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Gender and Genre

Paltrow, Portman do their damnedest with Hollywood's piss-poor female parts

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Previews

THE RITE. "Inspired by true events" and based on Matt Baglio's book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist. A young seminary student (Colin O'Donoghue) goes to the Vatican and learns from an older priest (Anthony Hopkins) that demonic possession is for real. 98m. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references. Starts Friday at the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

THE MECHANIC. Action classic remake directed by Simon West (Con Air, When a Stranger Calls) with Jason Statham in the role Charles Bronson made famous in 1972. Statham is "mechanic" Arthur Bishop, a high-level assassin who remains detached from his targets, at least until his friend/mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland) is murdered. When Harry's son (Ben Foster) wants to help hunt the killers, Arthur becomes a mentor himself. 100m. Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity. Opening Friday at the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

Academy Award nominees were announced this week and a fair number of the contenders are still playing locally. Catch them on the big screen while you can. We're hoping some of the films that have not played here yet will get enough of an Oscar bump so we can see them before the big night, Feb. 27. Note that The King's Speech, which has the most nominations -- 12 total -- moves to the Minor this weekend.

Thursday's McKinleyville Skatepark Benefit at the Arcata Theatre Lounge features a double-bill of new skater vid. Welcome To MIA, from a Miami skateboard shop, focuses on the South Florida skate scene. Then there's Destroying Babylon, described by Thrasher as "a new skate flick out of San Francisco featuring a ton of mothafuckas." In both cases there's lots of spectacular high-flying rail-riding, along with the requisite crashing, burning and road rash.

On Friday the ATL has James Cameron's Aliens, the sequel to Alien, with Sigourney Weaver back as bad-ass monster-killer Ellen Ripley.

On Sunday the Muppets go sci-fi/fantasy in The Dark Crystal at the ATL. Well, not really the Muppets, but puppets like them crafted by Muppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz in a dark good-v.-evil epic.

Next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night at the ATL is a black sci-fi double feature with the excellent John Sayles film The Brother From Another Planet, with Joe Morton as an alien who escapes from slavery and winds up in New York City, where he sort of blends in. Second on the bill: Son of Ingagi, a monster movie from the ’40s with an all-black cast.

-- Bob Doran

Reviews

NO STRINGS ATTACHED. Natalie Portman's career seems to be in overdrive. In addition to the recently released Black Swan, she will appear in four additional films in 2011, including No Strings Attached. While it is understandable that she might want to take a break from the intensity of her role in Swan, it is a little unsettling to see her soon afterward in this throwaway trifle. As with Anne Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs, whose plot is remarkably similar to that in No Strings (except that the physical ailment is now mental), Portman proves that a good actor cannot elevate a predictable film with stock characters and weak writing.

As in Love, this variation of the romantic comedy reverses the presumed gender roles in the matter of commitment. The film begins with a brief scene between a boy and girl on a bench set 15 years before the main story begins. The boy is upset, but the girl can only put a tentative arm on his shoulder while offering hollow assurance (a scene that is echoed years later).

Flashing forward, we see that the girl is Emma (Portman), now a doctor in Los Angeles, while the boy is Adam (Ashton Kutcher), an aspiring writer working as an assistant on a Glee-like TV series. After Adam is dumped by his girlfriend, they meet up again by chance and end up in the sack together. Emma, however, is commitment-phobic, so they embark on a course of no-emotional-attachment sex complete with assignations arranged via texting so the quickies can accommodate Emma's busy schedule.

While this presumably is every guy guy's idea of paradise, Adam turns out to have the genuine love gene. As a result, the relationship flounders when Adam takes Emma on a real date on Valentine's Day. Can this couple ever be really coupled? Well, will Hollywood ever produce a surprising rom-com?

The film is rife with side plots, including one involving Adam's father, Alvin (a nicely over-the-top Kevin Kline), who has taken up with Adam's former girlfriend, the enjoyment of which probably depends on the viewer's taste. Portman is enjoyable to watch even if her character is so limited, while Kutcher lazily plays the same type he usually does. As usual, the talented Lake Bell is confined to a mostly silly supporting role, as she was in It's Complicated. Her current niche seems to be the foil to the female lead in romantic comedies. And we know that Portman has taken plenty of risks in her career; maybe Kutcher will do the same some day.

