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February 2009
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Charlottesville Movie Times

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Current Movies 2/27/2009 - 3/5/2009
Title MPAA showtimes quality minutes theater IMDB
Confessions of a Shopaholic PG 1:30, 4:20, 7:10, 9:50pm ** 1/2 112 Carmike
The Uninvited PG-13 9pm ** 1/2 87 Carmike
Taken PG-13 12:20, 2:40, 5, 7:20, 9:50pm *** 91 Carmike
He's Just Not That Into You PG-13 1:10, 4:10, 7, 9:50pm *** 129 Carmike
Coraline PG 12:15, 2:40, 5:05, 7:30, 9:55pm *** 100 Carmike
The Pink Panther 2 PG 12:30, 2:50, 5:10, 7:30, 9:45pm ** 92 Carmike
Hotel for Dogs PG 12:30, 2:55, 5:20, 7:45pm *** 100 Carmike
Paul Blart: Mall Cop PG 2, 5, 8pm ** 91 Regal Downtown
The International R 1, 4, 7, 9:40pm ** 1/2 118 Regal Downtown
Push PG-13 10pm ** 111 Regal Downtown
Gran Torino R 12:45, 3:45, 6:45pm *** 116 Regal Downtown
The Wrestler R 1:45, 4:45, 7:45, 10:10pm *** 108 Regal Downtown
The Reader R 1:15, 4:15, 7:15, 9:50pm *** 1/2 124 Regal Downtown
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button PG-13 9:20pm *** 167 Regal Downtown
Fired Up! PG-13 1:30, 4:30, 7:30, 9:30pm **1/2 90 Regal Downtown
Friday the 13th R Digital: 1:30, 4:10, 7, 9:50pm Nondigital: 2:30, 5:10, 8, 10:35pm **1/2 97 Regal Seminole 4
Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail R 1, 2, 3:40, 4:40, 6:30, 7:30, 9:30, 10:15pm ** 103 Regal Seminole 4
Slumdog Millionaire R 4, 7, 9:30pm (+ 1:15pm Sat/Sun/Wed) *** 121 Vinegar Hill
Slumdog Millionaire R 4:15, 7:15pm (+ 1:15 Sat/Sun/Wed) (+9:35pm Fri/Sat) *** 121 Visulite
Milk R 4, 7pm (+1pm Sat/Sun/Wed) (+9:30 Fri/Sat) *** 1/2 128 Visulite

Confessions of a Shopaholic : Confessions of a Shopaholic has curves but no edge. The PG-rated comedy might have been made in the early ‘60s with Ann-Margret in the lead. Depression viewers flocked to movies about rich people acting silly, so recession audiences should like Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher). She isn’t rich but shops as if she were, and certainly acts silly. Fisher could have a long run in a TV sitcom, given the right premise. Raised by frugal parents (Joan Cusack, John Goodman), Rebecca wants to write for Kristen Scott Thomas’ fashion magazine; but she winds up instead as a columnist for a sister publication, Successful Saving. Editor Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy), who happens to be rich, handsome and available, enjoys Rebecca’s humorous way of discussing financial issues through shopping metaphors. So does the public. Rebecca’s financial irresponsibility is treated frivolously enough that financially-challenged audiences can laugh at the pratfalls, sigh at the romance and perhaps make up a shopping list from the fashions on display, without thinking about what their popcorn cost. If you’re going to go to a movie for mindless entertainment anyway, Confessions of a Shopaholic will fill the bill; but if you can resist, you’re advised to save your money.

