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Disney's Holiday Treat 

Plus: Fat Braugher is one of the acting world's great tragedies

Previews

There may only be two new openings on Friday, Nov. 30, but happily one of them is No Country for Old Men, based on the dark novel by Cormac McCarthy and adapted and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. With a cast that includes Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson in a story by one of my favorite contemporary novelists and direction from the Coens, who have never made a film I didn't enjoy, this is as close to a no-miss film as I can imagine. The story involves a hunter (Brolin) who finds $2 million in cash and some heroin in West Texas and a totally evil man (Bardem) who leaves a wake of dead bodies and destruction on his way to who knows where. A Charlie pick of the year. Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language. 132 m. At the Broadway.

Also opening is the thriller Awake, about a surgery patient (Hayden Christensen) who remains awake during his operation when something goes wrong with the anesthesia. Since he is paralyzed, his troubled wife (Jessica Alba) must make some tough decisions. The film is a first feature from writer/director Joby Harold, and co-stars Lena Olin and Terrence Howard. It's always good to see Olin. Rated R for language, an intense disturbing situation and brief drug use. 94 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Reviews

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL: Lars and the Real Girl is not a great film but it has imagination and inventiveness, two qualities sorely lacking in most of this fall's major releases.

No one would ever mistake this indie feature for a major release. Its offbeat subject matter, which teeters between comedy and seriousness, and the excellent non-flashy acting alone would disqualify it from any Oscar consideration.

The focus of the story is Lars (a spot-on, as usual, Ryan Gosling) who has somehow achieved chronological adulthood without really traversing the passage to "manhood." Although he co-owns his deceased parent's house with his older brother Gus (Paul Schneider, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford), he lives alone in the garage and has to be tackled in the driveway by Gus' wife Karin (a very good Emily Mortimer, Dear Frankie; Match Point) in order to come to the house for dinner, a meal he barely touches and from which he escapes quickly.

At work, he studiously avoids the advances of co-worker Margo (an excellent Kelli Garner, The Aviator). Salvation of sorts comes in the form of a mail-order life-size anatomically correct doll that he names Bianca. With the arrival of Bianca, Lars' social life blossoms and he seems oblivious to the thunderstruck reactions of Gus and Karin and most of the inhabitants of the rest of the small unnamed but probably Upper Midwestern town. Gradually, however, the townspeople accept Bianca, raising the somewhat obvious question of who exactly is the "real girl." Lars takes Bianca to doctor/therapist Dagmar (the always excellent Patricia Clarkson), who realizes that "treating" Bianca is actually the way to relate to Lars, and Bianca begins to "volunteer" at various events around town.

In his first feature film, director Craig Gillespie nicely manipulates viewers by only gradually supplanting the comic aspects with more serious issues. While the film suggests that Lars' mother's death during childbirth may be a factor in his state of mind, the story is more interested in dealing with Lars as he is rather than the why.

The rite of passage isn't the same for everyone, and sometimes the path to the real girl takes unusual turns. The film also reminds the viewer that small towns can sometimes act like a warmly supportive family. This film is worth a visit. Rated PG-13 for some sex-related content. 116 m. At the Minor.

ENCHANTED: Readers who know how I feel about most Disney films may be surprised by this review of Disney's holiday entry, Enchanted. The opening sequence nicely sets the tone, as we are thrust into a gentle animated send-up of many of the stereotypes of a Disney fairytale film, complete with a Wicked Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), a handsome if terminally clueless Prince Edward (James Marsden, Superman Returns; Hairspray), a beautiful maiden named Giselle (a wonderful, superb Amy Adams, Junebug), cute forest creatures and the usual bland songs.

In this tale, though, in order to prevent Edward from marrying Giselle and thereby losing her power, Narissa sends Giselle through a wormhole where she ends up under a sewer cover in the middle of Times Square, where she is now a "real" person. She quickly discover that the fairytale rules of love no longer apply, and while awaiting rescue by her prince she is taken under the wing of divorce attorney and single father Robert (Patrick Dempsey, Freedom Writers) and his adorable daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey), a development that causes major problems with his high-powered fiancée Nancy (Idina Menzel, Rent; Ask the Dust).

Okay, there's no mystery to how the story turns out, but the film puts a few nice twists in this fairytale narrative that is an amalgam of several traditional tales, particularly Snow White and Cinderella, with a touch of King Kong.

