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Reel Critics: Compared to 'Jackass,' this is a triumph

October 31, 2013

Johnny Knoxville has been at the center of the lowbrow "Jackass" series of bad-boy comedy films and cable TV shows. His format gathers a collection of silly, stupid skits that are so seriously R-rated they defy description in a family newspaper. The movies are extremely low-budget but fully entertain the target audience of video-gaming teenage males.

Knoxville takes a huge leap forward with his latest effort. "Bad Grandpa" is an actual story with a real timeline that goes from a beginning to an end. Knoxville plays an 86-year-old man whose adult daughter has been sentenced to prison. He must drive her child, his 11-year-old grandson, across the country to the boy's father in North Carolina.

Needless to say, the long journey provides ample opportunity for the lascivious grandpa to behave badly in all sorts of situations. The antics at times are crazy funny, truly hysterical and way off the charts of normal behavior. But if you can handle the kind of adult humor found in "Bridesmaids" and "The Hangover," this may be the funniest film you'll see this year.

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—John Depko

*

What a year this has been for black history in film. First, we had the eloquent "42" about Jackie Robinson, then "The Butler," chronicling the modern civil rights movement.

And now is the excellent "12 Years a Slave," based on the grueling true story of a black man, born free in New York, trafficked into slavery and working plantations in the Deep South.

Not since "Roots" has there been such a graphic depiction of slavery. But unlike in that TV drama, there is barely a drop of human kindness from brokers to overseers, owners and even their wives.

Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a crushing performance as the slave Solomon Northup, who must hide his education, background and pride to stay alive. "I don't want to survive, I want to live," he says, and his survival is quite remarkable.

Lupita Nyong'o makes a stunning debut as Patsey, a pretty slave subjected to horrors at the hands of owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Fassbender is quite terrifying — smiling one moment, deadly cruel the next.

"12 Years" was directed by Brit Steve McQueen with frank realism and power. It's a must-see.

*

"The Counselor" opens on an intimate moment between Counselor (Michael Fassbender, again) and his lover (Penelope Cruz). It is beautifully shot, seductive, well-acted, yet a bit pointless. That is the entire movie in a nutshell.

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