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Timely Girl 

Plus: Hancock isn’t worth the pittance our writer rode in on

Previews

The glorious film summer continues Friday, July 11, with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a sequel to the 2004 Hellboy film. Director Guillermo Del Toro returns, as does actor Ron Perlman in the title role. This time out, Hellboy tries to help our government when it is faced with supernatural enemies from invisible forces who break their centuries-old truce with humankind. The cigar should get a workout. The film co-stars Selma Blair as Hellboy’s girlfriend, Liz, and John Hurt as his adoptive father. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some language. 110 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.

Journey to the Center of the Earth is the latest film adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic science fiction tale, presumably shown in Real D technology at theaters with compatible equipment. Brendan Fraser is a scientist who, with the help of an attractive mountain guide (Anita Briem), takes his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) up a volcano only to fall into a pit all the way to the center of the earth, where they face all manner of danger. How often can you go back to the same shallow well? Rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments. 92 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

In Meet Dave, we meet Eddie Murphy in family film mode. Murphy is Dave — actually a miniature spaceship that looks like Murphy, who also plays the captain. When he/it lands in Manhattan’s Central Park, he’s just looking for ways to save his home planet, but when a comely earth girl (Elizabeth Banks) enters the scene, Dave’s life becomes complicated. Did I mention that it’s a comedy? Rated PG for bawdy and suggestive humor, action and some language. 90 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

The film adaptation of the musical Mamma Mia!is one of two midnight premieres the Fortuna Theater will host July 17. The film uses the music of ’70s supergroup ABBA to tell the story of a bride-to-be searching for her real father. Rated PG-13 for some sex-related comments. 108 m. In the other premiere, Batman returns to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good in The Dark Knight.Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace. 152 m.

The latest “Based on the Book” film series begins July 15 and continues through Aug. 5. Opening this noir series is the 1950 film The Asphalt Jungle. Based on the novel by W. R. Burnett, with a screenplay by Ben Maddow and John Huston and directed by Huston, the film follows an attempted million dollar burglary by a misfit crew against the backdrop of the usual depressed cityscape. Look for typical noir elements including sexy, duplicitous blondes, suspenseful action and betrayal. The screening is hosted by Wynston Jones and will start promptly at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 15, in the multipurpose room of the Eureka Main Library.

Reviews

KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL

Based on the American Girl character Kit Kittredge, whom I must admit I have never encountered, this film adaptation is charming if also a sanitized view of the Great Depression. Its success with a viewer well outside the target age range such as myself is due, I believe, to the fine cast and the fact that it was directed by Patricia Rozema with an expert light touch.

I first became aware of Canadian director Rozema when I saw her 1995 film When Night Is Falling, which concerns a female teacher at a Christian college who ditches both the college and her boyfriend for a woman who performs in a traveling circus. She subsequently directed a very good adaptation of Mansfield Park. So I was a bit surprised to see her listed as the director of a film about a 9-year-old girl who has to cope with the depression in 1930s Cincinnati (impersonated here by Toronto).

Rozema is up to the task, though, of putting together a narrative about American pluckiness and traditional family values in the face of trials and tribulation, and she does it with accomplished style. The era is initially evoked by a soundtrack of period songs, ones I recognize from my father’s 78s when I was very young myself, along with an effective opening montage of images of 1930s Cincinnati. One such image particularly resonated: foreclosure signs displayed in many of the front yards.

The film then quickly focuses on Kit (an endearing Abigail Breslin) who, we discover, is an aspiring reporter and a member of a solid middle class family in a nice neighborhood where the houses are large and the yards tidy. But except for Kit (and the ever-reliable nasty school kids who mercilessly make fun of those classmates who have fallen on hard times), who wants to do a story on the hobos who haunt the neighborhood, the people try to ignore what is clearly happening. In fact, as with immigrants in present-day America, the hobos are blamed for everything that’s wrong with the city, particularly the crime.

The depression hits home for Kit when her father (Chris O’Donnell) loses his car dealership and has to move to Chicago to try to find employment. Kit’s mother (a solid Julia Ormond who positively radiates selfless and inclusive traditional American middle-class values) is forced to take in boarders, including an oily magician (Stanley Tucci, no stretch) and a mobile librarian (Joan Cusack, with softer edges than normal).

