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Movie Dope

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (PG) The first of Steven Spielberg’s two holiday 2011 entries is already a hit in Europe. Herge’s Belgian globetrotter, Tintin, and Captain Haddock are in search of sunken ship in this MoCap’d CGI adventure. The teaming of Spielberg and Peter Jackson, who is producing (and has signed on to direct a sequel), is nearly as exciting as a script by Stephen Moffat (“Doctor Whoâ€), Edgar Wright and hot newcomer Joe Cornish, whose Attack the Block was one of my favorite surprises of 2011.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED (G) Come on, Fox! If you’re going to keep releasing new Chipmunks entries each holiday season, the least you can do is make a Christmas-themed movie featuring the furry trio’s classic holiday tunes. Instead, Alvin, Simon, Theodore, the Chipettes and Dave (poor, paycheck-cashing Jason Lee) start out on a cruise ship and wind up on a deserted island. Judging by the boffo box office of the previous two features plus the young audience’s reaction to the new pic’s trailer, Chipwrecked should provide its studio with some holiday cheer.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (G) 1991. Disney rereleases the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar using the fancy new 3D technology that is all the rage right now. Based on the classic fairy tale, Belle falls in love with Beast (voiced by Ice Castles’ heartthrob Robby Benson), who just so happens to be a cursed prince. The terrific voice cast includes Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers and Angela Lansbury. Winner of two Academy Awards (Best Score and Best Original Song).

THE BIG SLEEP (NR) 1946. Ciné is heating up the cold winter nights with a Classic Film Noir Series featuring Hollywood classics screened from increasingly precious 35mm prints. First up is Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. With Lauren Bacall opposite Bogie and a script by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett (the future scripter of The Empire Strikes Back) and Jules Furthmann, The Big Sleep on the big screen is not to be missed.

CARNAGE (R) After a playground scuffle involving their son, writer Penelope (Jodie Foster) and hardware salesman Michael (John C. Reilly), invite the bully’s parents, broker Nancy (Kate Winslet) and amoral lawyer Alan (Christoph Waltz), over to work out their issues. Despite their best efforts at reconciliation, discussion soon escalates into warfare between both couples.

CONTRABAND (R) A former smuggler, Chris Faraday (Mark Wahlberg), gets back in the game, trafficking millions of dollars in counterfeit bills to protect his family, including a pretty wife (played by Kate Beckinsale) and her brother (Caleb Landry Jones, Banshee from X-Men: First Class), from his brother-in-law’s nasty drug-dealing boss (Giovanni Ribisi). Luckily, he has friends like go-to crazy Ben Foster. Director Baltasar Kormakur starred in and produced the Icelandic original, Reykjavik-Rotterdam. With Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons and Diego Luna.

COURAGEOUS (PG-13) First, the nice things. The technical skills of director Alex Kendrick and the folks (they are from Albany) behind Sherwood Baptist’s latest evangelical epic have vastly improved since their breakthrough hit, Facing the Giants. On a completely technical level, you’d never know you were not watching a Hollywood production about four law enforcement officers forced to face themselves as men and fathers after a tragedy. I’ve seen several Hollywood hits that looked worse (direction, cinematography, editing, etc.). Now the bad: The talent in front of the camera still reeks of amateurism. Awkward reaction shots and line deliveries of stilted homilies and forced proverbs mar the professional Hollywood slick production values.

THE DARKEST HOUR (PG-13) Aliens invade Moscow, and five Americans (including Rachael Taylor, the ever-inventive Emile Hirsch, Juno’s Olivia Thirlby and Max Minghella) must fight to survive. Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov is becoming Russia’s answer to that Gallic purveyor of international sci-fi action, Luc Besson. The flick is the sophomore effort from Tulane alum Chris Gorak, an art director who apprenticed under an impressive resume of directors (David Fincher, the Coen Brothers and Terry Gilliam). Moscow’s exotic environs strangely intrigue, despite the familiarity of the scenario.

• THE DEVIL INSIDE (R) After a strong opening sequence depicting the police investigation of and fake local news stories about a 1989 triple murder, The Devil Inside becomes just another found footage horror flick, this one insinuating itself to be the documentation of a young woman, Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), seeking the truth about her mother’s tragic exorcism. Two priests, Ben and David (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth), assist Isabella in freeing her mother, but again, the results lead to a tragedy, all captured on film by documentarian/cameraman, Michael (Ionut Grama). This popular, easy-to-fake horror subgenre has seen worse entries (last year’s snooze-fest Apollo 18), but The Last Exorcism was a more successful faux-mentary Exorcist. The film generates a few scares, and the fake people are more likable than most found footage protags. Still, The Devil Inside has absolutely nothing new to add to the horror conversation and should be quickly exorcised from memory.

