Capsule movie reviews

"Azur & Asmar"

Working in 3-D computer animation for the first time, French filmmaker Michel Ocelot unveils a look that's at once painted and pixilated, lifelike and artificial. His family-friendly tale 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 his rich, Middle Eastern-inspired imagery. 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

"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

"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

"Watchmen"

For better or worse, Zack Snyder has made a pitch-perfect, grittily stylized adaptation of Alan Moore's dark graphic novel. This is way more of a superhero drama riddled with angst and existential dread than a pre-summer popcorn flick. It's got splashes of bone-splintering violence and some sexual politics, but also a labyrinthine plot and little of the crowd-pleasing flair of most big-screen spectacles. Fanboys, rejoice; the rest, be warned. Grade: B

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