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Triumph of the Costner 

Plus: Israel's Jellyfish is a rare treat -- a film for adults

Previews

Just in time to wipe away those August blues, Pineapple Express, which opens Wednesday, Aug. 6, is a stoner comedy from the very busy Judd Apatow factory. In a bit of a twist, the film is directed by David Gordon Green, better known in indie circles (most recently for Snow Angels) now trying his hand at the mainstream. Stoner Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) inadvertently witnesses a murder while making a buy from dealer Saul Silver (James Franco) and both must flee to avoid a similar fate. The fate of potential viewers is up in the air. Huey Lewis and the News is among the groups featured on the soundtrack. Rated R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence. 111 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna Mill Creek and Minor.

Also opening Wednesday is The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, the sequel to the 2005 film and featuring the same core cast of America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively. The story is apparently based primarily on the fourth novel in Ann Brashares' series about four girls growing up, Forever in Blue. Set three years after the first film, the quartet find themselves in their first year of college, and while going their own separate ways, they manage to stay in touch. Presumably, the challenges they face are more complex now that they have matured somewhat. TV director Sanaa Hamri is at the helm. Rated PG-13 for mature material and sensuality. 117 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Reviews

SWING VOTE: The American political film has a long history. Of course, Capra’s 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington comes to mind, as well as the more recent Charlie Wilson’s War and countless films in between. Swing Vote is an amiable if unexceptional addition to the genre, inspired according to reports by another 1939 film, The Great Man Votes, wherein John Barrymore plays a drunk who has to cast a deciding vote.

Kevin Costner’s latest outing has many of the classic elements of the political film, as seen in Mr. Smith -- the common guy caught up in the machinations of a corrupt political system being the core story point. It’s tempting to conclude that the more recent films are more cynical, but the cynicism about politics always ran deep; it was just ameliorated by the incredible innocent idealism of characters with names like Jefferson Smith. In a way, the equally appropriately named Bud Johnson (Costner) in Swing Vote is just an unformed Mr. Smith, even if he is already a middle-aged man with a 12-year-old daughter.

The plot, of course, is improbable, but that goes with the territory. A presidential election has come down to which candidate will get New Mexico’s electoral votes, and one precinct of the small town Texico can’t report its results because a voting machine malfunctioned on the one ballot that would break the state’s dead heat.

As a result, the incumbent Republican President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer, Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons) and democratic hopeful Donald Greenleaf (a relatively calm Dennis Hopper) come to Texico to put on a full court press, abetted by Richard Petty (as himself) on the Republican side and Willie Nelson (likewise) the Democratic. Of course they are both surrounded by completely unethical staff members (Stanley Tucci for Boone and Nathan Lane for Greenleaf) who cause the candidates to go against their own principles as, ironically, each ends up supporting the opposite party’s platform to get Bud’s vote.

Most viewers will easily guess the outcome of the film. But it works anyway, partly because of Costner’s nicely low-key performance. So he perfected the over-imbibing of Budweiser in The Upside of Anger a few years ago; he does it with effective ease and I take back some of those nasty things I’ve said about his acting in the past. Maybe I’ll also come to enjoy ABBA before I die, but I doubt it. Rated PG-13 for language. 120 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

JELLYFISH (MEDUZOT):Jellyfish is a totally enjoyable Israeli/French co-production written by Shira Geffen, who also co-directed with her husband Etgar Keret. I’m a sucker for narratives where the lives of people who don’t know each other become accidentally connected by an event, such as Crash, Amores perros or Me and You and Everyone We Know.

Jellyfish begins with a scene that sets the tone for the film both visually and thematically and also establishes its ironic sense of humor. We see Batya (Sarah Adler) and the boyfriend who is about to dump her framed in a medium close-up. After a silence, he asks her if there’s anything she’d like to say, such as “Stay?” She says nothing and drives off. When he’s well out of sight she suddenly says, “Stay.” This indecision and missed connection is what animates this low-key but completely effective study in character and relationships.

