Apparently fans of movies made from comics like their fare solidly in the mainstream. As a result, the somewhat brooding, arty take of Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk sank faster than a blueblood at a bar brawl. So, a mere five years later from director Louis Leterrier (the Transporter films) comes The Incredible Hulk, opening Friday, June 13, starring Edward Norton (who also co-wrote) as Bruce Banner/Hulk and supported by an A-list cast that includes Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt and an uncredited Robert Downey Jr. Is this enough to unseat the incredible panda? Good to see Tyler getting roles again. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content. 114 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and the Minor.
Perhaps aimed at a somewhat different audience is the quirky M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, not to be confused by us more mature folks with the free-spirited theatrical events of the 1960s. This happening is in an apocalyptic mode as disaster strikes the country following the release of a deadly neurotoxin that causes those that inhale it to commit suicide. Mark Wahlberg stars as a science teacher who attempts to outrun the toxin in the company of his estranged wife, played by Zooey Deschanel (last year's The Assassination of Jesse James, which no one went to see). Much is being made of the fact that this is Shyamalan's first R-rated film. Anything for publicity. Rated R for violent and disturbing images. 91 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
THEN SHE FOUND ME:How nice, and how unfortunately rare, to see a film that has characters that I care about and whose problems actually seem to exist in the same universe that I live in. The film is no masterpiece, but it is a solidly acted, moving and honest film that centers on April Epner (Helen Hunt), a woman approaching 40 whose life is threatening to unravel.
The central theme of Elinor Lipman's 1990 novel, from which the film is adapted, is a familiar one: A woman who has depended on others, often a husband or long-term boyfriend, is unexpectedly abandoned and realizes that she must now take control of her own life.
In Then She Found Me, April suddenly faces a host of problems. Coming home from a day of teaching, her husband Ben (Matthew Broderick) abruptly announces he is leaving. Shortly thereafter, her ailing adoptive mother dies, and then someone named Bernice (Bette Midler) turns up claiming to be her biological mother. On top of that, she really wants to become pregnant before it's too late, not wanting to adopt. She also begins to date Frank (Colin Firth), the father of one of her young pupils, who has trust issues due to his previous failed relationship (his wife slept with other people).
Throw in some "breakup sex" with Ben and you might think this is all too over-the-top. But Hunt, as director and actor, assiduously avoids easy ways out at every turn. As April, Hunt's performance is both painful and a joy to behold; her face, in particular is incredibly expressive, a feature Hunt exploits in her direction.
The character Hunt creates is both quirky and familiar, attributes that inform the entire film. Firth's Frank is anything but the usual romantic savior: He is emotional, easily upset and keeps apologizing for the fumbling and seemingly unerotic sex he and April have. It's a difficult character to pull off but Firth makes you root for him without disguising the character's weaknesses.
Hunt is excellent in illuminating the narrative and creating mood with her simple yet telling compositions and quiet scenes. The scene where Ben tells April he is splitting is typical. April enters a seeming empty house, calling for Ben. Off-screen, we hear Ben utter the fatal sentence: "April, we need to talk." Entering the kitchen, where the rest of the scene takes place, Ben is seen sitting at a small table that contains a single glass of water. When Ben leaves, April sits at the same table, the glass untouched but slightly moved. There is nothing overtly "dramatic" about the sequence but the effect is devastating.
With more space, I could mention a dozen other scenes that were equally effective. Then She Found Me will no doubt get lost in the glut of crap that passes for summer films and that's too bad. But that's life in the cinema lane. I hope Hunt continues to direct; her first feature is a fine film. Rated R for some language and sexual content. 100 m. At the Broadway.
YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN:Somewhere back in my late 20s, I noticed a change had gradually occurred, initially unnoticed, with my body. Having previously had trouble making 150 pounds despite how much beer I drank (and I blush to think what passed for beer back then in the pre-microbrew era) or chips and dip I ate, I suddenly noticed that my belt felt tighter. Maybe that's when I decided to stop watching football on TV and get back into running, but ultimately nothing really stayed the inevitable advance of weight gain; diet and exercise just delayed the full onset and it's been a knockdown battle ever since.