To be fair, the script does have some genuinely funny lines. Perhaps that's the best we can hope for from this genre. Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material. 110m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

COUNTRY STRONG. Stop me if you've heard this one. A country superstar falls into drugs and alcohol and goes into rehab following a disastrous concert. Taken out of rehab too early, the star stumbles in an attempted comeback due to -- ready for the surprise? -- a relapse into alcohol and drugs. Meanwhile, other young up-and-coming talents (in this case, including a really cute female singer) aim to take the superstar's place in the Nashville pantheon. But, the superstar has one final triumphant concert before a final tragedy occurs.

OK, the film is a by-the-numbers music biopic -- a fictional one, in this case. What makes a standard genre film stand out is the quality of its acting and its ability to go at least a little below the surface of alcohol, drugs, sobs and sentimentality. Unfortunately, the viewer will have to look for those qualities in such films as last year's Crazy Heart or the classic of the genre, Coal Miner's Daughter, with Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn.

Still, Country Strong should be appreciated for the entertainment value it does have, including an excellent soundtrack and solid acting. Writer/director Shana Feste has said that Gwyneth Paltrow's character is based on Britney Spears. If so, Paltrow's depiction of the fall of country singer Kelly Carter is a model of restraint and subtlety.

When we first meet Kelly, she is in rehab flirting with her "sponsor": Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), an aspiring country songwriter and singer. When her husband, James (an excellent Tim McGraw, an actual country superstar in a non-singing role), comes to release her a month early, he ignores the warning from Beau that it is too soon. James has arranged a comeback tour for Kelly that will also feature Beau as an opening act, along with an attractive young but untested Chiles Stanton (an effective Leighton Meester from TV's Gossip Girl). At this point, the narrative embarks on its preordained path of infidelity, ambition, alcohol and the usual set pieces of the genre.

McGraw is completely believable as the husband of a damaged singer whom he pushes too fast and too hard; his is probably the film's most completely realized character. Hedlund, who was so completely unmemorable recently in Tron: Legacy, turns out to have an excellent voice for country music and actual acting talent. Meester, soon to be seen in the upcoming horror thriller The Roommate, was equally convincing as a young singer on the verge of stardom. And while a number of people I know don't care for Paltrow, I find her to be a consistently solid actor. It's too bad she is stuck here with a one-dimensional character, but she manages to make her interesting. If you see this film, go with its strengths and overlook the predictability. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content. 117m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

-- Charlie Myers

Continuing

BLACK SWAN. Darren Aronofsky's latest features Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis competing for the top spot in the New York City ballet's production of Swan Lake. Sounds innocent enough, right? Rated R. 109m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER. Prince Caspian, the Prevensies and the rest must save Narnia from unfathomable doom. Three down. Four to go. Rated PG. 115m. At Garberville.

THE DILEMMA. Vince Vaughn sees his brother's wife with another man and wants answers. Hilarity ensues. Rated PG-13. 117m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

THE FIGHTER. Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale put aside sibling rivalry so they can train for an historic title bout. Rated R. 116m. At the Broadway.

THE GREEN HORNET. Charlie says "It is surely the worst superhero movie ever." Rated PG-13. 119m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and the Minor.

THE KINGS SPEECH. Based on the true story of the Queen of England's father and his remarkable friendship with a maverick Australian speech therapist. Colin Firth can taste that Oscar. Rated R. 119m. At the Broadway, the Minor and Mill Creek.

LITTLE FOCKERS. You met the parents. You met the Fockers. If you're still paying attention, here's some cute kids and more hijinks! Rated PG. 98m. At the Broadway.

SEASON OF THE WITCH. Medieval knights, witches, special effects, etc. But most important, Nicolas Cage keeps his crap streak alive! Rated PG-13. 98m. At the Broadway.

TANGLED. Disney checks the Rapunzel box off its "fairy tales to animate" list with its latest kid-seducing 3D computer generated release. Rated PG for brief, mild violence. 100m. At Broadway.

TRON: LEGACY. If you see one movie starring Jeff Bridges this year ... uh ... see below. Rated PG. 125m. At the Broadway.

TRUE GRIT. The Dude conjures The Duke in the Coen Brother's latest outing. You decide who's Grittiest. Rated PG-13. 110m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

YOGI BEAR. Mr. Ranger is not going to like this. And neither will you. Rated PG. 83m. At the Broadway.

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