Short movie reviews

"Azur & Asmar"

Working in 3-D computer animation for the first time, French filmmaker Michel Ocelot unveils a disarming look that's at once painted and pixilated, lifelike and artificial. His self-created, family-friendly tale, which follows two brothers of the spirit on a quest to free a spellbound fairy, works at a slower pace than American kids are used to and with a little too much simplicity for adults.

In Ocelot's favor, however, are two irresistible qualities: a singularly delightful way of animating children and delightfully rich and layered, Middle Eastern-inspired imagery. Following the film's brief premiere run at the Wexner Center in January, the Drexel's picked it up for a full week of shows starting Friday. Grade: B+

"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-

"Coraline"

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-

"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 International"

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

"Let the Right One In"

In Tomas Alfredson's Swedish coming-of-age/horror hybrid, a 12-year-old boy with anger issues finds an unexpected soulmate in the girl vampire next door. As the two of them solidify a relationship of mutual need - his for affection, hers for human blood - the filmmaker lets a silence permeate much of the snow-covered film, making sporadic scenes of ultra-violence all the more shocking. It's easy to see where the story's headed, but formal precision, heartfelt emotion and genre satisfaction make this trip memorable. 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-

"Taken"

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

"Waltz with Bashir"

Though it lost on Oscar night in the Best Foreign Language Film category, Ari Folman's animated documentary about the things he'd witnessed and forgotten in younger years, while serving with the Israeli Defense Forces, is a winner nonetheless. As his extraordinary story sheds light on dark but fascinating elements of modern Israeli history, his experiences both in the past and in its rediscovery should touch a universal nerve among veterans of war. Grade: A