EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

Artists struggle, toil and sweat for years before they are acknowledged. Some never become famous or appreciated. Some don't achieve notoriety until after they are dead. Whatever the outcome, most artist struggle for years. That is unless the artist is Thierry Guetta. He is married. He owns a used clothing store in L.A. And he's never without his video camera. For years he films everything and everyone he encounters. But his life changes for the first time when he goes with his cousin to film street art (the law calls it graffiti). Thierry then spends years taping underground artists plying their trade. One is Shepard Fairey (famous for his “Hope” painting of candidate Barack Obama). But his holy grail is Banksy, a British street artist who lives in complete anonymity. All this taping is supposed to end with a documentary. It does. But, this isn't it. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is Guetta's search for Banksy, then it's his search for his own artistic voice. And that's what ultimately pisses off Fairey and Banksy. Thierry seems to be an artist created by buzz, rather than sweat. And that process of discovery is at times very funny and at other times infuriating and head shaking. I found myself asking, “doesn't he get it?”, more than once during this very entertaining 90 minutes documentary. And in the end, I'm not sure Thierry does. — Alan Yudman

UNKNOWN

What is real? That's the central question in UNKNOWN. With more twists than San Francisco's Lombard Street, this thriller keeps you guessing well into the film. Liam Neeson appears to be a botanist (or plant biologist, it's never really clear and not really important) of some repute who is on his way to Berlin for a conference. He's joined by his wife, January Jones. He leaves his briefcase at the airport and rushes back in a taxi to retrieve it. On the way, his cab crashes into a river and he is left in a coma for several days. When he wakes up nothing is the way he remembers. His wife has a different husband who claims to be Neeson. He has no ID and seems to be either crazy, psychotic or the victim of a huge conspiracy. Ah, but appearances can, and in this case, are deceiving. The story twists through several possibilities and leaves the audience guessing as to what the real story might be. It could have been unbelievably confusing, but it never gets too deep into any possible explanation which is good. Too much detail would add to the confusion and ruin the enjoyment of the excellent Neeson's bewildered searching for what he perceives as the truth. I think I genuinely said “wow” when the real story was revealed. A great movie? No. A good diversion at a time of year that is filled with dreck? Yes! — Alan Yudman

THE MECHANIC

There are few actors who scowl better than Jason Statham, and that glare is at full wattage in THE MECHANIC. He's a contract killer who tries to get the job done without anyone knowing he was there. Early on he's forced to eliminate his mentor who is played by Donald Sutherland. Then Sutherland's mess of a son (Ben Foster) shows up and decides he wants to learn what Statham knows. There's plenty of bullets and fights and a lot of Statham glaring at people from under his heavy brow. This is just a solid action movie with elements of regret and revenge. You know Sutherland has been set up by the creepy Tony Goldwyn almost as soon as Statham gets the order to kill him. But the way it plays out is pretty fresh and the ending is good, if predictable. And at only 90 minutes, a trip to this Mechanic won't take a huge bite out of your day. — Alan Yudman

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

The Kids Are All Right…and the parents are even better! This comedy drama is one of the year’s best…ringing realistic notes on everything to parenting to marriage. Even though the parents are mom and mom, that fact doesn’t really play a big part except for the fact that they used a sperm donor to get preggers. Bening is fantastic and deserved her nomination (and I could even make a case for her to win, even though Portman was excellent in a different way). Moore is good along with the kids and Mark Ruffalo (also deserving of a nod…but not a win). Should Kids take home Best Picture? Probably not. Would it win an Oscar in a year where The King’s Speech wasn’t up for Original Screenplay? Probably. These Kids are worth checking up on..
-Stormy Curry    

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is a pretty standard family drama, except for one not so small detail… the couple leading this family is Lesbian. There are two kids. The couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) have grown just a little too comfortable with each other.. there's no longer a spark in their otherwise loving relationship. But generally, things are pretty normal. That is until their son decides he wants to meet his biological father. Enter Mark Ruffalo as Paul. The kids meet him and the daughter (Mia Wasikowska) immediately hits it off with him. The son (Josh Hutcherson) takes longer to warm up. Bening's Nic, doesn't like Paul. Moore's Jules, the “earth mother” is willing to give him a chance. And, as the story unravels, that relationship goes too far. There are moments both touching and funny, and one especially wonderful scene of confession. It's all very good. Just not great. I just never felt a part of the story. It never sucked me in. It was pleasant, like the warm sun on a cool day. But ultimately made little impact on me. Bening is wonderful and probably deserves her Oscar nomination. I was more impressed with Moore. I don't get Ruffalo's nomination at all. His character has no depth. He plays it well, but there's not much there. I thought he was better in the underrated SHUTTER ISLAND. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is a nice movie. Just not a great one. — Alan Yudman

