boxes go. There's some clever CGI trickery mixed in with the more lackluster effects, Baruchel is appealing in his limited way, and the jackhammer pace insures that there's no time to get bored. But is any of it memorable? Hardly. I remember the contours of my theater seat better than I recall the particulars of this cinematic sleight of hand. **

TOY STORY 3 Threepeats may be rare in the sports world, but they're even harder to achieve in the cinematic realm. Yet here comes Toy Story 3, bucking the odds and satisfying sky-high expectations to emerge as the perfect final chapter in a trilogy that's guaranteed to live on for generations (to infinity and beyond?). In this outing, Andy is set to go to college and has to decide what to do with the few remaining toys from his childhood, all stuck in a box that has been gathering dust under his bed for years. Through miscommunication, the gang ends up at a daycare center that promises to be a playhouse paradise. But things aren't quite what they seem, and Woody (Tom Hanks), ever loyal to Andy no matter the cost to his own future, plots a great escape. In most respects, this gem is careful to avoid repeating its predecessors. There are some memorable new characters (including the immaculately groomed Ken, voiced by Michael Keaton), and the four screenwriters superbly tap into the feelings all of us have encountered during our respective childhoods, when we employed our toys as a passageway to new worlds and new experiences. Toy Story 3 may look like a family film, but as it tackles issues of loss, identity and self-worth, it reveals itself as perhaps the most adult movie out there. ****

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE The Twilight Saga: Eclipse isn't the best of three, but neither is it the worst. Instead, this adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's book falls somewhere in the middle, between the nicely captured teen angst of 2008's Twilight and the ill-fated emotional oasis of 2009's The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The series is often only so much melodramatic glop, but at its best, it also taps into that essence which informs youthful, blinding love. The canniness of the franchise is that it uses its protagonist, Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart), to literalize these desires, as she must choose between sparkly emo vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and hunky werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). There are a number of ingredients likely to earn titters, from some overripe lines to several of the characterizations; yet for all the film's flaws, there's much that it gets right. The visual effects are vastly improved, and Stewart again makes Bella a watchable heroine. And while Pattinson and Lautner may not be the most accomplished actors around, they're desirable for these roles, especially in the scenes in which Pattinson's ethereal angst bounces off Lautner's robust earthiness. No, Eclipse may never sparkle as brightly as its centerpiece vampires. But neither does it suck like them. **1/2

WINTER'S BONE Memorable movie characters often pop out at us from the most unlikely of places, and this understated indie effort surprises by serving up such a figure in Ree Dolly. Ree, played by Jennifer Lawrence in a breakthrough performance, is 17 years old, smarter than everyone around her, sports a lip that sometimes gets her into trouble, and takes a screen beating as impressively as anyone since Brando's Terry Malloy got clobbered in On the Waterfront. But Ree won't back down. Living in poverty somewhere in Missouri's Ozark terrain, she learns that her dad has skipped bail after putting up their house for collateral. Not thrilled by the prospect of being homeless, she sets out to locate her wayward pop, running into resistance from all manner of dangerous and ignorant people. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize (as well as a screenwriting award) at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Winter's Bone, adapted by writer-director Debra Granik and co-scripter Anne Rosellini from Daniel Woodrell's novel, is suffused with pungent backwoods flavor (the film was shot on location), which adds an unsettling authenticity to Ree's quest. An assured directorial effort from Granik, the picture offers a rare look at a region that will seem as foreign to most moviegoers as the forest moon of Endor. ***1/2

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