Note: Thanks to Jay Herzog for his literate but totally misguided reviews the past two weeks. (Just kidding, except for the literate part.) Also, apologies to my editor -- I really did think about going toSuperbadbut it was fourth in a list of four. I'll try to improve, honest.
Opening Friday, Aug. 24, is Mr. Bean's Holiday , the latest of Rowan Atkinson's comic capers as the title character. This time, Bean wins a trip to France that goes astray, resulting in general comic clown chaos. Rated PG for brief mild language. 100 m. At the Broadway.
Perhaps more to my taste, because of the cast if nothing else, is the comedy The Nanny Diaries , starring Scarlett Johansson as a poor college graduate who takes a position as a nanny to a posh family on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The parents, played by Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti, don't make her life easy. Rated PG-13 for language. 117 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
Balancing the comic offerings, Resurrecting the Champ stars Samuel L. Jackson as an ex-boxer now inhabiting skid row in Denver, with only his memories of once being ranked No. 3 in the world keeping him going. Discovered by a second-tier sportswriter (Josh Harnett) in search of the big story, the two find that they need each other. Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief language. 121 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
On the vengeance front, War stars Jason Statham as an FBI agent seeking revenge on the person who killed his partner and family. He suspects the legendary assassin Rogue, played by Jet Li. Bring your testosterone. Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, sexuality/nudity and language. 113 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
If your taste runs to documentaries involving cute animals, then perhaps Arctic Tale will be to your liking. The film documents two stories: the life cycle of a walrus and her calf along with a polar bear and her cubs. Look forward to some spectacular photography. Rated G. 100 m. At the Minor.
Finally, September Dawn is a potentially controversial film based on a real-life tragedy in Utah in 1857, wherein a group of 120 people in a wagon train are murdered by a group of fanatic Mormons. Jon Voight stars as Mormon Bishop Jacob Samuelson and Terence Stamp as Brigham Young. Rated R for violence. 120 m. At The Movies.
BECOMING JANE: I used to be one of the rare (only?) people in Humboldt County who was a member of JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America). I am a committed Jane Austen fan, and although the Austen Industry threatens to overwhelm the actual author, I still found myself enjoying this latest Masterpiece Theatre clone come to the big screen.
TV director Julian Jarrold clearly has a taste for this sort of material. He has directed adaptations of Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment for the small screen, but also the genial comedy Kinky Boots two years ago. There is nothing kinky in Becoming Jane , though. Screenwriters Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood have imagined a young, pre- Pride and Prejudice Austen who falls for wealthy bad boy Tom Lefroy (possibly the inspiration for Mr. Darcy), an obscure person who is mentioned in letters written by Jane to her sister Cassandra (played here by Anna Maxwell Martin). The film's plot will be familiar to anyone who has read P&P , although Jane herself is rather more daring in this story than her novel's heroine. Lefroy (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland ) is a clever seducer -- he begins his seduction of Jane by getting her to read Tom Jones . It turns out that, as in the novels, the more ironic the comments the lady makes, the more enamored she is of her target. Jane (Anne Hathaway) soon finds herself fatally attracted to Lefroy, much to the displeasure of many: her parents, Lefroy's powerful uncle, Judge Langlois (Ian Richardson in his final role; he died in February of this year) and Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith), whose overly-proper nephew Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox) wishes to marry Jane.
All of this may sound too familiar, but the cast is solid and the film nicely edited. The welcome surprise, though, is how good Hathaway is as Jane. Hathaway began her transition away from the Princess Diaries treacle with Brokeback Mountain and The Devil Wears Prada , and she solidifies her position as an adult actor here with a spirited portrayal of Jane. Happily for readers like myself, the real-life Austen, as in the film, never married. Becoming Jane is a very modest but genuine pleasure. Not that it will ever compete with Superbad , I hasten to add. Rated PG for brief nudity and mild language. 130 m. At the Broadway.
THE INVASION: No, viewers do not need another version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers . Nonetheless, there is something primal about the story -- losing one's identity and individuality is probably more disturbing to most Americans than being consumed by some giant ant. The original, and still best, 1956 film was widely read as a parable of the Cold War: democracy equals freedom and individuality, communism meant enslavement and sheep-like conformity, and it was out to get us. The Invasion , in addition to utilizing the basic plot of the original screenplay, pays homage to the original in several specific ways.
The film begins with a flash-forward, where we see Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) desperately searching a looted pharmacy for anti-sleep drugs. There is also a scene where a young woman desperately seeks help by trying to stop cars, whose drivers ignore her pleas. And the speech by Carol's ex-husband Tucker (Jeremy Northam) about the joys of no emotion sounded very close to my memory of the same speech in the 1956 film. The main difference in German director Oliver Hirschbiegel's new take on the story is that Carol is now the lead character, rather than the male doctor as in the original, and Carol is not just some divorced former flame of the lead but a psychiatrist whose boyfriend, Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), is now a supporting role. Since Carol calls herself a "postmodern feminist," that may be one reason for the gender shift, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that the ever-comely and very tall Kidman is in the film.
