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<p>Nick Nolte in HBO's &quot;Luck.&quot;</p>

Nick Nolte in HBO's "Luck."

Credit: HBO

Review: Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte head to the track in HBO's 'Luck'

David Milch/Michael Mann drama brings the world of horseracing to life
One of the great things about art, if you're good at what you do — and few in TV history have been better at it than David Milch and Michael Mann, the chief writer and director, respectively, behind HBO's horseracing drama "Luck" — is that you can use your art to take something you care deeply about and make other people care deeply too, even if they never expected to.
 
I have no sentimental attachment to horseracing and could only vaguely follow many of the show's early storylines about Pick Six line-ups and claiming races. Yet I became caught up in the world of the track, and the passions of the people who gravitate towards it, thanks to the artistry of Milch ("Deadwood," "NYPD Blue"), Mann ("Miami Vice," "Crime Story") and their many gifted collaborators, including a cast headed by Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte.
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<p>Thomas Horn in &quot;Extremely Loud &amp; Incredibly Close.&quot;</p>

Thomas Horn in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Round-up: The incredible comeback of 'Extremely Loud'

Also: R.I.P. Theo Angelopoulos, and Oscar nomination post-mortem

Usually, post-nomination Oscar talk is dominated by the frontrunners. Yet the film on everyone's lips yesterday wasn't either of the nomination hogs, "The Artist" or "Hugo," but one with no chance whatsoever of winning: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" pulled off arguably the most surprising Best Picture nod of at least the last decade (even if Kris was one of the few pundits tuned into the possibility), and its buzz took a 180-degree turn. Tim Robey ruminates on how the film, in the space of a single minute, went from being this year's "The Lovely Bones" -- failed bait, both Academy-tailored and critically massacred -- to this year's, well, "The Reader," and wonders how Stephen Daldry keeps pulling off this unlikely trick, where similar prestige filmmakers like Sam Mendes keep missing the mark. [The Telegraph]  

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<p>Jon Heder and Paul Dano</p>

Jon Heder and Paul Dano

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Paul Dano and Jon Heder bring the noise to 'For Ellen'

The art of White Snake: getting drunk in a motel in order to dance

PARK CITY -- Look closely at actor Paul Dano. You might see a little Sabbath in there.

The actor -- who also happens to be an active musician -- looked to artists like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Ozzy for his role as touring musician Joby in Sundance pick "For Ellen." Joby is more of a modern radio rock guy in a band still "making it," so Dano also listened to those brand of bands while driving around L.A.

"Not my cup of tea," he told me during our interview at the film festival. But, after driving the Strip, "I kinda got it."

"For Ellen" focuses its lens on the other side of the cutthroat industry, the quiet moments in homes with a daughter without a dad, when the money doesn't come in for support. It gently extrapolates on what happens when a rocker isn't rocking.

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<p>Joe Trapanese and Mike Shinoda</p>

Joe Trapanese and Mike Shinoda

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda talks 'The Raid' and band's new album

'Tron' co-composer Joseph Trapanese rounds out phenomenal martial arts film score

PARK CITY -- The fluidity and close-action shots of martial arts in "The Raid" can enable even the most pacifistic viewer to feel like they can fight. Some of the most impressive combat sequences were delivered by actors and martial artists who were slight in stature, or "ordinary" building dwellers shakily foisting automatic weaponry in their under-sculpted arms. Most of the Indonesian film is shot in a single building, in crappy apartments or littered hallways.

Director Gareth Evans' movie was shot with an extraordinarily small budget with exceptional result, so much so that Sony Pictures picked it up after it bowed at the Toronto Film Festival last year. Among the biggest revamps in time for the Sundance Film Festival was a brand new score, helmed by Linkin Park frontman Mike Shinoda and film composer Joseph Trapanese, who linked up with Daft Punk to complete the music to "Tron" just a couple years ago.

I didn't see the TIFF version, but from what I can tell from here, "The Raid" only benefits from these guys, due to the power of the audio and the added visibility of big-name artists.

Shinoda thought the pair-up was so good, Linkin Park may be absorbing a new member: he joked that Trapanese will be the "seventh guy in the band. We're gonna have dueling bass solos. It's like watching KISS, this guy."

Both of the musicians sat down with me during the festival this week, to discuss the pressure of trying to improve upon a film that was already beloved.

"It'd be difficult to handle this first score on my own," Shinoda said, explaining his inaugural endeavor into composing for what Trapanese called a "bold yet really classic action film."

There's nothing cheap about the sound of the film, and it's overall beefy and confrontational, with bubbling electronica during the quiet, creeping moments, and aggressively rock-like during the fight sequences. Evans' dark humor was met with playful musical themes, like thudding dance rhythms as bodies hit the floor or as faces met dry wall. Shinoda and Trapanese said they actively avoided trying to make it sound generically Asian or specifically Indonesian, but instead melded what they knew with what I'd describe as the apocalypse on a small scale.

