That Wacky Sandra

Plus: A goldfish's wishes illuminate the beautiful Ponyo

| September 10, 2009

Previews

Opening Wednesday, Sept. 9, is the animated post-apocalyptic sci-fi film 9. Director Shane Acker has expanded his AA-nominated 2005 short into a feature about creatures that form themselves from bits and pieces of our ruined world and who wonder why they exist at all. Rated PG-13 for violence and scary images. 79m. At Broadway.

Opening Friday, Sept. 11, is Sorority Row, a remake of the 1983 slasher The House on Sorority Row. When one of six sorority friends discovers her boyfriend is cheating, the group hatch up a revenge plot that goes horribly wrong. Subsequently, they become the targets of a murderous stalker. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and partying. 101m. At Broadway and Mill Creek.

Based on the 1998 comic, Whiteout stars Kate Beckinsale as U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, who is investigating a murder in Antarctica with just three days left before winter sets in and the sun disappears. Rated R for violence, grisly images, brief strong language and some nudity. 96m. At Broadway and Mill Creek.

Reviews

EXTRACT: I know Mike Judge's Extract is a comedy because it fits at least one criterion of the classical definition: It has a happy ending. I'm not sure it meets another one, that comedy is about people lower in status than the spectator, but I'm sure the film is about people that the viewer believes are lower, particularly in regard to intelligence. Judge has already explored this theme in his 2006 comedy Idiocracy where an average guy awakes 500 years in the future to discover he's the smartest guy on the planet.

Extract is so low-key that it almost slips below audibility, but in the midst of intermittently amusing scenes there is a nugget of commentary on how we "common folk" live our lives. The main story line is simple yet deceptive. Everyman Joel (an affable Jason Bateman) runs a factory that produces food extracts for flavoring. His workers are a collection of nice but more-or-less incompetent individuals.

At home, his wife Suzie (a fine Kristen Wiig) withholds sex, and his bartender friend Dean (a decent Ben Affleck) keeps pushing drugs at him. But things go really awry when Joel decides to sell his firm, hires a sexy sociopathic young woman named Cindy (Mila Kunis), an accident eliminates a worker's testicle, and Dean talks Joel into hiring a young dimwitted stud (Dustin Milligan) to seduce Suzie. Of course, Cindy talks the testicularly challenged worker into suing, Suzie gives in easily to the stud and the workers attempt a walkout in protest over the buyout.

This may not sound like the stuff of comedy, but it's a measure of the film's very peculiar style that Judge gets chuckles out of the situation without demeaning his subjects. Other viewers may sit as stone-faced as I did during The Hangover, but I appreciated the film's style. On the other hand, no drunk guys pissing on the floor, no f-words and no bare breasts. Sounds like box office poison. Rated R for language, sexual references and some drug use. 91m. At Broadway.

ALL ABOUT STEVE: As co-producer as well as star of All About Steve, I can only assume that Sandra Bullock thought the film was a good idea. She gets to play Mary Horowitz, a brainiac designer of weekly crossword puzzles for a Sacramento paper, easily the smartest woman in the room and probably the city.

But, surprise, she lacks social skills and common sense. So when her mother (Beth Grant) sets her up on a blind date with Steve (Bradley Cooper), a guy who is actually attractive, she changes into what passes for her as a sexy outfit and tries to have sex with him shortly after getting into his car right in front of her parent's house, where she is living while her place (never seen) is being fumigated. Oh yeah, and she won't stop talking as she knows everything about virtually every topic.

Steve, a news cameraman, manages to slip away, but this just makes Mary into an obsessed stalker, following him across the country as he tries to cover stories. In this, she is abetted by ambitious newsman Hartman (a ridiculous Thomas Hayden Church), Steve's news partner, who sees her as an inside story that will get him an anchor job.

After a series of unfunny road scenes, the film ends with Mary becoming a hero in a cloyingly long sentimental series of scenes. Brainy women are traditionally ridiculed in film, but it's sad to see Bullock and screenwriter Kim Barker buy into the same tired concept.

If you want to see women ridiculed, guy films do it better. If you fancy brainy women who lack social graces, Emily Deschanel does it way better as the title character in TV's Bones. This is Bullock's second release this year, following The Proposal, a film that also demeans successful women, but that was a masterpiece compared to this tripe. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including innuendos. 98m. At Broadway.

PONYO: Happily, my weekend's filmgoing ended with the gorgeously animated, totally joyful Japanese film Ponyo. Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Howl's Moving Castle), this release has been translated into English and voiced by a number of well-known actors. But it's not the voices that viewers will remember; rather, the film is one long series of beautiful images that will linger in the imagination long after the film itself has been relegated to DVD.

The story itself is a poem to the possibility of Earth in balance. A goldfish who is trapped in a bottle carelessly tossed into the sea is rescued by five-year-old Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas) who calls her Ponyo (Noah Cyrus). The two bond, leading to Ponyo's desire to become human.

Sosuke's mother Lisa (Tina Fey), who could use some safe driving tips, isn't particularly surprised to discover a talking goldfish, but Ponyo's father Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), a human who has given himself to the sea, believes that such a transformation will put the world seriously out of balance and does everything in his power to keep Ponyo from the hated humans. Can Ponyo and Sosuke find a way to maintain their relationship and center the Earth at the same time? Need you ask?

In a film filled with beautiful images, the scene where Ponyo rides the waves during a major storm while paralleling Lisa's car as she races back to her house high above the churning sea with Sosuke is a particular standout for me. As a number of people know, I have a general aversion to animated films although there have been some notable exceptions. Ponyo easily overrode my bias; it had me from beginning to end.

As the story concludes, it seems what rebalances the Earth is an acceptance of species for what they are. I think All About Steve tried to have a similar message in regard to humans. The filmmakers could learn a few things from Ponyo, the character and the film. Rated G. 103m.

Continuing

500 DAYS OF SUMMER. Tom is dumped by Summer, causing him to reflect on their 500 days together. Rated PG-13. 100m. At the Minor and the Movies.

DISTRICT 9. What will humanity do with the aliens of South Africa? Rated R. 120m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

THE FINAL DESTINATION. Nick has a premonition and predicts the killing of his friends. Then teens die. Surprise! Rated R. 81m. At Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

GAMER. Entertainment evolves to include gory, real, live human gaming. Throw out your Xbox. Rated R. 95m. At Broadway and Mill Creek.

G-FORCE. Government-trained guinea pigs out to save the world. With the voices of Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz. Rated PG. 90m. At the Movies.

G.I. JOE. Elite military squad kicks ass all over the world, with the aid of their super-suits. Rated PG-13. 120m. At Mill Creek and the Movies.

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

THE HANGOVER. Getting severely trashed with your bros at a Vegas-based bachelor party can have serious consequences, especially when no one remembers what happened. Rated R. 100m. At The Movies.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE. The Hogwarts boy wizard saga continues. Don't mess with Voldemort. Rated PG. 153m. At The Movies.

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS. The gang's rescue mission for Sid 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 Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

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 Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

SHORTS. A rainbow colored rock falls from the sky that grants wishes. Uh-oh now spaceships are swarming the neighborhood. What's a kid to do? Rated PG. 100m. At the Movies, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

TAKING WOODSTOCK. Take a trip with Demitri Martin back in time to the sixties' musical lovefest. Rated R. 121m. At the Minor.

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE. Clare continues to love Henry despite his genetic time traveling problem. With Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. 120m. At the Movies, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

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