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My Week with Marilyn
The breathy voice, the girlish cadence, the flirty demeanor, even the slightest facial gestures - Michelle Williams gets many of the details right and gives a thoroughly committed performance as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week With Marilyn."
But as good as Williams is, you never truly forget that you're watching an extended impression of the pop culture icon. The script from Adrian Hodges, based on memoirs by Colin Clark, doesn't offer Williams much substance or subtlety with which to work.
That kind of reductive approach unfortunately prevails throughout the film from director Simon Curtis, a British television veteran making his feature filmmaking debut. Laurence Olivier comes off as cartoonishly arrogant and vain, despite being played by Kenneth Branagh, an actor of great depth. The Method acting technique that Monroe applied is a repeated target of jokes, as if it were some sort of flimsy, fringy philosophy, and Zoe Wanamaker, as acting coach Paula Strasberg, comes off as a caricature of a yenta.
You could hardly hope for a more colorful and tender cultural history lesson than "Hugo," Martin Scorsese's love letter to childhood, Paris and the early days of cinema. Working for the first time in whimsical fantasy frees him to send us floating high above the Arc de Triomphe, then zooming through the rafters of an old train station, in 3-D no less. Scorsese wields his new technical toys with breathtaking energy. It's hard not to be swept along with his excitement.
"Hugo" is set in a once-upon-a-time era after World War I. The title character (Asa Butterfield of "Nanny McPhee Returns") is a resourceful orphan who lives in the walls of the station, tending to the clocks and evading his nemesis, the stern policeman (Sacha Baron Cohen) who patrols the place. Hugo's father (Jude Law) was a clockmaker who bequeathed his boy a mechanical man with many gears and relays missing. The boy's quest to repair the automaton requires that he leave the safety of his hiding place. When he attempts to filch a wind-up runabout mouse from the station's toy seller, Monsieur Georges (Ben Kingsley), he opens the door to a secret that reaches back to the infant days of cinema.
(Drama, No MPAA rating, 91 minutes)
A rage-filled alcoholic (Peter Mullan) gets a chance at redemption when he encounters a woman (Olivia Colman ) working in a Christian charity shop. But she is married to an abusive husband and things begin to turn really nasty.
Rating: Three stars
Info For Parents: Violence, profanity, adult themes
OK for 10 and older
Happy Feet Two
(Animated, Rated PG 99 minutes) Three stars out of four.The penguins are as adorable as ever, yet a couple of shrimp-like krill at the bottom of the food chain almost steal the show in this animated sequel that sticks to the formula of the original while adding enough variety to give it a life of its own. It helps that Brad Pitt and Matt Damon voice the krill with great energy and companionability as they join a vocal cast that includes returning stars Elijah Wood and Robin Williams.
Director and co-writer George Miller keep the focus on penguins in peril while adding an interesting nature-in-perspective angle with the side journey of those tiny krill trying to find their place in a world of bigger, hungrier things.
Rating: three stars
Info for Parents: Rude humor and mild peril
(Drama, PG, 113 minutes). Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. are among the stars of this family-friendly tale about a boy who befriends a dolphin that lost its tail in a crab trap.
Rating: Not reviewed.
Info for Parents: Rated PG for some mild thematic element.
Johnny English Reborn
(Comedy, PG, 101 minutes). You probably weren't clamoring for a sequel to the 2003 British spy parody "Johnny English," which was far more successful overseas than it was in the United States. Still, here it is, again starring Rowan Atkinson. As the secret agent of the title, Johnny thinks he's as suave and resourceful as James Bond. Mostly, though, he bumbles his way from one situation to the next with the help of all the obligatory weapons and gadgets. Johnny is back at the agency, MI7, after a few years away with a bit of a stigma attached to him. Seems he massively messed up an assignment in Mozambique, and his new boss, Pegasus (Gillian Anderson), lets him know she won't tolerate those kinds of mistakes from him again. For his next job, Johnny must find out who is behind a plot to assassinate the Chinese premier. And even though he's been training in the remote mountains of Tibet all this time (in an admittedly amusing montage), Johnny still isn't quite up for the challenge. Director Oliver Parker's film relies on a lot of the same tired, repetitive spy spoofs as the "Austin Powers" movies, much of the same false confidence in the face of absurd danger. That any of this works, ever, is a testament to Atkinson's skills as a comedian. You can sense him slumming and straining but he's so gifted physically, he makes some pretty idiotic material more enjoyable than it should be. Rosamund Pike and Dominic West co-star.