THE EAGLE

You could do a lot worse than look at Channing Tatum for two hours,
but it's his talent that's turning him into a major star: he knows how
to underplay a role without becoming wooden. Aided by a solid
(literally — this boy's been working out) Jamie Bell, Tatum brings an
impressive gravitas to this sword and sandal adventure. It's a bit
like 300 without the steroid injections (cinematically speaking) —
old-school realistic, not a graphic novel come to life. Anthony
Mantle's dank, immersive camerawork and Atli Orvarsson's thrilling
score provide the atmosphere and the battle scenes provide the
excitement. We also get Donald Sutherland in great form with great
facial hair. There are movie conventions, of course: our heroes ride
and ride for days on end in their quest and still have awesome hair
and the perfect scruff and no chunks of food in their teeth. But great
to see a period picture with so much attention paid to costumes, sets
and make-up. An ideal Saturday matinee. — Jeff Schultz

GNOMEO & JULIET

When Steve Martin made Roxanne, he radically changed the end by
deciding that “Cyrano gets the girl”, turning tragedy into comedy.
Here too is Shakespeare altered, allowing the star-crossed lovers to
live happily ever after. But of course the bigger alteration is that
the actors are garden gnomes, red and blue to identify the feuding
Montagues and Capulets (and also to make this a sly political
allegory). You will not see a more good-natured picture all year,
fresh-faced (if porous) and innocent. It looks like a kidflick, but
studded throughout are jokes for the grown-ups, including movie
references from Brokeback Mountain to The Graduate. There's solid
voice work from a cast that's all over the map. (Michael Caine! Ozzy
Osbourne!) There's a montage telling the backstory of a pink flamingo
that brings a lump to the throat a la the “marriage summary” in Up.
And the filmmakers even give the Bard his due by bringing him to life
(well, his bronze statue, anyway) and allowing him a chance to defend
his killing off of the leads in the original. If all those (Executive
Producer) Elton John songs seem on board as “the price we had to pay
to get the movie made”, their happy beats don't distract too much and
some of the altered lyrics are quite funny. And there's a lovely
moment at the end when, as if we've been watching a play, the
principals come out to take their bows. Recommended! — Jeff Schultz

THE ONION NEWS NETWORK

The best satire currently on television is also the greatest parody of
television news — ever. It combines the graphics-crazed, overlit,
flash-and-sensation look of the Fox News Channel and the Blitzer-panel-
of-experts, giant-touch-wallscreen antics of CNN. Onion is not
ideological: its laughs don't come at you from the Left as on The
Daily Show. Rather, the writers are simply drunk with comic malice on
the stunning superficiality of tv news… and by the time they're
done, they've skewered it so brilliantly, you almost forget to laugh
(and then you start choking with laughter). Plus, so much is going on
on-screen, you have to watch more than once to get all the jokes. With
incredibly high production values for an up-channel cable network
(IFC), the full-screens, banners, animations and transitions are
indistinguishable from the real ones, boosting the stakes with their
sheer authenticity. But all that eye candy is just the background to
ONN's greatest asset: Suzanne Sena as anchor “Brooke Alvarez”. This
kind of humor won't work unless you have someone who can flawlessly
read this much copy, copy where each word counts, quickly and without
stumbling. Sena is scary good — an iconic “Fox blonde” with what can
only be described as Nazi self-confidence. I am blown away by this
show. — Jeff Schultz

TRUE GRIT

TRUE GRIT is a revenge flick that IS gritty…and layered with several moments of dark humor. Hailee Steinfeld owns this movie from start to finish, carrying the whole thing on her 14 year old shoulders. While Melissa Leo rocked in The Fighter, I have to say this young woman should get the gold. Jeff Bridges is a blast playing Rooster and Matt Damon delivers as a Texas Ranger who runs his mouth more than Cogburn drinks his whisky. Throw in Josh Brolin as the big baddie who at first seems more slow than bad, then becomes B-A-D…and you have a well done popcorn movie. A warning though: if you don’t like westerns, steer clear…and if you do, prepare yourself for a script that’s a lot more clever than you would expect.
-Stormy Curry