Meanwhile, Kit befriends Will (Max Thieriot, Nancy Drew) and Countee (Willow Smith), and in this world without fathers she turns into a junior Nancy Drew when they are accused of theft. Wallace Shawn puts in an appearance as a tough-cookie editor of a Cincinnati paper and manages to make a little something out of a stereotyped character.

All of this is very pleasant and predictable, but nonetheless consistently entertaining. Of course, the edges are smoothed out and nothing about the depression depicted here becomes too threatening. But the fact that it touches on broken families and a class of people forced into hobo camps caused by economic difficulties is at least something. If you want a more complex take on these issues, go to a non-Hollywood issue-oriented adult film. Rated G. 101 m. At The Movies, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

HANCOCK

In the July 3 issue of The North Coast Journal, fellow critic Bill Kowinski, in his review of Dell’Arte’s latest Korbel, states that between the two of us, he has the better gig. He may be right, and I’m certainly feeling the pain lately.

But putting aside for the moment the relative merits of film and live theatre, his comments made me realize that I am woefully underpaid, and I have fired off a letter to my editor on this topic. Bill indicates, for example, that he would ask for $500 to sit through an Adam Sandler film, $400 for Mike Myers, and so on. I wonder how much he might ask to sit through Hancock? It’s not that I would compare Will Smith to Sandler or Myers. In fact, I generally find Smith to be an appealing and empathetic screen presence. But something sure went wrong with this film.

It’s not the premise, which had promise in this era of endless superhero films. Smith is John Hancock, a superhero with a super-size image problem. He may be a man of steel (or something), but he’s also an alcoholic, unshaven, curses a lot, destroys more property than he saves, and is hated by the public (asshole being their favorite epithet) he is titularly serving. This seems a welcome relief from bland superheroes such as Superman.

But this premise is totally betrayed by an incompetent script and neither the acting nor the direction by the normally commercially competent Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights; The Kingdom) helps save the day. Hancock’s life changes when he saves struggling PR executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) who offers an image makeover as a thank you. Ray happens to be married to Charlize Theron, I mean her character Mary, and Hancock is instantly smitten just like any lovesick teenager when he sees the hottie of his juvenile dreams.

The rest of the film has to do with a kinder, gentler Hancock (just don’t call him an asshole) and his pursuit of Mary (just don’t call her crazy), along with a lot of broad, unfunny “humor.” The presumed highlight of the plot is the surprise revelation that occurs — but come on, did anyone suppose all those significant glances between Mary and Hancock were just hormones? As the story wended its way to the inevitable (and welcome) conclusion, I just felt bad for Smith and particularly for Theron, a fine actress in search of a worthy role since 2003’s Monster. Okay, Bill, how much? Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language. 92 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

Continuing

CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN. Newest installment of series based on C.S. Lewis’s sci-fi/fantasy books. Rated PG. 144 m. At The Movies.

GET SMART.Maxwell Smart and his partner 99 take on arch villain Siegfried, out to brainwash and exploit Nobel Prize winners. Rated PG-13. 111 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

HAPPENING. Episodes of strange, chilling deaths erupt in major American cities. Rated R. 90 m. At the Broadway.

INCREDIBLE HULK. Live action film features classic character from Marvel Comics’ series. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At the Broadway.

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Intrepid archaeologist becomes entangled in Soviet plot to uncover secret behind mysterious Crystal Skulls. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway.

IRON MAN. Action/adventure flick based on Marvel’s iconic comic book superhero. Rated PG-13. 126 m. At The Movies.

KUNG FU PANDA. Po the Panda Bear lays down bamboo shoots, takes up martial arts. Rated PG. 92 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

LOVE GURU. American raised by gurus in India lends his expertise to save a celebrity couple. Rated PG-13. 89 m. At The Movies.

SEX AND THE CITY. Continuing adventure of HBO series’ four main characters as they live out their Manhattan lives. Rated R. 145 m. At The Movies.

WALL-E.Robot love/adventure story from the director of Finding Nemo.Rated G. 98 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

WANTED.Apathetic nobody turns into enforcer of justice with help of super-hot babe. Rated R. 110 m. At the Broadway.

YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN. Adam Sandler as the titular Israeli commando-turned-hairdresser. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At The Movies.

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