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(OUT OF 10)

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This is one of the best movies you didn't see last year.

Tobey Maguire absolutely nails the role of Sam, an American soldier sent off to fight in Afghanistan. He's reported dead, and his wife, Grace (an incredible Natalie Portman), is left behind with their two children. Sam's younger brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), starts spending time with Grace and the kids, and the adults start having feelings for each other.

Then, of course, Sam comes marching home.

Directed by Jim Sheridan, one of today's more underrated directors (his In the Name of the Father is a kind of masterpiece), this is a very well-balanced movie. It's a war movie that delivers a sharp message without hammering you over the head, and it depicts a scary romantic triangle with each of the characters remaining sympathetic. You just feel bad for everybody.

Maguire, who has proven his acting chops many times before, has never been better than this. As he works up to what seems to be a jealous rage, Sheridan and Maguire reveal that Sam's troubles have deeper roots than his wife kissing his brother. His final scene with Portman is classic. He should've gotten nominated for an Oscar.

The same goes for Portman, who will knock you on your ass with her performance. She keeps getting better and better, and if she stays at this level or manages to take it up a notch, she'll be scoring some awards soon. The reliable Gyllenhaal may not have the most attention-grabbing part here, but his Tommy is a remarkable characterization.

This is an American remake of the Danish film Brothers (2004) that starred Connie Nielsen.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Sheridan offers a good commentary, and there's a featurette about him remaking the film.

It's Complicated





(OUT OF 10)

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While I usually love me some Meryl Streep, she got on my damned nerves in this film from writer-director Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give). Streep over-modulated her performance as Jane, a divorced woman who has an affair with her ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin, easily the best thing about this movie).

This might be the only time in cinematic history that Streep actually overacted. I kept wishing she would realize she was in fluff, and take it down a notch. A good actress can rise above the material, but Streep tried to take a rocket above this one, and it was unnecessary. The script is actually kind of cute, and had I not disliked Streep's performance so much, I actually could have enjoyed the film. Baldwin and Steve Martin as Jane's lovers are fun.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A feature commentary and a making-of doc.

Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List





(OUT OF 10)

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This one is for Frank Zappa fans—and only for Frank Zappa fans. It's a dry, talky look at some of the key musical influences of Zappa, which he listed in the liner notes of his debut with The Mothers of Invention, Freak Out! Those influences include everybody from Bob Dylan to composers like Edgard Varèse ("The present day composer refuses to die!"), Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg.

Fans familiar with Zappa's works will appreciate the musical comparisons the makers of this documentary illustrate. One can truly hear distinct similarities in old Schoenberg and Varèse compositions—two composers who perhaps weren't as accessible as, say, Mozart. The film does a decent job of pointing out how Zappa absorbed many of his influences while creating a sound that was very much his own.

As a Zappa fan, I found it nice to watch this near-90-minute documentary, during which highly intellectual musicians and historians with cool British accents treat Frank like the master composer he was. This piece wasn't authorized by the Zappa Family Trust, but it certainly stands as a respectable, if not overly dynamic, examination of the man and his tastes.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A feature called "Frank Zappa's Desert Island Discs," which is kind of a strange look at albums that Frank had ... or would've had ... I guess.

The Twilight Saga: The New Moon





(OUT OF 10)

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And so, the saga continues. As the sequel's box-office tally mated with the huge DVD revenues, an enormous pile of money was spawned. A laughing Satan sat upon this pile of cash, jerking off to his picture of Kristen Stewart (not as Bella, but as Joan Jett ... even he has taste) and spraying his demon seed upon the already-tainted currency. The devil-spunk cash grew alive and penetrated the studio, impregnating it with another ass-clown sequel that I am sure to despise.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A commentary, a six-part documentary and rehearsal footage. Seriously, I really hate this shit.

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