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The Globe and Mail

In the desert, this Rubber hits the road and then some

If Rubber (2010) were solely about a tire that comes to life and kills people, it would be tough to care for more than 10 minutes. What elevates the movie above a one-joke premise are the scenes that play out in the margins.

But let there be no mistake. Rubber is definitely about a tire. And the tire does come to life and kill people, carrying to extremes the notion of inanimate object as homicidal maniac that fuelled the movies Christine (bad car) and Child's Play (bad doll).

The tire pulls itself up from the dirt, falls down a few times and, for reasons known only to itself, uses its telekinetic powers to blow up a rabbit. When the thrill wears off, it explodes the heads of any human beings rash enough to treat it like a tire.

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Even tires have feelings, evidently, including a capacity for unrequited love with a woman (Roxane Mesquida of Fat Girl and Sex Is Comedy) spotted at a desert motel.

Why this particular tire has feelings is not explained. All we are told is that the tire is played by Robert, but since Robert in French sounds like "rubber," this assurance should be treated with caution. Quentin Dupieux, the director (and cinematographer, editor and writer), is French. The film itself is in English and was shot in the California desert.

The movie begins as a police officer (Stephen Spinella) delivers, straight to camera, the deadpan assurance that everything in life happens for no reason. "In Love Story, why do the two characters fall madly in love with each other? No reason. In Oliver Stone's JFK, why is the president suddenly assassinated by some stranger? No reason."

It turns out the officer is addressing not the film's viewers but a group of people in the desert who, binoculars in hand, are about to watch the tire's story from a safe distance. Well, not an entirely safe distance, but let's not get into that.

Dupieux is toying not only with the conventions of sci-fi and horror movies but with the vocabulary of films within films and the interaction of audiences and material. After the tire has rolled along for a while (a combination of remote control and manipulation just out of frame), a boy in the crowd says, "It's already boring." His father admonishes him, implicitly reassuring audience members who might feel the same way. "Don't be so negative. It's just the beginning. It'll pick up."

Jack Plotnick, who plays a pivotal role as a character capable of crossing between the story of the tire and the spectators in the desert, says Dupieux shot quickly over 14 days and was so sure of what he wanted, and so enthusiastic about the project, that cast members would have followed him anywhere. "It was just a joy." He pauses. "What wasn't a joy was filming in the desert at 4 a.m. in the freezing cold."

Hey now, you didn't see the tire complaining about the cold. And trust me, that tire knows how to register a complaint.

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True Grit (2010)

The part of ornery U.S. marshal Rooster Cogburn is award bait. John Wayne won an Oscar for the role in the 1969 film, and Jeff Bridges was nominated for playing Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's remake. But at the heart of the western is Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year-old girl determined to avenge her murdered father. The Coens' film is truer to the way Charles Portis's novel tells her tale. Steinfeld (nominated for a supporting Oscar) had a major advantage over Kim Darby, who played Mattie in 1969. Steinfeld had plenty of experience riding horses. Darby couldn't stand to be near them.

Another Year (2010)

Several characters weave in and out of the lives of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen) as the seasons change, but Gerri's twice-divorced co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville) tears at the fabric. Struggling to appear upbeat, but revealing herself as lonely and desperately unhappy, she is the guest who keeps on giving grief. Leigh has said he seeks to capture "those precise, distilled, fundamental and essential moments" in human relationships. As usual, his fine cast obliges him.

American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

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Described by one interview subject as "an all-or-nothing guy," U.S. comedian Bill Hicks channelled his emotions, particularly his anger, into stand-up routines that earned him a reputation as a comic's comic. Just as he was achieving broader success, he was diagnosed with cancer in 1993 and died soon after. This tribute-cum-biography covers his life from childhood on. Bonus features in the two-DVD set include extended interviews and additional clips of his performances.

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