<p>Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes go digging into family secrets in the hillbilly noir film 'Winter's Bone'</p>

Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes go digging into family secrets in the hillbilly noir film 'Winter's Bone'

Credit: Roadside Attractions

The M/C Review: 'Winter's Bone' showcases star-making work by Jennifer Lawrence

Debra Granik's second film marks her as a strong independent voice

Debra Granik's first feature, "Down To The Bone," was my introduction to Vera Farmiga, and as introductions go, it was impressive.  The film is a solid if familiar tale of addiction, distinguished by Granik's eye for detail and her work with actors.  Farmiga's natural, honest approach won her wide acclaim, and I'm fairly sure the same will be true for Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone," the latest film from Granik, which opens Friday in limited release.

Granik's new film is hillbilly noir, a deliberate, moody little story about a girl chasing the ghost of her bad-boy father, desperate to provide for herself and the family he left behind. Ree Dolly (Lawrence) has been raised hard, so when her father disappears and leaves her in charge of her younger brother and sister and her mother, who is so severely mentally broken that even the most basic tasks of motherhood seem beyond her, Ree is more than up to the challenge.

Problem is, unless she produces her father, she's going to lose the land and the house they all live in.  Her father skipped bail, and everything they own is on the line.  Ree knows who to ask to figure out where her father is, but the more she asks, the more she realizes her father vanished for a reason, and maybe she doesn't want to know what that reason is.

Lawrence is in pretty much the entire movie, and she's an arresting presence.  Stripped down and real, with a strength in the face of some serious adversity that is convincing.  Her extended family is explained as a sort of Ozark mountain people Mafia, a loose network of meth dealers and manufacturers and runners and users, all bound by blood and marriage, and the further she digs into it, looking for her father, the more she upsets the order of things.  Women don't get to challenge the men about the way things are run, and if there are question, they don't get to ask them.  Ree refuses to accept that, though, and she challenges her way up the ladder, eventually putting herself in harm's way when she crosses lines that simply aren't crossed.  And especially not from some little girl.

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<p>Justin Long, seen here in this summer's new film 'Going The Distance,' is one of the stars of a new short film that is meant to help turn the tide against Proposition 8 before this fall's vote in&nbsp;California.</p>

Justin Long, seen here in this summer's new film 'Going The Distance,' is one of the stars of a new short film that is meant to help turn the tide against Proposition 8 before this fall's vote in California.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Justin Long and Mike White are getting married

This new short film from the writers of 'Blades of Glory' makes a hilarious point

Marriage is hard work.

In a way, it's amazing that the institution has lasted in its current form as long as it has.  Socially, we've changed so much that the purpose of marriage is different now than it used to be.  I am three days away from my eighth wedding anniversary, and each and every one of those years has been worthwhile, but difficult.  The stresses of career and parenting and money and everything else can take a real toll on both parties in any marriage.

When you add in the difficulties of prejudice and hatred from the outside, it's got to be damn near insurmountable.  And over the last few years, it's been a hotly debated topic around the country thanks to the efforts by many to make marriage legal for gay couples.  In California, we gave those couples that right before Proposition 8 took it away again.

And, yes, I know that voters were part of passing Proposition 8, but anyone who thinks the system wasn't gamed on that particular proposition isn't paying attention.  It's a fairly easy system to manipulate, especially when you're selling fear and hatred, which unfortunately is still a fairly easy thing to use to mobilize voters.

Right now, work is underway to get Proposition 8 reversed, and I'm impressed by the various efforts being made to win hearts and minds.  I personally will never understand why anyone would try to deny someone else the right to be married to whoever they love, and I think we'll look back at this particular scuffle over a fairly fundamental civil right and be embarrassed at some point, sooner rather than later.

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The Wizard from The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Wizard from The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Exclusive: 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' introduces 'The Wizard'

Just how bad are this movie's bad guys going to be?

One of the films that I'm hoping really works this summer is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," which pairs Nic Cage and Jay Baruchel as a teacher and student using magic to beat back the force's of evil.

