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Shyamalan: A Ding-Dong 

M. Night makes the most boring movie of the year. Plus: Twilight!

Previews

The summer of 3-D continues with Despicable Me, a CGI cartoon based on a story idea from a Spanish animator, written by an American, rendered and directed by French animators. The despicable one is Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, an evil genius with many minions (cute ones) and a scheme to steal the moon. When part of that plan leads to adopting three orphan sisters (also cute) ... well, let's just say plans change. Rated PG for rude humor and mild action. Opens Friday at Fortuna, Mill Creek and the Broadway (in 3D).

Predators is another sequel to Predator, the 1987 tale of the hunt for a bloodthirsty alien. Robert Rodriguez serves as producer with Hungarian Nimród Antal directing. Adrien Brody leads a group of mercenaries (including Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace) dropped on the Predators' home planet. Who's being hunted this time? Rated R, you can guess why. Opens Friday at the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Solitary Man has Michael Douglas as the solitary car dealer Ben, who's estranged from his wife (Susan Sarandon) and generally having a hard time. Co-writers/directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien also wrote Rounders and Ocean's Thirteen, which may explain why Steven Soderbergh produced. Rated R for language and some sexual content. At the Minor.

The Arcata Theatre Lounge seems to have settled on cult and pop classics to draw in summer viewers. Friday they offer the unrated version of Team America: World Police, a crass send-up of action movies and world politics written by South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone and done with marionettes.

Saturday, it's a true cult classic (and one of my faves) Repo Man. The directorial debut of Alex Cox is a punk rock sci-fi tale of aliens and car repossession with Emilio Estevez as Otto, a young punk learning the repo ropes from old timer Bud (Harry Dean Stanton).

Sunday, take a theme park ride with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a rollicking high seas adventure directed by Gore Verbinski, with Johnny Depp perfectly cast as the pirate Captain Jack Sparrow.

Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza night goes Italian with a pair of ’60s sword-and-sandals flicks: Son of Hercules: The Land of Darkness and Colossus and the Amazon Queen. Do Roman gods qualify as sci-fi?

-- Bob Doran

Reviews

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE. Graduation is approaching for Bella and her classmates, and so are final exams. Fortuitously, Robert Frost is on the study list, which gives Bella a chance to quote "Fire and Ice" in its brief entirety near the beginning of Eclipse while Edward is trying to distract her from her academic pursuits.

The Frost citation acts as a narrative metaphor for this third installment of Stephenie Meyer's four-book series about shape shifters, vampires and the young woman who loves them. After all, Bella seems to be in the middle of the fiery protestations of love from the well-developed bare-chested Jacob and the marriage proposal from the icy, pallid Edward. What's a high school senior to do? Well, as viewers discover from a speech by Bella near the end of the film and as readers of the final book already know, the fire/ice choice is a false dichotomy. Even Frost allows that although he may prefer fire, ice will serve the purpose as well.

After suffering through the endless teen angst that seemed to overwhelm Bella in New Moon, I looked forward to a more active Bella here. So why does she still look so depressed? Could it be from the pressures of a premature marriage proposal from Edward, who seems equally unhappy, along with the seemingly unwanted kiss from the ever-confident and ever-shirtless Jacob? Is it because she is suppressing her true desires? Or is she having second thoughts about a future with no beating heart?

Sorrowfully, I am finding empathy with Bella hard to come by. With the exception of a few possible hints of lust, Bella's face seems mask-like in its fixed expression of impending doom. And, frankly, Jacob's shirtless act is becoming tedious. The film's funniest line actually comes from Edward who, when dropping Bella off to be protected by Jacob, asks her, "Doesn't he own a shirt?"

Viewers also have Edward to thank for upholding traditional family values. When the virginal Bella makes clear her desire to have sex, Edward launches into a story about old-fashioned courtship. Boy, does he know how to snip the blooming lust bud. Meanwhile, poor Jacob has trouble encouraging the bloom.

Other than the love triangle, the film's plot centers on a battle between a group of vampire newbies set on destroying the Cullen clan and killing Bella, and the combined forces of the Cullens and the werewolves who form a temporary alliance. There are also some interesting flashback scenes that fill in some of the back-story of the main characters.

Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Rachelle Lefevre as the revenge-bent Victoria, is a nice addition, and the brief appearance of Dakota Fanning as Jane at film's end is welcome. Clearly, she will return. But when I see Kristen Stewart and Anna Kendrick -- who, as Bella's friend Jessica, has a brief scene delivering the valedictorian speech at graduation -- all I can think of was how good they were in, respectively, The Runaways and Up in the Air.

Eclipse was more enjoyable for this viewer than New Moon, but to be truthful, I'm really looking forward to the third installment of this season's True Blood.

At any rate, I'd like to leave readers with the following, with apologies to Tex Ritter and the original song's writers:

Oh to be torn between wolves and vampires

Supposin' I lose my bare-chested suitor

Look at those Volturi skulking around

Here in Bella Land

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality. 124m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

THE LAST AIRBENDER. M. Night Shyamalan is a bit of a puzzle as a director. In his best work, such as The Sixth Sense and Signs, he has given viewers some of the more effective films in the last two decades. Even in films that are less consistently effective (The Village; Lady in the Water) he can still produce chilling moments.

One of the hallmarks of his films is the withholding of essential information. He gives the viewer what seems like a coherent narrative only to undermine the entire edifice with a final twist. While acting doesn't seem to be a major concern for Shyamalan -- Bruce Willis' strong performance in The Sixth Sense is a notable exception -- his films are marked by exquisite lighting and compositions.

Unhappily, his talents seem totally unsuited to The Last Airbender, a fantasy film based on the first season of the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender (which I have not seen). In fact, this is the most tedious film I have had the misfortune to sit through in quite a while.

The premise doesn't sound tedious. It seems the 12-year-old Airbender Aang (Noah Ringer) fled his people 100 years ago out of fear of being the Avatar, who can control all the four elements, and has been frozen ever since. Discovered by young Waterbender Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her older brother, he finds himself hunted by Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) and his exiled son Zuko (Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire).

Can Aang learn how to control the other elements and save the world from being conquered by the Fire Nation? Sadly, I didn't care. The acting is incredibly stilted, the dialogue wooden and the back-story exposition scenes mind-numbingly boring. The plethora of martial arts action scenes seemed designed to justify the 3-D version. The Last Airbender is apparently the first of a projected trilogy. The studio might consider a different director. Rated PG for fantasy action violence. 103m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna (in 3D.)

Continuing

A-TEAM. I pity the foo' that doesn't see this updated version of the ’80s action TV show. Rated PG-13. 117m. At the Broadway.

GROWN UPS. Adam Sandler reunites with childhood friends to celebrate maturity... not! Rated PG-13. 113m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

KARATE KID. Witness the benefits of being Will Smith's son in this martial arts remake. Rated PG. 140m. At the Broadway, the Fortuna and the Garberville.

KNIGHT AND DAY. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz try to decide if they'd like to be in an action movie or a a romantic comedy. Rated PG-13. 110m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

MARMADUKE. Yup. The comic strip dog. You aren't seeing things. Rated PG. 88m. At Garberville.

TOY STORY 3. Woody and Buzz toy around for the first time in over a decade. But what happens when their kid prepares for college? Rated G. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

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Charlie Myers

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