"Linkin park music always has been a mashup of many different things we love that we listened to growing mixed with stuff that we made ourselves," Shinoda said, mentioning that the process here was the same. He'd like to work on scores again, but still has the band as his priority. "I still have to put Linkin Park as the number one thing in my life, but there are times that I can work at other things and as long as I know that I know I can give it one hundred percent of the energy that it needs to get done and it be great, then I'll be happy to work on something else."

Linkin Park is about to announce 2012 tour dates, and Shinoda says fans can expect the active rock band's fifth full-length album "mid-year." LP's last LP was 2010's critically praised "A Thousand Suns."

Check out the video above for more on the composing process, Shinoda's feelings on writing for film and more.

Here is HitFix's Drew McWeeny's TIFF review of "The Raid."

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<p>Ben (Benjamin McKenzie)&nbsp;and Sammy (Shawn Hatosy)&nbsp;enjoy some down time on &quot;Southland.&quot;</p>

Ben (Benjamin McKenzie) and Sammy (Shawn Hatosy) enjoy some down time on "Southland."

Credit: TNT

'Southland' - 'Underwater': The naked and the wet

Sherman has a bad day, Adams takes a dive and the precinct gets a new captain

A quick review of last night's "Southland" coming up just as soon as I shoot an old lady with a bean bag... 

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<p>Zachary Levi went toe-to-toe with Superman himself, Brandon Routh, in &quot;Chuck&quot;&nbsp;season 3.</p>

Zachary Levi went toe-to-toe with Superman himself, Brandon Routh, in "Chuck" season 3.

Credit: NBC

'Chuck' vs. the Retrospective Interview, Part 3

Chuck gets a nemesis, Sarah and Chuck get other love interests, and the series gets two different finales
"Chuck" comes to the end of its run on Friday night at 8 on NBC, and we're continuing our five-part retrospective interview with creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz by discussing the unlikely Subway sandwich fan campaign (the brainchild of Wendy Farrington) that helped the show get a renewal for the third season, and then the various ups and downs of season three itself.
 
(And it occurs to me in looking over this transcript that, while Fedak and Schwartz talked in an earlier part about how Chuck might have gotten the Chuck-fu powers at the end of season 1, I never specifically asked them about that decision and the ways it changed the show in the third season. Fortunately, Fedak and I talked about that at length after the season 2 finale, and that interview is still up on the old blog.) 
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<p>Helen Hunt and John Hawkes are exceptional in the new drama 'The Surrogate,' one of the biggest acquisition titles of Sundance 2012</p>

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes are exceptional in the new drama 'The Surrogate,' one of the biggest acquisition titles of Sundance 2012

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Review: 'The Surrogate' gives John Hawkes career-best role opposite Helen Hunt

A smart adult movie about sexuality in America? Seems too good to be true

I have a dream that someday American filmmakers will finally grow up and stop being so insanely conservative about dealing with all stripes of human sexuality on film.

When we still live in a culture where a movie as ultimately restrained as "Shame" gets slapped with an NC-17, it's obvious that, on an institutional level, we are prudes.  It's ridiculous, too.  How many films do we see each year about mayhem and murder and violence and war and all manner of human horrors?  Those are all considered acceptable, and it almost feels like the more indulgent we are towards brutality, the more afraid we are to deal with sexuality in a mature manner.  Yet which subject plays a larger ongoing role in the daily lives of more people?

With "The Surrogate," writer/director Ben Lewin has taken the true story of Mark O'Brien and crafted a smart, heartfelt story about the way a lifelong polio patient, crippled and twisted by the disease, finally begins to explore his own sexuality in his late 30s, with the help of a sexual surrogate.  It is a fairly straightforward character drama distinguished by exceptional work from actor John Hawkes and strong supporting turns by William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, and Helen Hunt.  It is also worth paying attention to the largely clear-eyed and sophisticated approach it takes to the subject matter, including some fairly frank scenes between Hawkes and Hunt that are impressive and even moving.

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<p>&quot;The Imposter&quot;</p>
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"The Imposter"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'The Imposter'

Fact is stranger than fiction in this tale of a missing kid and an opportunistic con-man
Bart Layton's "The Imposter" is a gripping true-crime documentary that removes a key element of the mystery from the equation with its title.
 
In 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing in San Antonio. More than three years later, a young man surfaced in a remote village in Spain, claiming to be Nicholas. Overjoyed, the Barclay family welcomed Nicholas back into their life, ignoring or accepting that in his missing years, Nicholas had gone through a series of traumatizing events that transformed him into a different person.
 
Literally.
 
The young man who returned from Spain was not, in fact, Nicholas Barclay. 
 