Rating: One-and-a-half stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and sexual content.
Puss in Boots
(Comedy, PG, 90 minutes). A spinoff of the "Shrek" franchise, this is actually a prequel, providing the origin story of the diminutive, swashbuckling kitty voiced with great charisma, as always, by Antonio Banderas. The "Shrek" movies may not even exist as far we're concerned here, which is fine, because they just kept getting worse (last year's "Shrek Forever After," in 3-D, felt especially flat). But the franchise reboots anew, if you'll pardon the pun, with great energy, creativity and aplomb. At the film's start, Puss is an outlaw in his own small, Spanish hometown. Flashbacks take us to his childhood at an orphanage, where he was best friends with a brainy, ambitious Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). Together, the two dreamed of stealing the magic beans, climbing the beanstalk and getting rich off some golden eggs. Now, that crime has become Humpty's obsession. His partner in this caper is the dangerous master thief Kitty Softpaws, voiced with slinky seduction by Banderas' frequent co-star, Salma Hayek. But since Puss is a lover as much as he's a fighter, you know he'll find a way to win her over. The Puss in Boots character eventually felt like the best part of the "Shrek" movies, but a little of him goes a long way. Giving him an entire movie of his own would seem like a stretch, and really, he has trouble sustaining his shtick for the film's 90-minute running time. But for quick, lively, family entertainment, "Puss in Boots" works just fine, even in 3-D, which is actually integrated thoughtfully into the narrative and doesn't just feel like a gimmick.
Rating: Three stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG for some adventure action and mild rude humor.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1
(Romance/thriller, Rated PG-13, 117 minutes) It's the beginning of the final chapter in this popular film series as human Bella (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) marry and must deal with the problems brought on by the birth of a child. Of course, werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) faces his own problems as he deals with Bella's marriage.
Rating: Not reviewed.
Info for Parents: Disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements
(Drama, PG-13, 125 minutes). Remaking "Footloose" is a little like trying to build a better leg warmer. The dated kitsch was always part of the appeal of the 1984 original, as was the winning cast of Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer and Chris Penn. In this remake by Craig Brewer ("Hustle & Flow"), we get a better, more colorful film, but less chemistry in the cast. Kenny Wormald, a former backup dancer for Justin Timberlake, slides into Bacon's dance shoes as Ren MacCormack, the big-city out-of-towner who disrupts life in a Georgia small town. He soon sets his sights on Ariel (Julianne Hough), the daughter of the town preacher (Dennis Quaid), who, after a tragedy, led the town in outlawing dancing. Brewer reprises much of the original "Footloose," scene for scene, sometimes shot for shot. But he also expands the film's world, fleshing out back stories and adding a little humor. Wormald and Hough are both handsome and good on the dance floor, but they come across more like teen stars in training than representations of real youth angst. These kids may have better technique, but they don't have the moves. Miles Teller, as the hayseed sidekick, and Ray McKinnon, as Ren's uncle, are the film's best additions.
Rating: Two stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG for PG-13 some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language.
(Drama, PG-13, 146 minutes). A class act like this is rare enough in Hollywood. Coming at the tail end of summer blockbuster season, it's almost unheard of. It's the sort of film that studios typically save for the holiday prestige season in November or December, when Academy Awards voters start thinking ahead to the films they want to anoint. Come awards time, many of them likely will be thinking of "The Help," whose remarkable ensemble of women offers enough great performances to practically fill the actress categories at the Oscars. From its roots as a collaboration between lifelong friends Kathryn Stockett, who wrote the best-selling novel, and Tate Taylor, the film's writer-director, through the pitch-perfect casting of Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and their co-stars, "The Help" simply seems to be blessed. It's hard to imagine a better movie coming out of the screen adaptation of Stockett's tale of friendship and common cause among black maids and an aspiring white writer in Jackson, Miss., in 1963.
Rating: Three-and-a-half stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for thematic material.