The three primary women whose lives we follow are seen in an early Tel Aviv wedding scene, where Batya is a server for a catering business. The bride, Keren (Noa Knoller), breaks her ankle while trying to get out of a locked bathroom stall, forcing the cancellation of a planned Caribbean honeymoon in favor of a room in a sleazy local hotel. Also in attendance is an English-speaking Filipino woman Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), who cares for older patients but can’t speak Hebrew.

These women also interact with a number of other characters, including a wedding photographer who connects with Batya when both are fired at the wedding reception; a poet staying in the suite above the wedding couple; and Malka (Zharira Charifai), one of Joy’s elderly patients, whose daughter plays Ophelia in an experimental stage production of Hamlet.

Floating through the film is a strange, wordless little red-haired girl Batya meets on a beach who may or may not be the title character. In some contexts, the problems these characters face may not seem monumental, but they had me completely mesmerized. What a charming break from the summer film morass. In Hebrew, English, Tagalog and German with English subtitles. Unrated. 78 m. At the Broadway.

THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR: Hollywood has a history of pushing sequels of popular films until the narratives lose their energy and whatever originality they may have had. So it is with the current Mummy series, now into its third Brendan Fraser iteration. I have vaguely fond memories of 1999’s The Mummy, mostly of Brendan Fraser’s tongue-in-cheek performance as Rick O’Connell and Rachel Weisz ably co-starring as girlfriend Evelyn. The Mummy Returns kept this duo (now married) and added The Rock (nowadays just plain Dwayne Johnson) to the mix. In Dragon Emperor, Rick and Evelyn (Weisz replaced by Maria Bello) are retired and Jet Li has been added to the mix.

The film opens with its most interesting part: a somewhat extended narrated sequence that establishes the position of Emperor Han, the Dragon Emperor, in Chinese history, and details the curse put on him by sorceress Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh, Memoirs of a Geisha). The story then jumps to 1946 where Rick and Evelyn are persuaded to travel to Shanghai to return an artifact to the Chinese government.

Upon arrival, they discover that their school dropout son Alex (a completely bland Luke Ford) has discovered the Dragon Emperor’s tomb. But the bad guys are also after the artifact in order to awaken the Emperor (Jet Li) and rule the world with him and his army.

Then follows a lot of dreary CGI-assisted action leading to a showdown at Shangri-La and the Great Wall of China, where the reawakened Emperor can achieve immortality. Actually, I thought that happened in Brigadoon, but I’m easily confused. Yeoh adds a certain amount of dignity to the film. Isabella Leong as Zi Juan’s daughter Lin is a fresh presence. Maria Bello, always a joy on screen, adds perhaps a touch of muscle to the role of Evelyn. But overall, this is a dreary affair. Rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence. 112 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

Continuing

DARK KNIGHT. Batman walks the line between hero and vigilante when he faces the Joker to save Gotham once again. Rated PG-13. 152 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

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 Movies.

HANCOCK. Hard-living superhero who has fallen from grace gets help from a public relations pro. Rated PG-13. 93 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY. When the shit hits the fan, the rough and tough kitten-loving superhero from Hell saves the day. Rated PG-13. 120 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 Movies.

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

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel packs in comedy, fantasy, action and adventure. Rated PG. 93 m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

KUNG FU PANDA. Po the Panda Bear lays down bamboo shoots, takes up martial arts. Rated PG. 92 m. At The Movies.

MAMA MIA! Film adaptation of musical uses the jams of ’70s supergroup ABBA to tell the story of a bride-to-be searching for her real father. Rated PG-13. 109 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

SPACE CHIMPS. Slacker grandson of first chimp blasted into space joins other astro chimps for zany other-planetary adventure. Rated G. 81 m. At The Movies.

STEP BROTHERS. Immature, middle-aged men become step bros and wreak havoc trying to make their new family happy. Rated R. 98 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

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

X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Mulder quests for the truth and Scully sticks by his side. Rated PG-13. 104 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

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