Now, more ominously, the same may be happening to my brain; I find myself going to films I would have previously skipped. It happened the same sneaky way as the weight. Perhaps a Wedding Planner here and there, or even the occasional Gigli, but certainly not Dude, Where's My Car? So, how else can I explain finding myself at a screening of the latest Adam Sandler vehicle? I fear my film future is looking bleak.
I knew I was in trouble when I started counting chuckles (five total). Perhaps I was sucked in by the script's premise (co-written by Sandler with Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel): finding humor in the Israeli/Palestinian situation. But of course, director Dennis Dugan is too interested in homophobic humor (as he was in his previous film, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry), bodily functions and geriatric sex jokes to make any telling comments on America's global presence or the seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East.
Sandler spends much of film gyrating his crotch, while I spent most of the film restless shifting in my seat and wishing my watch would speed up. Is that what is called synchronicity? Presumably, Sandler fans will find all of this much more amusing. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity. 113 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
KUNG FU PANDA:I had intended to skip this film as I do most animated features aimed at a young audience, but in came an e-mail from a friend who knows one of the directors (John Stevenson, who co-directed with Mark Osborne), and who thereby got to attend a film premiere party. Since she gave the film a solid A-/B+, and since her artistic taste is much more sophisticated than my own (having taught art history at HSU), I changed my mind.
I am very happy that I did. For one thing, it helped erase the Zohan experience from my system. But beyond that, DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda is simply an enjoyable viewing experience.
The story is one we've seen in countless martial arts films, coming-of-age stories and children's literature in general. Here, the weight of the hero narrative rests on the chunky shoulders of Po (nicely voiced by Jack Black), a panda who serves noodles in his father's shop but dreams of being a kung fu warrior. No matter that he's a bit heavy and hopelessly clumsy, when the opportunity presents itself, he rises to the occasion as countless heroes-in-the-making have done before him.
But the real story here is the gorgeous animation and the nice array of voices that help give life to the various creatures that inhabit this world, including Ian McShane as the evil warrior Tai Lung, Dustin Hoffman as kung fu master Shifu and Angelina Jolie as Tigress (of course). The film has an effective, aesthetically consistent color pattern, and the petal imagery that runs through the story nicely provides a visual unity.
Perhaps best of all, the film seemed to totally captivate the young audience at the screening I attended as well as the accompanying parents. Not to mention a confirmed curmudgeon like me. I hope this isn't just an aspect of the brain deterioration I mention above. Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action. 88 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
BABY MAMA. Infertile business woman hires working-class woman as unlikely surrogate. Rated PG-13. 99 m. At The Movies.
CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN. Newest installment of series based on C.S. Lewis's sci-fi/fantasy books. Rated PG. 144 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY. Harold and Kumar are mistaken for terrorists and have to run from the law. Rated R. 102 m. At The Movies.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Intrepid archaeologist becomes entangled in Soviet plot to uncover secret behind mysterious Crystal Skulls. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
IRON MAN. Action/adventure flick based on Marvel's iconic comic book super hero. Rated PG-13. 126 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
MADE OF HONOR.Man realizes his love for his best friend when she becomes engaged to another. Rated PG-13. 101 m. At The Movies.
SEX AND THE CITY.Continuing adventure of HBO series four main characters as they live out their Manhattan lives. Rated R. 145 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
SPEED RACER.Full-length live action film adaptation of classic Japanese anime series. Rated PG. 135 m. At The Movies.
STRANGERS.Couple's getaway turns terrifying when masked strangers invade their home. Rated R. 85 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS.Two strangers wake up married after a night of debauchery in Sin City; comic chaos ensues. Rated PG-13. 99 m. At The Movies.
YOUNG@HEART. Poignant documentary on chorus composed of seniors ages 72-93. Rated PG. 110 m. At The Movies.