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Midnight Movie

To be scared, make sure you see Paranormal Activity as late as possible

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Previews

Opening Wednesday, Oct. 28, with one screening Tuesday evening, is Michael Jackson's This Is It, a documentary directed by Kenny Ortega that tracks the late singer as he prepared for a series of concerts in London. The film, shot in HD video, also has interviews with Jackson's friends and collaborators. Rated PG for some suggestive choreography and scary images. 112m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek with a 9 p.m. Tuesday evening screening.

Opening Friday, Oct. 30, is the latest dick flick (formerly brain-dead guy film), I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, based on Tucker Max's book about beer, vomit and sex. With Matt Czuchry as Max. Look for the sequel Assholes Finish First in 2010. Rated R for nudity, strong sexual content including graphic dialog throughout, language and some crude material. 106m. At the Minor.

Finally, the latest from Tyler Perry is I Can Do Bad All By Myself, a sort of weepie/comedy about April (Taraji P. Henson), an alcoholic nightclub singer redeemed by an attractive immigrant (Adam Rodriguez) who shows up at her door. Of course, there's Madea (Perry), along with Mary J. Blige and Gladys Knight. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving a sexual assault on a minor, violence, drug references and smoking. 113m. At the Broadway.

Reviews

THE INVENTION OF LYING: Writer/co-director Ricky Gervais (with Matthew Robinson) has hit upon a marvelous conceit for The Invention of Lying. The film world consists of an alternate universe where the concept of lying is nonexistent. The immediate effect, from our deceitful perspective, is humorous: People make very blunt remarks to each other, truth in advertising is the necessary norm and fiction does not exist as a concept, not to mention a literary genre.

Viewers see this world through the eyes of Mark Bellison (Gervais), who has been branded a fat loser by the honest folk of his town. Mark is a film writer (non-fiction history lectures) who manages to score a date with Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner). It doesn't begin well: He interrupts her masturbating (which she completes before going out) and the waiter tells him, "she's out of your league."

When he is subsequently fired for writing about the Black Plague and can't pay his rent, he tells a bank teller he has $800 dollars in his account. Assuming the computer is in error, she gives him the money and the rest is history.

The film is gentle satire, but as in Ghost Town, Gervais is very effective in his low-key, self-effacing humor. As it transpires, Garner is his perfect partner here. She's been effective in comedies before (13 Going on 30; Catch and Release), but her approach here, partly concept-driven, nicely undermines the surface nastiness; even when insulting Mark, Anna seems sympathetic. One might wish for more acerbic commentary, but I'll settle for the effective comedy. Rated PG-13. 99m. At The Movies.

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN: As an example of the vigilante genre, Law Abiding Citizen breaks no new ground. Indeed, it is thoroughly embedded in the vigilante conventions. An ordinary citizen experiences a terrible wrong at the hands of bad guys (child kidnapped, family murdered, etc.). The legal system proves to be impotent in addressing the problem; in fact, it seems to favor the perps. So, the citizen takes matters into his/her own hands.

Since viewers sympathize initially with the wronged person, the film is supposed to raise important moral and ethical issues. In reality, though, the setup is just an excuse for extreme violence as we cheer the mayhem perpetrated by the formerly ordinary citizen, now an avenging angel.

Here, citizen Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) watches as his wife and daughter are butchered during a home invasion. Enter Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx in coast mode), an assistant district attorney with a 96 percent conviction rate who makes a deal that allows the actual killer jail time instead of death because he testifies against his partner.

Ten years later, we get to watch Clyde go ballistic as he puts his technical expertise to chillingly effective use. Viewers do get to see Rice briefly consider if he made the correct trial decision, but for the most part director F. Gary Gray keeps the action moving quickly enough to prevent real thought. I was grateful. Rated R. 109m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE STEPFATHER: The Stepfather is a remake of the 1987 thriller of the same name. If I saw that version, I don't remember it and I don't know if that's a good thing or not. I do know that Terry O'Quinn, who is excellent as John Locke on the TV series Lost, played the original title character and I can easily imagine him being effective as the sociopathic killer of trusting single women.

