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Plus: Step Up pleases, but Persepolis is the real treat

click to enlarge Persepolis
  • Persepolis

Previews

Finally arriving locally on Friday, Feb. 22, is the Mexican ghost story The Orphanage , a first feature from Juan Antonio Bayona wherein Laura (Belén Rueda) purchases her childhood home to open an orphanage only to discover that her son's imaginary friend is anything but benign. In Spanish with English subtitles. Rated R for some disturbing images. 110 m. At the Minor.

In what I assume is a nod to Rashomon, Vantage Point , starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt, relates a terrorist attack through eight points of view. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language. 100 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Charlie Bartlett , a feature debut from John Poll, concerns a rebellious rich high school student (Anton Yelchin, Alpha Dog) who dispenses pharmaceuticals in a public school after being kicked out of a prep school for manufacturing fake Ids. Co-starring Robert Downey Jr. and Hope Davis. Rated R for language, drug content and brief nudity. 106 m. At the Broadway.

Larry the Cable Guy is featured in Witless Protection , which appears to be a witless comedy about a small town sheriff who confuses witness protection for kidnapping. Having a few wits left, I'm skipping this one. Rated PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor. 99 m. At the Broadway.

Reviews

STEP UP 2 THE STREETS: Dissing Step Up 2 the Streets is probably a bit like kicking Lassie. The film and the young performers try so hard to be likeable that I just can't bring myself to be nasty.

Touchstone/Disney had a modest success with 2006's Step Up, and viewers who enjoyed that film will no doubt like this one as well since what we have here is a clone. The setting, the streets of Baltimore and the Maryland School of the Arts, as well as the basic narrative, remain the same. What has changed are the characters, including a switch from a young male protagonist to a young female.

Andie (relative newcomer Briana Evigan), being raised by her deceased mother's best friend Sarah (The Wire's Sonja Sohn), is threatened by exile to Texas because she prefers street dancing to school attendance. Her last hope is success at the MSA, whose conservative director scorns street dancing.

As she makes new friends at the school she alienates her old street gang. Throw in the really cute MSA student Chase (Robert Hoffman) as a love interest, the usual high school jealousies and competitions and a dance challenge finale between the MSA students and the street dancers, and you pretty much have the film.

But forget the narrative clichés that interrupt the dance numbers and enjoy some really talented young dancers. The finale is effective and may even be a slight homage to dancing in the rain. Or maybe I've seen too many films. If the guy sitting near me whose girlfriend dragged him to the film could sit through it, so can you. Of course, we all had to put up with the incredibly obnoxious tweeners and pre-tweeners that unfortunately attended the same screening. So much for parental guidance. Rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material and brief violence. 107 m. At the Movies and Mill Creek.

DEFINITELY, MAYBE: Definitely, Maybe, happily, makes a serious and mostly successful attempt to break the trite mold of Hollywood romantic comedies, resulting in a film that has a much more mature view of relationships than the normal romantic crap such as 27 Dresses.

The protagonist Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds, Smokin' Aces) is on the verge of divorce and when he picks up his daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) at school, where she has just been subjected to sex-ed day, she pesters her father for details about his courtship of her mother. Will responds by creating a story, with names changed, about the three major women in his life. Most of the story, then, is a flashback to before Maya was born, interrupted occasionally by Maya's questions or comments. Maya, along with the viewer, has to guess which of the three is her mother.

The candidates consist, first, of Emily (Elizabeth Banks), Will's sweetheart in Madison, Wisc. Their romance takes a turn when Will decides to move to Manhattan to work on the first Bill Clinton campaign, but she shows up years later to possibly rekindle the snuffed flame.

Then there's Emily's old college roommate Summer (Rachel Weisz), who is witty, bright and sexy. But she's a reporter and when she trashes a candidate Will's firm is supporting it becomes apparent that politics and romance don't make good bedfellows.

Finally, there is young, sarcastic April (Isla Fisher, I Heart Huckabees; Wedding Crashers) who also works for the Clinton campaign but is scornful of politics and politicians. Will and April become close friends, but can they bridge the gap to romance?

Will does not sugarcoat his own failings and bad behavior, and his relationships have the ring of authenticity. The observant viewer might get a clue when one of the characters uses "definitely, maybe" in a line, but the clue may not lead where you expect.

The only traditional happy romantic comedy aspect of the story occurs in the final sequence. As a result, this film may disappoint fans of the genre, but it pleased me. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including some frank dialog, language and smoking. 121 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

JUMPER: February is turning into a month where really lousy films are competing for worst-of-the-year honors. Following last week's Fool's Gold, the latest contender is the completely flat, poorly acted and barely written Jumper. Allegedly based on the novel by Steven Gould, this sci-fi "thriller" involves teleportation. Viewers who mistakenly wander into a screening may wish they, too, had this ability.

