Hunter Becomes Haunted

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

Ron Batzdorff/Warner Bros. Pictures

The best thing about "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is that it makes no pretense to be anything other than the formulaic romantic comedy that it is. In its cheeky refurbishment of the familiar premise of Charles Dickens’s "A Christmas Carol," the film takes a certain kind of unabashed delight in its own predictability. The entertainment value comes from a series of wonderfully over-the-top performances and a string of well-placed one-liners.

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Tools of the Trading Floor

The Good Guy (2010)

Walter Thomson/Tribeca Film Festival

“See how far a little trust can get ya?” Such phrases slide easily out of Tommy Fielding’s (Scott Porter) mouth in Julio DePietro’s “The Good Guy.” A clean-cut, smooth-talking Wall Street salesman, Tommy invites a kind of congenial admiration. He’s slick, but he doesn’t seem sly; he’s great at his job, but he doesn’t come across as arrogant. Above all, he’s charming to a fault and perfectly gallant toward his new girlfriend, Beth (Alexis Bledel). At least, that’s what he’ll have you believe for the first half of the film.

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Mattress Professional Dreams a Little Dream

Gigantic (2009)

First Independent Pictures

"Gigantic" takes up the particularly quirky strain of family dysfunction that flowed through offbeat indie flicks "Igby Goes Down" and "The Squid and the Whale." Maladjustment foments against the backdrop of New York City, where extreme meets extreme, and eccentricity seems to be the norm. Mismatched personalities mix in every relationship, in a manner that is just far enough over-the-top to feel slightly believable. In this case, the resulting brew is heady at times but frequently misses its mark.

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When Bright Future Eludes, a Family Unites

Tokyo Sonata (2008)

Regent Releasing

"So·na·ta (n.): a musical composition of three or four movements of contrasting forms." –

In a curious exercise, Kiyoshi Kurosawa quite literally applies the musical definition of a sonata to his visual study of modern-day life in Tokyo. The subject is family, the unifying theme dysfunction. His characters are the instruments that play out his contradictions in style and form, juxtaposing the director's various genre practices against each other in one cumulative whole. The result: "Tokyo Sonata," a collection of narrative movements that feels as grand – and yet concise – as any musical sonata piece by Beethoven or Mozart.

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What Lurks Beneath


By Lauren Groff
Illustrated. 364 pp.
Voice/William Heinemann.

Lifelong readers will understand that the odds of discovering a novel that lives up to the term's adjectival meaning grow increasingly smaller as time goes on. It's a matter of familiarity with narrative and literary tropes: the more books one digests, the more difficult it becomes to find something that truly surprises and delights in the same way all new novels used to, once upon a time. But that's exactly what makes the experience of the gems like Lauren Groff's "The Monsters of Templeton" so special.

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Jungle 2 Jungle

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

DreamWorks Animation

Since "Bambi" – back at the beginning of animated features – animal-centric storylines have often tended to dart around that tenuous intersection of man and wild. From the invisible hunters in Disney’s original to the more recent (yet still obscured) sport fisherman in "Finding Nemo" and commercial fishers in "Happy Feet," these films largely revolve around the tension between the unfettered animal kingdom and the human civilization that lies at its perimeters. The total inversion of this structure is a large part of the first "Madagascar" movie’s success: Rather than a story having to do with humans encroaching on animal territory, here was a film that placed the animals smack in the middle of the human world from the beginning. What’s more – they liked it like that.

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W., T. F.

W. (2008)

Sidney Ray Baldwin/Lionsgate

Managing to release a biopic on a sitting-duck president mere weeks ahead of Election Day would be a respectable directorial accomplishment any year. That Oliver Stone has released a biopic about this president in this year – the year of a categorically historical American presidential campaign following an abysmal administration – is truly remarkable. Unfortunately, that’s one of the very few remarkable things about "W."

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