The withering, gratuitous violence of "Immortals" is of a type better suited to a horror movie, but that's a separate issue - almost.
Certainly, the swords-and-sandals spectacle is ripe for the kind of vast, epic, overpopulated remake that computer graphics now make possible (a la "300"), but we don't end up having the same relationship with the resulting movie. The artificiality of the 3-D "Immortals" - in which the slave Theseus (Henry Cavill) swears vengeance against the rampaging King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who intends to enslave the Earth and free the Titans (who will then defeat the Olympians) - is such that human beings almost feel like unwelcome intrusions on virtual Greece. If violence seems to be a way to bridge the real and virtual worlds, it's understandable, but strategically unsound.
Much of the movie is inadvertently comic - the way the dialogue swings between the slangy modern and the theatrically "classical," or the presentation of the virgin (not for long) Oracle, played by Freida Pinto, who's in a race with Jennifer Aniston for worst career moves. If you're even vaguely familiar with Greek mythology, forget it (Hyperion was a Titan; Theseus was the mythic founder of Athens). That Stephen Dorff's Stavros, an ally of Theseus, keeps hitting on the Oracle and her sidekicks is funny, and suggests a movie where the flat conventions of heroic action-adventure are leavened by wit.
Doesn't happen, although whenever he's on the scene, Rourke makes you suspect that comedy is lurking around the next Corinthian column.
Info for Parents: Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, and a scene of sexuality
(Thriller, PG-13, 109 minutes). Writer-director Andrew Niccol takes a clever, compelling idea - that time is currency and you can buy your way to immortality or die broke - and beats it into the ground. For a movie about the importance of maximizing every second, "In Time" ultimately grows repetitive and wears out its welcome. It's briskly paced and hugely stylish, with its gorgeous cast and a mix of slick, futuristic visuals and grimy, industrial chic. But Niccol's high-concept premise raises several nagging questions. Why do all the inhabitants of this dystopian world (which happens to look just like downtown Los Angeles and Century City) stop aging at 25, then find themselves with only a year left unless they can buy themselves more? When did this start - what is the purpose? And if Justin Timberlake is so busy working just so he can afford to live one day to the next, where does he find time to go to the gym? Yes, among the beautifully photographed images in "In Time" - the work of the great cinematographer Roger Deakins - is a shirtless Timberlake, early and often. He stars as Will Salas, who lives in the ghetto neighborhood of Dayton but dreams of moving with his mother (Olivia Wilde in an amusing bit of casting) to the ritzy New Greenwich. When he can't stop her time from running out, he goes on a revenge spree to steal years from the rich and give them back to the poor. His accomplice: the beautiful but sheltered daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of the wealthiest man in town (Vincent Kartheiser), who starts out as his hostage but becomes his enthusiastic partner in crime. So if you're keeping track, this is "Logan's Run" meets "Bonnie and Clyde" meets "Robin Hood."
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and brief strong language.
Jack and Jill
Very much like one of the faux Adam Sandler movies of Judd Apatow's "Funny People," ''Jack and Jill" stars Sandler as both sides of male-female identical twins. A gleefully stupid movie more in line with Sandler's earlier comedies than his later, more adventurous films, it's like a joke trailer stretched into a feature film. Sandler plays Jack Sadelstein, a family man (Katie Holmes plays his wife) and TV commercial producer, whose twin sister (Sandler) visits for Thanksgiving. Sandler plays Jill as he might have for a "Saturday Night Live" sketch: She's less a real character than a walking punch line. Jill proves useful, though, because she's surprisingly fetching to a handful of men, most notably Al Pacino (as himself), whom Jack is trying to get to make a donut commercial. Pacino, chasing Jill with ga-ga eyes, gets most of the laughs. His commitment to character applies even to a movie such as this, where he's lovesick for Sandler in drag. Sandler's longtime filmmaking partner Dennis Dugan ("Happy Gilmore," ''Grown Ups") directs the unapologetically idiotic comedy, which comes off like the last 15 years of comedy didn't happen.
