TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT. Essentially another retelling of the “last big party of the season” teen flick, Take Me Home Tonight centers on Matt Franklin (Topher Grace), a nerdy high-school outcast/math genius/recent M.I.T graduate in the summer following commencement. Having taken a job slinging VHS tapes at the mall, he’s foundering, without any notion of what he wants to do with his life. Into these doldrums walks his high school dream girl (who of course barely remembers him). A wild night of partying and revelations ensue.
Grace has the chops to carry a movie, but the script here is too weak and standard for his performance to do much but lay there on the screen. The movie attempts to unpack the existential angst created by the lack of drive many of us feel, but loses that thread among 1980s pop songs and party hijinks. Rather than actually showing us that Matt and his friends are caught between the worlds of youth and adulthood without the tools to plot a course, Take Me Home Tonight trades on hackneyed plot devices and attempts at hilarity. So we end up with a movie that is neither outright funny nor particularly poignant.
Over-laying this is the completely unnecessary L.A. '80s setting, which if anything seems like a crassly commercial attempt to cash in on recent trends in contemporary music and fashion. Ironically, my friends and I were the oldest audience-members at opening night by at least 10 years. This of course means nobody else in the theater was even breathing in the year the film takes place. Maybe it’s easier to enjoy an ‘80s nostalgia trip when one is wearing skinny acid-washed jeans and Vans slip-ons without any sense of irony. 114m. Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. It occurred to me while watching The Adjustment Bureau that its release may well have been pushed back because it would otherwise have drawn unfavorable comparisons to Inception. Both movies are predicated on clever premises about the construction of reality. In this case, our world is plotted according to a map drawn by the unseen Chairman. Occasionally chance interferes with the plan, and the men of the eponymous bureau are dispatched in their gray suits and fedoras to iron out the creases in the fabric of reality and get things back on course.
Against this backdrop unfolds the story of young Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon), who’s seemingly unstoppable bid for a senate seat is derailed by the publication of an embarrassing photograph. Enter Elise (Emily Blunt), who the bureau sends Norris’ way to get him back on his feet in what is supposed to be a one-time chance encounter. But our protagonist’s willpower derails the Chairman’s elegant machinations, and sets off a protracted back and forth between the would-be couple and the full force of the bureau’s New York office.
The scenes Damon and Blunt share are all authentic and heartfelt. Both are fine actors and create an onscreen chemistry that almost makes up for the sagging middle portion of the movie. Anthony Mackie also has a nice turn as an adjuster with a crisis of conscience who comes to Norris’ aid. And the doorways-as-portals device the adjusters use to tweak reality is smart and effective. But the performances and visual effects ultimately lose their battle against sluggish pacing and uninspired cinematography.
By the end, what should resonate as a triumph of the human spirit, of free will against an oppressive universe, comes off as predictable: yet another convenient case of true love conquers all. 99m. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image. At the Broadway, the Minor, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
RANGO. This CGI comedy is burdened by its attempt to take on the grand themes of the Western genre, (rugged individualism in the face of encroaching civilization, good versus evil, etc.), earnestly and ironically at the same time. Ultimately the dichotomy fractures the whole, and both approaches lose their impact.
The title character is actually a lizard with no name (voiced by Johnny Depp), who finds himself thrust into a sun-scorched township somewhere in the Mojave Desert. Lacking any real sense of identity, he recasts himself as a wayfaring gunslinger. The impressionable, downtrodden towns-creatures of Dirt immediately take him up as sheriff and savior. He soon finds himself at odds with the seemingly affable but actually tyrannical mayor and his gang of ne’er-do-wells. The gist of the story has to do with water, which is the most precious commodity in Dirt, and land rights. But the plot mainly serves to move the characters from one non-threatening conflict to another, and to provide a backdrop for scenes and characters cribbed from too many landmark movies to list here.
Of the mainstream animated features making their way to theaters these days, there seem to be two main types: On one hand, Pixar has managed to bring out movies that can appeal to audiences of children and adults without condescending or pandering, or winking at the grown-ups with thinly veiled coarse humor. On the other are movies like Rango that suffer from trying to reach multiple age groups separately, without bridging the gap with stronger storytelling and original concepts.
This was brought home as I attended a Saturday matinee in a theater packed with people of all ages. I was optimistic that the kids would really dig it, and that their reaction would feed my enthusiasm. But they didn’t really seem to care. There weren’t any transcendent, giggling eruptions, or white-knuckled suspense gasps. We all sat there, and the movie played, and then everybody filed out. 107m. Rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.
- John J. Bennett
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. Sci-fi actioner stars Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking, Rabbit Hole) as leader of a platoon of Marines taking a last stand against alien invaders intent on colonizing Earth. 116m. Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.
MARS NEEDS MOMS. 3D Disney CGI sci-fi flick based on a book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County) stars Seth Green (motion-captured) as nine-year-old Milo, whose mother (Joan Cusack) is captured by Martians in need of a mom. Milo must travel to Mars and do battle with aliens to get his mom back. Rated PG for sci-fi action and peril. Opening at the Broadway and the Fortuna in 3-D, at Mill Creek in 2-D.
RED RIDING HOOD. Horror film from director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight) based on the old fairytale stars Amanda Seyfried (Big Love, Mama Mia) as Valerie, who lives in a medieval village menaced by a werewolf who is probably someone she knows. 120m. Rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
Friday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge, it's modern auteur Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE with Jason Schwartzman as precocious private school student Max Fischer who does battle with his mentor (Bill Murray) for the love of a teacher (Olivia Williams). Saturday the ATL has STARSHIP TROOPERS, a sci-fi actioner directed by Paul Verhoeven loosely adapted from a novel by Robert A. Heinlein about young military recruits fighting bug-like aliens on distant planets. Sunday it's the Ron Howard fantasy WILLOW, with its undersized hero (Warwick Davis) on a mission to save a baby princess from an evil queen (Jean Marsh). The theme for next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night double-bill is human experimentation: In EMBRYO, Rock Hudson plays a scientist who messes with growth rate to create a beautiful woman (Barbara Carrera) who's only a few weeks old, then learns that having sex with your experiment is probably not a good idea. FROZEN ALIVE finds another experiment gone awry, this time involving cryogenics.
- Bob Doran
COUNTRY STRONG. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as a troubled country music star fresh out of rehab, back on the road with her manager husband, a young songwriter and a cute would-be star. Rated PG-13. 112m. At Garberville.
GNOMEO AND JULIET. Yup. Romeo and Juliet, only with garden gnomes. Yup. Rated G. 84m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
HALL PASS. Bored with marriage, two guys are given passes by their wives to do whatever they want for a week. Rated R. 108m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
I AM NUMBER FOUR. Three seemingly normal high schoolers with secret powers have already died. See title. Rated PG-13. 110m. At the Broadway.
JUST GO WITH IT. Adam Sandler enlists Jennifer Aniston to help him find the woman of his dreams. Not her. Rated PG-13. 116m. At the Broadway.
THE KING’S SPEECH. Based on the true story of the Queen of England’s dad and his remarkable friendship with a maverick Australian speech therapist. Rated R. 119m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
UNKNOWN. Liam Neeson awakens after a car accident to find another man has assumed his identity, then tries to find himself. Rated PG-13. 113m. At the Broadway.
YU-GI-OH: BONDS BEYOND TIME. Pokemon for the younger generation. Not rated. 60m. At the Broadway.