Politically, there is an interesting dichotomy. When the pod people are in charge, Bush and Chavez become friends, the Shi'a and Sunni cozy up to each other, and the blue and red states become a cooperating purple. When humans are in charge, killing and discord are the order of the day. Make what you will of that. If you go to this film, just concentrate on Kidman and the special effects and turn off your brain. Or wish you were at Superbad . PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and terror. 103 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
*TALK TO ME:Talk to Me is a biopic about 1960s radio show talk host Petey Greene, here portrayed by an excellent Don Cheadle. The story is told chronologically, beginning in 1966 when Petey is serving a sentence for armed robbery. He meets up-and-coming radio manager Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor: Kinky Boots,Children of Men* ) of D.C. AM R&B station WOL, as Dewey's brother is serving time in the same prison. Petey, who is cutting his radio teeth as the prison disc jockey, doesn't impress Dewey, but as it transpires, their fates will be intertwined.
The film covers the highlights of Petey's meteoric rise as the station's most popular DJ, ending with his early death in 1984 from cancer. In short, the film follows the standard biopic arc. Since Petey's early career was when he was most successful, the film gives short shrift to the later part of his life. All of this is played against the social unrest of the late '60s and the '70s. In fact, the film suggests that Petey became famous when he went on the air to announce the death of Martin Luther King, and also implies that his broadcasts during this period helped to calm the city.
As usual, the writers, realizing the limitations of the form, attempt to develop a narrative that deepens the surface biographical facts, and in focusing the story on the relationship between Petey and Dewey they mostly succeed. While Ejiofor is very good, as is Taraji P. Henson ( Hustle & Flow ) as Petey's flashy and assertive girlfriend, this is Cheadle's film. His subtle and beautifully modulated and developed performance lifts Talk to Me well above the standard biopic. He is one of the best actors working today. Rated R for pervasive language and some sexual content. 128 m. At the Minor.
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Latest in the series of action films for thinking adults. Jason Bourne (M. Damon) returns to America to seek out the covert ops baddies who scrambled his brain. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway, Minor, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
DADDY DAY CAMP. Inept group of fathers, led by C. Gooding Jr., open summer camp for much smarter kids. Hilarity ensues. Rated PG. 89 m. At The Movies and the Fortuna.
HAIRSPRAY. Movie based on Broadway show based on movie. J. Travolta, Q. Latifah, C. Walken reinterpret the John Waters classic, adding singing and dancing and such. Rated PG. 123 m. At The Movies.
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: Rebel rebel -- in round five of the series, Harry and the gang buck government orders and found their own secret society, so as to better combat Voldemort, the big baddie. Rated PG-13. 148 m. At the Broadway.
HOT ROD. Generic manchild sports film from the Saturday Night Live stable, this time starring A. Samberg. Rated PG-13. 88 m. At The Movies.
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY. Madly-in-love gay couple (A. Sandler, K. James) pretend to be New York City firemen. Or maybe it's the other way around. Rated PG-13. 125 m. At The Movies and the Fortuna.
THE LAST LEGION: The last of the Roman emperors and his entourage embark on danger-laden escape from the conquering Goths, facing down treachery at every turn. With C. Firth, B. Kingsley. Rated PG-13. 101 m. At The Movies, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD: In the latest and perhaps last installment of B. Willis' "Die Hard" franchise, there's a bunch of computer stuff that's gonna asplode the world. Rated PG-13. 130 m. At The Movies.
NO RESERVATIONS. Uptight career woman (C. Zeta-Jones), a chef, is alternately frustrated at and aroused by her dude-ish new assistant (A. Eckhart). Rated PG. 104 m. At The Movies and the Fortuna.
RATATOUILLE: Pixar alert! An animated Parisian rat with a preternatural talent in the kitchen dreams of earning his Michelin star. Rated G. 120 m. At The Movies.
RUSH HOUR 3: Chan. Tucker. Polanski. Wacky crime-fighting duo take the show on the road to Paris. Rated PG-13. 88 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE. Gentle-hearted animated buffoon accidentally imperils the world. Large cast of supporting characters. Rated PG-13. 87 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
STARDUST: Winsome fantasy in which a young man travels to a magical word, seeking a fallen star that will capture the heart of his true love. With C. Danes, M. Pfeiffer, R. Gervais and R. Freakin' De Niro. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
SUPERBAD. The J. Apatow juggernaut continues. Two awkward teen boys -- one crude, one shy -- set out to excise their boyhood in one night of partying. With M. Cera. Rated R. 113 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
TRANSFORMERS: Acclaimed auteur Michael Bay's masterpiece. A poignant, nostalgic ode to '80s-era Saturday morning cartoons. Also, a bunch of shapeshifting robots blow each other up. Rated PG-13. 154 m. At The Movies.
UNDERDOG. In live-action remake of classic cartoon, superpowered beagle is coming here to save the day. Rated PG. 84 m. At The Movies.