THE DIVIDE (NR) With Frontier(s), Xavier Gens proved to be a skilled purveyor of New French Extremity. With Hitman, I’m not sure the French filmmaker proved much of anything. His latest sci-fi/horror hybrid, The Divide, is a post-apocalyptic flick about nuclear holocaust survivors attempting to survive on dwindling supplies and ever-increasing fear. The presence of Michael Biehn always entices. With Lauren German (Hostel: Part II), Milo Ventimiglia (“Heroesâ€), Ashton Holmes (A History of Violence), Rosanna Arquette and Courtney B. Vance.

DOLPHIN TALE (PG) I am not a sucker for sentimental animal movies. Were I, then I am sure Dolphin Tale would have fit the bill. A lonely 12-year-old, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), rescues a dolphin (real tail-less dolphin, Winter, as herself) caught in a crab trap. With the help of a marine vet (Harry Connick Jr.), his daughter (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) and a doctor who specializes in prosthetics (Morgan Freeman), Sawyer helps save the dolphin by fashioning a fake appendage. Money woes, a hurricane and the fish’s own dislike of potential new tails confound the boy’s attempts.

FOOTLOOSE (PG-13) Let’s go ahead and dispel any thoughts that the Kevin Bacon starrer is somehow above being remade. What Hustle & Flow filmmaker Craig Brewer has done in remaking the seminal ’80s flick is impressive. Brewer relocates the dance banning town of Bomont from Oklahoma to Georgia, adding another film to Brewer’s resume of intriguing cinematic stories about the New South. Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald, looking like he transferred from Rydell High) migrates south to live with his aunt and uncle (Kim Dickens and scene-stealing Ray McKinnon, an Adel native and Oscar winner). There he runs afoul of Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), who instituted the dancing ban after his son died in a car accident, and woos Moore’s beautiful, troubled daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough, “Dancing with the Starsâ€). Brewer’s movie has a nice rhythm and does the South more justice than any other major Hollywood release.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (R) Stieg Larsson may have created Lisbeth Salander, but David Fincher and the bold Rooney Mara have made her a big-screen icon. (No offense to Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth, but Mara’s movie is loads better.) Fincher dangerously retains Larsson’s wicked, violent, European sexuality for Hollywood’s adaptation of the first book in the Millennium Trilogy. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) enlists the help of the titular tattooed (and multiply pierced) girl, a ward of the state who might be a psychopath but is certainly a genius, to solve a decades old murder. Readers of the novel will marvel at how smartly screenwriter Steven Zaillian jettisons the novel’s clunky points to streamline the central mystery (who killed Harriet Vanger?) and posit a new one (who is Lisbeth Salander?). Top-notch performances, red slashes of humor and Fincher’s masterful control of style (the stunning opening credits imply some twisted mix of Bond and bondage) propel the film with a badass energy, fed by Academy Award winning composers, Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose. Much like The Silence of the Lambs, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo weds the ghettoized thrills of genre with a larger cinematic ambition. Pop literary filmmaking gets no better than this.

THE IRON LADY (PG-13) Meryl Streep already has her Golden Globe nomination and is virtually guaranteed a spot on the Academy’s Best Actress shortlist with her turn as former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Director Phyllida Lloyd last helmed Streep’s crowd-pleasing Mamma Mia! As good as Streep is, most reviewers have been down on the film as a whole, one would assume because Lloyd as scripter Abi Morgan also cowrote critical fave Shame. With Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher.

JOYFUL NOISE (PG-13) Lawdy, Dolly Parton’s back on the big screen for her first starring role since 1992’s Straight Talk. As choral member G.G. Sparrow, Parton duels with Queen Latifah, fellow choir singer Vi Rose Hill, as their church choir competes in a national choral competition. Think “Glee†with more G-O-D. Naturally, sparks fly between G.G.’s misunderstood grandson (Jeremy Jordan) and Vi’s goody-goody daughter (Keke Palmer). With Kris Kristofferson, Courtney B. Vance and Jesse L. Martin. Written and directed by Todd Graff (Camp and Bandslam).

LIKE CRAZY (PG-13) The Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner stars Felicity Jones (winner of multiple Best Actress and Breakthrough Performance prizes) and the impressive Anton Yelchin (last seen in Fright Night) as two young lovers separated by government regulations. She’s a British college student; he’s an American student. Their love is deported after she overstays her visa and is kicked out of the country. Writer-director Drake Doremus may finally have a minor hit with his fourth feature. With Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence.