It appears that the main bad guy in the film is Alfred Molina's character, and it's a good summer for Molina and Jerry Bruckheimer movies.  I didn't care much for "Prince Of Persia," but Molina had the showiest supporting role in the film, and he seemed to relish every moment of it.

In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," Molina appears to be playing a much bigger role and a much darker role.  It looks like he's made of bugs in one of the scenes in the trailer, and I hope he skirts that edge of too-freaky-for-kids that I always loved from summer movies when I was a kid.

What may help with that is the supporting cast of other bad guys, including the one we're premiering today in our exclusive character poster debut.  Gregory Woo plays Sun Lok, and in today's poster, we're told that he is, in fact, "The Wizard."

We've seen some glimpses of his characters in the early trailers for the film, and it appears he is able to turn himself into a giant Chinese dragon, which I'm sure is just one of his powers.

I'm curious to see just how large the scale of this movie is, and how much of an international flavor it has.  That's something that could distinguish it from the "Harry Potter" films, and obviously that's going to be a point of reference when you're doing something about people teaching other people magic and a battle between good and evil.  For all of the importance of the events going on in the "Potter" films, it all feels like it's going on in a small corner of England.  This movie appears to hop around the world, incorporating mythology and design elements from many cultures.

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<p>Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson are all grown up and facing possible death in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One'</p>

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson are all grown up and facing possible death in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Watch: New 'Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part One' teaser premieres

This one's going dark, kids

Another of MTV's big gets for the evening is the dark and moody new teaser trailer for "Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part One," and until I saw this trailer, I guess it really hadn't hit me that they're going to really screw with audiences this time around.

It's brilliant, since anyone who wants to know how things end has already read the book, and they know that the film is absolutely going to end the same way, but that doesn't begin to address the separate and urgent emotional connection people have to seeing these films bring the books to life. 

Stopping the last book halfway, leaving the characters emotionally ruined... that's the "Empire Strikes Back" trick, and it's a GREAT TRICK.  No one has the stones to do this anymore because they're afraid of the audience walking out of the theater on a down note, but if you can do it... if you can genuinely crush your heroes and end the movie at that point and leave them hanging for six months... that is a gift.  A gift it looks like the producers are going to exploit to tremendous effect.

In the end, unless something goes horribly unexpectedly awry with these last two movies, the "Harry Potter" films are going to stand as one of the most creatively successful and expansive film series of all time.  Watching this cast grow up, and watching the films change and grow and redefine themselves midstream, has been exhilarating, and not just for what happens in the movies.  Ever since they started, it's been a race against the clock.  Could they make these movies while the cast was still able to play the parts?

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<p>Chris Evans is just one of the Evil Exes that Scott Pilgrim (Michael&nbsp;Cera) has to defeat in Edgar Wright's new film 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World'</p>

Chris Evans is just one of the Evil Exes that Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) has to defeat in Edgar Wright's new film 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World'

Credit: Universal Pictures

Watch: New 'Scott Pilgrim' clip pitts Michael Cera against... Captain America?

Chris Evans and his stunt team look amazing in extended sneak peek

I didn't watch the MTV Movie Awards tonight.  I feel like I did when I read the amazing coverage everyone else at HitFix did for them tonight.  But I did check out some of the footage for upcoming films that was sneaked during the broadcast.

I'll run that new "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" trailer in a few minutes and talk about my reaction to that, but first... there's the "Scott Pilgrim" sneak peek.

That new trailer was, I thought, spot on, a perfect way of explaining the story and setting up the style, and I thought it was just plain charming.  But so far, all we've seen are trailers, where stuff is cut up super-fast.  I wanted to see some context.

That's exactly what tonight's clip provided, too.  Context.

Edgar Wright, consummate hambone, introduced the clip, and I love the "Col. Kurtz in the bunker" vibe to Edgar's editing room tweets lately.  He's been cutting this film now for 11 years, nonstop, and he's almost halfway done.  Or at least that must be what it feels like. 