The Uninvited : Don't read about The Uninvited because someone's bound to spoil your fun by giving away too much. This remake of a 2003 Korean horror film resembles one of those "(fill in the blank)-from-hell" thrillers like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Anna (Emily Browning) returns to her Maine seaside home from 10 months in a mental institution. She attempted suicide after her bedridden mother died in a fire. Her father, Steven (David Strathairn) is preparing to marry Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), his late wife's nurse. Anna's older sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel) opposes the union, as does their mother's ghost, whose hints lead the girls to investigate and conclude Rachel set the fatal fire to get her hooks into Steven. Unfortunately, Rachel seems to overhear everything they say about her, so the battle lines are drawn quickly and without subtlety. Anna's dream that opens the movie is an easy way of generating striking images for a trailer, many of which will recur in dreams, hallucinations and flashbacks; but you won't always know which is which. Banks doesn't get enough chances to steal the picture from Browning, who brings just the right emotional mix to a character that reveals layers like an onion.

Taken : Director Pierre Morel made his rep with the French thriller District B13, which was slam-bang action from start to finish. Taken takes its time, introducing Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a CIAgent who retired to be closer to Kim (Maggie Grace), the 17-year-old daughter his job kept him from knowing as she was growing up. His ex-wife (Famke Janssen) lets Kim go to Paris with her girlfriend Amanda (Katie Cassidy). Bryan's on the phone with Kim when the girls are "taken" by Albanian white-slavers. With 96 hours before she disappears forever, Bryan flies to Paris to employ his "very special set of skills" in locating Kim and Amanda and bringing their kidnappers to justice-- his own particular brand. Neeson is believable as a Jack Bauer clone (right down to the daughter named Kim) with three extra days to solve a case. While his deductive powers defy credibility, they effectively link the swift but coherent action sequences, which are worth waiting for as Bryan leaves the Eiffel Tower standing but not much else. Morel has a very special set of skills, and he puts them to good use, but youngsters who hope to travel abroad shouldn't let their parents see this movie.

He's Just Not That Into You : A group of mostly thirtysomethings seek relationship nirvana in this ensemble-ish romantic dramedy. Male and female viewpoints are represented, with female characters generally stronger, even in their weakness. Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), Beth (Jennifer Aniston) and Janine (Jennifer Connelly) work together. Janine landed Ben (Bradley Cooper) with the Marriage Ultimatum, so Beth tries it on Neil (Ben Affleck), after seven years of unwedded bliss. Gigi’s desperation scares men off, including Conor (Kevin Connolly), whose friend Alex (Justin Long) gives Gigi honest insight into men. Conor is trying to understand why Anna (Scarlett Johansson) treats him the way other men treat women. Anna meets Ben and falls so hard that by the time he tells her he’s married it doesn’t matter to her; then he has to decide whether it matters to him. Mary (Drew Barrymore) is a friend of Anna’s but largely peripheral to the story, isolated because most of her interpersonal contacts are through a technological buffer. While trying to wise women up, the movie provides enough happy endings and positive spins to send female viewers away with their delusions blissfully intact. With the nutritional value of snack cakes it goes down as easily and affords the same fleeting satisfaction.

Coraline : There’s no place like home. That’s the lesson Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) learns the hard way in her self-titled adventure, crafted by the master of stop-motion animation, Henry Selick. Bored in her new home in the Pink Palace Apartments and neglected by her parents (Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman), Coraline goes exploring. She meets Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), the landlady’s grandson; Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French), the old actresses downstairs; The Amazing Bobinsky (Ian McShane), a circus performer who lives on the roof; and Cat (Keith David), the brains of the house. Exploring further, perhaps in dreams, Coraline goes through a bricked-up passageway to an alternate universe where things are fun and exciting and her Other Mother and Father (same voices) are always smiling; but everyone has buttons for eyes. When her Other Mother threatens to make her stay permanent, Coraline has to escape, then return to rescue her real parents, who have also been captured by the Others. There’s plenty of good, old-fashioned craftsmanship here, but a little more humor would have been welcome in Selick’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel. Reviewed in two dimensions, “Coraline” is being shown in 3-D in some locations.

