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August 2009

Bang, Zoom, Straight to the Lagoon

A Perfect Getaway (2009)

Rogue Pictures

There’s a frustrating-beyond-words moment in George A. Romero’s “Diary of the Dead” that broadcasts the cinéma vérité film’s glaring lack of subtlety. In the film's final act, a zombie dressed as a mummy chases a blonde Southern belle through a wooded area — a direct reference to a scene from the cameraman's faux student film within the film. As if the viewer can't draw the parallel on his or her own, a lazy bit of dialogue sledgehammers the obvious over heads: “This is just like in your stupid mummy movie!” Cue the collective audience groans.

Writer-director David Twohy’s “A Perfect Getaway” is 90-plus minutes of that. An uneventful killers-in-beautiful-scenery “thriller” that, for no explicable reason, feels the need to telegraph the surprises through its own character dialogue. If the film was impactful as a whole, Mr. Twohy’s partiality to self-reference would soar past attention, ultimately landing as an inconsequential fault within an otherwise taut suspense show — which this is not. “A Perfect Getaway” is gorgeous looking but ultimately sloppy. It’s one of those films that has the potential to inspire audience laughter for all the wrong reasons (see last year’s “The Happening”). Or, the right reasons, perhaps? Mr. Twohy piles on the off-putting moments so high that it’s unclear whether head-shaking snickers are what he desires or not. Whichever the case, “A Perfect Getaway” is hardly worth the deliberation.

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Down That Long, Loathsome Highway

Home (2008)

Soda Pictures

Some of you may feel that you live in a noisy neighborhood, but the family at the center of "Home" has really got problems. Its charmingly chaotic abode is located in the French countryside with no other buildings in sight. But sadly, it is also positioned slap bang on the side of a freeway which cuts an asphalt scar through the endless expanse of verdant field. This does not prove too much of an issue at first as the road is disused, work on it being inexplicably abandoned some 10 years before.

The brood - mother, father, two daughters and a son - has spilled out beyond the boundaries of its four walls onto the deserted highway, littering it with domestic debris including toys, white goods and even a satellite dish. This liberal-minded clan is very close. The members hold family meetings in the bathroom while their teenage daughter takes her ablutions. On hot summer evenings – which are plentiful – they sit together on a sofa in the garden watching television like an alfresco Simpsons.

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Sleepless in the Kitchen

Julie & Julia (2009)

Jonathan Wenk/Columbia Pictures

“Julie & Julia” has Meryl Streep, solid production values and a vision of New York so lovingly rendered that a rinky-dink apartment over a pizzeria in Queens is transformed into a cozy paradise. It is, in other words, firmly lodged in classic Nora Ephron territory, unfolding with a relentlessly vivid color palette and a decided chick-lit sensibility with wonderful husbands ceaselessly supporting their hardworking wives.

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Breaking and Entering a Torture Chamber

The Collector (2009)

Liddell Entertainment

Any film that can turn a man's death – at the claws of multiple bear traps, skull punctured and crushed while knee-caps are split in halves – into an endearing moment is worthy of applause. By that point in "The Collector," a woman's eyes and mouth have already been sewn shut, and her husband's entrails previously emptied out onto a basement floor. The bear trap crushing the guy's head like a grape, though, proves that "The Collector" has no intention to take the foot off the pedal. Besides, there's still a hungry German shepherd lurking around, ready to chomp on the first human neck it gets within licking distance.

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Six Degrees of Exasperation

Fragments (2009)

Peace Arch Entertainment

As far as predictors of quality go, few could be more telling than this: A film stars Forest Whitaker, Kate Beckinsale, Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Jackie Earle Haley and Jennifer Hudson that finds itself dumped into theaters with no advertising or fanfare just days before its DVD release. That’s the case with “Fragments,” one of those suffocating ensemble dramas set in Southern California that weave together a multipartite story in search of a grand societal statement. Australian director Rowan Woods indulges in some sub-subpar “Crash” territory here, with a laughably self-serious narrative that has less to do with reality than histrionics.

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