Note to Readers: I will be on hiatus for six weeks while I'm in Portland. See you mid-May if I'm renewed.
Opening Friday, April 3, is Fast & Furious, 2009 version and the fourth in the series but set between Nos. 2 & 3. The film features four actors from the original: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language and drug references. 107m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.
A comedy set in summer 1987, Adventureland features Jesse Eisenberg as a college grad who takes the only job for which he is qualified at an amusement park. Rated R for language, drug use and sexual references. 107m. At the Broadway.
After years of blood, sweat and tears, the Arcata Theatre Lounge opens the weekend of April 3. I wish the theatre great success. In addition to a lot of music, director/writer Michael Kang's 2005 feature debut The Motel about a 13-year-old living at his family's hourly-rate motel plays April 4 at 8 p.m. and April 5 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The film won an award at Sundance. NR, 76m.
Playing midnight April 4 is Six-String Samurai, a 1998 alternate history action/comedy martial arts film that also scored at Sundance. Filmed largely in Death Valley. PG-13 but billed by the theatre for 21 and over, 81m.
THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT: There have been countless claims over the years of places, usually at old houses, which are hotbeds of paranormal activity. Luckily for filmmakers, paranormal investigators and fiction writers, the ghostly presences are usually evil; there aren't many thrills in a story about nice spirits.
The Haunting in Connecticut mostly follows the familiar arc of horror thrillers "based on a true story." A family must relocate because of circumstances. The father/husband is sometimes not present or ineffective. Children are almost always involved and they pick up the abnormal vibes quickly. Despite increasingly dangerous threats, the family unaccountably stays around. Disaster strikes, often revolving around a fire; some family members usually survive, occasionally none. Those who survive are changed forever. A lot of gore and perverse images accompany the action, as does a lot of bad acting.
In the latest iteration, the Campbell family relocates to a small town in Connecticut so oldest son Matt (Kyle Gallner) can be near the hospital where he is in a medical trial for his deadly cancer. His father, Peter (Martin Donovan), has to stay behind due to his work, so mother Sara (Virginia Madsen, who deserves better), younger siblings Mary and Billy, and babysitting niece Wendy (Amanda Crew) move into a house with a history.
Matt already looks possessed when we first see him, and he immediately chooses to bunk in the basement next to an area containing old mortuary equipment. Then follows the usual series of increasingly scary moments, signaled primarily in this film by sudden loud swells on the sound track and quick shots of shadowy figures. When Matt meets a fellow patient who happens to be a priest, we discover that the house isn't haunted, it's possessed. So what's a priest to do? Hint: It starts with an "e."
The film is intermittently genuinely scary but otherwise it's a snoozer. Madsen adds some heft to the film, but not enough to keep it from sinking. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images. 92m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
MONSTERS VS. ALIENS: To be fair, I need to mention two things that may have affected my experience with Monsters vs. Aliens. In order to work in all the films I want to review, I set up a weekend viewing schedule Friday morning. As it turns out, I intended to see Two Lovers with a friend at the 4:15 Friday screening at the Minor, so I was in the mood for an adult story. Unluckily, the print of Two Lovers had not arrived when it was supposed to so that screening had been canceled. Since Monster vs. Aliens was about to start, I decided to salvage something of my schedule and saw it instead.
It's not exactly an adult story, and as my inner child has been buried for decades -- did it ever exist? -- I just couldn't relate to this animated relentlessly kiddie film. Unlike some other animated features I thoroughly enjoyed, such as Ratatouille or WALL-E, Monsters vs. Aliens has virtually nothing for the adult viewer except a joking reference to Al Gore's famous book.
The vaguely retro-feminist story is simple. When Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) gets hit by a glowing hunk of rock from space just before her wedding to Modesto weatherman Derek (Paul Rudd), she grows to almost 50 feet (but remains real cute). Not only is this a turnoff for her jerk of a fiancé, she is immediately whisked off by the military to join a ragtag group of other jailed monsters, among them a blob named B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) and a cockroach (Hugh Laurie). As it transpires, the material that caused Susan's height (and strength) belongs to nasty space aliens, and they want it back. Only the monsters can save Earth.
Child-appropriate action sequences ensue, all in good fun. The young children in attendance didn't laugh much but one coughed her way through the film. My friend was nice enough to stick it out but I bet she'll never go to another film with me. Guess her inner child was on vacation. Rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language. 94m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
TWO LOVERS: Two Lovers was the one new opening I was looking forward to and it didn't disappoint. Reminiscent of the Off-Broadway plays of the late ’50s and ’60s about damaged people trying to carve out a life, and often not succeeding, Two Lovers follows the depressed Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix), who lives with his Jewish parents in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn.
It seems he was dumped by his fiancée without warning, and several suicide attempts later he can't get over it. His claustrophobic living situation, complete with well-meaning but incredibly intrusive parents, particularly his mother, Ruth (a fine Isabella Rossellini), doesn't help.
Ruth attempts to set up Leonard with Sandra Cohen (an excellent Vinessa Shaw) -- a nice Jewish girl, the daughter of good friends -- but Leonard only has eyes for his blonde, rather vacuous neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is having an affair with her married lawyer boss Ronald (Elias Koteas) and wants a friend.
The narrative of the three-way crossed lovers plays out mostly as one would expect, but what makes a difference in this sort of film is the acting, and it is uniformly very good here. Paltrow wonderfully creates Michelle as both deceptive and vulnerable while Phoenix manages to show Leonard's vulnerability along with his boyish humor and self-destructive behavior. Shaw shines in the supporting role of Sandra, who never sees the inner Leonard so falls in love with the person she wants to see. This may be drama in a minor mode but it makes for a fine film. See it before it leaves. Rated R for language, some sexuality and brief drug use. 110m. At the Minor through April 2.
12 ROUNDS. Recently released convicted thief seeks revenge on the cop that did him in via threatening the life of the cop's fiancée. Rated PG-13. 108m. At the Broadway.
DUPLICITY. CIA officer and M16 agent leave intelligence world to pursue big time money only to wind up in steamy romance mixed with espionage-style mystery. Rated PG-13. 125m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
GRAN TORINO. Veteran/racist/retired autoworker versus the local Asian gang-bangers. Rated R. 116m. At The Movies.
HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Women, men and their relationships. Rated PG-13. 132m. At The Movies.
I LOVE YOU MAN. Straight dude embarks on series of "man-dates" to find a suitable best man for his hetero wedding and ends up in a serious bromance. Rated R. 105m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
KNOWING. Professor finds terrifying predictions of doom in time capsule; now he must prevent said predictions from coming true. Rated PG-13. 122m. At Mill Creek, Broadway and Fortuna.
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Girl kidnapped by prison escapee and his crew equals blood and gore. Rated R. 109m. At 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 Movies.
RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. Vegas cabbie and UFO expert must save two teens with supernatural powers from exploitation by evil peeps/aliens. Rated PG. 99m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
TAKEN. Former spy launches one-man war to bring down gang that kidnapped his daughter. Rated PG-13. 91m. 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.