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Knife Beats Rock 

J. Franco's charm buoys Boyle's surprisingly upbeat mutilation drama 127 Hours


THE TOURIST. Johnny Depp is Frank, a tourist visiting Venice who meets the lovely Elise (Angelina Jolie) and gets pulled into a world of intrigue. German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won a "Best Foreign Film" Oscar for his brilliant debut, The Lives of Others. 103m. Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. Opens Friday at the Broadway and Mill Creek.

FAIR GAME. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) shifts into docudrama for a torn-from-the-headlines thriller based on former CIA operative Valerie Plame's book Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, with Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as her diplomat husband Joseph C. Wilson. You know the story. 106m. Rated PG-13 for some language. Opening Friday at the Minor.

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST. The Swedish film version of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy comes to a close with Noomi Rapace returning as hacker Lisbeth Salander and Michael Nyqvist as her journalist friend Mikael Blomkvist. Part three picks up where Played with Fire left off. If you don't know what that means you've got some catching up to do before this film will make sense. 148 m. Rated R for strong violence, some sexual material, and brief language. Opening Friday at the Minor.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER. Part three of C.S. Lewis's fantasy series has Edmund (Skandar Keynes), sister Lucy (Georgie Henley) and cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) heading back to Narnia to continue the fight against evil, this time in 3-D (but only at the Fortuna). 112m. Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy violence. Opens Friday at Fortuna in 3-D and the Broadway and Mill Creek in 2-D.

Speaking of three dimensions, Krook3d is an old-school (red/green) 3-D skateboarding vid from Krooked Skateboards showing Saturday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge as a benefit for the McKinleyville Skate Park.

On Sunday, the ATL has the Mel Brooks spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights, with Cary Elwes as Robin, battling the evil King John (Richard Lewis) and the Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees).

Coming next Wednesday for ATL's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night, a pair of monster movies in the mad scientist's experiment-gone-wrong mode: Indestructible Man stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as an executed killer brought back to life stronger than ever; The Monster Maker has mad doctor Markof (J. Carrol Naish) experimenting on a concert pianist (Ralph Morgan).

Filmmaker Stanley Nelson's stirring documentary Freedom Riders screens in College of the Redwoods' Forum Theater on Thursday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m. The film tells the story of a group of activists who rode buses to the south in 1961 to protest racist Jim Crow laws. Hollis Watkins, who grew up in Mississippi during the Jim Crow days, will teach the crowd freedom songs and tell stories of the Civil Rights Movement. The screening leads into a wider discussion on civil rights with a panel including CR faculty, members of MEChA, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the local transgender community.

-- Bob Doran


127 HOURS. As he has demonstrated in films as diverse as Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's films are never less than interesting. Here he has adapted Aron Ralston's Between a Rock and a Hard Place (2004), the author's account of the 127 hours he spent in 2003 with his right arm trapped by a boulder in Robbers Roost, Utah.

The title of Ralston's book is a clue to the author's approach to his ordeal. Told with humor, at times almost breezy, it is clear that Ralston regarded his predicament as a problem to be solved with the tools available to him, consistent with his background as an engineer, and he never seems to have lost his sense of humor.

Boyle's style captures the tone of the book and meets the challenges of adapting the story to film very effectively. After all, the outcome of the story is not in doubt and it takes place in an isolated spot over five long days. Boyle establishes the tone immediately as the film opens with a triptych of images on the screen with an upbeat soundtrack. He overcomes the challenge of a stationary subject in a solitary setting by visualizing Ralston's memories, fantasies and hallucinations.

Ralston himself is depicted as methodical, gradually exhausting all the possible solutions for escape until only one remains. As depicted by James Franco in a brilliantly bravura performance, Ralston never loses his humor as he records himself on a camcorder. His reaction to not telling anyone where he was going (he deliberately didn't answer his mother's call before leaving) is brief and funny: "Oops."

It was difficult watching Ralston wield his completely dull knife, but Franco's warm portrayal carries the moment. 127 Hours is a fine film with excellent directing and a great performance. Highly recommended. Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images. 94m. At the Broadway.

WAITING FOR "SUPERMAN." Education, like religion and politics, is one of those topics guaranteed to lead to heated debate. The emotional documentary Waiting for "Superman", directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), is the latest film to engage in that debate. While I admire its passionate appeal to improve the way children are educated in this country, I have serious reservations about some of its methods and selective use of statistics.