LOOSIES (PG-13) The thought of Peter Facinelli as star, writer (yikes!) and producer is much less frightening when you think of his funny, sad, man-child doctor on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie†rather than his awful, peroxided Carlisle Cullen. Then you read the logline: a New York pickpocket is confronted by a one-night stand. With Outside Providence director Michael Corrente, nothing good could come from this. With Michael Madsen, Joe Pantoliano, Christy Carlson Romano, William Forsythe and Vincent Gallo.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE—GHOST PROTOCOL (PG-13) Mission: Impossible is that rare franchise that has actually gotten better with each new installment and in inverse proportion to its megastar’s popularity. Tom Cruise had few peers in 1996 when the weak, original M:I opened; now he’s more often a punchline, albeit a badass punchline who does many of his own death-defying stunts, like climbing the outside of the world’s tallest building. What sets the Mission: Impossible franchise apart from any other existing action series is its star-producer’s knack for finding the best, new behind the camera talent. First-time live-action feature director Brad Bird is known to be an animation auteur (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), and he apparently doesn’t realize action of the live variety has limitations. Now he’s the guy who can still make a Tom Cruise stunt spectacular stand out like it’s the late ’90s. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his new team (the gorgeous Paula Patton, stalwart Jeremy Renner and A-1 comic relief Simon Pegg) must clear IMF’s name after a bombing decimates the Kremlin. From Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, the action doesn’t let up from scene one. A fun, funny, thrilling total summer package, M:i—GP will have you wondering why June’s so cold.

MONEYBALL (PG-13) Based on Michael Lewis’ bestseller, director Bennet Miller’s follow-up to the Oscar winning Capote actually makes baseball statistics interesting. Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) attempts to build a championship ballclub through On Base and Slugging Percentage rather than traditional scouting. Does it work? Anyone familiar with Major League Baseball already knows the answer, but the film, adapted by screenwriting superstars Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.

THE MUPPETS (PG) You can tell cowriter-star Jason Segel loves the Muppets. His reboot of Jim Henson’s lovable puppets is built with obvious love and understanding of what made their 1979 film debut so special. Gary (Segel), his puppet brother, Walter, and Gary’s longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) travel to Los Angeles, where they discover a plot to destroy the Muppet Theater by oil tycoon Tex Richman (Oscar winner Chris Cooper). Together, they help Kermit reunite the old gang—Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, et al.—to put on a telethon in order to raise the money needed to buy back the property. Self-referential with a joke ratio that favors adults two-to-one (a Muppet staple), some terrific songs by one half of Flight of the Conchords and a bevy of celebrity cameos, this film revives the Muppets as you remember them.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (R) Michelle Williams stars as the legendary blonde bombshell in this dramatization of Marilyn and Sir Laurence Olivier’s tense relationship while filming The Prince and the Showgirl. The film is based on the accounts of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who was employed by Olivier at the time. The rest of the cast sounds fun; Julia Ormond plays Vivien Leigh and Kenneth Branagh is Olivier. However, director Simon Curtis has done most of his work on the small screen.

NEW YEAR’S EVE (PG-13) Almost every actor you could possibly recognize appears in the second, two-hour holiday party thrown by director Garry Marshall. (Scratch that. No Julia.) At least Valentine’s Day had a semblance to what normal people might expect on Feb. 14. The folks preparing to ring in 2012 (dating it could sorely limit this flick’s already weak repeat watchability) aren’t doing a single thing you or I do, unless you cater swank New York parties while arguing with your music superstar boyfriend (naturally played by Jon Bon Jovi). A movie that feels crafted by the celebrity worshipping cult of E! has a surprising late-game twist to appeal to the more mature segment of its decidedly female audience. Targeting women as it does, one would think they’d cast some more appealing dudes. A morose Ashton Kutcher and a way too hyper Zac Efron (who I typically like) are too much, even for Transformer-fighting Josh Duhamel, when he’s clad in a too small bowtie. I did like imagining that the cancer doctor (Cary Elwes) treating Robert De Niro’s character, Stan, was Elwes’ Saw victim, Dr. Lawrence Gordon, before Jigsaw’s games began. Skip this party, and wait for the real thing.

PUSS IN BOOTS (PG) Shrek’s fairy tale may have moved on to happily ever after, but Puss in Boots (v. Antonio Banderas) is still itching for a fight. His spinoff reveals the swordfighting antics that led up to Puss meeting up with Shrek and company. Naturally, this flick was once slated for a direct-to-DVD release; will the cat be able to match the ogre’s blockbuster results? Director Chris Miller previously helmed Shrek the Third. Featuring the voices of Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis and more.

