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Wednesday, December 2,2009

Reviews In Short

by Cole Smithey
Ninja Assassin. Shockingly, "Ninja Assassin" is a legitimate martial arts fantasy movie. Multiple storylines support shadowy noir settings for gallons of thick, red-paint blood to splatter behind swords, fighting stars, and bullets. Korean pop star Rain is believable as Raizo, a disciplined ninja abducted as a small boy by the underground Ozunu Clan (AKA the Clan of the Black Sand) and trained by the brutal Ozunu (Sh Kosugias) as an outsource assassin to kill for wealthy governments and private individuals. Hotshot Berlin Europol agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) connects the Ozunu Ninja to a political assassination and conspires with her associate Maslow (Ben Miles) to blow open the secret ninja organization that none of her military-prone peers believes exists. Screenwriters Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski might not have created a masterpiece, but they do effectively dodge cliches by going for some less obvious plotting. James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta") directs this unpredictable acrobatic display of violent spectacle that carries its themes of loyalty and skill in a slick package of fast-twitch precision. Rated R. 99 mins. (B)

Everybody’s Fine. "Everybody’s Fine" is a thoughtful holiday movie that teaches us how to appreciate differing definitions of success. The story revolves around recently widowed Frank Goode’s grown and scattered-to-the-four-winds children. De Niro, as Goode, grounds the story as a father who not everyone necessarily wishes they had had. Frank’s high expectations for his kids — David, Amy, Robert and Rosie — create revealing consequences, when Frank hits the road to reunite with each of his progeny. Frank is unable to locate his youngest son, David, a Manhattan-based artist whose recent arrest in South America has the other siblings talking in hushed tones about how to keep his troubles secret from their dad. Frank next heads for Chicago to visit his distracted daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale) at her plush home before going to Denver to reconnect with Robert (Sam Rockwell), a tympani drummer for a symphony orchestra. Last on Frank’s list is Las Vegas, where Rosie (Drew Barrymore) pretends to work as showgirl. A dose of disappointment accompanies each visit, as Frank comes to a realization about his identity as a father. Based on Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 film "Stanno tutti bene," writer/ director Kirk Jones fulfills the material’s dramatic demands without putting too fine a point on Frank’s emotional awakening. But De Niro’s naturalistic performance is what captures your imagination. Rated PG-13. 95 mins. (B-)


Disney’s A Christmas Carol. Richard Donner’s enjoyable "Christmas Carol"-update "Scrooged" (1988) popped with endearing comic pizzazz by way of Bill Murray’s adorably cruel television network biggie who gets rehabilitated by ghosts. There’s so much magic between the likes of Carol Kane, Karen Allen and David Johansen that it’s easy to fall in love with the movie. Sadly, there isn’t much to fall in love with in Robert Zemeckis’s visually overpowering motion-capture-animation fiesta with its trademark cardboard-looking "human" appearance to the animated characters. Jim Carrey inhabits a Dickens-era version of Ebenezer Scrooge, the wicked banker that gets spirited away by the ghosts of Christmases "Past," "Present" and "Future." The same animation tech niques that made Zameckis’s 2004 movie "Polar Express" a disaster shrouds the actors here in a similarly thick sheen of immutable alien cardboard. Gary Oldman is spry, as Scrooge’s assistant Bob Cratchit, while Colin Firth’s performance as Scrooge’s nephew is muffled beneath the animation. The film stays reasonably true to Dickens’ book, but it clashes with itself in outrageous chase sequences that overwhelm Dickens’ much more human-scaled thematic message. The 3-D aspect of the animation goes largely unnoticed amid all of the graphic bombast on screen. There’s just something about this particular style of animation that, while impressive at first glance, acts as an impenetrable wall between the audience and the story. It’s a bubble where empathy and emotion don’t register. Rated PG. 95 mins. (C)


The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan "needs to get some protein in her," but the 109-year-old vampire object of her moody affections (Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen) doesn’t want her "to come with him" — to the vampire world that is. It’s this kind of not-so-subtle innuendo that vaguely maps out an interminable and poorly edited film that’s further damned by its strictly 20th-century use of CGI effects. Bella doesn’t so much sulk about her absent boyfriend as substitute a degenerate of a different "monster" stripe in the guise of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a werewolf dude with ripped abs. With the unwavering tempo of a dirge, director Chris Weitz ("The Golden Compass") drags out every soft soap plot point as if digging his own abysmal filmic grave with a teaspoon. Rated PG-13. 130 mins. (D-)


Fantastic Mr. Fox. In this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s book “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” director Wes Anderson creates a magical stopanimation world inhabited by a fox family, various other woodland creatures and a group of nasty human farmers who don’t take kindly to having their livestock and cider stolen. George Clooney applies his signature leathery voice to Mr. Fox, a snappily dressed family guy whose animal nature sits at direct odds to his family’s safety in their peaceful foxhole. Meryl Streep voices Mr. Fox’s even-keeled wife, and Jason Schwartzman speaks for Ash, the couple’s bratty son who tries to compete with his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). The nearby industrial farm is too much of a temptation for Mr. Fox, whose burglary plan brings down more human wrath than he is prepared to handle. Anderson’s lavish attention to visual detail supports the dry wit on display in a highly original film geared to appeal equally to adults and children. Rated PG. 88 mins. (B )


2012. You can tell by the audience’s inevitable disdainful laughter with you in the theater that, on a narrative level, "2012" is a flop. Essentially, the story describes a shift in the Earth’s crust that comes sooner than White House-connected scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chewetel Ejiofor) predicted. Divorced author/part time limo-driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) borrows his son and daughter from his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) to take them on a vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Once camped, Jackson meets Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), an apocalypse-predicting whacko living in a mobile home. Mother Nature’s proverbial poo hits the fan, as volcanoes erupt, earthquakes shake, California slips into the ocean and lots of people die without a drop of blood shown onscreen. Think of "2012" as global-apocalypse-lite; you get all of the disaster without any of the gore. Sure, the Blu-ray DVD will look great on your home theater as ambient background for your next house party, but that’s about it.


Rated PG-13. 158 mins. (C-)


For more reviews visit www.lansingcitypulse.com/movies

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