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Bat-mania! 

Yes, The Dark Knight really is all that, but Mamma Mia! is 10 tons of lame

Previews

 

Opening Friday, July 25, is the next-in-line summer blockbuster, The X-Files: I Want to Believe. This is the second feature film spin-off from the popular TV series, and I want to believe too but it features the Charlie-designated “Most Boring Actor in The World” David Duchovny as Fox Mulder and the much more interesting and competent Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully. This film is apparently a stand-alone story taking place some six years after the timeline of the TV series, but the film’s producers have been coy about details. Amanda Peet should add some spice to the mix. Will it displace The Dark Knight at the box office? Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing content and thematic material. 104 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.

The indefatigable Judd Aptow factory provides the only local competition this Friday with the Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly comedy Step Brothers.The story line is comedy basic: Ferrell and Reilly play characters forced to live together when the mother (Mary Steenburgen) of one marries the father (Richard Jenkins) of the other. Let me guess, the brothers are two grownups who never grew up. At least the adult part of the cast looks interesting. Rated R for crude and sexual content, and pervasive language. 95 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Want a break from current films? The Journal’s Bob Doran hosts the next Based on the Book Series sponsored by the Eureka Library, Sweet Smell of Success. This noir-ish 1957 film features Burt Lancaster as powerful New York columnist J.J. Hunsecker, who hires the eager-to-please publicist Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) to prevent his sister from marrying a musician. In 1957, the film was seen as an attack on Walter Winchell, but new viewers will experience a gritty black and white film about complete amorality. The screening starts promptly at 6:30p.m. on Tuesday, July 29, in the Multipurpose Room of the Eureka Main Library.

 

Reviews

 

THE DARK KNIGHT: Some time ago when I checked the list of major summer film openings it seemed a dreary lot. Sure, there have been a few bright, minor exceptions such as Iron Man, but for the most part the films have lived down to my low expectations. I did have hopes for one film, though, and happily the latest Batman saga has met, even exceeded, my expectations. For this, I credit director Christopher Nolan, who was responsible for Batman Begins in 2005 as well as 2000’s very intriguing Memento, writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, and Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker.

As for the latter, I have seldom seen such a completely committed performance in a commercial Hollywood film as Ledger turns in here. Whether the viewer likes the character interpretation or not, respect must be given to an actor who so brilliantly, consistently and humorously creates a remarkable portrait of total amorality.

What animates the story, as indicated by the film’s title, is whether it is possible for Batman/Bruce Wayne (an appropriately dark Christian Bale) to counter the Joker without becoming like him. While this is hardly a novel idea in the history of good vs. evil narratives, the film deals with the dilemma in interesting ways.

The two opening sequences of The Dark Knight visually set up the main story line nicely: we see first the Joker robbing a crime syndicate bank and blithely killing off his team at the end of the job. The second sequence shows Batman dealing with a group of Batman impersonators, which he subdues with non-lethal violence. Two things are immediately clear: Batman and the Joker share the same universe, and the Joker will not succumb so easily.

Neither the Joker nor Batman is physically superhuman, but what makes the Joker such a tremendous villain is that he seems always several steps ahead of everyone, including Bruce Wayne. In fact, as impersonated by Ledger, he seems virtually unstoppable. This is Batman’s dilemma. As the story proceeds, Batman becomes increasingly dark himself; at one point, we see him beating up the imprisoned Joker, chair in front of the door to keep out the other police officers, much as you would expect from Jack Bauer on 24.

The traditional force of good is represented by D.A. Harvey Dent (an effective Aaron Eckhart) who is going after the mob but switches his efforts toward the Joker as the real threat becomes apparent. He is also dating the attractive and spunky Rachel Dawes (the always excellent, and lovely, Maggie Gyllenhaal, a great improvement over Katie Holmes from Batman Begins) who used to date Bruce. But the love triangle is a minor if interesting aspect of the story. The story’s major concern is how to deal with someone like the Joker, and the different pathways taken by Dent and Batman illustrate the major philosophical theme of this dark narrative.