The Pink Panther 2 : It takes a special kind of skill to make Lily Tomlin and John Cleese totally unfunny, the cinematic equivalent of the talent that ran the world economy into the ground. Director Harald Zwart hasn’t acted alone. The screenplay, for which Steve Martin shares the blame with two others, has enough laughs for an animated short. Most of them are at the beginning, in hopes that inertia will keep the easily amused laughing throughout, though things get less and less funn10When the Tornado, a ten-years-dormant master thief, apparently goes back into action stealing precious artifacts, an “international dream team” is assembled to pursue him. Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Martin) represents France. He locks antlers with Andy Garcia, locks intellects with Alfred Molina, and dreams of locking lips with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. “Little yellow friend” Yuki Matsuzaki is on the team too. Cleese replaces Kevin Kline as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, with equally disappointing results. Tomlin tries to teach Clouseau “political and social correctness.” Jean Reno and Emily Mortimer return as Clouseau’s colleagues. He has a crush on Mortimer since their hot night in Rome. Of course Clouseau saves the day after losing the week, but this is strictly “2” for the money.

Hotel for Dogs : Families craving another Marley & Me won't be disappointed with this urban fantasy; and this time all the dogs live! (OK, it's a spoiler. Bite me.) Orphaned siblings Andi (Emma Roberts), 16, and Bruce (Jake T. Austin), 11, have been in five foster homes in three years. Their latest foster parents (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon) are a Dickensian duo of wannabe rockers who don't know they're hiding a dog, Friday. The kids do a lot of wrong things for right reasons, challenging kindly social worker Don Cheadle. When Friday discovers an abandoned hotel where a couple of strays are living, pet store employees Johnny Simmons and Kyla Pratt help populate it with dozens of other refugees from the pound. Bruce, whose real father taught him to make gizmos, tricks out the hotel so the dogs can practically take care of themselves. Being a mild PG movie, Hotel for Dogs has no hint of sex until Romeo meets his Juliet. All they do is kiss, but they're the most romantic screen couple since WALL*E and EVE. Hotel for Dogs is like 101 Dalmatians, but with 101 different breeds and no Dalmatians-- and no Cruella, although Kudrow comes close at times.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop : Economic stimulus, Hollywood style: Set a movie in a mall so the stores that pay to be shown onscreen can attract viewers to their real-life counterparts when they exit the malltiplex. The premise of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is simplicity itself: “Die Hard” in a mall – with fat jokes. The jokes are at the expense of Kevin James in the tailored title role. Abandoned with his (fat) daughter (Raini Rodriguez) by his green card wife, Blart lives with his (fat) mother (Shirley Knight). He wanted to be a state trooper but flunked out because of hypoglycemia, so he settled for working mall security. It’s a New Jersey suburb where nothing ever happens – until a gang of organized criminals jacks the mall and takes hostages, including Paul’s daughter and Amy (Jayma Mays), the hot new chick at the hair extensions stand Paul has a jones for; and it’s up to him to rescue them. The gang, led by Keir O'Donnell, is made up of extreme sports enthusiasts to keep the action lively. Paul alternates between amazingly agile (because he’s the hero) and predictably klutzy (because he’s supposed to be funny). The movie’s more klutzy than agile, but not painful to watch.

The International : “The International” shows how fine film-making can be subverted by compromise. The screenplay acknowledges the unstoppability of the economic forces that control our destiny, yet provides something of a catharsis at the end because “fiction has to make sense.” Trying to have it both ways the movie strains for relevance amid crowd-pleasing elements, and creates sexual tension between the leads, Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) of Interpol and Eleanor “Ella” Whitman (Naomi Watts) of the New York District Attorney’s office, even though shes a contented wife and mother. They’ve joined forces to bring down the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC), which is involved in money laundering and arms trading. Local authorities everywhere seem to be cooperating with the bank to stymie them, and anyone who threatens to expose the bank turns up dead. Director Tom Tykwer, who proved he could make a movie move with “Run Lola Run,” shows the same skill on a broader canvas here, especially in a shootout in Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum, as the film bounces from Berlin to New York, Milan, Lyon and Istanbul, plus some side trips. Tykwer’s technique’s great but while the film has something for everyone its totality is for no one.