Then again, I found Nip/Tuck's Dylan Walsh to be credibly creepy in the current version, and Sela Ward is always a joy to watch. In fact, the acting is the main reason to bother seeing this film, which is otherwise by-the-numbers.

The familiar story has a seemingly nice, sensitive David Harris (Walsh) "accidentally" meeting divorced single mom Susan Harding (Ward) in a grocery store. Shortly thereafter, he's moved in as Susan's son Michael (Penn Badgley) discovers when he returns home from military school. Stepdad-to-be and Michael don't hit it off, and one of the mysteries of the plot is why only Michael and biological dad Jay (Jon Tenney) can see that David is manipulative and evil. It seems overly obvious to the rest of us.

No matter. Try as he might, Michael can't convince girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard, who looks great in a bikini), his mom or her friends that anything is amiss. Too bad they didn't watch the opening sequence, but in the end we all pay equally. Rated PG-13. 101m. At the Movies and Fortuna.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: *Paranormal Activity* has many of the elements that made The Blair Witch Project such a surprise hit. Originally screened in 2007 at the Screamfest Film Festival, the film got a second life this year through a clever advertising campaign that included midnight showings in select towns and cities. Using unknown actors and their actual names makes the events seem to be happening to "real" people as opposed to, say, Naomi Watts, and the crude camera work adds to the home movie documentary style the film affects.

The setup is simple. Katie (Katie Featherston) has been haunted by some presence since she was young. Her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), a day trader, buys a video camera hoping to capture the ghost or demon on film. The action takes place entirely in their house over a number of days and nights in September and October 2006. Other than the couple, the only other person we see is a very unhelpful Dr. Mark Fredrichs, a psychic.

The best thing about the film is the effective gradual build up of paranormal events leading to the genuinely scary ending. But this is a film that needs the presence of a large participatory audience (and perhaps midnight). In the mostly empty lower level of the Minor at the screening I attended, the film's amateurishness was all too apparent and the action repetitive, and the film seemed more about a lousy relationship than a haunting. But then, lousy relationships have their own just desserts. Rated R for language. 86m. At the Broadway, Minor and Fortuna.

Continuing

ASTROBOY. A young robot is given super strength and x-ray vision. Kids love this stuff. Rated PG. 94m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY. Michael Moore vs. Wall Street. Who will surrender first? Rated R. 127m. At the Movies.

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT. A 14-year-old vampire joins a circus freak show. Rated PG-13. 109m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. Based on the beloved children's book where it rains food. The cure for the recession? Rated PG. 90m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

COUPLES RETREAT. Vince Vaughn leads a group of married friends to a tropical island resort in Couples Retreat. They soon discover that participation in the hotel's couples therapy is not optional. Rated PG-13. 108m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

DISTRICT 9. What will humanity do with the aliens of South Africa? Rated R. 120m. At the Movies.

HALLOWEEN II. Rob Zombie's sequel to his re-imagining of the teen slasher yuckfest. Rated R. 115m. At the Broadway.

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS. The gang makes a rescue mission for Sid that takes them into a mysterious underground world where they have close encounters with dinos and generally run amuck. Rated PG. 87 m. At The Movies.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. A special unit of Jewish-American soldiers is sent behind enemy lines to spread shock and awe among German troops in Nazi-occupied France in Quentin Tarantino's latest film. 153m. At the Movies.

JULIE & JULIA. Two chicks for the price of a flick! N. Ephron intersperses Julia Child biopic with tale of bored 30-something New Yorker seeking inspiration. Rated PG-13. 123m. At the Movies.

SAW VI. It's October. Time for our annual Saw installment. Want the plot? See Saw I-V. Rated R. 93m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek

TOY STORY & TOY STORY 2 IN 3D. Double-feature. How much Pixar can you handle, folks? Test your limits. Rated G. 183m. At Broadway.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Max journeys to the land of Wild Things where he becomes their new ruler, but soon finds that relationships are harder than he thought. Rated PG. 94m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

WHIP IT. Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with a Roller Derby flick. Sweet. Rated PG-13. 113m. At the Broadway.

ZOMBIELAND. Woody Harrelson hilariously blows peoples heads off. Kinda like Natural Born Killers except they're already dead. Rated R. 88m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

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