There are plenty of CGI enhanced action scenes, but what sets them apartfrom the typical summer action film fare is the presence of Ledger’s Joker. His nonchalance, his character takes, even his mere presence, give the scenes more weight than one would expect, as well as an eerie humor that gives the character the sort of depth most villains don’t aspire to. I should say, as well, that the cast is solid all around including the dependable Michael Caine as father-figure Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman as Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox.

Mentioning Fox reminds me of an interesting line from the film. When asked by Bruce to track the Joker by using all the cell phones in Gotham, he responds by saying his job description doesn’t include spying on 30 million people. In the back of mind, I kept thinking there was someone who apparently does include this activity in his job description but, then, I concluded that was impossible in a civilized country. Of course, the fact that there is no “winner” at the end of The Dark Knight does challenge the traditional concept of civilization. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace. 152 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

MAMMA MIA!: Whether you place ABBA’s music several steps below bubble gum or about the same, the final effect is equally mind numbing. But the excessively bland sound of the Swedish pop group is probably the least of this film’s problems, although the fact I still can’t get “Dancing Queen” out of my head may indicate that I seriously underestimate the deadly insidiousness of the soundtrack.

Adapted from the very popular British West End stage production, themusical’s lame story is designed to make use of ABBA’s songs, which relentlessly assault you at every turn. In short, this is a “compilation musical” unlike, say, Oklahomaor Cabaret where the music is actually composed to support the story.

The actual story, set on a gorgeous Greek island, revolves around the impending wedding of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (a likeable enough Amanda Seyfried, TV’s Big Love) to Sky (Dominic Cooper). She has a major problem, though: she doesn’t know who her father is, having been raised only by her mother Donna (Meryl Streep). Having unearthed her mother’s diary from that fateful summer 20 years ago, she discovers that Donna slept with three guys in quick succession.

What’s a bride to do? Obviously, invite all three candidates to the wedding, a trio consisting of Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth). Happily for the viewer’s sanity, Donna also invites two old friends as well: Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), both of whom add a welcome touch to the film.

There follows much merriment accompanied by those wretched songs and some of the most uninspired choreography I ever seen in a major production. I will say, though, that the cast members throw themselves into the whole mess with great enthusiasm. So Streep really can’t move very artfully -- she can sing! Poor Brosnan can do neither. Hollywood has a history of doing musicals with people who can’t sing or dance very well. For me, the high point of the film was Baranski, a Broadway actor, who captured every scene she was in as the unabashedly sexy “older” woman. She’s funny and actually seems to know what a musical is all about.

Sure, my foot tapped a few times, I got a few laughs and I didn’t fall asleep. If that’s enough for you, and you don’t mind those tunes inside your head for days to come, then here’s your summer soufflé. Rated PG-13 for some sex-related comments. 108 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

 

Continuing

 

GET SMART.Maxwell Smart and his partner, 99, take on arch-villain Siegfried, out to brainwash and exploit Nobel Prize winners. Rated PG-13. 111 m. At the Broadway.

HANCOCK.Hard-living superhero who has fallen from grace gets help from a public relations pro. Rated PG-13. 93 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY.When the shit hits the fan, the rough and tough kitten-loving superhero from Hell saves the day. Rated PG-13. 120 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

INCREDIBLE HULK. Live action film features classic character from Marvel Comics’ series. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At The Movies.

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Intrepid archaeologist becomes entangled in Soviet plot to uncover secret behind mysterious Crystal Skulls. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At The Movies.

IRON MAN. Action/adventure flick based on Marvel’s iconic comic book super hero. Rated PG-13. 126 m. At The Movies.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.Adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel packs in comedy, fantasy, action and adventure. Rated PG. 93 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

KUNG FU PANDA. Po the Panda Bear lays down bamboo shoots, takes up martial arts. Rated PG. 92 m. At the The Movies.

MEET DAVE.Crew of tiny, humanesque aliens arrive on earth in a spaceship shaped like a man. Rated PG. 91 m. At The Movies.

SPACE CHIMPS.Slacker grandson of first chimp blasted into space joins other astro chimps for zany other-planetary adventure. Rated G. 81 m. At the Broadway.

WALL-E.Robot love/adventure story from the director of Finding Nemo.Rated G. 98 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

WANTED.Apathetic nobody turns into enforcer of justice with help of super hot babe. Rated R. 110 m. At the Broadway.

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