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October 2011

Weasel Weapon

Rampart (2011)

55th BFI London Film Festival

“Rampart” is a symphony of bad decisions and their consequences. For example, early in the film Los Angeles cop Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) chats up a woman (Audra McDonald) in a bar, who persists in wanting to converse despite Dave’s dramatic insults. Evidently, she has a serious cop fetish. When she cheerfully presses for his nickname around the station, he shrugs: “It’s Date Rape.” She flinches; and he explains that many years ago he was involved in a shooting in which a serial rapist was killed. Dear reader, she sleeps with him anyway.

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Silence Is Golden

The Artist (2011)

The Weinstein Company

“The Artist” is a movie made out of love. There is no other way to describe it. It is a love letter to cinema, to style and to the art of making movies; and anyone who loves movies needs to see it — now.

It is about the relationship between George Valentin (Jean Dujardin of the “OSS 117” movies) and young Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, who was the maid in “A Knight’s Tale”). George is the biggest movie star in 1927 Hollywood; and he meets Peppy when she accidentally drops her handbag at a red-carpet event. Photographs of them together make the front page, to the annoyance of studio head Zimmer (John Goodman, who you can tell enjoyed himself). But the fuss gets Peppy — and her legs — work as an extra; and her career takes off from there. But as sound comes into movies, George doesn’t realize his star status might change along with the movies.

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It Takes More Than a Good Man to Prevent a Catastrophe

The Three Musketeers (2011)

Rolf Konow/Summit Entertainment

Not sure what Alexandre Dumas père ever did to deserve having “The Three Musketeers” defiled for the big screen more than 20 times. With the exception of the 1921 Douglas Fairbanks and the 1948 George Sidney versions, few are even remotely watchable. It seems that with each new stab at upping the ante, the story’s quality takes another hit. If you don’t think it can possibly get worse than the one with Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell and Oliver Platt from 1993, just wait until you see the new 3-D treatment.

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Sowing the Bad Seed

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Nicole Rivelli/Oscilloscope Laboratories

For many mothers, their primal, taboo fear is that the children they give birth to will be something unrecognizable, something they cannot control, maybe even something evil. “Rosemary’s Baby,” which was based on a hugely successful novel, took this fear to the extreme. But now there is the only slightly less extreme “We Need to Talk About Kevin” — also based on a novel — and coming to our screens with the same level of horrified anticipation.

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Trial by Error

Guilty (2011)

Jean-Claude Lother/Mars Distribution

Vincent Garenq’s “Guilty” is signposted in its exposition as a faithful adaptation of a series of memoirs entitled “Miscarriage of Justice” by Alain Marécaux. Mr. Marécaux (a remarkable Philippe Torreton), a family man who is too often distracted by his job as a bailiff, is left shattered when he and his wife are arrested in the middle of the night on suspicion of involvement in what would come to be known as the notorious Outreau pedophile ring.

The accusations leveled at Mr. Marécaux seem incredible and baseless, yet in an instant his life begins to disintegrate around him. As it transpires, the Marécauxes have been accused of the worst sort of infidelity by persons unknown; and yet despite the lack of evidence or motive, they are remanded in custody.

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Pupukahi I Holomua

The Descendants (2011)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

“The Descendants” is at a serious disadvantage when held up against other films by Alexander Payne. But that’s only because Jim Taylor’s whip-smart dialogue is noticeably absent this time (although he is still onboard as a producer). Once you get past the screenplay’s higgledy-piggledy treatment of Kaui Hart Hemmings’s source novel, the film ultimately proves another success for Mr. Payne. To wit, he convincingly pulls off the central conceit that a woman in her right mind would actually cheat on George Clooney with Matthew Lillard, which is no small feat if you really think about it.

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A History of Conformance

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Liam Daniel/Sony Pictures Classics

Many of those who have seen “A Dangerous Method” have complained about it not being Cronenbergian enough. Although it revolves around two titans in the field of psychology, the film isn’t that psycho-thriller you’re expecting and doesn’t showcase anything nearly as spectacular as Miranda Richardson juggling three roles. Think of it instead as the David Cronenberg equivalent of David Lynch’s “The Straight Story.” Essentially, “A Dangerous Method” is a deeply political cautionary tale from a staunch atheist about the price of conformity and repression.

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Diapers Are Forever

Johnny English Reborn (2011)

Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures

Rowan Atkinson is synonymous with Mr. Bean, which could mean either that he has taken the character to an art form or that he is a one-trick pony. “Johnny English Reborn” would suggest the latter. Although Mr. Atkinson might in fact be capable of much more, makers of this film seem intent on preserving the winning “Mr. Bean” formula — which also means not alienating the “Mr. Bean” audience. There are only so many moves you can bust comedy-wise to the inoffensive, family-friendly, PG-rated tune, and “Johnny English Reborn” just about exhausts the entire repertoire. Yes, there’s a poop joke in the form of a soiled diaper.

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The Constant Globe-Trotter

360 (2011)

55th BFI London Film Festival

Opening the BFI London Film Festival is Fernando Meirelles’s “360” — in reality an international production, but for London’s purposes the director’s second British film after “The Constant Gardener.” It’s a modernization of Arthur Schnitzler’s sexual-morality play “Reigen” (a k a “La Ronde”) adapted by acclaimed screenwriter Peter Morgan, who’s had most of his success with semi-fictionalized biographies such as “Frost/Nixon” and “The Damned United.”

Although the material is venerable, the film comes across as something of a Johnny-come-lately to the fad of interconnected stories, popularized in the last decade by Mr. Meirelles’s Latin American peer Alejandro González Iñárritu (who was surely first choice for this project).

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Right Person for the Inside Job

Headhunters (2011)

Erik Aavatsmark/TrustNordisk

Stieg Larsson’s phenomenally successful Millennium trilogy has bought gritty Scandinavian thrillers to the world’s attention, which has undoubtedly rubbed off on Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø. Famed for his pitch-black Harry Hole crime-thriller series, Mr. Nesbø is particularly skilled in crafting the flawed good-guy character (Hole, a brilliant detective, is also a heavy smoker and an alcoholic), an art that is clearly evident in Morten Tyldum’s adaptation of Mr. Nesbø’s 2008 stand-alone novel “Headhunters.”

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