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Wednesday, October 14,2009

Reviews in Short

by Cole Smithey

 

Where the Wild Things Are. With the blessing of "Where the Wild Things Are" author/illustrator Maurice Sendak, director Spike Jonze sincerely adapts Sendak’s popular 1963 children’s book to the big screen. Dave Eggers’s co-writing screenplay credit speaks for the narrative amendments made in fleshing out the minimalist source material to fill up a feature film. Deploying a well-applied use of scale, Jonze creates the imaginary island world to which 9-year-old Max (Max Records) escapes when life with his divorced-and-dating mom and distracted big sister Claire becomes too much. James Gandolfini is the voice of Carol, a beast whose uncontrollable temper takes a toll on the stick-made huts the group uses for shelter. In order to convince the beasts not to eat him, Max introduces himself as an explorer king and is accepted as such by the likes of woolly "KW" (Lauren Ambrose), a bird-like creature named Douglas (Chris Cooper) and naysayer (Judith Catherine O’Hara). Max has a hard time keeping the wild things happy, and he learns some valuable lessons about communicating and the consequences of his actions. While not an instant classic, "Wild Things" does what it sets out to achieve as a literal but also embellished translation of a literary classic. (Warner Bros). Rated PG. 108 mins. (B-)



Paranormal Activity. For a low-fidelity, spooky house movie involving only a boyfriend and girlfriend, "Paranormal Activity" does a lot with a little. However, that’s not to say debut writer/director Oren Peli goes far enough in his shallow transition from squeaky doors to full-on demonic possession of 20-something monster-bait Katie Featherston. College English major Katie and her day-trader guy Micah (Micah Sloat) have been living in their comfy San Diego house long enough for the demon that’s been following Katie since she was 8 to catch up with her again. New to the enigmatic horror that follows Katie, Micah buys a video camera to capture evidence of the apparition. In the same family of low-budget suspense movies as "Open Water" and "Blair Witch Project," "Paranormal Activity" musters roughly the same level of eighth grade audience torment as those films. Rated R. 86 mins. (C-)




Zombieland. Aside from one truly inspired comic scenario involving Bill Murray, "Zombieland" is a flat horror spoof that wears out its welcome well before its abysmal third act gets started. In his role as "Columbus," one of the last surviving humans, Jesse Eisenberg further brands his casting type as Michael Cera’s ("Youth in Revolt") main competition for the nerdy-teen-virgin leading guys that are in high demand these days (skip "Splinterheads"). Director Ruben Fleischer slathers on screenwriters Rhett Reese’s and Paul Wernick’s presentational voice-over narration from Columbus’ perspective as a loner with a list of rules that have kept him alive.Far from the canny social satire of George A. Romero’s "Night of the Living Dead," and from the zany zombie movie homage of "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), "Zombieland" exists only to show zombies getting shot in the head, run over with SUVs and generally murdered in fast and bloody ways. Columbus teams up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) a zombie-killing pro, and the duo go on a zombie killing spree while meeting up with their duplicitous female rivals Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Watching a 12-year-old Breslin kill zombies with semi-automatic weapons doesn’t do much for me, but I’m sure there are many audiences that will remark, "Cool." Rated R. 81 mins. (C-)




Capitalism: A Love Story. In case you forgot about how, in spite of widespread public disapproval, the banks responsible for America’s biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression bilked over $700 billion from the government on top of the billions they stole on "exotic" loan instruments, Michael Moore is here to remind you. Since making "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Sicko," Moore has polished his humanist vehicle of cinematic political agitprop to a sheen with an entertaining, touching and informative movie. Going straight for the jugular of free-market capitalism, Moore visits with teens illegally sent to an outsourced detention center in Pennsylvania, talks to underpaid commercial airline pilots and visits with people being forcibly removed from their homes in America’s foreclosure nightmare. But he really goes for the gusto of fitfully equating democracy with socialism when he visits companies where every employee owns an equal share, and then shifts gears to explore how companies like Wal-Mart profit on the deaths of employees that the company secretly takes out large life insurance policies on. Rated R. 117 mins. (A) (For Susan Woods’ review, see Page 17.)




Surrogates. Based on Robert Venditti’s graphic novel, "Surrogates" is a disappointing sci-fi movie that includes a few energetic chase sequences. Gamers may take a better liking since its premise is based on 1 billion surrogate people interacting socially, and anti-socially, as the physical embodiment of the home-bound "meatbag" (human) wearing headset glasses to experience his or her surrogate in action in the outside world. Richard Marvin’s music feels temporary, waiting to be replaced by compositions written specifically for the film. The dialogue is bland, and the action spotty in a truncated story about Bruce Willis’s Thomas Greer, a family man attempting to investigate a rare murder. Radha Mitchell does a lot with a little as Greer’s cohort Jennifer Peters. Jennifer is a surrogate, and is the cause of much dramatic action entailing some shoddy special effects and silly plot points. Rated PG-13. 104 mins. (C-)




Jennifer’s Body. Director Karyn Kusama ("Girlfight") follows up her disastrous last movie (2005’s "Aeon Flux") with a less damaging career misstep in the guise of a winky teen horror movie written by Diablo Cody ("Juno"). Megan Fox shows off the ugly side of her exaggerated beauty as high school hottie Jennifer, who spews snappy slang barbs like so many plucked hairs from her perfect eyebrows. Slutty Jennifer plays dom to her submissive best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried), who carries on a sexually active relationship with her loyal boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons). When Jennifer goes off with a visiting rock band, the Satan-worshipping group takes her into the woods and performs a bloody sacrifice that transforms Jen into a ravenous cannibal vampire. Punctuated by gory episodes, but lacking in suspense and surprise, "Jennifer’s Body" works more as a teen sex endorsement ad for hormone-raging audiences to copy their on-screen peers. When Jennifer tells her teen boy victim about the tremendous "wettie" he gives her, it’s a textbook definition of "guilty pleasure." Rated R. 101 mins. (C)




For more reviews visit www.colesmithey.com

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