The film focuses on five children and a supportive parent or grandparent, along with several adults involved in education reform -- specifically Geoffrey Canada, who heads the Harlem Children's Zone, and Michelle Rhee, who became chancellor of the D.C. public schools system in 2007 and recently (October) resigned, becoming the seventh chancellor in the last 10 years to leave the position.

The first half of the film, using a combination of statistics, comments from Rhee and Canada, and a focus on the struggles of the five featured students, establishes what almost everyone in America already believes: The public education system in this country is broken and the schools, particularly in inner cities, have become failure factories. But reality and what people come to believe are not always congruent.

The second part of the film is a paean to charter schools and a harsh condemnation of teacher's unions and tenured teachers who don't teach. You have to listen very closely to catch the statistic that only one in five charter schools is performing well. That's mostly drowned out with shots of a strident Randi Weingarten, current head of the American Federation of Teachers, rallying her union troops.

The low point of the film for me was the lottery that concludes the documentary where, in a public forum, the majority of those attempting to attend a high-performing school are denied. Public education clearly has major problems, but it's not "Superman" this film is waiting for but some Ayn Rand hero, perhaps Bill Gates, who will smite all those mediocre and worse teachers. The film deals with an important topic. I'm sorry it didn't do so with less emotion and more balance. But who would listen then?

THE WARRIOR'S WAY. Dubbed a "chop suey" Western by some commentators, I'm not sure trying to fit this film into a genre is useful. It does combine typical film martial arts with a western setting, but that description captures little of the film's feel.

The story is simple. In the opening scene, Yang (Korean martial arts star Jang Dong-gun) establishes himself as the greatest swordsman of all time but refuses to kill baby April (an incredibly placid and reactive Analin Rudd), the last of a rival clan. Forced to flee to America, he ends up in a small town and becomes involved with their troubles, particularly those of Lynne (Kate Bosworth). But it is only a question of time until he is tracked down by ninjas seeking retribution for his failure to kill April.

The town itself looks more like a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie set placed in the middle of some desolate landscape than a typical Western town. With its partially completed amusement park, including a Ferris wheel, it is clear that director/writer Sngmoo Lee, in his first effort, is going for something mythic. The amusement park aspect also accounts for the clowns and other assorted characters who populate the town.

Lynne's back-story is established in a flashback as we watch the murder of her family by a nasty colonel (Danny Huston) who also attempts to rape the adolescent Lynne. The dual storylines come together in a narrative climax involving the hooded ninja assassins, the Colonel's henchmen, the townspeople and, of course, Lynne and Yang (for whom Lynne provides the yin).

The trailers for the film promised a Jackie Chan sort of comedy, but while there is some of that it doesn't predominate. As for martial arts fans, it's a long wait for action between the brief opening scene and the climactic battle. I doubt this film will jell for anyone. Rated R. 100m. At the Broadway.

-- Charlie Myers


BURLESQUE. Small town girl has stars in her eyes. Lots of singing, dancing, shiny costumes and Christina Aguilera's big voice. Rated PG-13. 119m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS PART I. The final chapter begins! If you can't wait for Part II, the script is available in book stores everywhere! Rated PG-13. At the Broadway, Fortuna, the Minor and Mill Creek.

FASTER. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's need for revenge and to blow things up will entertain you now. Rated R. 98m. At the Broadway.

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS. Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway fall unexpectedly in love and then get nekkid. A lot. Rated R. 113m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

MEGAMIND. The world's most brilliant supervillain is also its least successful. More CGI for the kids. Rated PG. 96m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. Does a larger budget mean scarier? You decide. At the Garberville.

RED. Being privy to CIA secrets is all well and good when you're a part of the agency. But when you try and leave, watch yourself. Rated PG-13. 111m. At the Broadway.

TANGLED. Disney checks the Rapunzel box off its "fairy tales to animate" list with its latest kid-seducing 3-D computer generated release. Rated PG for brief, mild violence. 100m. At the Broadway, Fortuna (in 3-D) and Mill Creek (in 2-D).

UNSTOPPABLE. Tony Scott's latest stars Denzel Washington, who must stop a runaway train carrying combustible liquids and flammable gas before it, like, totally blows up a city. Rated PG-13. 98m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

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Charlie Myers

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