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A big-name cast and some big-time issues are not enough to make up for a small-time script that adds absolutely nothing new to the too-often-told tale of police corruption and family betrayal. It is as generic as its title.

Four police officers are killed in an ambush, devastating a family of cops. Francis Tierney, Sr. (John Voight) is a department official. His oldest son, Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) is the police chief and his son-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell) is a colleague of the men who were slain. Francis presses his other son, Ray (Edward Norton) to leave his desk job, where he’s been hiding out since a conflict, and take over the investigation, not knowing that it will lead him to his own family.

Norton and Farrell are excellent, as always, as are supporting performances from Rick Gonzalez as a drug dealer and Jennifer Ehle as Francis, Jr.’s sick wife. But it makes an enormous and ultimately exhausting effort to hide the lightweight and predictable nature of the script with (1) non-stop bad language, (2) a lot of very graphic violence, including a horrifying torture scene, police harassment, murder, and suicide, (3) ramped-up emotions based on having every one of the main characters related to each other. It is weighed down further with over-used clichés like a slow-motion funeral procession in the snow and over-used dialogue like “Don’t talk to me about the truth. You got no idea what it takes to do what we do” and “I was a good man once.” Now that’s a crime.

As Jack Black explains in School of Rock, rock music is about sticking it to The Man. That takes on a wider meaning when the sticking is coming from young girls. In this documentary about a music camp in Portland, Oregon, where, according to the New York Times’ Jeannette Catsoulis,

100 delirious 8-to-18-year-olds — many of whom have never touched an instrument — are encouraged to make noise and “take up space.” For one earsplitting, consciousness-raising week, they form bands and write songs while watchful counselors — volunteer musicians from bands like Sleater-Kinney and Gossip — provide expertise, mediate meltdowns and reassure the strugglers.

The movie shows how rock music can help girls tell their own stories and discover who they are, free of cultural expectations and limitations. And that they really can rock out!

There is no better way to strengthen family connections than combining shared laughter and history. So every family should make time to watch the hilarious new PBS series “Make Em Laugh,” the history of comedy on television and in the movies in the United States, from the silent era to Jon Stewart, with current comedians commenting on their inspirations and influences. Episodes on slapstick, satire, pushing the limits, and verbal humor are on the schedule (NOTE: some mature material)

Make 'em Laugh: The Funny Business of America at

Most adults still shiver a little when the subject of middle school comes up. It is a time of the most polarizing extremes as we first begin to question everything we have been told and everything we thought we knew on our path toward becoming our true and individual selves. This new book is a welcome guide for kids from ages 11-14 by Annie Fox, an online adviser at The Insite.

I like the way she makes it clear up front that there is no one way to be and no one right answer by focusing not on one generic kid or on a lot of generalized rules but creating six different characters to illustrate different situations and responses. Since middle school is a time of a lot of internal and peer-imposed stress about conformity, she begins by talking about teasing and bullies and gets to an important question right away: “If nobody teased you, would you totally accept yourself the way you are?” This lets kids know right away that they need to think about the extent to which their anxieties are based on what goes on inside their own heads and not in what someone else said about them.

The book has comments from real-life kids about their problems and how they deal with them and helpful suggested scenarios and resources. It covers dealing with self-esteem and anger problems, empathy, kindness, and problem-solving. Today’s middle schoolers will probably still shiver decades from now when they remember their tween years, but this book will help them get through a little more smoothly.

I have one copy to give away. The first person to send me an email at with “middle school” in the subject line will get the book!

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