Opening Wednesday, Nov. 25, is the stop-motion animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the book by Roald Dahl, written and directed by Wes Anderson (Rushmore). The story centers on Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and his conflict with three nasty farmers. Also featuring the voices of Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and others. The film has had strong positive buzz. Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor. 87m. At the Broadway.
Ninja Assassin is a martial arts film about an orphan (Korean pop star Rain) who was raised to be a killer, but whose priorities are challenged when he meets a hottie European spy (Naomie Harris). Rated R for strong bloody stylized violence throughout, and language. 99m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
Old Dogs is a comedy featuring John Travolta and Robin Williams as Charlie and Dan, two friends who find themselves caring for 7-year-old twins. Unluckily, a sense of family is not their main strength. Kelly Preston plays Dan's ex, who dumps the twins on him, and the late Bernie Mac is a children's entertainer in his final film. Rated PG for some mild rude humor. 88m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON: Not having read any of the four books in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, my comments here are based solely on my viewing of the first two film adaptations of the novels. If nothing else, the series provides an incredibly long foreplay. I believe it isn't until the end of the third book, Eclipse (film adaptation scheduled for release in mid-2010), that Bella and Edward achieve consummation (along with marriage). Who said teens have no self-control?
Based on the films, it is Edward (Robert Pattinson) who puts on the brakes; Bella (Kristen Stewart) seems more than ready. To be fair, there's more than a tumble in the sack at stake here (no pun intended).
In New Moon, the film opens on a seemingly happy note as Bella turns 18 in the company of Edward and the Cullen family, but this idyll quickly ends when Bella pricks her finger, sending Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) into a blood frenzy. As a result of Jasper's attack on Bella, Edward decides he needs to leave in order to protect her, but he doesn't tell her the real reason. When Edward and the entire Cullen clan decamp, Bella falls into a deep funk.
As Edward is absent for much of the film except for intermittent images in Bella's mind, the focus of the story shifts to her friendship with the more interesting Jacob (a buffed-up Taylor Lautner). But where Bella sees friendship, Jacob sees romantic attraction. Things get even more complicated when Bella discovers that Jacob is a werewolf.
The long tease in this part of the narrative consists of Bella's admiring glances at Jacob's bare, well-muscled chest, brief hand touching and Jacob's passionate addresses to Bella (who is periodically distracted by memories of Edward). This slice of foreplay reaches its climax with an almost kiss before the plot shifts to Italy, where Edward is intent on ending his vampire life because he believes Bella has committed suicide.
Overall, New Moon seems more effective than Twilight. But I must admit that I can tolerate only so much teen angst and too much of this film consists of the camera endlessly circling a depressed Bella as she sits staring out her window as the months go tediously by, or wanders in the woods imagining the time when she and Edward lay in a clearing together. And, for the most part, the sequence in Italy, while clearly a plot necessity, just don't click despite the presence of a creepy-looking Dakota Fanning and a campy Martin Sheen as totally untamed vampires.
As an actor, Pattinson seems completely straight-jacketed by his role, although I'm sure he's capable of greater range than his character allows. I thought Stewart was the best thing about Twilight, but in New Moon she becomes the depressed object of director Chris Weitz's (who directed the much more interesting The Golden Compass) camera. I'm hoping she gets unchained in Eclipse.
I happened to attend the film with a friend who is a big fan of the novels and she found the film totally satisfying. I just couldn't get there. Rated PG-13 for some violence and action. 130m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
THE BLIND SIDE: Based on Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, this film tells the story of Michael Oher, now an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, from his early impoverished life, his education at the Briarcrest Christian School, his adoption by a white couple, through to his decision about what college to attend on a football scholarship.
As you would expect from a feel-good sports/poverty-to-success film, The Blind Side tilts heavily toward the sappy. But in this case, it's not a bad example of the genre, sappiness and all. Most of the reason for this assessment is the solid acting on the part of the lead actors who don't often give in to the worst sentimental tendencies.
Quinton Aaron (whose few previous credits include Be Kind Rewind) plays Michael Oher in a low-key, effective performance. And while this hasn't been a great year for Sandra Bullock -- both All About Steve and The Proposal were dismal, as well as box office disappointments -- she more or less hits her stride here as Leigh Anne Touhy, a wealthy Memphis designer who, along with husband Sean (Tim McGraw, who nicely plays second fiddle to Bullock), first take Michael into their home then become his legal guardians. The Touhy family is filled out by young son S.J. (a somewhat cutesy but totally energetic and winning Jae Head) and his older sister Collins (Lily Collins).
While the film presents several mostly mild instances of racial prejudice directed toward Michael, the story primarily emphasizes the positive effect that Michael and the Touhy family have on each other. Certainly the scenes set in Michael's drug-infested neighborhood seemed whitewashed and, at any rate, Leigh Anne seems up to any challenge including facing down the toughs who threaten Michael.
At no time in the film is there any real danger that Michael might fail, save for some difficulty at school that is overcome with the help of tutor Miss Sue (a feisty Kathy Bates), who helps Michael to inch above the 2.5 grade point needed to get a college football scholarship.
The only real barrier Michael encounters here is an NCAA investigation into whether his adoptive parents' connections to Ole Miss influenced his decision to attend that school, and the crisis that incident provokes is the deepest the film delves into these characters. Bullock's strong screen presence as Leigh Anne somewhat overshadows the other characters, but Aaron manages to hang in there. I guess I enjoyed the film in spite of myself. Rated PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references. 128m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
2012. The world blows up despite John Cusack's fine acting abilities. Rated PG-13. 158m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
AMELIA. Hilary Swank portrays Amelia Earhart on her fateful journey. Rated PG. 111m. At the Movies.
COUPLES RETREAT. Vince Vaughn leads a group of married friends to a tropical island resort where they discover that participation in the hotel's couples therapy is not optional. Rated PG-13. 108m. At the Movies.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Disney does Dickens (in 3D!) Rated PG. 96m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
THE FOURTH KIND. As opposed to the third kind, a close encounter of the fourth kind is when they actually take you with them. Rated PG-13. 98m. At the Movies.
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS. Ewan McGregor plays a reporter looking for his big break and George Clooney used to stare at goats. Oh, for a government job. Rated R. 93m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. See what you and your buddies can do with a $15,000 film budget? Get to work. Rated R. 99m. At the Movies.
PLANET 51. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson lays the smackdown on the family-friendly, animated genre. Who's the alien? Rated PG. 91m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
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 then he thought. Rated PG. 94m. At the Movies.
WHIP IT. Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with a Roller Derby flick. Sweet. Rated PG-13. 113m. At the Movies.