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Weekend movie guide: See it or flee it?

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Two opening films get raves this week: The White Ribbon, voted by City Pages' critics as one of the 10 best films of 2009, and La Danse, a remarkable backstage documentary on the Paris Opera Ballet. Mel Gibson and/or action fans might take a chance on Edge of Darkness, though it gets a big "meh" from critics. Details below.

OPENING

SEE: The White Ribbon
Critics have routinely called it a great film, and one of last year's best. But it's also severe and demanding. Set on the eve of World War I in a Protestant, still-feudal German village, it's a dark fable that presages the rise of Nazism--a story of the town's sullen children and an escalating series of inexplicable accidents recounted by the village schoolteacher 40 or 50 years later. (Uptown Theatre)
City Pages: "Director Michael Haneke's best film ever. It's as cold and creepy and as secretly cheesy as any of his earlier films, if not quite as lofty."
Star Tribune: 4 stars Pioneer Press: 4 stars RottenTomatoes.com: 88% positive

SEE: La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet
A remarkable and immersive documentary on the famed dance company. Roughly two-thirds is devoted to rehearsal and performance, shot in deeply satisfying long takes of gorgeous young men and women starting, stopping, listening, questioning, repeating, perfecting. The rest is behind the scenes, showing the cafeteria, sewing rooms, cleaning crews, and the sometimes messy business of keeping an arts institution running. (St. Anthony Main)
City Pages: "Frederick Wiseman's magnificent film offers a portrait of suppleness and agility--not just that of the dancers' bodies but also of the august institution of the title."
Star Tribune: 4 stars Pioneer Press: 3 stars

SEE: Omnifest 2010
The Science Museum of Minnesota's annual extravaganza of giant-screen nature and cultural films begins this week and runs through March 11. Each day the Omnitheater will show a rotating lineup of five films. This year you'll get up close and personal with African elephants, a California kelp bed, Van Gogh's paintings, extreme skiing, and seven spectacular landscapes from the Amazon River to Greenland icebergs. Visit www.smm.org for show times. (Science Museum of Minnesota)

MAYBE: Edge of Darkness
Mel Gibson is a bereaved homicide detective who sets out to avenge the murder of his daughter. (area theaters)
City Pages: "Propulsive and streamlined ... This Edge is a vigilante movie, but given the film's focus on bereavement, bodies drop with actual weight here. And the culmination is that rare shootout that can truly be called cathartic."
Star Tribune: 1.5 stars Pioneer Press: 2 stars RottenTomatoes.com: 54% positive

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MAYBE: When in Rome
A tepid but occasionally charming romantic comedy about a disillusioned New Yorker (Kristen Bell) who visits Rome and impetuously plucks a few coins out of a fountain where lovers make wishes. She finds herself suddenly pursued by a variety of odd suitors. (area theaters)
City Pages: "The score is insufferable (Jason Mraz and Katy Perry) and the plot is contrived, but Bell brings enough effervescence that she's able to spark believable chemistry with Josh Duhamel."
Star Tribune: 2.5 stars Pioneer Press: 2 stars RottenTomatoes.com: 19% positive

Next pages: Special screenings, art houses, and ongoing films

SCREENING

SEE: Night and the City
Richard Widmark plays a London hustler looking for the big score with a scheme to manage a famous wrestler, in this 1950 film for serious noir fans. (Heights Theatre, Monday at 7:30 p.m.)

SEE: Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks's classic horror spoof is 13th on the American Film Institute's list of greatest American comedies--and it's free at the library. (Pohlad Hall, Minneapolis Central Library, Sunday at 2 p.m. Free.)

MAYBE: Expanding the Frame
The Walker presents its annual series dedicated to works that expand our ideas of what film and video can encompass. These are generally challenging, experimental films for the true cineast. Visit www.walkerart.org for films and show times. (Walker Art Center, through February 28)

Next page: Ongoing films

ONGOING

SEE: Avatar
The money is on the screen in James Cameron's mega-3-D, mondo-CGI, more-than-a-quarter-billion-dollar baby, about a group of Sky People (Americans) who launch a military operation to strip-mine a precious element on the planet of Pandora. (area theaters)

SEE: Crazy Heart
Jeff Bridges has become an Oscar favorite for his performance as Bad Blake, a washed-up honky-tonk hero who travels the country playing low-pay, low-turnout gigs with pickup bands half his age. But Bad's life starts getting better when a small-time journalist and single mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal) meets him for a rare interview. (area theaters)

SEE: Up in the Air
Jason Reitman (Juno) directs a snappy but surprisingly substantial story about a corporate downsizer who takes pride in his jet-setting and emotionally unencumbered life--until self-doubt begins to creep in. George Clooney has never been more human. (area theaters)

MAYBE: Extraordinary Measures
A businessman and his wife (Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell) team up with an unconventional scientist (Harrison Ford) to develop a cure for their children's rare disorder. (area theaters)

For more film ideas, capsule reviews, and showtimes, click here.