Looking at the clip tonight, I can understand exactly why the film is such a post-production heavy effort.  It's not just a world that Wright's building (a world that looks a lot like Toronto), but an emotional comic book/video game/anime/pop culture language that he expresses visually.  It's absolutely what he was already doing on "Spaced," taken one step further, and I think it feels in this one clip like Edgar has made something that is absolutely, no matter what it's adapted from, his in the way it is told.

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<p>Rob Riggle is one of two former 'SNL' cast members to appear in this weekend's new release 'Killers'</p>

Rob Riggle is one of two former 'SNL' cast members to appear in this weekend's new release 'Killers'

Credit: Lionsgate

Saturday Night At The Movies: Riggle, O'Hara, Wilson, and the art of the supporting player

When you're not the movie star, what role are you really playing?

In "Killers," there is a good idea that is lost amidst a terrible movie.  At a certain point in the movie, Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) realizes that all of the people in his life, the people he's been surrounded by for three years, are fakes, sleeper assassins who were in place to possibly kill him, and they've all suddenly been activated.  There's one character in particular, Kristen, who is the stereotypical chubby best friend to Katherine Heigl's Jen, and when she finally reveals herself to be a killer as well, finally able to drop the act, what was a stock genre character suddenly becomes someone completely different who was tired of playing that stock genre character.  It's a very funny idea, and in the role, Casey Wilson shines during her short onscreen time.

If you're not someone who pays close attention to "Saturday Night Live," you might not know who Casey Wilson is.  She's been a presence in the LA comedy scene for years now, and she's a sharp, eccentric comic mind.  She was on "SNL" for one season, and when she left, there was some controversy about why she was let go.  I'm sure she's going to have a long career as a character actor, and I think her work in "Killers," as well as the work of fellow "SNL" alumni Rob Riggle and "SCTV" legend Catherine O'Hara in the film, offers a good opportunity for us to discuss the perennial supporting player in this week's "Saturday Night At The Movies."

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<p>Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe co-star in Rob Reiner's sweet new coming-of-age story 'Flipped,' in theaters this August.</p>

Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe co-star in Rob Reiner's sweet new coming-of-age story 'Flipped,' in theaters this August.

Credit: Warner Bros./Castle Rock

Watch: Rob Reiner's new coming-of-age film 'Flipped' gets a trailer

Will the director's new film mark a return to form?

There are few working filmmakers who have ever had a run of titles as good as the ones at the start of Rob Reiner's career, and yet these days, his name has very little value with film geeks.  Why is that?

Seriously, look at the first decade's worth of films he directed.  It's pretty stunning.  "This Is Spinal Tap."  "The Sure Thing."  "Stand By Me."  "The Princess Bride."  "When Harry Met Sally."  "Misery."  "A Few Good Men."  "North."  Oh... wait... "North."  That's what happened.  That's right.  I remember how shocking that misstep seemed at the time, too, considering how dead on his instincts had been up till that point.  I count at least two classics in that first decade, maybe four.  That's an insane batting average.

One flop, though, and it seems like it just plain winded him.  Since then, his output has been uneven at best.  I know plenty of people who love "The American President," and I'd argue without that film, there would have been no "The West Wing."  But "Ghosts Of MIssissippi," "The Story Of Us," "Alex & Emma"... these are films that feel like they were just churned out by development robots, not movies that feel like they come from the warm, human, gentle place of compassion that Reiner's earlier films all obviously shared.  "Rumor Has It" almost doesn't count since it was a last-minute thing for him, stepping in when Ted Griffin got booted from his film, and "The Bucket List" made a lot of money even though I found it intolerable. 

What Reiner has needed for a while is a film that showcases all of his strengths, a reminder of why we liked and even loved him in the first place.

"Flipped" is that movie.

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<p>Sarah Polley discusses 'Splice' at the press day for the film.</p>

Sarah Polley discusses 'Splice' at the press day for the film.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Sarah Polley talks about 'Splice'

Talented writer/director discusses her outrageous role in the new film

Sarah Polley is almost too smart for her own good.

By that, I simply mean that our industry doesn't seem to have much use for smart, uncompromising actresses who also write and direct.  It doesn't know what to do with someone like that.  The system isn't made to reward these people because it flies in the face of what they expect from their female leads.

