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Hell and Back Again (NR)


It's easy to forget that until a few years ago, photos of flag-draped coffins were banned by the Bush administration. How could we feel anything about a war we couldn't see? Continuing the recent brilliant works from embedded photojournalists (like 2010's Restrepo), this is a ground-level look at the chaos and brotherhood of war, featuring Nathan Harris, a North Carolina kid faced with a nasty war wound and a life of maddening tedium at home. To watch Harris communicate with Afghan village elders, then wheel around Wal-Mart in a motorized scooter, is to understand his toxic brew of dislocation, shame, aggression and pharma-fueled confusion. The true star is director Danfung Dennis' camera work. (The film is nominated for Best Documentary in the Academy Awards.) — Justin Strout

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In Time (PG-13)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Watching this high-concept, near-future thriller, I felt it was a dumbed-down variation of Gattaca, replacing imperfect genetics with a heavy-handed class warfare allegory. Who was the rip-off artist who directed this movie? Oh ... it was Andrew Niccol, Gattaca's director. In all seriousness, In Time is mostly capable, somewhat entertaining sci-fi. But it's also really dumb, which wouldn't be that bad a thing if it didn't think it's so much smarter than it really is. Justin Timberlake is a factory worker in a future where money has been replaced with units of time that get added to your lifespan. The rich can live forever, the poor drop like flies. When JT finds himself accused of murder, he kidnaps a vapid heiress and becomes a wispy folk hero who can't grow a full beard. A sad hero for a sad future. — Louis Fowler

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The Big Year (PG)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The cover art for The Big Year has Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson pretending to bird-watch while a curious bird sits on Martin's binoculars, peering in. With three stars headlining a movie about such a quirky pastime, the laughs should come fast and furious. But, sadly, the movie was mis-marketed, and I can understand why people walked away disappointed. The Big Year is actually a quiet, subtle and at times moving seriocomic study of a trio of men whose passion in life is to see as many different birds as possible in one year. Martin doesn't bring out a banjo, Black doesn't fall down and fart, and Wilson doesn't voice a CGI bird with a surfer-dude dialect. Instead, it delves into how this obsession affects each man. I didn't expect that, but maybe if I had I would've seen it in the theater. — Louis Fowler

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