Rating: One-and-a-half stars
Info for parents: PG for crude material including suggestive references and comic violence. 90 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
A riveting, noble attempt by director Clint Eastwood, now 81, to wrestle with big American questions, many of which have obvious relevance to today's politics. It's another largely fascinating, if disappointingly flawed chapter in Eastwood's fantastic late period. "J. Edgar" is a biopic framed around longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (a thoroughly committed, engaging Leonardo DiCaprio) dictating his life's tale to various typists. This is Hoover's story, mainly told through his perspective - and therefore a somewhat claustrophobic view of history. The film, from an ambitious script by Dustin Lance Black (who wrote the Harvey Milk biopic, "Milk"), opens with a lot of switches in time as the narrative rushes to pack in the rise of Hoover as a Justice Department upstart and eager riser at the nascent Bureau of Investigation. It's a grimly propulsive first hour, pushed forward by the relentless, paranoid patter of the fast-talking Hoover. Still, the most affecting parts focus on Hoover's two most important personal relationships: with his mother (Judi Dench) and with his No. 2 and close friend Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Hoover was an emphatic mama's boy, and Dench plays her as a kind of Lady Macbeth, fostering her son's repression. The exact nature of Hoover's relationship with Tolson isn't known, but DiCaprio and Hammer have an excellent chemistry, full of slight, homoerotic gestures. R for brief strong language. 137 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Rating: Three stars
Info for parents: Rated R for brief strong language
(Drama, PG-13, 126 minutes). You don't have to know about VORP to enjoy the story of how a bunch of stat geeks changed the way baseball teams assess and acquire players. Sure, it helps if you're a fan of the sport and if you've read Michael Lewis' breezy and engaging best-seller "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game." Sabermetrics - the process of applying statistical formulas, rather than on-field appearance and general makeup, to determine a player's worth - wouldn't seem like an inherently cinematic topic. But Lewis made lesser-known guys like Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford leap off the page. And the cajoling patter from Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager who pioneered this experimental philosophy, would seem tailor-made for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who co-wrote the script along with fellow veteran scribe Steven Zaillian. Still, what's most pleasing about Bennett Miller's film doesn't really have to do with baseball. As Beane, Brad Pitt is at his charismatic best - a little weary, a little weathered, but that complexity only makes him more appealing. Jonah Hill is at his best here, too, as Beane's sidekick: the perfect foil for such a force of nature. He and Pitt bounce off each other beautifully. But what's wrong here has nothing to do with baseball, either. "Moneyball" never feels like it's building toward anything, even if you know how the A's 2002 season unfolded.
Rating: Three stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for some strong language.
(Action, PG-13, 127 minutes). A bad idea is a bad idea, even dressed up with all the computer effects and heavy-metal action that Hollywood can buy. And the idea of robots boxing is a bad one, creating some embarrassingly awful moments for Hugh Jackman as an ex-fighter scraping by in the near future as a promoter of brawling machines that have taken over the sport from human boxers. Then his 11-year-old son (Dakota Goyo) joins him on the road after the boy's mother dies. Then the kid stumbles on an outdated sparring robot in a junkyard. Then the squabbling father and son bond as their little 'bot becomes a sensation on the fight circuit and gets an underdog shot against the world champion. Jackman's generally out-acted by the robots, whose bouts are deafening and bruising, more like demolition derbies than sporting events. A horribly predictable mash-up of "Rocky," ''The Champ" and Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, "Real Steel" puts director Shawn Levy (the "Night at the Museum" movies) in contention with fellow robot handler Michael Bay for the title of worst blockbuster filmmaker in show business.
Rating: One-and-a-half stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language.
The Three Musketeers
(Adventure, PG-13, 111 minutes). Matthew MacFadyen, Luke Evans and Ray Stevenson are the titular trio, made a quartet by the addition of the hot-headed D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) and facing off against baddies played by Christoph Waltz and Orlando Bloom.
Rating: Not reviewed.
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure action violence.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
(Comedy, R, 90 minutes). Six years after their previous adventures, the pothead pals (John Cho and Kal Penn) have grown apart and lead unconnected lives. That all changes, though, with the arrival of a package in the mail marked "High Grade."
Rating: One-and-a-half stars
Info for Parents: Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence.
