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Notes from the Back Row

Any Portman in a storm



Awards season continues, which is great if you are into critiquing other peoples' fashion sense, not so good if you are looking for decent new films at your local theatre.

But Natalie Portman is making waves these days. She just won the Golden Globe for Black Swan (still playing at the Village 8), and has another flick opening this week, one that addresses that age-old problem of pulling off the friends-with-benefits scenario without someone falling in love. No Strings Attached opens Friday and co-stars Ashton Kutcher as the sap who's great friends with Portman's hot, overworked doctor and is looking for more.

The good news is that it's R-rated (although for a movie about screwing it's a very tame "R") and Ivan ( Ghostbusters) Reitman directs. The worrisome news is that Reitman hasn't made anything in five years, not since My Super Ex-Girlfirend , which sucked ass. The bad news is that Ashton Kutcher turns on the "puppy dog" early on and runs with it. Not that it's entirely his fault. The script, written by newcomer Elizabeth Meriwether, is actually not that bad (of course the ending is pretty obvious right away) except for Kutcher's part, which is as uninteresting as smoking industrial hemp.

Luckily Natalie Portman uses her acting and a few funny sexual positions to spice things up and if your girlfriend does drag you to this one, at least there is a whole slew of "songs to menstrate to" jokes (Frank Sinatra wins).

Overall, No Strings Attached is better and more realistic than your average romantic comedy. Does that mean it's good? Not really, but it probably won't spoil Natalie's Oscar chances the way Norbit did for Eddie Murphy after Dream Girls a few years back. And after 10 years of preparing for Black Swan you can't really blame Portman for wanting something a bit lighter.

Speaking of lighters, this April Nat stars in Your Highness, a weed-smoking fantasy movie about two odd-couple brothers on a quest to save a damsel amidst dragons, hydras (a different kind of dragon), evil wizards, masturbation jokes and packed medieval bowls. Directed by David Gordon Green ( Pineapple Express) and co-starring James Franco, Danny McBride and Zooey Deschanel, this seems almost too good to be true. Find the trailer online and channel your inner D&D geek.

Natalie also stars in Kenneth Branaugh's Thor, a superhero epic based on the Marvel comic and set to hit screens in early May. It looks pretty badass and Natalie and Branaugh's involvement lend plenty of street cred.

Plus there is Hesher, a Sundance hit produced by Portman's own company, where she stars alongside Joesph Gordon-Levitt. Early hype is that it rules and should be out later this year. Natalie Portman is a busy girl.

Back to the present, the DVD of the Week is Let Me In , the American remake of popular Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In . There was controversy around this one (why do Americans feel the need to remake perfectly good foreign films only a year or two after their release?) but in this case director Matt Reeves ( Cloverfield) pulls it off.

Chloe Moretz ( Kick-Ass) stars as an isolated little vamp girl who moves into the life of a troubled pre-teen boy, just as a rash of ritualistic murders hits their snowy New Mexico town. With a cold, de-saturated feel similar to the original, Reeves shuffles the story a bit but maintains dignity and produces an American version that isn't dumbed down. Is it better than the cult-classic original? Since it's awards season and there's very little else happening you may as well rent both versions and judge for yourself. Or, for more Portman, get Heat and Mars Attacks!



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