Saturday, February 7, 2009

Film Reviews: A trio of so-so releases hit theaters this weekend

The animated Coraline.

By Hap Erstein

Here are a few short takes on movies opening in the area this weekend, none of which is completely satisfying, though each has reasons for a half-hearted recommendation.

* Coraline — In the recent spurt of animated films, this latest creepy entry from director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) at least avoids being bland.

Coraline is a precocious 11-year-old who finds a sealed-up secret door in her new home and goes through it — Alice-in-Wonderland-style — to find a macabre mirror universe with near-clones of her parents who seem highly untrustworthy.

The best thing about the movie are the digital visuals and the 3-D effects. Events are not always clear, but find a 6-year-old kid at the movie to explain it to you.

Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston and
Jennifer Connelly in He's Just Not That Into You.

* He’s Just Not That Into You — Yes, this is a relationship comedy based on the self-help book which, in turn, was based on a catchphrase from an episode of Sex and the City. Call it an anti-date night movie, for only guys willing to subject themselves to being elbowed and told, “See, that’s what you do wrong,” should attend this one with a significant other.

The interlocking, multi-character plots illustrate the gulf between men and women, how we misread the signals of the opposite sex and how we shoot ourselves in the foot in the pursuit of romantic happiness. In other words, virtually everything that occurs in the movie is entirely predictable.

Director Ken Kwapis did gather an A-list cast, including Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson and Drew Barrymore, who essentially gets lost in the crowd.

Without these actors, the movie would be TV-level, but it is bound to trigger some heated conversations on the drive home.

Steve Martin in Pink Panther 2.

* Pink Panther 2 — I really was not looking forward to seeing this one, not out of loyalty to Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards, who spun such gold from the original Inspector Clouseau films in the ‘60s, but because the earlier remake of The Pink Panther with Steve Martin as bumbling nitwit Clouseau was one of the worst comedies in recent memory.

Martin is back, hopefully for a sizeable paycheck, but he is among the committee that is credited with writing the screenplay this time. The plot, something about an international “dream team” of detectives assigned to track down the criminal mastermind who stole an armful of priceless treasures, does not amount to much. But Martin gives himself several scenes of physical comedy that — I’m a little embarrassed to admit — I found myself laughing out loud at. As with all comedies, your humor mileage may vary.

On second thought, go see some of the Oscar nominees that are hanging around the multiplex.

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