Push : Hong Kong looks great in “Push,” an all-around great-looking movie that might be salvaged by a new soundtrack telling a different story. Division, a nefarious secret U.S. government agency, is trying to create an army of psychics; but the drug they’re developing to enhance natural psychic powers has killed all the test subjects but Kira (Camilla Belle), a “pusher,” a telepath who can change people’s minds or perceptions. Kira teams up with Nick (Chris Evans), a “mover” with telekinetic powers, and 13-year-old Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a “watcher” who can see the future. Nick brings in Pinky (Nate Mooney, trying to suggest Steve Buscemi playing Phillip Marlowe), a “shadow,” to shade Kira so Division won’t find her. Representing Division is Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou), who killed Nick’s father ten years ago. There’s also a “wiper” who can erase memories so minds can’t be read, not to mention “sniffs,” “shifters” and “bleeders.” With so many powers in use the possibilities are limitless and screenwriter David Bourla can’t get the story under control. The basic effects are all in the trailer; most of them are repeated ad nauseam. Director Paul McGuigan made “Wicker Park” and Lucky Number Slevin.” “Push” is his third strike.

Gran Torino : Clint Eastwood’s the personification of, “I’m not getting older, I’m getting better.” Filmmakers half his age would be proud to have “Changeling” or “Gran Torino” on their resume. For a 78-year-old to release both in one season is amazing. Part Archie Bunker and part Dirty Harry, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) lives in a changing Detroit neighborhood. When he speaks to anyone, which he rarely does since his wife died, his speech consists of ethnic slurs directed at friends, foes and strangers alike. A Korean War vet and retired Ford worker, Walt’s never met his next-door neighbors, a three-generation Hmong family who fled the Communists after the Vietnam War. Circumstances bring them together until he likes their children better than his own, but still calls them “gooks,” “chinks and “slopes.” Walt becomes protective toward Sue (Ahney Her) and tries to get Thao (Bee Vang), targeted for recruitment by a Hmong gang, to “man up.” A young priest (Christopher Carley) promised Walt’s wife he’d get her husband to confession. When Walt, a heavy smoker, coughs up blood, you know where this is going but not how it’ll get there. “Gran Torino” makes a good case for buying American, at least at the movies.

The Wrestler : Everybody loves a comeback. “The Wrestler” gives you two for the price of one. (Three, if you count director Darren Aronofsky, who needed one after “The Fountain.”) Mickey Rourke, whos been edging back into Hollywood after a virtual absence of a decade and a half, is riding high on this career-best work. Also making a comeback is Rourke’s character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, preparing for a 20th anniversary rematch of the biggest bout from the height of his career. Randy still wrestles for a few fans in his small New Jersey hometown, where his trailer park landlord won’t give him credit. Randy’s only “friend” is a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), who won’t date her customers. She’s past her sell-by date but not ready to admit Randy’s her best option. She encourages him to look up his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). When he blows his chances with both women he realizes there’s no life for him outside the ring, even if it kills him. Rourke inhabits the character and lets the camera suck the truth out of him. However he does it, it works, with wrestling stunts in three brutal bouts adding extra force to a tour de force.

