JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME. The good comedies are always harder to find. Movies like Bridesmaids or The Hangover, with their incessant advertising, are impossible to avoid. Whatever entertainment value they might hold is lost before we enter the theater; they can't live up to the hype. Jeff, Who Lives at Home had no hype, no expectations, no relentless build-up. With a tiny budget, a handheld camera and a small ensemble cast, Jeff is leaps and bounds above the standards of comedy set by recent Hollywood films.
Brotherly duo Jay and Mark Duplass deserve the lion's share of the credit. Like the Coen brothers, Jay and Mark work in tandem as co-screenwriters and directors. Stylistically, they focus on the humor of everyday situations, walking the line between reality and exaggeration. There is absolutely nothing grandiose about Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and that's the key to its hilarity.
The film follows one day in the life of two brothers, Jeff (Jason Segel) and Pat (Ed Helms), and their over-stressed mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon). Jeff and Pat are the film embodiment of Goofus and Gallant, if Gallant had a douchier edge. Jeff is 30, unemployed, and lives in his mother's basement. Disheveled, stoned and aimless, he's the yin to Pat's shallow and egotistical yang. Familial obligation and happenstance force the two brothers to endure a day together, each with different intentions.
The simple plot is incredibly predictable, bringing the film's quality down a notch. Jay and Mark Duplass don't focus on plot, though; they're constructing a storyline around the characters, rather than the other way around. This makes the film charming in a way most Hollywood comedies miss. Anyone can be funny if the situation is absurd enough. It takes real skill to induce laughter from the ordinary, and the Duplass brothers have it. R. 83m.
MIRROR MIRROR. Director Tarsem Singh's take on Snow White is brimming with rapturous landscapes and fantastic costumes and sets. The opening sequence of puppetry and animation is gorgeous, and the gowns made me rethink my position on yellow taffeta. But the writing and story don't earn their seats at this visual feast.
A good deal of license is taken with the original Grimm tale: The poison apple and its spell are cast aside, and the dwarves are boosting gold from royal sleighs instead of toiling in the mines. Snow White even makes the career jump from forest housekeeper to bandit queen. There's also a fearsome beast stalking the forest, which might be a little scary for small children.
Female rivalry has been given an update as well. The wicked queen (Julia Roberts) is recast as a gold-digging cougar with her sights set on marrying the oft-shirtless prince (Armie Hammer). To accomplish this she must, of course, dispatch her dewy rival, Snow White, played by Lily Collins with assistance from Audrey Hepburn's eyebrows.
Roberts has some fun moments sparring with her own frenemy reflection and suffering medieval spa treatments, but unlike Cate Blanchett or Meryl Streep, she doesn't have the chops for real villainy. Collins and Hammer are pretty, but they lack the charm and chemistry necessary to carry the romance. The dwarves have the most personality in the movie, stealing scenes from the couple here and there.
Children will likely enjoy the sword fighting and acrobatics -- even the musical Bollywood ending -- and forgive the script. But there isn't much beyond the beautiful sets and a desperate Nathan Lane to interest adults. Anyone who's seen The Princess Bride will long for its perfect blend of wit, irony and sweetness, which many have failed to duplicate (I'm looking at you, Shrek and Stardust). Pick up a copy and treat the whole family. PG. 106m.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS. Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) are friends who decide to avoid the grumpy, disappointed marriages of their contemporaries by having a child together and saving the romance for relationships with other people. We're waiting, of course, for them to realize that they're meant to be together, but by the middle of the movie we're not really rooting for them.
Neither actor is particularly winning in his or her role; Jason is a superficial serial dater and Julie's nervous perkiness is exhausting. They share a sense of humor and a history, but it's not anything we particularly want in on. The pair takes the leap into parenthood rather lightly, and their desire for a child doesn't seem all that intense. Even when the baby is born, they beam with the joy of a couple that has just picked out a puppy that's not going to ruin their apartment.
Jason and Julie's married friends have all the typical maladies of parents of small children: They're harried, exhausted, under-sexed and getting on each other's nerves. Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig -- two comediennes at the top of their games -- are wasted in the movie as scolding wives. Rudolph at least gets to laugh here and there with her husband (Chris O'Dowd), but Wiig mostly frowns and knocks back wine.
Ultimately, the film runs into the same problem as its protagonists. Afraid of the pitfalls of romantic sentimentality, the writers rely too heavily on cynicism and crude dialogue, which at times comes off as cold. And as edgy as it may seem, this approach is in pursuit of the same old story -- love, marriage and kids. R. 107m.
--Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
TITANIC 3D. James Cameron's (and the world's) second-highest-grossing film returns to the big screen to capitalize on the 3D craze. Maybe they'll see the iceberg sooner this time. PG13. 194m.
AMERICAN REUNION. The horny teens from American Pie (1999) return for their (uh, 13th?) high school reunion. Evidently they'd left a few bodily fluid gags ungagged. R. 110m.
The Arcata Theatre Lounge's monthly Ocean Night benefit rolls in again this Thursday with Splinters, a feature-length documentary about the burgeoning surf scene in the remote, third-world nation of Papua New Guinea, where surfing is seen as a potential way out. 6:30 p.m. The following night, behold the Hipster Holocaust, a "24-hour traipse through hell" written and directed by Arcata native William Burgess. Featuring prizes and a Q & A with Burgess himself. 8 p.m. If you need redemption afterwards, try spending Easter Sunday with Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1973 movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's anachronistic Broadway rock opera. 6 p.m.
21 JUMP STREET. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as cops who go undercover, inside the plot of a 1980s sitcom starring Johnny Depp. R. 109m.
ACT OF VALOR. Active-duty Navy SEALs star as active-duty Navy SEALs in this fictionalized account of Navy SEALs on active duty. Paid for with your tax dollars. R. 101m.
THE HUNGER GAMES. In a dystopian future state, teenagers get conscripted into a televised death match. Based on Suzanne Collins' bestseller. PG. 142m.
JOHN CARTER. A hunky Civil War vet gets transported to Mars, where, with the help of some four-armed green dudes, he must save a princess. PG13. 132m.
THE LORAX. The tree-hugging Dr. Seuss character now shills for SUVs and flapjacks. What a sellout! Also, this movie is not good. PG. 86m.
SILENT HOUSE. A young woman becomes trapped inside her family's lakeside house, which is, like, totally giving her the silent treatment. Cuh-reepy! R. 85m.
WANDERLUST. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play a Manhattan couple who join a free-love commune in this comedy from director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer). R. 98m.
WRATH OF THE TITANS. Perseus, a yoked demigod, stabs 3D computer images with his trident in order to save his "holier than thou" dad, Zeus. 99m. PG13.