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The Central Park Five

Odds are, most people will at least vaguely recall the word “wilding,” but it’s about as probable that most won’t remember or have never known its origins. A new, tensely effective documentary movie about a once-notorious crime, The Central Park Five, reminds us of those origins, and of a deeply disturbing miscarriage of justice that followed that crime.

This is 40

It has long been a Hollywood tradition that Christmas is the time to trot out the feel-good comedies about what a rich and rewarding institution the family is. This is not an inappropriate description of This is 40, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a movie to be watched along with the whole family. If you thought you were going to see a warm-fuzzy inducer like Parental Guidance, you will be immediately chased out of the theater by an opening scene involving marital sex and Viagra that ends with the wife bawling “Fuck 40! Forty can suck my dick!”

Les Miserables

Whatever you think of Les Miserables, you have to respect director Tom Hooper’s guts. Following up his Oscar-winning The King’s Speech with an assignment to direct one of the hottest properties in Hollywood, he decided to go experimental. Instead of recording the songs first and having the actors lip-sync to them on camera, he recorded all of the songs live. Not only that, but filming largely with hand-held cameras, he captured many of the songs in a single take. (The actors performed accompanied by a live piano player who followed their leads; the orchestral arrangements were recorded to match the vocals.)

The Guilt Trip

In the early 1970s, Esquire ran a cartoon piece imagining how celebrities of the day might age and rating them as “good” or “bad” old people. Barbra Streisand was put in the latter category, drawn as a jewel-bedripped dowager. She’s now 70, and on the evidence of The Guilt Trip she has aged pretty well, certainly if you compare her to any of her contemporaries. (Jane Fonda springs to mind.) While playing a character somewhat younger than her actual age, she inhabits her years gracefully, confidently, and amusingly.

Jack Reacher

I completely sympathize with fans of author Lee Childs who are outraged at the casting of Tom Cruise as his series character Jack Reacher, hero of 17 books (so far). I myself am annoyed that a new series based on Donald E. Westlake’s Parker books will star Jason Statham instead of the obvious choice, Russell Crowe. (On the other hand, Liam Neeson has been set to star as Lawrence Block’s alcoholic ex-cop Matt Scudder, so sometimes Hollywood does get these things right.)

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