The Reader : Torn between a hard-hitting Holocaust drama and watching Kate Winslet have sex with a 15-year-old boy? “The Reader” gives you both. How Michael Berg (David Kross) hooks up with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) in 1958 is inconsequential. He’s soon stopping by for sex on his way home from school. Of course he thinks he’s in love with this woman over twice his age. Hanna moves on and Michael doesn’t see her until 1966 when, a law student, he attends the war crimes trial of six women, including Hanna, who’d been concentration camp guards. Hanna offers no defense. Michael realizes why but doesn’t help her. A decade later Michael (now played by Ralph Fiennes), remembering how Hanna used to love it when he read to her, records books and sends them to her in prison. David Hare adapted Bernhard Schlink’s novel for the screen and Stephen Daldry directed, both doing excellent work. The film occasionally tells the viewer what to feel but never what to think. Some will condemn Hanna for having sex with a minor even before they learn about her war crimes. Most will, like Michael, feel some sympathy for her without going so far as to forgive her.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button : This romantic epic qualifies as a “chick flick” but the gimmick that grafts Brad Pitt’s cosmetically aged face onto smaller bodies will attract effects geeks. Like life it seems longer at the beginning than it does at the end, after nearly three hours. Very freely adapted by Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”) from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, it’s the story of a person who’s born in 1918 with the body of a man in his eighties and ages backwards. His father (Jason Flemyng) abandons him outside a rest home, where he’s adopted by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). When Benjamin meets the love of his life shes only seven and he’s not much older, but he looks like her great-grandfather. Daisy (Cate Blanchett) grows up and becomes a dancer. They’ll hook up when they’re both at their peak, knowing they’re traveling through time in opposite directions. Roth’s screenplay is rich with the kind of detail most movies leave out. Director David Fincher must have felt like a ringmaster, but for all the makeup and effects tricks in play he keeps the human story front and center. The Curious Case...” is cute as a button and should rake in the Benjamins.

Fired Up! : There’s no beach in Southern Illinois, but Fired Up! is a lot like an old Beach Party movie. The principal actors are the oldest high schoolers since Grease. Shawn (Nicholas D'Agosto, 28) and Nick (Eric Christian Olsen, 31) play football for the Gerald Ford High Tigers, so they get all the girls they want; and they want a lot of girls. They blow off football camp for Cheer Camp, where they’ll be two of the only four straight guys amid 300 girls, mostly from other schools. They pact not to date anyone from Ford during camp, but Shawn bonds with Carly (Sarah Roemer, 24) until her “pre-fiancé,” “Dr. Rick” (David Walton, 30), a pre-med freshman, shows up. Diora (Molly Sims), the head counselor and wife of Coach Keith (John Michael Higgins), becomes Nick’s maybe-not-so-impossible dream. The camp culminates in a competition, which the Tigers’ cheerleaders always lose; and the perennial winners, the Peoria Panthers won’t let them forget it-- especially their bitchy leader, Gwyneth (AnnaLynne McCord, 21). Fired Up! pays homage to the queen of cheerleading films, Bring It On. This movie won’t have the same longevity, but it will entertain its target audience for an hour and a half.

Friday the 13th : The new Friday the 13th is less a remake or the “reinvention” it’s billed as, than a new sequel to the original film, summarized in its opening moments. Two more groups of nubile twentysomethings come to Camp Crystal Lake, where in 1980 Jason Voorhees’ mother killed the counselors she blamed for her son’s drowning death. The first group is dispatched quickly. Six weeks later Clay (Jared Padalecki of Supernatural) comes searching for his missing sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti), and meets seven college students hosted by Trent (Travis Van Winkle) at his family’s cabin. Trent’s date, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) goes off with Clay. Jason (Derek Mears) finds his iconic hockey mask and effects death by machete, fire, axe, bow and arrow, antlers and other pointy things. Despite hootable dialogue (“Go to the tool shed. It’s down the path”), the so-old-it’s-new fun wears off and the chasing and killing become monotonous en route to the final, unsurprising surprise. While Rob Zombie gave his Halloween remake some psychological underpinnings, director Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) is about straight-ahead sex and violence. With several more horror sequels and remakes on the way, how long will fans keep rewarding Hollywood’s lack of originality?

Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail : Tyler Perry wrote, directed, produced (with Reuben Cannon) and plays three roles in what’s being misleadingly sold as a comedy, when it’s about 90 percent drama. Perry’s drag diva Madea provides most of the comic relief in the story of engaged Assistant District Attorneys Joshua (Derek Luke) and Linda (Ion Overman). A bourgeois princess, Linda can’t understand Josh trying to help a junkie prostitute, Candace (Keshia Knight Pulliam), with whom he grew up in the hood. More than two-thirds of the way into the movie Candy goes to prison – at the same time as Madea (Perry), after even Dr. Phil (playing himself) fails to resolve her anger management issues. Street preacher Ellen (Viola Davis) sermonizes on forgiveness, but that ultimately goes out the window in favor of a cathartic downfall for the villain of the piece. Madea’s a fabulous creation with crossover potential, but in spreading himself too thin Perry does her a disservice by putting her in sloppily written, poorly directed films. This is also disrespectful to the loyal audiences who will buy anything with the Tyler Perry brand on it. They may well end up echoing Madea’s words: “Lor’, do I have to listen to all this melodrama?”

Slumdog Millionaire : There are lots of feelgood movies but “Slumdog Millionaire” is one of the feelbest. Director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting, “28 Days Later”) works from Simon Beaufoy’s (“The Full Monty”) screenplay, telling a solid story in flashbacks within an irresistible framework. An uneducated orphan from the Mumbai slums, Jamal (Dev Patel) is beaten by the police, accused of cheating as he nears the top prize (nearly $500,000) on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Jamal explains how he learned the answers in mostly painful vignettes, each of which leaves him with a kernel of useful knowledge. At seven Jamal and his older brother Salim, riding the rails, meet Latika, who will be the love of Jamal’s life. The three are put in an “orphanage,” where they’re turned into criminals. The boys narrowly escape and split up after a brief reunion with Latika in their teens. Their paths cross again five years later when Jamal goes on the TV show. The jackpot question is too easy for such a big prize but the film’s whole premise falls apart if you analyze it and totally captivates you if you don’t. Take your choice but be careful with your final answer.

Slumdog Millionaire : There are lots of feelgood movies but “Slumdog Millionaire” is one of the feelbest. Director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting, “28 Days Later”) works from Simon Beaufoy’s (“The Full Monty”) screenplay, telling a solid story in flashbacks within an irresistible framework. An uneducated orphan from the Mumbai slums, Jamal (Dev Patel) is beaten by the police, accused of cheating as he nears the top prize (nearly $500,000) on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Jamal explains how he learned the answers in mostly painful vignettes, each of which leaves him with a kernel of useful knowledge. At seven Jamal and his older brother Salim, riding the rails, meet Latika, who will be the love of Jamal’s life. The three are put in an “orphanage,” where they’re turned into criminals. The boys narrowly escape and split up after a brief reunion with Latika in their teens. Their paths cross again five years later when Jamal goes on the TV show. The jackpot question is too easy for such a big prize but the film’s whole premise falls apart if you analyze it and totally captivates you if you don’t. Take your choice but be careful with your final answer.

Milk : Having lived in San Francisco shortly after the events depicted in Milk” I can’t be completely objective, but the flashbacks and emotional responses the film triggered in me are a testament to its authenticity and effectiveness. Taking a cue from his subject, the first out gay man elected to major public office in the U.S., director Gus Van Sant appeals to various constituencies without compromising his principles. The out-est, gayest, proudest movie ever made in the mainstream, “Milk” can be appreciated by anyone, even if they don’t agree with it. Long but well paced, it begins in 1970 with New York Jewish insurance man Harvey Milk (Sean Penn, amazingly good), 40, meeting Scott Smith (James Franco). They move to San Francisco, where Harvey opens a camera store and grows from neighborhood activism to city politics. He’s elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1977, along with old guard Irish Catholic Dan White (Josh Brolin), who kills Milk and Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) a year later. Dustin Lance Black’s well informed, commercially savvy screenplay crams considerable history into two hours without sacrificing entertainment value. I can’t imagine a better film on the subject than my pick as 2008’s Best Picture.

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