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Apocalypservice 

Plus, Coens' droll Yiddishisms, Milla's bogus encounters

click to enlarge A Serious Man
  • A Serious Man

Previews

Fans of Stephanie Meyer's romantic vampire series can rejoice: The Twilight Saga: New Moon opens Friday, November 20. As the second installment begins, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is distraught over the abrupt departure of Edward (Robert Pattinson), but finds solace with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Add werewolves and stir. Rated PG-13 for some violence and action. 130m. At the Broadway, the Minor, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

Planet 51 is an animated family comedy featuring the recently family-friendly Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as an astronaut who lands on Planet 51 and discovers little green aliens and white picket fences. But who's the alien? Rated PG. 91m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

The Blind Side is a biopic that follows the path taken by Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) as he rises from poverty to a position with the NFL Ravens. Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw co-star as his adoptive parents. Rated PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references. 90m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Opening Wednesday, Nov. 25, is Ninja Assassin, a martial arts film about an orphan (pop star Rain) 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.

Also scheduled for the 25th are Fantastic Mr. Fox, Old Dogs and Pirate Radio.

Reviews

2012: Wow. I have a vague admiration for 2012 because it seems to include every single disaster/end-of-the-world cliché that the genre has become famous for, complete with the cheesy humor, ridiculous dialogue and wooden characters. But mostly, I just feel sorry for any viewer who, like me, sat through all 158 minutes of this exercise in computer graphics (168 minutes if you include the ads and previews).

The overblown soundtrack under the opening sequences of the film is actually clue enough, but in an exercise in self-flagellation I stuck around to see the follow-through. As in every such film, it begins with a chaotic series of scenes that are supposed to set the stage for the disasters to come. In this case, the inciting incident is a gigantic solar flare that has set off a rapidly increasing rise in the Earth's core temperature. In short, the Earth as we know it is doomed. Who knew? Well, just the Mayans and a host of other diverse groups ancient to modern including those people carrying the cardboard end-of-the-world signs, but not "us."

In order to tie together the increasingly elaborate disaster scenes leading to tidal waves that will wipe us all out, the narrative centers on two parallel plots. In one, we follow minor writer and divorced father Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) along with ex Kate (a perky Amanda Peet), children Noah (Liam James) and Lily (Morgan Lily), and Kate's new squeeze Gordon (Thomas McCarthy).

The other strand involves scientist Adrian Helmsly (Chiwetel Ejiofor, bravely making the best of it) whose friend discovered the warming core, the U.S. President (Danny Glover, maintaining his dignity), Chief-of-Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) and the President's daughter Laura (an earnest Thandie Newton).

The two threads come together when Jackson discovers the truth and heads off with his family to the arks the major countries have built in China. In one of the sillier moments toward the end, Jackson and Kate reconnect with a lingering kiss (Gordon having been conveniently disposed of by a malfunctioning ark door) when Jackson is supposed to be saving the ark from doom. Oh yeah, the film also features Woody Harrelson indulging his constant tendency to chew the scenery as Charlie (of course) Frost, who hosts a radio show predicting the end.

When the world does come to an end, I hope it's with more panache and less CG. Rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language. 158m. At the Broadway, the Minor, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

A SERIOUS MAN: Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), the characters whose misfortunes we follow in Joel and Ethan Coen's latest film set in Minnesota in 1967, gives Job a run for his money. A physics professor who is up for tenure, Larry's life falls apart soon after we meet him. At the university, not only does a Korean student who received an F try to bribe him, someone is writing negative letters to the tenure committee suggesting moral turpitude.

Seemingly out of the blue, his wife Judith (Sari Lennick in her film debut), who has become close to the unctuous Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), informs him that they need to start thinking about divorce (and maybe he should move to the Jolly Roger Motel).

His son Danny (Aaron Wolff), whose bar mitzvah is approaching, smokes dope and listens to Jefferson Airplane during Hebrew class. Danny's older sister Sarah (Jessica McManus) is rude and wants a nose job. Larry's brother Arthur (Richard Kind) sleeps on the couch and monopolizes the bathroom (and may be engaging in sodomy in North Dakota).

Larry also has bad dreams, such as being shot by his possibly anti-Semitic neighbor. The rabbis he consults about his problems are comically unhelpful or unavailable. I won't reveal the final blow that occurs at film's end.

So how do the Coen Brothers make such an amusing film out of this mix? By applying their typical magic in creating an off-kilter universe where the most dire occurrences becomes grist for their dark (and in this case Jewish) humor, such as in Fargo making us laugh at a man being fed into a wood chipper (yes, I have the snow globe of the scene).

The film opens with a prologue spoken in Yiddish about a dybbuk, set a long time ago in some European country. Viewers can decide for themselves what the connection is, if any, to the main film. I must admit, I cannot imagine not enjoying any Coen Brothers film. They have created a wonderful body of work that compares favorably to that of any director working. Rated R for language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence. 105m.

THE FOURTH KIND: I can only guess that this is a film for true believers; it certainly wasn't for the likes of me. It begins with Milla Jovovich, as herself, telling us that she based her character on the "real" psychologist Dr. Abigail (Abbie) Tyler, a therapist who lives in Nome. The rest of the film spends a lot of capital trying to convince the audience of its authenticity, citing presumed statistics that reveal that the F.B.I. has visited Nome more often than any other city. (Universal recently paid the Alaska Press Club $20,000 for fabricating news stories to promote the film)

The sequences involving Dr. Tyler are made to appear as though they were shot with a substandard video camera to convey a documentary feel. For some reason, though, the video tape can't seem to capture any shots of the aliens who are abducting the good folk of Nome and returning them damaged. At least in the defunct TV series about encounters of the fourth kind The 4400, the kidnapped humans were returned with special abilities. Oh right, the film is real though.

I enjoyed Jovovich's performance as Dr. Tyler but little else about the film. As a low-budget approach to a similar theme, Paranormal Activity is much more effective than this slicker split screen fakery. Rated PG-13 for violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements and brief sexuality. 98m. At the Movies.

Continuing

AMELIA. Hilary Swank portrays Amelia Earhart on her fateful journey. Rated PG. 111m. At the Movies.

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

THE BOX. Cameron Diaz is confronted with a moral dilemma. This is not a comedy. Rated PG-13. 115m. At the Movies.

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 Movies.

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

A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Disney does Dickens (in 3D!) Rated PG. 96m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

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, Mill Creek and the Minor.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. See what you and your buddies can do with a $15,000 film budget? Get to work. Rated R. 99m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

THIS IS IT. Michael Jackson moonwalks into your heart, one last time. Rated PG. 111m. At Mill Creek and the Movies.

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 Broadway.

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

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Charlie Myers

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