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Beyond Craven

Go for the cute kiddie flick. Stay far away from the despicable Last House

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Note to a Reader: Fred Hummel's letter in the March 12 Journal makes the valuable point that the Sabra and Shatila massacres during the 1982 Lebanese War resulted from the Israeli Army's enlisting of the Christian militia to purge the camps of "terrorists." Waltz with Bashir does allude to this fact, so I don't want Mr. Hummel to think badly of it due to my omission. My thanks to him for bringing this information into the public forum.

Previews

Opening Friday, March 20, is Knowing, which stars Nicolas Cage as a teacher who opens a time capsule at an elementary school his son attends. Unfortunately, this capsule seems to include predictions about the future that aren't particularly good. Co-starring Rose Byrne (Damages). Rated PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language. 122m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen reunite in the corporate thriller Duplicity. Roberts is former CIA agent Claire and Owen former MI6 agent Ray who team up to make a killing by playing two corporations off each other. It seems that an intimate relationship doesn't breed trust, though. Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content. 125m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

The latest in an endless series of romantic comedies, I Love You Man stars Paul Rudd as a guy who has no male friends. What is he to do for a Best Man? Go on "guy dates," of course, but when he bonds with one guy (Jason Segel) his fiancée (Rashida Jones) gets a little upset. Did he consider having a Best Woman? Rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references. 110m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Reviews

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT: While I have been going to the movies for almost as long as I can remember, it was the 1960s that caused me to look at films in a different way. Much of the reason for this change was due to the films of Ingmar Bergman. In particular, the images in his beautifully stark and intense 1960 film The Virgin Spring are forever burned in my brain.

Subsequently, Bergman's tale of rape, murder and revenge, based on an old Swedish ballad, was appropriated by Wes Craven for his 1972 horror film The Last House on the Left and now remade again in 2009. Like analog copies, each iteration has become more pallid. I have no idea, other than appealing to hardcore splatter fans, why this remake was worth the effort. Lacking even the slight heft of Craven's film, this version offers nothing interesting but still a lot to offend, particularly in the graphic and brutal rape scene.

What it does offer is the tired formula typical of the genre. The film establishes its brutality quickly when two detectives taking a criminal to prison, one of whom is telling a stupid off-color joke, are waylaid and viciously murdered by the criminal's wife/girlfriend, brother, and son. We then cut to the perky swimmer Mari (Sara Paxton) and her parents John (Tony Goldwin) and Emma (a quirky Monica Potter), beginning a somewhat long establishing section of the film before getting down to serious mayhem. Mari and her friend Paige (Martha Maclsaac) are kidnapped by Krug (Garret Dillahunt), the prisoner from the opening scene, his brother Francis (Aaron Paul) and Sadie (Riki Lindhome), sociopaths all, when they foolishly go to a motel room with Krug's son Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), who seems not to have the sociopath gene.

The kidnapping initiates the next section of the film, an unnecessarily extended torture, rape and murder sequence. When the group, having wrecked Mari's car, subsequently seek refuge at Mari's parent's house, the final section of the film, and the rest of the splatter, is set in motion. As with Bergman's film, an item worn by the daughter is the key to the murderers' undoing.

I can only assume that the general incompetence of all involved was instrumental in making the actual revenge seem so endless. Potter was easily the most interesting actor in the film, but her acting style seemed out of place in this group of bland, uninventive actors.

The Virgin Spring ends with a symbolic redemption when water begins to flow from the spot where the daughter's body is found. All this film has to offer is a ridiculous microwave scene. I hope to find my own redemption, though, by erasing this film from my memory as I close out this review. Rated R for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use. 100m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN: A "re-imagining" of 1975's Escape to Witch Mountain, which in turn was based on the 1968 kidlit scifi novel by Alexander Key, Race to Witch Mountain is a kidflic scifi adventure featuring two cute alien kids on a mission to Earth to save their home planet and, incidentally, Earth as well. They are aided in their endeavors by Dwayne Johnson (in his Mr. Nice Guy guise) as a Las Vegas cabbie with a record, and a brainy, attractive, but disgraced astrophysicist played by Carla Gugino (The First Silk Spectre in Watchmen).

