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When Culture Clash Is Just Not Enough

Movies: ‘The Family’

It must have looked like a no-brainer, on paper. Join two Hollywood icons, Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, in signature roles — he the wiseguy, she the mob wife — put them in an unfamiliar place and, voila! Watch the ironies and the dark humor pile up.
But an unfunny thing happened on the way from the story board to the movie house. “The Family” (even the title is nondescript) exhibits a serious failure of imagination. “The Sopranos” it is not, no matter how hard it tries, even dangling Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos’ “Big Pussy”) in a cameo role.

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A Movie Every Parent Should See

Movies: ‘The Spectacular Now’

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a high school senior. He’s got a hot girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson); he drinks a lot and is the life of the party; he’s flunking geometry; he’s coaching his friend on his love life, or lack of same; he’s got a job at the world’s dustiest haberdashery.And he drinks a lot. People occasionally comment on this. He brushes it off.

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Disorder in the court!

Movies: ‘Closed Circuit’

“Closed Circuit” should be a terrific movie: Great cast, London setting, terrorist bombing, quick arrest of the mastermind and both public and secret trials. It should crackle with energy and contemporary relevance. Yet after a terrific opening, the film bogs down in legal procedure, punctuated by increasingly violent and largely implausible actions of MI5, the U.K.'s internal secret service.

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For a Little History and Some Fine Performances

Movies: ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’

It’s a straight-up history lesson, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” one brought to life by a dozen or so extremely fine actors.
Director Lee Daniels pulls no punches in this walk through the civil rights era and has no qualms about manipulating our emotions.

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Allen, Still the Master

Movies: ‘Blue Jasmine”

Woody Allen’s 48th film, “Blue Jasmine,” his best since 2005’s “Match Point,” begins on an airplane. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is flying from New York to San Francisco, leaving a life of privilege for an uncertain future with her estranged working-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).
Breathlessly, she spills details of her life to her traveling companion, all the way through the baggage claim. Jasmine is already a bit unhinged.

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A Land of No Resolution

Movie: ‘The Attack’

In “The Attack,” Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is an Arab surgeon living and working in Tel Aviv. He wins awards. He has Jewish friends. He and his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsellem), are secular Arabs. She’s a Christian, no less, and they are well-assimilated into modern Israeli life.
But all this changes after an explosion. Amin and the hospital staff work on the victims, many of them children, of a suicide bomber.

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Timely, Wrenching and Urgent

Movies: ‘Fruitvale Station’

The astonishing film, “Fruitvale Station,” is the first film from 27-year-old director Ryan Coogler. It’s tough to watch. It is a work both of its time — remember last month's trial verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin — and timeless in its recounting the too-brief life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man shot to death in an Oakland, CA, subway station in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009.

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Making a Home With a View

Movies: ‘Still Mine’

Actor James Cromwell has played menacing heavies, kindly grandpas, and a whole range of character roles, more than 160 and counting. Now, at age 73, he finally gets to play the romantic lead, 87-year-old Craig Morrison, in “Still Mine,” the story of an elderly farmer in New Brunswick, Canada.

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Life and Time as Art

Movies: ‘Museum Hours’

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, you may remember from Art History 101, was the late-period medieval artist known for sprawling canvases of peasant life and grotesquery. “Museum Hours” makes an intriguing attempt to translate Bruegel’s sensibility to film. It is infused with countless observations of small details, images of the everyday as well as masterpieces of art, the old, new, ugly and beautiful.
That it succeeds on those terms owes as much to Jem Cohen’s talent as a cinematographer as to his directorial attributes.

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A Joy for Us All

Movies: ‘20 Feet From Stardom’

Morgan Neville’s wonderful documentary “20 Feet From Stardom” is a joyous paeon to talent and to the joy of making music. Focusing on a cross section of female backup singers — including Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Claudia Lennear and Judith Hill — the film explores why these startlingly gifted singers never became stars in their own right.

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