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Taken (5 out of 5 Swans): Wow! Director Pierre Morel delivers a non-stop, high octane thriller that never lets up. Liam Neeson’s 17-year-old daughter, (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped by some Albanian white slavers in Paris. Neeson is an unlikely action hero, and this adds to the mystique as he uses all the skills he has honed as a CIA operative to seek out and punish the bad guys as he tries to find Maggie. There are bodies all over the place. There’s not a lot of time spent in contemplation. Nor is there any hint of giving in to political correctness. The bad guys include Arab sheiks and Frenchies without scruple, and Liam uses everything at his disposal, including torture, to find his daughter in 93 minutes that fly by with heart-pounding speed.

Bride Wars (1 out of 5 Swans): This is an infantile chick flick about two vacuous women, best friends for life, who go to war because their weddings are scheduled at the same time, date, and place. If there is a more intellectually offensive movie made in 2009, I don’t want to see it.

Donkey Punch (5 out of 5 Swans): What happens when seven ordinary young people, inexperienced in the rough and tumble of life, are thrust into an extraordinary situation requiring life-altering decisions to be made in an extremely short period of time? That’s the dilemma faced by the seven young people in this exceptional film. As they try to deal with the problem, tension mounts and violence rears its ugly head. Acts that none of them would have thought themselves capable of suddenly become possible courses of action. Director Olly Blackburn shows a deft hand in spinning a spellbinding metaphor for what separates people from civilization and barbarity.

Paul Blart Mall Cop (3 out of 5 Swans): The first half hour fulfilled all my low expectations. Blart (Kevin James) is pictured as a pathetic loser who washed out of police school and ended up as a Mall Cop. Then a group of robbers takes over the Mall, and the movie quickly changes from a piteous, low-intellect attempt at humor to a light-hearted takeoff on Bruce Willis and the “Die Hard” movies as director Steve Carr keeps the pace up during the last hour.

The Wrestler (4 out of 5 Swans): This is not an easy movie to watch, but what a performance by Mickey Rourke! Director Darren Aronofsky inserts exploitive scenes like the brutal use of a staple gun on Rourke and substantial gratuitous nudity by Marisa Tomei when she could easily have been wearing at least a bikini top without sacrificing verisimilitude.
 
Valkyrie (3 out of 5 Swans): Bolstered by a terrific cast, headed by Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Terence Stamp, Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg is the weak link in this true story of an assassination attempt on Hitler. Even though most know the outcome (I’m astonished at the number of people who have said they were unaware of this attempt, including Cruise) it’s fascinating because of how they almost pulled it off.

Gran Torino (2 out of 5 Swans): Although Clint Eastwood is still fascinated by death as a way of giving up; at least he’s in his Dirty Harry mode. Despite his initial prejudice, Clint comes to the aid of his next door neighbors, a Hmong family, to defend them against a local gang in this entertaining movie that eschews political correctness.

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