REAL STEEL (PG-13) The trailer for this Hugh Jackman action movie just screams Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie (which apparently was in development at one point). Jackman is a struggling promoter of robot boxing, who thinks he has a contender in a discarded bot. He also discovers he has an 11-year-old son. Director Shawn Levy has been on a roll; his last three movies were the high-profile hits, Night at the Museum, its Smithsonian-set sequel and Date Night.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (PG-13) Much like its 2009 predecessor, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a perfectly forgettable crowdpleaser. Robert Downey, Jr. revisits his hyper-bordering-on-manic, streetfighting master sleuth, this time tasked with defeating his literary arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (the appropriate Jared Harris of AMC’s “Mad Menâ€). Assisted as always by Dr. John Watson (Jude Law, again a game companion to Downey), Holmes is also joined by his brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry), Watson’s new wife (Kelly Reilly) and a gypsy fortune teller (Noomi Rapace, best known as the original Lisbeth Salander). Director Guy Ritchie coats everything in his usual super-stylish action sheen, lending the movie a surfeit of style, minus that pesky substance that might give the flick the little literary weight that could make this a classic reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. No ticket buyers should leave disappointed, unless they expect an entertainment satiation more enduring than the original.

• TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (R) The machinations Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the new film from Let the Right One In’s Tomas Alfredson, may be a little too (you say dense, I say) murky for its own good. Despite the climactic presence of all the proper puzzle pieces, the filmmakers leave the viewer to believe there’s more to be worked out as a result of retired British spy George Smiley’s (an excellently restrained Gary Oldman) return to semi-active duty to uncover the identity of a mole amongst the highest echelons of MI6. The performances from an absolutely dynamite cast of Britons (Oldman, reigning Best Actor Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, “Sherlockâ€â€™s Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Stephen Graham and upcoming Batman villain Tom Hardy) keep one engaged even as the pregnant pauses and furtive glances overly cloud the already opaque espionage waters of literary spymaster John Le Carré. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may be too smart, tasking its audience to puzzle out a hundred piece central mystery like it were split into a thousand. The work’s rarely boring though.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN – PART 1 (PG-13) Stephenie Meyer’s extremely popular teen-vamp-romance took a surreal turn in the fourth book. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) finally marry. On the honeymoon, Bella becomes pregnant with a thing that should not be. Now the Cullens are caught between the Quileute wolves and the ancient Volturi, both of whom are threatened by this unknown new adversary. I’ll be interested to see how director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls) handles the book’s R-rated events (specifically, the baby’s bloody birth) in a PG-13 manner.

• WAR HORSE (PG-13) After a brief trip to the sentimental silliness throughout a first act of boy meets horse, boy falls in love with horse, boy loses horse, Steven Spielberg’s latest drama catches fire in the war-torn countryside and trenches of World War I Europe. When his father comes home with a thoroughbred rather than a workhorse, Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) forges a lifelong bond with the beautiful beast he names Joey. Alas, war comes and debts must be paid; the Narracott patriarch (Peter Mullan) sells Joey to a war-bound cavalryman (Thor’s Tom Hiddleston). Thus begins Joey’s journey from the English countryside to the bomb-ravaged wilds of Belgium and France. Negatively criticizing Spielberg’s wonderfully warm, overly genuine drama just feels wrong and would be. The six-time Golden Globe nominee lacks many (if any) visible flaws, yet it fails to do anything unanticipated or elicit any emotion unexpected. The animal trainers deserve their kudos for the exceptional work done by the real Joeys. War Horse is exactly the kind of popular entertainment one expects from Hollywood’s master of pop moviemaking, but that expectation is its own detriment. Is it wrong to expect more from a superior film than the exact amount of projected greatness? 

WE BOUGHT A ZOO (PG) This movie just generates some odd feelings. A movie directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church sounds like a serious winner, but then there’s the title. A dad (Damon) moves his family to Southern California to renovate a struggling zoo. The Devil Wears Prada scripter Aline Brosh McKenna and Crowe relocate Benjamin Mee’s memoir from England to SoCal. Some say a similar move didn’t affect High Fidelity; I’m not one of those folks.

WORLD’S SMALLEST AIRPORT (NR) From Watkinsville’s own Surprisingly Professional Productions comes this documentary of the Thrasher Brothers Aerial Circus. From the end of World War II in 1945 to 1950, three Georgia brothers performed astonishing feats via aircraft that have yet to be exceeded. The Jan. 15–19 screenings at Ciné will be the film’s Athens premiere. To better prepare oneself for the Thrasher Brothers film debut, check out Grady Thrasher’s Dec. 29, 2010 article “A Remembrance: The World’s Smallest Airport†in our very own Flagpole magazine.