Plus, this Disney film has something no previous one did: the incredible Amy Adams, who turns in a completely fetching, fully realized performance well beyond what one expects from this genre. Throw in some glitzy, well-executed choreography and some retro post-feminist sensibilities (it turns out that modern, strong, New York women secretly long for "straightforward, totally un-ironic declarations of love"), and a dual wedding, one in Manhattan and one back in the fairytale world where, in both cases, the women bend the men over for the wedding kiss, and you have a thoroughly entertaining family film. A rare kudos to Disney from me. Rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo. 117 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE MIST:Based on the novella by Stephen King, The Mist is a modest effort, neither the best nor worst horror film I've seen. The setup, as is often the case, is better than the subsequent narrative development of it.

Set in a small New England town (shot in Shreveport, La.), a major storm knocks out the power and phone service shortly into the story. Most of the action takes place inside the town grocery store where a group of people happens to be, including protagonist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble).

A bloodied man stumbles into the store claiming that something is out there (isn't there always?). His entrance is followed closely by the arrival of the mist, and when a nasty looking tentacle eats a young stock boy when he unwisely ventures outside, we quickly have a story where a cross section of society is trapped inside a closed space. At least there's plenty to eat.

Unlike the recent low-budget film Right At Your Door, though, where an enclosed space is used to develop a few characters more fully, The Mist depends on stereotypes that are fixed and unchanging. Much of the film involves people screaming but not doing anything except staring with what I take to be a horrified expression. As they are picked off, there is the usual discussion about a course of action.

An increasingly heavy Andre Braugher makes an appearance as David's lawyer neighbor Brent, and his acting talent seems to have declined as his weight has increased. Marcia Gay Harden is adequate as the standard-issue fanatic, fundamentalist Christian.

I guess I enjoyed the fact that the fundamentalists were the real evil creatures (along with usual suspect, the military), and the film has a trademark King ironic ending that, however, is somewhat telegraphed. Horror fans should expect better, and maybe I should have gone to Hitman.

I do want to give special thanks, though, to the adult who bought tickets for a group of young children ranging from 3 up and deposited them in the theatre where they giggled at every swear word and spurt of blood. I guess buying a ticket constitutes "accompanied by an adult." Rated R for violence, terror and gore, and language. 137 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Continuing

3:10 TO YUMA: Remake of the 1957 Western that made "yuma" universal Cuban slang for "America." Stars R. Crowe, C. Bale. Rated R. 117 m. At The Movies.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.Love story set in the 1960s amid war protests, mind exploration and rock 'n' roll.Rated PG-13. 134 m. At the Minor and The Movies.

AMERICAN GANGSTER.True, juggernaut success story of cult crime hero from the streets of 1970s Harlem. Rated R. 157 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

AUGUST RUSH.A street musician in New York that was orphaned by circumstance, August Rush uses his talents to find the parents from whom he was separated at birth. Rated PG. 113 m. At the Broadway.

BEE MOVIE.A bee, disillusioned with the prospect of never-ending honey collection, breaks bee rules and talks to a human. Rated PG. 91 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

BEOWULF.The mighty warrior Beowulf slays the demon Grendel and incurs the wrath of its monstrous yet seductive mother, in a conflict that transforms king into legend. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

DAN IN REAL LIFE.Advice columnist is expert on relationships, but struggles to succeed as brother, son and single parent. RatedPG-13. 98 m. At The Movies and Fortuna.

DARJEELING LIMITED.Three brothers, bonding on a train trip across India, become stranded in the middle of the desert. Rated R. 91 m. At the Minor and The Movies.

FRED CLAUS.Saint Nick's rabble-rousing big brother Fred jeopardizes the jolliest holiday of the year, Christmas. Rated PG. 116 m. At Fortuna, the Broadway and Mill Creek.

GAME PLAN. Superstar quarterback (T. Rock) discovers he has a daughter. Rated PG. 110 m. At The Movies.

HITMAN.Agent 47, a professional assassin, gets caught up in a political takeover and is pursued across Eastern Europe by Interpol and the Russian Military. Rated R. 100 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

INTO THE WILD. College grad abandons his material possessions then hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wild. Rated R. 149 m. At the Minor.

LIONS FOR LAMBS.The stories of four Americans during wartime intersect as arguments, memories and bullets fly. Rated R. 92 m. At The Movies.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA.Epic love story of a man, in 20th century South America, who waits over 50 years for the love of his life. Rated R. 138 m. At the Broadway.

MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM.Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is a strange, fantastic and magical toy store where everything comes to life. Rated G. 94 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THIS CHRISTMAS.The Whitfield family reunites for Christmas with emotional baggage in tow. Rated PG. 119 m. At the Broadway.

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