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KUNG FU PANDA *** 1/2
Roly-poly Po (voiced by Jack Black) realizes he's the Dragon Warrior who can save the Valley of Peace from a marauding panther (voiced by Ian McShane) in this charming, frantic and funny parable from Dreamworks' animators. Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson and writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger borrow material from many sources: the master-student relationship of “The Karate Kid,” the color scheme of “Hero,” the fight atop bamboo poles of “Iron Monkey,” a prison break from “Kung Fu Hustle,” scads of flying imagery from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to show how hard work and fortitude help you achieve dreams. 91 minutes. PG: Martial arts action.
A cinematic soufflé, prepared as only the French know how. A penniless fool (Gad Elmaleh) pursues a golddigger (Audrey Tautou) with the idea that she'll love him if he's sufficiently devoted. When she dumps him, he becomes a gigolo; they enter a good-natured, informal competition, realizing that their attraction to each other may queer their mutual deals with rich third parties. Director Pierre Salvadori (who wrote the script with Benoît Graffin) leaves us with an ending we can read as we like. 104 minutes. PG-13: Sexual content, including nudity.
THEN SHE FOUND ME ***
Helen Hunt directed this romantic comedy-drama and was one of three writers, so it's no surprise that it reflects her screen personality: a friendly, slightly anxious, smarter than average woman who's a bit afraid of age and loneliness and tries to approach them with humor. She plays April Epner, whose life is in turmoil: Her adoptive mother has died, she's dumped by her new-minted husband (Matthew Broderick), and her birth mother (Bette Midler) drops back into April's life. Meanwhile, an author (Colin Firth) with his own troubling ex-spouse enters the picture romantically. 100 minutes. R: Language and some sexual content.
YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN * 1/2
Believe me, I'd rather not. This is yet another Adam Sandler movie featuring an adult adolescent obsessed with his private parts, "homo" jokes and a clunky message about tolerance. The title character is a Mossad master spy who's tired of his old life, fakes his death and comes to America. He gets a job in a rundown hair salon managed by a Palestinian named Dalia (Emmanuelle Chiriqui) and attracts a vast clientele of older woman by rinsing, styling, then schtupping them. Zohan and Dalia's love is complicated by Israeli-Arab hatreds, which boil over when a Palestinian cab driver (Rob Schneider) tries to kill Zohan. 112 minutes.
PG-13: Crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN **1/2
The Pevensie children return to the magical kingdom to help the title character (charismatic Ben Barnes) defeat his usurping uncle, regain the throne and let all Narnians live in peace, including dwarves and magical beasts and talking animals. Disney has commercialized, denatured and inflated the story to make it indistinguishable from any handsome sword-and-sorcery epic, and it's untrue to the tone and some significant events in C. S. Lewis' novel. Yet it's handsome on its grand scale; the sprawling battles have been beautifully produced and shot, and the thunderous final conflict shakes the Earth. That it ends in the kind of Red Sea effect Lewis didn't dream of will give you an idea of the movie's visual magnificence and storytelling bloat. 144 minutes. PG: Epic battle action and violence.
THE FALL **
This takes place in a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s. A stuntman (Lee Pace), his back broken by a fall, bemoans a lost girlfriend and tells a long ongoing story to a 5-year-old (Catinca Untaru) about heroes who pursue a tyrant. (He hopes she'll like him well enough to pilfer morphine, so he can kill himself.) Producer-director Tarsem Singh, who wrote the script with Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis, achieves shots of jaw-dropping beauty. But none of the characters has charisma, and the drab actors (especially Justine Waddell as the heroine of the tale-within-a-tale) seem to be chosen for inexpressiveness, so they won't detract from the settings. 117 minutes. R: Some violent images.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL ***
It's an amalgam of all three of the previous pictures: the wonderful setup from “Raiders,” the ridiculous stunts of “Doom” (a jeep goes over THREE enormous waterfalls without anyone suffering a scratch, despite falling out of it), and the political/generational stuff from “Crusade.” The problem is, director Steven Spielberg seems like an ADD child: He'll introduce a menace (such as blowgun-wielding Indians) without explaining why they're there, and five minutes after they come onscreen, they are never seen again. But this isn't a major drawback, because Ford is in fine shape and Cate Blanchett is the series' best villain: Soviet mind-reader Irina Spalko, who wants to use the crystal skull's powers to enslave Americans for her Soviet masters. 124 minutes.