(Comedy, R, 100 minutes). It could have been agonizingly mawkish: The story of a young man with everything ahead of him who learns he has a rare form of spinal cancer, one that he only has a 50 percent chance of surviving. Instead, "50/50" is consistently, uproariously funny, written with humanity and insight and directed with just the right tone every time. Comedy writer Will Reiser crafted the script based on his own cancer diagnosis when he was in his early 20s. His words are filled with dark humor and a wry recognition of the gravity of this situation, but also with real tenderness. And director Jonathan Levine pulls us into this intimate world through an abiding naturalism. He's made a film about cancer that's effortlessly affecting. It helps that he has Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor of great range and subtlety, in the starring role as Adam. He goes through all the requisite stages of denial, frustration, fear and eventually acceptance, but he does so with such believable imperfection, he never feels like a saint or a martyr. But Adam has an ideal balance in his lifelong best friend and co-worker, played by Seth Rogen in the kind of garrulous and lovably crass role Rogen has built a career on. But Gordon-Levitt's most moving scenes are with the delightful Anna Kendrick as Adam's young, eager-beaver therapist.
Rating: Four stars
Info for Parents: Rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.
Ides of March
(Drama, R, 98 minutes). When powerful people amass their armies and go to battle in a tight political race, even the most fervent political junkies may find their faith tested, if not obliterated. It is an ugly, cynical business, full of ambitious people who will do whatever they must to survive. This is the not-so-shocking point of the latest film George Clooney has directed, based on the 2008 play "Farragut North." It's meaty and weighty and relevant, but it doesn't tell us much we didn't already know, or at least suspect, about the people we place our trust in come election time. And it features a major and distracting twist that undermines all the serious-mindedness that came before it. Clooney is such an excellent actor himself, though - here he plays a supporting role as a Pennsylvania governor seeking the Democratic presidential nomination - and he's such a smart, efficient director, he really knows how to get the best out of his cast. And it would seem difficult to go wrong with a cast like this. Philip Seymour Hoffman tears it up as the governor's gruff, no-nonsense campaign manager, a veteran who's seen it all and still continues to come back for more. Paul Giamatti is reliably smarmy as Hoffman's counterpart for the rival Democratic candidate, and watching these two acting heavyweights eyeball each other backstage at a debate provides an early, juicy thrill. But the real star is Ryan Gosling as Stephen Myers, a young, up-and-coming strategist and press secretary whose idealism is shattered.
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars
Info for Parents: Rated R for pervasive language.
Paranormal Activity 3
(Horror, R, 84 minutes). "Paranormal Activity 3" manages a couple of hair-raising moments, a couple of legitimate jolts and some funny cheap ones. It was directed by the fellows who did that semi-legit documentary "Catfish," so it's more cinematic. Jump cuts and the occasional almost-movie-like arresting camera angle intrudes on the "found footage" this time - old VHS home movies from our pursued-by-demons sisters, Katie and Kristi, scenes from their childhood and their first brush with ghosts. But this "Paranormal" doesn't tamper with the formula that worked in the first two films. It lacks the "money" moments that those films delivered and ends with a finale that is downright conventional. "Paranormal" reveals itself for what it has become - the "Saw" of found video thrillers.
Rating: Two stars
Info for Parents: Rated R for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use.
(Comedy, PG-13, 105 minutes). Brett Ratner directs an all-star cast in this crime caper about workers at a luxury condominium plotting to take back the pensions stolen by a Wall Street plunderer. Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Gabourey Sibide, Casey Affleck and Alan Alda partake in the high jinks.
Rating: Three stars
Info for Parents: Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.
The Rum Diary
(Drama, R, 120 minutes). "The Rum Diary" is based on Hunter S. Thompson's heavily autobiographical novel by the same name, which he wrote as a 22-year-old in the early 1960s after a stint as a newspaper reporter in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Dedicated to Thompson, who died in 2005, it is essentially a portrait of the Duke as a young journalist. The stand-in for Thompson, the young novelist-reporter Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), is trying to find his way and his writing voice: It's the birth of Gonzo. You might expect a tribute such as this to be sycophantic, but director Bruce Robinson (famous for the brilliant cult film "Withnail & I") keeps a realistic tone. Robinson, who also wrote the screenplay adaptation, doesn't present the cartoonish Thompson we've come to expect. It's a refreshing, grounded view of the writer.
Rating: Two and a half stars
Info for Parents: Rated R for language, brief drug use and sexuality.