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Education, 1961 

Plus: Jokey Travolta/Rhys Meyers espionage goof equals intelligence failure

Previews

Based on the Christopher Isherwood novel, A Single Man is the story of a gay college professor trying to deal with the death of his long-time partner. With Oscar nominee Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode. Rated R for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content. 99m. At the Minor.

Crazy Heart features Jeff Bridges as over-the-hill alcoholic country singer Bad Blake -- supposedly a combination of Waylon Jenings, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard -- who embarks on a comeback after meeting a young journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Bridges and Gyllenhaal both nailed Oscar nominations. Rated R for language and brief sexuality. 112m. At the Minor.

The concept movie Valentine's Day consists of intertwining romantic stories that occur over Valentine's Day. The A-list cast includes Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Julia Roberts and Taylor Swift. I'm already dazzled. Rated PG-13 for some sexual material and brief partial nudity. 125m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Based on the fantasy novel by Rick Riordan, Perry Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is about a teenager who discovers he's the descendant of a Greek god and is caught up in an on-going battle. Aren't we all? Rated PG. 119m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Starring Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Geraldine Chaplin, The Wolfman is a remake of the 1941 film. Is nothing sacred? Rated R for bloody horror violence and gore. 125m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Reviews

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE: The opening 10 minutes or so of From Paris with Love are not without interest. We follow James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who is so good as Henry VIII in Showtime's The Tudors), a gofer in the U.S. Ambassador's office, as he performs tasks for his boss. His job appears to involve planting bugs and carrying a number of different license plates so the car he uses cannot be traced to the ambassador. He also has a very attractive girlfriend named Caroline (Polish born model/actress Kasia Smutniak) who, in their opening scene together, proposes to him with her father's ring.

None of the various scenes particularly make sense, but I was willing to trust that they would actually become part of a coherent plot as the film went on. Then Travolta appears, playing Special Agent Charlie Wax, who specializes in cleaning up situations in off-the-book ways, and I quickly realized that plot and coherence were not qualities this film cared about.

With Wax's entry, the bodies pile up non-stop until the end, and actually that's what the film is all about. Clearly, we are meant to take this as a tongue-in-cheek send up of James Bond-type movies. The film's level of humor is typified by Wax. After shooting a bunch of Chinese drug dealers, he is asked how many more there are: "About a billion at last census."

Sadly, once Travolta starts doing his thing, Rhys Meyers is reduced to dusting himself off and playing straight man for Travolta. He does get his moment at the film's climax, but that's too little, too late.

If you enjoy the jokey tone here, you will probably have a good time. But for me, if a director is going to satirize Bond, at least he could give me a "Bond girl." Smutniak just doesn't hack it. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality. 92m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

AN EDUCATION: The opening images of An Education quickly and sharply establish the situation that Jenny (Carey Mulligan), an almost 17-year-old London prep school student, finds herself in. A montage of her classes includes deportment, cooking and bored, clueless students studying literature. At home, her father Jack (the versatile Alfred Molina) seems obsessed with Jenny getting into Oxford.

It's 1961, and Jenny dreams of all things French and therefore daring. It's no wonder, then, that she is open to the charms of the older, sophisticated David (an excellent Peter Sarsgaard). Perceptively directed by Danish filmmaker (and Dogme 95 member) Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners), and working from a script by Nick Hornby that was based on an early version of a memoir by London Times journalist Lynn Barber, An Education is affecting and enlightening.

From the first meeting between David and Jenny -- he offers her cello a ride home in the rain) -- there is no doubt about the outcome of the unequal relationship, but it's equally clear that Jenny is unable to resist despite her intelligence. As well, David is clever enough to seduce her parents. ("You didn't tell me you had a sister," he says when meeting her mother).

Even after Jenny discovers that David and his friends Danny and Helen (nicely played by Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike) are less charming than seedy, her education must come to its natural conclusion. Along the way, the film also exposes the flaws in both her formal education and that delivered by her parents.

As a young middle class woman in 1961, Jenny's future education at Oxford gives her two choices: teaching or civil service. Her folks see little besides their own disappointments in life, hoping to correct them with their daughter.

As usual, Hornby's script delivers humor without sacrificing the underlying seriousness, and with no sentimentalizing. Jenny may have learned a lesson during this period of her life, but we are never sure exactly what that lesson was. But she goes on with her life, aided ironically by the literature teacher (Olivia Williams) she scorned, and that's enough.

An Education is what filmmaking should be about, and Carey Mulligan richly deserves her Oscar nomination for this beautifully nuanced performance. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking. 95m. At the Minor.

DEAR JOHN: It is no surprise that Dear John is a weepie. Besides the title, it is based on the novel of the same name by lachrymose master Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook; Message in a Bottle; Nights in Rodanthe).

The story contains multiple connected threads: a young romance, two father-son stories and the aftermath of 9/11 and that event's effect on people's lives. The romance involves college student Savannah (an excellent Amanda Seyfried), home on spring break, and on-leave Sgt. John Tyree (a solid Channing Tatum, Public Enemy). They fall in love during their two weeks together. She promises to wait, and they exchange letters. We know how this usually works out. At any rate, the attack on the Twin Towers occurs while he is deployed, so he extends his tour.

John was raised by his father (the always effective Richard Jenkins) after his wife split, and appears to suffer from mild autism. Also raising an autistic son is Savannah's neighbor, Tim (Henry Thomas), whose wife has likewise departed, although he says she's on vacation. After 9/11, things fall apart and the various relationships all go through a change.

Underneath the layer of sentimentality are real feelings, which director and cast work hard to reveal. I just as lief choose to cry without being asked to, but a lot of people will find this film speaks to them. The ending was too pat, though. It wasn't earned. Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence. 105m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Continuing

ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL. Alvin and the gang meet their female rivals, the Chipettes. Watch the fur fly! Rated PG. 88m. At the Broadway.

AVATAR. Military forces attempt to control and exploit a region and its people, who they know little about. Rated PG-13. 162m. At the Broadway (3D), Fortuna (3D) and Mill Creek.

THE BLIND SIDE. A homeless African-American youth is taken in by a well-to-do white family that helps him realize his football potential. Rated PG-13. 126m. At the Broadway.

THE BOOK OF ELI. Denzel Washington possesses the one thing that will save civilization. Rated R. 118m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

EDGE OF DARKNESS. A homicide detective investigates the death of his daughter and finds more than he wanted to know. Rated R. 117m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

IT'S COMPLICATED. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play divorcees who reignite the flame after 10 years apart. Rated R. 118m. At the Broadway.

LEGION. God is losing faith in humanity, leaving fallen archangel Michael to try and protect a young waitress who might be pregnant with the second coming of Christ. Rated R. 100m. At the Broadway.

THE LOVELY BONES. A young girl is murdered but makes sure to watch over her family and her killer from heaven. At the Broadway and Fortuna. Rated PG-13. 135m. At the Broadway.

THE ROAD. Based on the book by Cormac McCarthy. Got Apocalypse? Rated R. 111m. At the Minor.

TOOTH FAIRY. Dwayne "don't call me The Rock" Johnson plays a tough-as-nails hockey player who, after discouraging a young child, is forced to perform the duties of the actual tooth fairy as punishment. Rated PG. 101m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

WHEN IN ROME. Didn't your parents ever teach you not to steal coins from the Fountain of Love? Rated PG-13. 91m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

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