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Reporting from the drug war frontline

The House I Live In (15)

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Dir: Eugene Jarecki

Runtime: 108 minutes

GETTING a head start on the new year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscar to his pals) has published a shortlist of 15 films competing for the best documentary award. Among them is this blistering study of America's seemingly never-ending war on drugs.

Eugene Jarecki's report from the frontline starts in the early 1970s, with President Richard Nixon declaring drug abuse to be America's public enemy number one. Nothing with Nixon was ever as it seems and, as Jarecki's shrewd film makes clear, the Republican president was something of a liberal on drugs, focusing dollars and energy on treatment rather than punishment.

The strength of Jarecki's film is that he attacks a familiar subject from all angles, making his analysis seem fresh and urgent. He has the politics of the "war" nailed, demonstrating how successive generations of politicians have competed to show who can put more people in prison. He exposes the racial element, showing how African-Americans are disproportionately affected and punished. Most telling of all, he makes the subject personal, detailing, with the help of family friends, what all the stats and the speeches mean in reality to victims and the loved ones they leave behind.

To back up his arguments he has some terrific archive footage and first-rate talking heads. Among the latter is David Simon, who once worked on the drugs story as a journalist and is now best know for being the writer of The Wire, the groundbreaking TV drama set on Baltimore's mean streets. "What drugs haven't destroyed the war against them has," concludes Simon.

Having won the grand jury prize at Sundance, Jarecki is surely in with a shout for February 24.

Filmhouse, Edinburgh, December 21-24; Glasgow Film Theatre, January 25-26.

Pitch Perfect (12A)

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Dir: Jason Moore

With: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson

Runtime: 112 minutes

AFTER the success of Bridesmaids, and the shocking realisation that chicks could not only be funny but earn money at the box office while doing so, the hunt was on for another female ensemble comedy.

Jason Moore's Pitch Perfect, a comedy about an all-woman a cappella group, is in the Bridesmaids vein, gross-out scene, ditzy humour, and all.

Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) plays Beca, pictured left, a cynical young type just about to start university. Doing the usual round of societies and clubs at the freshers' fair, Beca is asked if she'd like to join The Bellas, a singing group about as naff as their name suggests. Clad in tight skirts, fitting jackets and with cutesy little scarves, The Bellas look more like 1960s air hostesses on amphetamines. Beca declines the offer.

She changes her mind – wouldn't be much of a plot if she didn't – and joins the rest of the gang, which this year, due to waning interest, consists of a new crowd of fat, thin, bold, shy types, those creatures otherwise known as ordinary women.

Among them is Rebel Wilson playing Fat Amy. Wilson only has a few Hollywood films to her name so far, Bridesmaids and What To Expect When You're Expecting among them, but she has the pleasing habit of usually being the funniest actor on the screen. She doesn't disappoint here.

Otherwise, Pitch Perfect takes a while to get into its stride and feels lacking in oomph till towards the end. But with a screenplay by Kay Cannon (30 Rock writer-producer) there are enough likeable characters, running jokes and foot-tapping songs to keep the entertainment level high.

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