Capsule film reviews
"Confessions of a Shopaholic"
Effervescent comedic actress Isla Fisher doesn't let a contrived character that's alternately savvy and stupid - depending on the script's needs - take her down in P.J. Hogan's adaptation of Sophie Kinsella's bestselling books. She makes the contortions seem effortless. But the rest of the film, from a romantic subplot with brooding Hugh Dancy to the excess of Patricia Fields' costume design, feels like a chore. Grade: C-
For his latest feature, based on a book by Neil Gaiman, Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) melds traditional puppet animation with CGI and 3D (not in all theaters, but worth looking for), and he makes it an extraordinary union. Yet this lovely style subsumes the dramatic weight in Gaiman's tale of a little girl who finds behind a tiny door an enticing but more menacing version of her parents. Selick doesn't create momentum, just more beautiful effects, a wonder that doesn't penetrates past the eyes. Grade: B-
Director Kyle Newman's circa-1998 comedy about four friends who storm Skywalker Ranch to get a sneak preview of The Phantom Menace for a terminally ill pal has fun with the rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek fans and cameos from William Shatner, Carrie Fisher and Seth Rogen (in three roles). Otherwise, it's derivative and a little late to the game, but Lucas-ites should be able to handle the flaws. Grade: C+
"Friday the 13th"
This isn't a remake of the 1980 original but a revamping, and that's not a compliment. At least a faithful redo would have an excuse for compositing every slasher movie cliche imaginable. The modern return to Camp Crystal Lake almost plays as a Scream-like satire, but it's far too stupid to be that clever. Grade: F
The first wide release from Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer envisions a massive conspiracy in which a global bank deals in high-tech arsenals and Third World dissent, and everyone is in on it - except Clive Owen's dogged Interpol agent and a prosecutor played by a badly utilized Naomi Watts. A lot of patience and a raging paranoia level are demanded from viewers as they seek an informant who can be kept alive long enough to bring everything down. Grade: C
"I've Loved You So Long"
If you considered Rachel Getting Married too boisterous, there's Phillipe Claudel's quieter French version of a woman being released into the care of her sister after a family tragedy. Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent as an ex-con who has to earn her family's trust, and the audience's. Claudel is in no rush to grant forgiveness, but by the second half he loosens up, and the leading actresses make this something truly unique and inspiring. Grade: B
"The Pink Panther 2"
There's actually talent involved in this unnecessary remake, between star Steve Martin and supporting players like John Cleese, Andy Garcia and Lily Tomlin. But the story of Inspector Jacques Clouseau being tapped to head an international detective dream-team still only manages sporadic laughs. Aiming to please both adults and kids, director Harald Zwart probably won't quite please either. Grade: B-
"Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" NEW!
A blip on the U.S. pop music scene in the mid 1960s with the Walker Brothers hit "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More," Ohio-born Scott Walker was a sensation in the U.K. as an American import to the British invasion.
Stephen Kijak's documentary chronicles the heights of the singer-songwriter's fame, Walker's efforts to maintain the integrity of his increasingly distinctive musical choices - leading to years of obscurity - and the musicians who noticed along the way, including David Bowie and Radiohead.
The challenge in his work is expressed in his embrace of English translations of Jacques Brel and his own lyrics about death and despair, studio sessions for 2004 release The Drift in which Walker directs hammers, metal drums and meat as percussion instruments, and in his voice, which started as a deep baritone and in recent work is an eerie vibrato, a collision between Nick Cave and Wayne Newton.
But as Walker's flock of musical acolytes opens up about the personal effect of his music, Walker himself, in a rare interview, focuses strictly on his professional output. In the end, his life story is left to the abstracts of his lyrics - a choice that's respectful but less than satisfying. Grade: B- -Melissa Starker
Its story is totally preposterous and its action scenes beg for Dramamine, yet Taken has an unlikely advantage in the casting of Liam Neeson as a retired government agent who hunts down the Albanian sex traffickers that kidnapped his daughter (Columbus' own Maggie Grace). Neeson becomes a one-man rampage of hand-to-hand combat and shots fired with other men's guns. While it isn't recommended behavior for Americans traveling overseas, it's good fun on screen. Grade: B
"Wendy and Lucy"
Natural, observational, and with the singular focus of living hand-to-mouth, Kelly Reichardt's story of a young woman (Michelle Williams) scraping to keep her dog fed and her beater car running on a cross-country trip to find work unfolds with a profoundly genuine sense of the real-life stories it reflects (pet owners will find it extra-heartbreaking). Carrying virtually every scene, Williams nails the agony of having no good options left, and how much work can be involved in being poor. Grade: A
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