PG-13: Adventure violence and scary images. epic battle action.
IRON MAN ***
This Marvel Studios adaptation of its 1960s comic book has been updated to modern Afghanistan, where munitions maker Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) realizes his company has been supplying Afghan warlords who attack U.S. troops. He develops a conscience (not to mention a gold alloy flying suit to fight crime), and this origin story becomes a brain-free ride on a bullet train. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the stalwart sidekick, Terrence Howard the confused but supportive second-in-command, Jeff Bridges the war profiteer who has no use for changes of heart. But if you want complex characters or political commentary, you're in the wrong place. 126 minutes. PG-13: Some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.
SON OF RAMBOW **1/2
A British boy grows up in a conservative religious sect that forbids television and movies; when he accidentally sees “First Blood,” he decides to make an action movie himself with a classmate who's a juvenile delinquentclassmate. The coming-of-age stuff is funny and occasionally touching, but the movie tumbles into the usual Hollywood pitfalls when it decides to straighten out everyone's problems in the wink of an eye: Bill Milner and Will Poulter are fine as the kids, who treat filmmaking as their first expression of “adult” behavior. 96 minutes.
PG-13: Some violence and reckless behavior.
SEX AND THE CITY * 1/2
Fans of the TV show may be enraptured; the rest of us who sit through this flabby, predictable romantic comedy will wonder what the fuss has been about. Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon jump through familiar hoops with ease, but writer-director Michael Patrick King saddles them with banal dialogue and leaden pacing. Jennifer Hudson has pleasant moments as Carrie's personal assistant (an irrelevant role and, I suspect, one thrown in so the all-white cast will gain diversity).148 minutes. R: Strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.
THE STRANGERS *
A draggy, imbecilic horror film about two non-entities who are trapped in a remote house by three nameless psychos and tortured to no purpose. A film devoid of any reason to exist, save for a modestly good performance by Liv Tyler as one of the victims. 90 minutes. R: Violence/terror and language.
THE VISITOR ***1/2
Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) has written and directed another feature about a lonely man who gets forced into unwanted relationships through chance encounters, then blossoms as he becomes part of an adopted “family.” Richard Jenkins plays the widowed college professor who returns to his New York apartment to find squatters; he befriends them and gets caught up in their attempts to stay in the United States, especially after he meets a mother (Israeli Arab actress Hiam Abbass) who's trying to keep her son from being deported. Powerful, intelligent and honest. 108 minutes. PG-13: Brief strong language.
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS …
An ambitious Wall Street trader (Cameron Diaz) and a slacker (Ashton Kutcher) meet in Las Vegas, have a weekend of debauchery and get married while drunk. They resolve to divorce, but he uses her quarter in a slot machine and wins a $3 million jackpot. Then she insists the relationship is back on, until there can be a division of assets in court. 99 minutes. PG-13: Some sexual and crude content, and language, including a drug reference.
YOUNG @ HEART ***1/2
Pick of the Week. A documentary about New England singers in their 70s and 80s who perform songs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Radiohead and Sonic Youth. The members of this choir see the Grim Reaper in the near distance – indeed, he calls on some of them before the end – but thumb their noses and keep singing. British director Stephen Walker didn't ask tough questions; he merely enjoyed the struggles and occasional sentimentality and presents those elements with respect. 108 minutes. PG: Mild language, thematic elements.
88 MINUTES (R)
EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED (PG)
FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (PG-13)
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (R) ***
HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY (R) **
LEATHERHEADS (PG-13) ***
MADE OF HONOR (PG-13)
PROM NIGHT (PG-13)
SPEED RACER (PG) * 1/2
STREET KINGS (R)
Film capsules are written by Lawrence Toppman. If there's no star rating, he hasn't seen the movie.
Grades: **** = excellent, *** = good, ** = fair, * = poor.