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Grim Subjects

Murdered teens, deals with the devil and biblical apocalypse make for pretty decent film

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Previews

Opening Friday, Jan. 22, is Tooth Fairy starring Dwayne "don't call me The Rock" Johnson as a tough-as-nails hockey player who, after discouraging a young child, is forced to perform the duties of the actual tooth fairy as punishment. You want the tooth? You can't handle the tooth! Rated PG for mild language and crude humor. 101 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

The latest apocalyptic-Hollywood offering, Legion, sees God losing faith in humanity (I wonder why?) leaving fallen archangel Michael to try to protect a young waitress who might be pregnant with the second coming of Christ. Fingers crossed. Rated R for strong bloody violence and language. 100m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Brendan Fraser stars in Extrodinary Measures as a father determined to find a cure for his two children's terminal illnesses. He teams up with a research scientist played by Harrison Ford in an attempt to produce a new, life-saving drug. Based on a true story. Rated PG for thematic material, language and suggestive moments. 106m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Finally, sneaking its way into the Minor, Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the musical Nine, about the life of a womanizing film director in a creative crisis. This one has been winning its share of awards, so you might want to pay attention. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. 115m. At the Minor.

-- Andrew Goff

Reviews

THE BOOK OF ELI: The film opens in a desolate landscape littered with rotting corpses. A cat so emaciated that its ribs are its most prominent feature gnaws on a human extremity, when it suddenly senses danger. That is the animal's final conscious moment as an arrow pierces it. Eli (Denzel Washington) has scored his next meal (which he shares, ironically, with a rat).

Yes, the viewer is back in a grim post-apocalyptic world, and as the film unfolds the narrative is every bit as grim as The Road (the novel anyway; the film hasn't screened locally). But this is no father/son survival tale unless, perhaps, both "father" and "son" are capitalized.

Eli, as it turns out, carries what he believes is the last copy of the Bible. Copies of that book were relentlessly destroyed shortly after the end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it event, because religion was blamed for precipitating it. An inner voice has told Eli that he must carry it west, where it is needed. He has been headed west for some 30 years, presumably since the big flash occurred, although the remnants of civilization that are shown make the catastrophic event seem more recent.

But if Eli is some sort of prophet, he is hardly a non-violent one. He seems to have channeled Clint Eastwood from his Spaghetti Western days, and since his voice has also told him he is invincible, he faces challenges both fearlessly and successfully.

The primary barrier Eli faces in completing his mission comes in the form of Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the educated but ruthless leader of a small "town" that makes pre-statehood Deadwood look like Disneyland. Carnegie has been seeking a copy of the book because he believes its words will allow him to expand his influence over people and extend his empire. It is here, as well, that Eli meets Solara (Mila Kunis, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), the young woman destined to accompany him to his final destination.

Directors Albert and Allen Hughes have created a stylish and serious Christian allegory. Washington and Oldman lend heft to the film, as does Jennifer Beals as Solara's mother Claudia (whose blindness provides a satisfying ironic coda for Carnegie's ambitions). The film is violent, but for the Hughes Brothers it seems restrained. I found the film's ending rushed, weak and unsatisfying, but overall this is an effectively told tale. Rated R for some brutal violence and language. 118m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE LOVELY BONES: I enjoyed Alice Sebold's popular 2002 novel when it was first released. The narrative device of having the story told by a raped and murdered teenage girl from some sort of "in-between" world, or personal heaven, seemed ripe for an excess of sentimentality, but Sebold avoids that trap by her control of the main character's voice, which remains primarily upbeat and humorous despite the horrific event that ends her life.

In this film adaptation, director Peter Jackson (in a change of pace for him) is less successful in avoiding the sentimentality but, happily, the excellent performance by Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) as the murdered Susie Salmon undercuts Jackson's visual excesses in the heaven sequences.

It seemed to me that Ronan perfectly captures the voice I remember from the novel, and if I was impatient with the sequences set in her heaven I was moved by the family drama that unfolded below. Intriguingly, since my relationship with the folks still on Earth was via Susie's visits there, I became even more than usual a spectator rather than a participant. But that did not detract from the nicely understated performances by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie's devastated parents Jack and Abigail.

In fact, sharing Susie's point of view makes her own reconciliation with death all the more affecting. George Harvey (very effectively portrayed by Stanley Tucci), the neighbor who murders Susie, also becomes more complicated when seen through Susie's eyes.

As Susie watches her family and friends become eventually stronger, it allows her to finally perceive the world without her presence. The lovely bones of the title are the connections that occurred between people after Susie was gone. There are worse ways of looking at death. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language. 135m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS: As virtually every film fan knows, Heath Ledger died during the shooting of Doctor Parnassus. As he played a key role, director Terry Gilliam had a decision to make in regard to the film's future. In the end, he decided to continue by casting Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to play parts of Ledger's character, Tony, that had not yet been shot. Some reviewers have seized on this decision as the reason why the film falls short, but I believe the film's weaknesses have little to do with the recasting.

As fans would expect, Gilliam (who was also the co-writer) produces a film full of fantastical events and wild imagination. The basic story involves Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his traveling theatre troupe in contemporary London, which includes Percy (Verne Troyer), a dwarf; Anton (Andrew Garfield), whose specialty is sleight-of-hand tricks; and his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), who is about to turn 16.

Audience members who go through the troupe's magic mirror on stage experience wild adventures provided by Parnassus' magical powers, the result of a bargain made with the devil (urbanely played by Tom Waits) that gave him eternal life, but also indentured Valentina to the devil upon her 16th birthday. When the troupe rescues a hanging man, who turns out to be Tony, the story takes a turn. Will he be Valentina's salvation?

In Gilliam's best films, such as Brazil, the chaos of the plot gives way to submersion into his wonderful imagery and imagination. While Doctor Parnassus occasionally achieves that quality, there were also sections that just seem to be missing the magic. The film is still worth the ride, though. Rated PG-13 for violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking. 122m. At the Broadway.

Continuing

ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL. Alvin and the gang meet their female rivals, the Chipettes. Watch the fur fly! Rated PG. 88m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

AVATAR. Military forces attempt to control and exploit a region and its people they know little about. Rated PG-13. 162m. At the Broadway (3D), Fortuna (3D) and Mill Creek.

THE BLIND SIDE. A homeless African-American youth is taken in by a well-to-do white family who help him realize his football potential. Rated PG-13. 126m. At the Broadway.

DAYBREAKERS. A plague has transformed the world's population into vampires (and they aren't the cute Twilight-esque type). Rated R. 98m. At the Broadway.

IT'S COMPLICATED. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play divorcees who reignite the flame after 10 years apart. Rated R. 118m. At the Broadway.

LEAP YEAR. Amy Adams just can't wait any longer to be proposed to by her boyfriend! So she takes advantage of the Irish leap year tradition. Rated PG. 100m. At the Broadway.

SHERLOCK HOLMES. Robert Downey Jr. stars as the updated, more ass-kicking version of the legendary sleuth. Rated PG-13. 128m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

THE SPY NEXT DOOR. Jackie Chan uses martial arts to battle international spies while babysitting. What a guy! Rated PG. 92m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

UP IN THE AIR. George Clooney plays a corporate hatchet man forced to fight for his job when his company downsizes. Rated R. 109m. At the Broadway and the Minor.

YOUTH IN REVOLT. Micheal Cera stars as a teen who tries to overhaul his boring personality in an attempt to impress a girl. Rated R. 90m. At the Broadway.

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