Opening Friday, Jan. 15, is The Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic (it's all the rage) action film directed by the Hughes brothers. Denzel Washington stars as Eli, who guards what might be the last Bible in existence, and Gary Oldman as the baddy who wants it for himself. Rated R for some brutal violence and language. 118m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
Based on the best-selling 2002 novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones features a murdered girl (Saoirse Ronan) who observes her family (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) and her killer, who is about to strike again. Directed by Peter Jackson with Stanley Tucci as the neighbor. Rated PG-13. 135 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and Minor.
The family comedy The Spy Next Door features Jackie Chan, a former spy facing his toughest challenge: his girlfriend's three children. Rated PG. 92m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
Written and directed by Terry Gilliam, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus follows a traveling theatre troupe that has made a pact with the devil. With Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp and Heath Ledger in his final performance. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway.
Note: Charlie was scheduled to host a screening of the Frank Capra comedy It Happened One Night on Tuesday, Jan. 12, as part of the Eureka Library's "Based on the Book" series. Due to earthquake clean-up the library was closed, and it didn't happen. Instead Charlie will introduce the film on Tuesday, Feb. 2.
DAYBREAKERS: Can there be too many vampire films (not to mention TV series and books)? The genre is certainly in ascendancy at the moment, what with the popularity of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series and the two films released to date based on those books. And then there's the popular HBO series True Blood,starring Anna Paquin, the third season of which is in production even as Ethan Hawke sleepwalks his way through Daybreakers, the latest vampire offering.
Although released in the "let's bury the crap" early January season, Daybreakers initially overcame my resistance to both the genre and the release date. It is a remarkably stylish film to look at, and the premise was intriguing.
It seems that in 2009 -- and this would have been easy to miss, given the ills of a year that included economic anemia, welfare for the rich, swine flu and would-be underwear bombers -- a virus struck that turned most of the human population into immortals.
As the film opens in 2019, those humans who were not infected and refused "assimilation" (that is, being turned) are either on the run or being harvested for their blood. Trouble is, the vamps are running out of blood cows. Enter our hero, the hematologist Edward Dalton (Hawke), who is working on a blood substitute for a powerful corporation run by Charles Bromley (a politely nasty Sam Neill).
Dalton believes he is saving both vampires and humanity. Boy is he deluded, and his life isn't made any easier by his military brother Frankie (Michael Dorman). Things look up, though, when Dalton discovers that crusty Elvis (Willem Dafoe), who leads a small band of rebellious humans that includes the comely Audrey (Claudia Karvan who, unlike a certain local Claudia, didn't fall asleep once during the film), has discovered how to turn vampires back into humans. Hint: Barbecuing can do wonders for a dead heart.
Unfortunately, the film degenerates into the blood- and gore-fest beloved by the target audience, and the whole end of the film is both rushed and ridiculous. Guess it belonged in January after all. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity. 98m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Minor.
LEAP YEAR: If there is such a thing as a January romantic comedy, Leap Year virtually defines its parameters. This film sets the bar so low that any other 2010 romantic comedy is bound to look good by comparison. Happily, it will be all but obliterated come December with the next glut of Oscar-hopeful releases. Already, it's making me forget about Did You Hear About the Morgans? -- a point in its favor.
As with that film, the problem begins with the script, a deficit that neither the director (Anand Tucker, Shopgirl) nor the cast (headed by Amy Adams) can surmount. As with any romantic comedy, the narrative simply needs to provide for a "meet cute," set up barriers to the course of true Hollywood love, contain a little amusing dialog and a few comic situations, and end with a union of some sort. Unfortunately, writing such a narrative effectively proves to be harder than it sounds, and the better scripts, such as the recent It's Complicated, usually work because they confound genre expectations.
In Leap Year, Anna (Adams) wants to be married (so she believes) to Jeremy (Adam Scott), a medical doctor who seems to prefer his Blackberry. Since he's in Dublin for a conference, Anna decides to go to Dublin herself so she can propose to him on Feb. 29. (Some kind of Irish legend -- don't ask.)
Of course, a storm diverts her plane to the wilds of Ireland, where she meets handsome but inarticulate pub owner Declan (Matthew Goode), who subjects city girl Anna (complete with high heels and tight skirt) to all sorts of indignities. SPOILER: they end up together!
Four young children were at the screening I attended, and I was initially irritated. After all, this was an "adult" film. But when they laughed gleefully at an exchange of dialogue involving the word "poo" (this is a PG film), I concluded that perhaps Leap Year is a children's film after all. Amy Adams is totally wasted here, as she has been all too often since Junebug, and the film is a total waste of the adult viewer's time. Rated PG for sensuality and language. 97m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
YOUTH IN REVOLT: I have a weakness for coming-of-age tales, perhaps because I'm still trying to come of age myself. Last spring I totally enjoyed Adventureland and now I have been enthralled by the decidedly quirkier Youth in Revolt. TV director Miguel Arteta adroitly adapts novelist C.D. Payne's Youth in Revolt: The Adventures of Nick Twisp, the saga of a teenager with a highly developed sense of irony and intellect who, however, can't figure out how to get laid.
Set in Oakland and Ukiah (but shot in Michigan), the sexually frustrated 16-year-old Nick (a fine Michael Cera) lives in Oakland with his divorced mother, Estelle (a quirky Jean Sharp), and her current loutish squeeze, Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). When Jerry is threatened by some sailors to whom he sold a defective car, the three depart for a Clear Lake trailer park, where Nick meets the beautiful Sheeni (relative newcomer Portia Doubleday).
He falls hard (without losing the ironic humor), but unfortunately Sheeni is in love with all things French, including an imaginary future lover named Francois. Plus, she has a boyfriend who writes poetry and is a star athlete, and she likes bad boys (her folks being religious fanatics).
To overcome his deficits in the romance arena, Nick invents a fictional alternate persona he names Francois Dillinger -- a cooler, badder more sexually assured version of Nick himself. From here, the plot becomes a series of absurdist, anarchic incidents, all nicely underplayed by Cera and the cast.
Will Nick/Francois get Sheeni? In this film, that's not necessarily the crucial question. As Nick discovers, perhaps simply being yourself is the best strategy. Who knew? Steve Buscemi has a nice turn as Nick's father, George, while Ray Liotta weighs in as a cop who becomes Estelle's next live-in and Nick's nemesis. Youth in Revolt is worth a visit. Rated R for sexual content, language and drug use. 90m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
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 and Fortuna.
AVATAR. Military forces attempt to control and exploit a region and its people 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 who help him realize his football potential. Rated PG-13. 126m. At the Broadway.
IT'S COMPLICATED. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play divorcees who reignite the flame after 10 years apart. Rated R. 118m. At the Broadway.
SHERLOCK HOLMES. Robert Downey, Jr. stars as the updated, more ass-kicking version of the legendary sleuth. Rated PG-13. 128m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
UP IN THE AIR. George Clooney plays a corporate hatchet man forced to fight for his job when his company downsizes. Rated R. 109m. At the Broadway, the Minor and Mill Creek.