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Wednesday, February 11,2009

Reviews in short

by Cole Smithey

 

Coraline. Regardless of its esteemed pedigree of writer Neil Gaiman and director/animator Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas"), this creepy gothic kids’ movie doesn’t approach anything that the Brothers Grimm cooked up on an off day. The animation is never as inspired as the films that Aardman ("Wallace & Gromit") puts out on a regular basis. Little witchy Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is bored with her milquetoast parents (voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) and their 150-year-old house that they’ve recently moved into. But Coraline’s ennui fades when she finds a portal into a mirror reality where her parents are kinder and the house is better painted and has better lighting. The only catch is that if Coraline wants to stay in the more festive reality, she’ll have to have her eyes sewn up with buttons. Yes, with buttons. The 3-D effects are less than impressive, and as a character, Coraline is a shade too snotty to ever completely win over the audience. Keith David adds pizzazz as the leathery voice of a quirky black cat that comes to Coraline’s rescue, but it’s not enough to save the movie from itself. (Focus Features) Rated PG. 101 mins. (C )

He’s Just Not That Into You. More of a romantic train wreck than a comedy "He’s Just Not That Into You" is like a moderated game of heartbreak musical chairs. Screenwriting duo Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein turned Greg Behrendt’s and Liz Tuccillo’s self-help book into a whiny little movie about a group of interconnected spoiled brat Baltimore 20-somethings who either don’t know what they want, don’t know how to get what they want, or haven’t a clue about how to keep what they already have. Destined to be called the "Jennifer movie," because it stars Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly and Ginnifer Goodwin, the story grinds gears between a series of bumpy subplots rather than fully developed set-pieces. From its lack of comic timing and romantic suspense, it’s clear that none the filmmakers has ever seen a Woody Allen movie. Cheating, trying to get laid and attempting to wrangle the opposite sex into marriage or something quite like it never seemed so dull. Rated PG-13, 129 mins. (C-)


New In Town. Renée Zellweger works her romantic comic magic as Miami corporate climber Lucy Hill, who volunteers to help restructure her company’s food plant in Minnesota in the heart of winter. Lucy’s culture shock is compounded by the conservative mores and short-list habits of a tight-knit community that she reluctantly comes to respect and even love, thanks in no small part to the outdoorsy charm of the town’s union rep Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick, Jr.). "New In Town" is an uncomplicated, fish-out-of-water romance with just enough modern-day social commentary to give it some substance. The sweetness here is far from saccharine, and well-crafted supporting role performances from Siobhan Fallon Hogan and J.K. Simmons go a long way toward anchoring the humor._(Lionsgate) Rated PG. 96 mins. (B-)


The Uninvited. Unrelated to the 1944 ghost story that gave birth to the great jazz standard “Stella by Starlight,” this "Uninvited" is a clunky Americanized remake of Kim Ji-Woon’s 2003 Korean horror film "The Tale of Two Sisters." The upstart sibling directing team of Charles and Thomas Guard create Hamburger-Helper scares in a story about a suicidal girl named Anna (Emily Browning) who returns from a stint in the loony bin to live with her father Steven (David Strathairn in a squandered performance) and his new girlfriend, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks). Anna’s sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is quick to fill Anna in on how their now-deceased mother’s former nurse has dug her nails into their father’s heart. Anna suffers from hallucinations of her corpse-like mother crawling around the family’s lakeside mansion that point to Rachel as her assassin. Perfunctory scares lead up to a would-be surprise plot reveal that instead carries the odor of a day-old tuna sandwich left out on the counter. (Paramount) Rated PG-13. 87 mins. (D )


Taken. The ever-capable Liam Neeson takes a well-earned payday as retired CIA-agent Bryan Mills, whose 17-year-old daughter is kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers when she runs off to Paris with her best friend. Hamfisted screenwriting over-establishes Mills’ desperation to win his daughter’s affection before he gets to use his special skills to impose a hearty body-count during his rescue and revenge quest. French cottage film industry maverick Luc Besson co-produced and co-wrote the project that takes special pleasure in spicing up violent surprises for a revenge fantasy that’s spelled out in capital letters. Perhaps the biggest revelation is Neeson’s impact as a 55-yearold super spy whose physicality is undiminished in spite of his age. Leave your brain at the door to enjoy this smash-and-grab spree of fast-twitch carnage. (20th Century Fox) Rated PG-13. 93 mins. (C )


Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Kate Beckinsale jettisoned the “Underworld” franchise for this third installment prequel that’s made bearable only by Michael Sheen’s strong presence as the werewolf slave Lucian. Beckinsale look-alike Rhona Mitra plays Sonja, the vampire princess daughter to coven king Viktor (Bill Nighy). Sonja and Lucian enjoy a tempestuous affair that’s threatened by daddy’s wrath should he ever find out about their intimate bond that promises to birth a new kind of creature. Hokey CGI graphics display bloody battles with hordes of Lycans being split in two as Lucian and Sonja attempt to overthrow the Vampire dynasty that condemns their union. Director Patrick Tatopoulos is in over his head with a movie that should, but probably won’t, put a final nail in “Underworld’s” monochromatic coffin. (Screen Gems/Sony) Rated R. (C-)


The Unborn. "The Unborn" goes from soft-core adoration of stalked subject Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) to dark nightmares involving bugs for a tedious “Exorcist”-themed horror show. Writer/ director David S. Goyer overreaches with a story about a Jewish girl haunted by a dybbuk, a demon from Hebrew mysticism. Casey desperately wants an exorcism to get rid of the gothic monkey on her back and secures the help of Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman) and multi-denominational priest Arthur Wyndham (Idris Elba) to perform the ritual that will not be without incident. Oldman steals what there is to take from his scenes, but a nonsensical B-movie like "The Unborn" is beneath is skills. Rated PG-13, 88 mins. (C-)


Valkyrie. For its significance as the first film about the actual events around an assassination attempt on Hitler led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), "Valkyrie" is an anachronistic movie that wants to be less than it should be. After losing his left eye, two fingers on his left hand and his right hand in an allied aerial attack, von Stauffenberg turns against Hitler along with an elite group of military conspirators seeking to enact a coup fired by Hitler’s death. Accents are all over the place for would-be German officers played by Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Terence Stamp, who like the under-used Eddie Izzard, come at their roles with conviction.
Director Bryan Singer’s vision of an old-fashioned Hollywood thriller redone, with style and panache, falls short on both accounts. There’s no one in the movie to empathize with, and the story goes by like a checklist. Perhaps if the actors all spoke in German, with English subtitles, then the movie might have been more entertaining. Rated PG-13. 120 mins. (C)


For more reviews visit www.colesmithey.com

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