Standing in the way of this cute, attractive group is a nasty Department of Defense heavy (Ciarán Hinds) aided by a whole bunch of armed men and a killer robot from the home planet sent to kill the two children by their military, who prefer to conquer Earth and settle here rather than fix their own atmospheric problems. Fortunately, the cabbie and the astrophysicist are more than up to the task with the help of a bunch of nut cases attending a UFO conference at the Vegas Hard Rock Café.

I desperately tried to cast myself back to about age 10 while watching this film but, unfortunately, the films I remember watching around that age were Wake of the Red Witch, where John Wayne dies underwater at the end, or Douglas Fairbanks playing separated conjoined twins, one good and the other gone bad, in The Corsican Brothers. I don't remember any cute kids in either of them.

At any rate, it seems that Sara (Anna-Sophie Robb, Jumper) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), who appear suddenly in Jack Bruno's cab, have come to Earth to find a hidden device that proves their own planet can be saved. Unfortunately, they have crashed their spacecraft, which is now in the hands of the DOD, whose local head Henry Burke (Hinds) who also wants to capture Sara and Seth for experimental purposes.

While Sara and Seth have unusual powers (their brains are more developed than ours), they still need the old-fashioned help that Jack can provide and, eventually, that of Dr. Alex Friedman (Gugino) who actually believes in extra-terrestrials.

Not knowing how the target audience will react to this film, I can just report that for me it was not at all painful to watch as it unfolded to its predetermined conclusion. The characters are plucky but bland and everyone seemed to be having a good time, particularly at the Hard Rock Café. You probably can't ask for much more than that. Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements. 98m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Continuing

CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC. Fun-loving metro girl kicks ass at shopping while pursuing her life dreams. Rated PG. 105m. At The Movies.

CORALINE. Girl finds a secret door leading to a parallel, better reality. But there's a catch. Rated PG. 100m. At The Movies and in 3-D at the Fortuna.

FIRED UP. High school football stars hatch a scheme that lands them in a sea of sexy ladies instead of summer football camp. Rated PG-13. 90m. At The Movies.

GRAN TORINO. Veteran/racist/retired autoworker versus the local Asian gang-bangers. Rated R. 116m. At the Broadway.

HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Women, men and their relationships. Rated PG-13. 132m. At the Broadway.

HOTEL FOR DOGS. Kids faced with "no pets" rule in their new foster home convert abandoned hotel into foster home for doggies. Rated PG. 100m. At The Movies.

LAST CHANCE HARVEY. Struggling, middle-aged father gets rejected by his daughter but then finds unexpected love in an airport bar. Rated PG-13. 99m. At Mill Creek.

MISS MARCH. Man wakes up from coma to learn his former sweetie is a centerfold; now he must win her back. Rated R. 91m. At the Broadway.

PAUL BLART: MALL COP. Mall cop must man up to save the day when Santa's helpers at the mall stage a coup. Rated PG. 91m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

PINK PANTHER 2. Inspector Jacques Clouseau is at it again. Rated PG. 93m. At The Movies.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Orphan from slums of Bombay who rocks India's Who Wants to be a Millionaire must clear his name of cheating before claiming his prize. Rated R. 121m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.

TAKEN. Former spy launches one-man war to bring down gang that kidnapped his daughter. Rated PG-13. 91m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

TYLER PERRY'S MADEA GOES TO JAIL. High speed freeway chase lands Medea in front of a judge; her attitude lands her in jail. Rated PG-13. 103m. At The Movies.

WATCHMEN. More vigilante superhero drama in film adaptation of sinister comic book series from the 1980s. Rated R. 162m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

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