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The Trip (NR)

BBC/NonStop Entertainment

Director Michael Winterbottom has skillfully whittled his six-episode BBC series The Trip into this spry, witty and surprisingly touching (if occasionally repetitive) 107-minute feature. British comic Steve Coogan once again assumes the role of Steve Coogan, a vain and brittle entertainer who's agreed to write a travel-mag piece about touring the country's top restaurants. It was originally planned as a romantic getaway with Coogan's girlfriend; with her now estranged, Coogan hires family-man friend Rob Brydon to take her place, even though they only exist to torture each other with dueling Michael Caine impersonations. As the film winds its way through the English countryside, it evolves into a Sideways-style meditation on middle-aged life choices and masculine mortality. Coogan, less a splash in movies than on television, gives his best film performance to date. — Daniel Barnes

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Baarìa (NR)

Image Entertainment

Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore is best known for directing such classics as Cinema Paradiso and Malèna, epic movies based on the wonderment of growing up in 20th-century rural Italy around wars and the like. His latest, Baarìa, is no different, and while it feels like a rehash of many of his previous works, that doesn't mean that it's not intensely watchable, even at 151 minutes. Baarìa is the life story of Peppino, a shepherd who becomes involved and obsessed with communism at the expense of his ever-expanding family. The film is also the story of the Sicilian town of Bagheria, nicknamed "Baarìa," and how it grows over the course of a century in the face of war and political strife. Tornatore's name above the title is always a good sign; simply put, he adds a charming tone to everything he does, making it stand out. — Louis Fowler

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The Last Circus (R)

Magnolia Home Entertainment

For 20 years now, Spain's Álex de la Iglesia has delivered one perverse and fantastic black comedy after another. Films such as Acción Mutante, Muertos de Risa and El Día de la Bestia should've been huge crossover hits in America, and turned him into a genre-film Almodóvar. His latest masterpiece is a wonderfully cynical, bitter, dark comedy that probably won't win him any new fans because it's just so unattainably Spanish to the mainstream. Sad clown Javier is a gentle soul who goes to work for happy clown Sergio, an abusive brute. When Sergio beats Javier for going out with his wife, something snaps, and in a fit of Catholic ecstasy, Javier becomes a machine-gun-wielding papal clown and goes on a rampage. Beyond the outrageous grotesquerie, Circus is an ultimately beautiful film, and maybe the best thing I've seen in 2011. — Louis Fowler


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