She's been acting since she was six years old, and I first became aware of her in Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen."  What I've always found interesting about her is how she seems unable to disguise her innate intelligence, and how that informs the roles she picks and what she does with them.  Her first film as a writer/director, "Away From Her," revealed someone who has a keen eye for human behavior and whose interests aren't just limited to her own sphere of experience.

She is perfectly cast in Vincenzo Natali's "Splice," and both she and Adrien Brody are ideal choices to play super-smart rock star scientist nerds, drunk on their own ability to make life.  Her character is the more complex of the pair, thanks in large part to a backstory that's never quite spelled out, but instead is hinted at with various suggestions of an abusive childhood.  Polley sells both the IQ and the hidden pain with aplomb, and she proves once again that she is one of the most striking film presences of her generation.

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<p>Yep... that's Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl.&nbsp; Looks wacky, eh?</p>

Yep... that's Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl.  Looks wacky, eh?

Credit: Lionsgate

The M/C Review: 'Killers" is a moderate misfire

It's bad, but how bad?

I paid my own damn money to see this film at midnight at the Winnetka Pacific tonight.  Lionsgate did not make the film available for review.  And I'm not surprised.

I don't think it has to do with the quality of the film so much as the premise.  The trailer manages to give away the whole movie without telling you how the story is told.  It's got a good idea and some terrible structure, a screenplay that is sort of frustrating because it gets close to getting the concept right.  As it is, there is a core piece of the premise that they haven't used in the advertising at all, and i wonder if part of the "hide the movie" strategy was keeping that quiet.  I mean, it's not like this is a terrible, terrible, terrible movie... is it?

No.  That's extreme.  This is not a terrible, terrible, terrible movie.

One terrible will probably get the job done.

But it took the effort of a lot of people to make a film that doesn't work as much as this movie doesn't work.  Let's really break it down so we know who to thank.  First and foremost, let's talk about Katherine Heigl.   I think "Knocked Up" is a really good movie.  I think Heigl is pretty good in it, but in saying that, and in thinking about her work in the movie, I'd say mainly the movie is really good around her, and she's fine.  She is the plot of the film in "Knocked Up," and everyone else gets to play a fun character.

Then someone told her she was funny.  And she keeps making comedies now where she's supposed to do the heavy lifting.  Which she can't do.  Ouch.

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<p>Seals cavort beneath the ice of Antarctica in just one of the dozens of dazzling visual sequences in BBC&nbsp;Earth's 'Life,' on Blu-ray and DVD this week.</p>

Seals cavort beneath the ice of Antarctica in just one of the dozens of dazzling visual sequences in BBC Earth's 'Life,' on Blu-ray and DVD this week.

Credit: BBC Earth

My Blu-ray Shelf: BBC Earth's 'Life' dazzles

Title takes its place as one of the format's best demo discs

It's amazing.

I was sent a copy of the BBC Earth series "Life" on Blu-ray disc and asked if I'd review it and put up a gallery of images from the show.  Sure.  No problem.  The folder I looked through must have had another 20 or so images I could have run, and they were all great.  Over at DVD Beaver, they've got some gorgeous HD screenshots that are totally worth saving.  Just as visual art, "Life" is worthwhile for any owner of a Blu-ray player.  I'd go so far as to say it is essential.

And, yes, you can quote me on that.  "Amazing and essential."

Lately, my sons have been seriously campaigning to spend more time in my office during work hours.  Much of what I've been watching lately is not appropriate for them, however, making it difficult to let them hang out in here.  With "Life," I'm confident that they can handle it, and we've been using the educational value of the series as a way of convincing my wife to let them watch.  She's got very different standards for what Toshi can see, and it's been a real negotiation in the last few months.  I think a key part of Toshi watching a film is getting his mother involved in watching it with him.  We all went to "Toy Story 3" last week, for example, and the conversation as we walked across the Disney lot afterwards was one of the best we've had in a while.  There are some big adult moments in that film, but as she talked to him, it was obvious that he handled them well, which made her feel better.

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