Protagonist David Rice (a wooden Hayden Christensen) discovers in high school (here played by Max Thieriot) that he can teleport himself to any location he can envision. He uses this ability to great affect by robbing banks, and eventually seeks out his old would-be high school girlfriend Millie (a poorly used Rachel Bilson from The O.C.) to impress her with his new wealth.

Unfortunately for David and those people he knows, there is another group, led by sadist Roland (an incredibly bad and ridiculous looking Samuel L. Jackson, who should return his paycheck), who is out to kill the jumpers because "only God should have that ability."

Diane Lane plays David's mother; happily for her she's barely in the film. The only interesting thing in this stinker is British actor Jamie Bell who gives his character Griffin the sort of edge this film could have sorely used more of.

I sat through the film so I could write a review. My partner Claudia left about a fourth of the way in. She's smarter than me. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some language and brief sexuality. 98 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

PERSEPOLIS: Persepolis, nominated this year for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, tells an affecting, complex story involving politics and family dynamics in a deceptively simple fashion.

The movie is based on the graphic memoir by Marjane Satrapi (who also directs). Satrapi grew up in Tehran in a family that was involved in socialist movements during the Shah's reign. The story covers the period from the Shah's fall through the early years of Khomeini's regime and the Iraq/Iran war.

We follow Marjane's (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) coming-of-age initially in Iran, then at age 14 when she is sent to Vienna where she becomes a woman, and finally back in Iran where in college she fully develops her feminist sensibilities in the midst of a bad marriage to Reza that lasts for a year. We last see Marjane in her 20s where, having achieved an M.A., she leaves for France, where she currently lives.

But this bare-bones summary does nothing to convey the actual story: the effect on individuals, including families, of repressive regimes and the spirit that allows some people to persist and blossom in the midst of the most dire circumstances.

The moral center of the film is Marjane's grandmother (voiced by Danielle Darrieux), who reminds Marjane at key moments that without integrity, all else is lost. Marjane's mother is voiced by Catherine Deneuve, who is Chiara Mastroianni's real-life mother from her relationship with the Italian actor.

The voices of the three French actresses are beautifully effective, as are the poetic graphics that are used to depict the story. Marjane's dilemma is that she must give up her roots to attain her freedom. The film serves to remind us, as well, that decisions made by political leaders, including those in this country, have an unseen but very real effect on individuals, and that effect is often deleterious.

Persepolis makes me realize that I should pay more attention to the graphic books section of the bookstore. In French, English, German and Persian with English subtitles. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including violent images, sexual references, language and brief drug content. 105 m. At the Broadway and the Minor.

Continuing

27 DRESSES. Jane, an idealistic, romantic and selfless woman, re-examines her life when her little sister usurps her love interest. Rated PG-13. 111 m. At The Movies.

ATONEMENT. Dramatic British tale, set in 1935, of deceit and love, of wealth and privilege, based on novel by Ian McEwan. Rated R. 123 m. At the Broadway.

BUCKET LIST. A corporate billionaire and a working class mechanic, who have developed a strong bond while sharing a hospital room, embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Rated PG-13. 97 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY. Jean-Dominique Bauby, an editor-in-chief of French Elle, overcomes debilitating stroke to achieve a life without boundaries. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway

EYE. A concert violinist, blind since childhood, undergoes surgery to restore her sight, and then starts to become haunted by disturbing images. Rated PG-13. 97 m. At The Movies.

FOOL'S GOLD. Modern-day treasure hunter alienates his family by pursuing gold lost at sea, but regains allies upon discovery of a vital clue to treasure's locale. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

HANNAH MONTANA AND MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT TOUR. Miley Cyrus, the teen singing sensation, performs as a solo artist and as her TV character, Hannah Montana. Rated G. 100 m. At Fortuna.

JUNO. An intelligent teen, Juno, deals with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy by seeking out the perfect set of parents to adopt her unborn child. Rated PG-13. 96 m. At the Broadway, The Minor and Mill Creek.

MEET THE SPARTANS. Spoof movie features the heroic Leonidas, armed with nothing but leather underwear and a cape, commanding a Spartan force. Rated PG-13. 84 m. At The Movies.

NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS. A man follows an international chain of clues to prove his great-grandfather's innocence when a page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth surfaces implicating his ancestor in Abraham Lincoln's death. Rated PG. 124 m. At The Movies.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Coen Brothers' adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy touches on themes as varied as the Bible and this morning's headlines. Rated R. 123 m. At The Movies.

RAMBO. Rambo returns to the big screen in grisly, violent tale written, directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone. Rated R. 93 m. At The Movies.

SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES. The Grace family moves into the Spiderwick estate, the home of a dead ancestor, and discovers the evil creatures that already reside there. Rated PG. 96 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Epic set in Cali's turn of the century oil boom chronicles a down-and-out silver miner's rise into a self-made oil tycoon. Rated R. 158 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.

U2 3D. Concert film of rock band as they trek through Latin American countries on the "Vertigo" tour. Rated G. 85 m. At Fortuna.

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