Layton isn't interested in taking the audience on an "Is He or Isn't He?" journey. The movie is called "The Imposter" and the movie has barely begun before the interview subject with the thick French accent, dark eyes and ethnically ambiguous olive skin begins his explanation of how he came to be confused with a much younger American boy with blonde hair, blue eyes and a light complexion. 
 
And what an explanation it is.
 
There have been and will be documentaries at this Sundance Film Festival that espouse more admirable messages or that exhibit more confident artistry than "The Imposter" does, but it's hard to imagine any film, narrative or doc, unspooling a more gripping, twisted yarn.
 
Imagine "F For Fake" mixed in with a bit of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," only theoretically all true and you have a good sense of the appeal of "The Imposter."
 
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<p>Sam Worthington kept it casual at the press day for his new thriller 'Man On A Ledge'</p>

Sam Worthington kept it casual at the press day for his new thriller 'Man On A Ledge'

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Watch: Sam Worthington stands up for 'Man On A Ledge'

The 'Avatar' star discusses his latest thriller

I ran an excerpt from my conversation with Sam Worthington not long after I sat down with him to discuss his new film "Man On The Ledge," and we ran that one bit because he was talking specifically about his next film, "Wrath Of The Titans."

We spoke far longer about "Man," though, and I find Worthington's evolution as a leading man very interesting.  By the time most audiences saw him for the first time, he'd already been given several huge roles in "Avatar" and "Clash Of The Titans."  That seems to be a newer phenomenon, when someone gets anointed a movie star before they've really been seen by audiences, and it doesn't always work.

In Worthington's case, I see exactly why he was cast in those big roles, and I can also see why some audiences just haven't warmed to him.  He's not terribly interested in being a giant movie star, and I get the feeling that some of the attention has been difficult for Worthington.  In every conversation we've had so far, it strikes me that he really wants to just get better at his craft, pushing himself whenever possible.  In "Man On The Ledge," he's playing a normal guy, and he can't really hide behind giant CGI effects or a high concept.

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<p>Paul Giamatti co-stars in Don Coscarelli's adaptation of the cult novel 'John Dies At The End,' which he also co-produced.</p>

Paul Giamatti co-stars in Don Coscarelli's adaptation of the cult novel 'John Dies At The End,' which he also co-produced.

Credit: Silver Sphere Films

Review: 'John Dies At The End' offers a druggy dark comedy horror romp

Don Coscarelli nails a note-perfect adaptation of the cult comedy novel

There's going to come a point somewhere down the road, probably sooner than I would like, when my two sons start to ask me questions about drugs, and I'm going to have to make some hard choices about what to share with them about my various chemical indiscretions over the years.

One of the ways I'll make the conversation easier is through the use of specific films as examples of how things feel when you're altered.  And now, after tonight's midnight screening at Sundance, I can add "John Dies At The End" to the list of films that I can use to illustrate how it feels when you have intentionally attempted to alter reality through the use of some sort of outside influence.  Based on a novel by David Wong, one of the founding voices of Cracked.com, "John Dies At The End" tells the story of what happens when two friends are exposed to a profoundly bizarre drug that is nicknamed "Soy Sauce," which enables them to see an invisible world full of monsters and doorways to other dimensions and things too strange to describe.

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<p>Neal McDonough on &quot;Justified.&quot;</p>

Neal McDonough on "Justified."

Credit: FX

Interview: 'Justified' showrunner Graham Yost on villains, arcs and life without Mags

'It takes two big men to fill Margo's shoes,' he says
On the last day of press tour, I sat down with "Justified" showrunner Graham Yost to talk about the show's third season. Given that the season was going to premiere two days later, I knew I wasn't going to have the time to transcribe the interview then, so I geared it to go after tonight's episode (you can read my review of that here), which introduced Mykelti Williamson as the second of our two major new villains, Ellstin Limehouse, and guest-starred Carla Gugino as a U.S. Marshal who very closely resembled the one Gugino played on "Karen Sisco."
 
Yost and I talked about villains new and old — including the gaping hole that Margo Martindale left as Mags — about the show's evolution to be serialized even in episodes that might once upon a time have been standalone, and about Elmore Leonard's new book "Raylan," which is partly Leonard's adaptation of "Justified" season 2, and partly contains stories that Yost in turn adapted for season 3.
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<p>Timothy Olyphant and Carla Gugino in &quot;Justified.&quot;</p>

Timothy Olyphant and Carla Gugino in "Justified."

Credit: FX

'Justified' - 'Cut Ties': Karen Sisco, I presume?

Carla Gugino and Mykelti Williamson stop by a packed episode

"Justified" just aired its second episode of the season. I interviewed Graham Yost about where we are at this point with our heroes and villains, and I have a review of this episode coming up just as soon as I need a spot...

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