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While big-ticket blockbusters flood theatres every week, worthy little indie films gasp for air. The quietly excellent “Handsome Harry” is one of these. The movie debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring, then sat around till September, when indie vet Mark Urman picked it up for his Paladin distribution company. Now here it is, opening this weekend in New York, Los Angeles and Miami (and other cities soon). Better late than undeservedly overlooked. Read More...

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FROM MTV.COM: Like the book on which it's based, Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" leaves you sandbagged and gasping, although not in exactly the same way. The movie oozes gore and dementia — it has the dripping atmosphere of a gothic horror film. And the wild plot twist in Dennis Lehane's lurid 2003 novel, from which the picture has been adapted with iron fidelity, may be even more shocking in its transposition to the visual realm. Like the book, though, the movie is unleavened by humor or any other narrative respite. This isn't a problem in print, where we can pull back from the material; but it makes the picture a grueling experience, and the fact that it's too long makes it even more arduous.

The story is set in 1954. As it opens, we see U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio, in his fourth Scorsese outing) and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), arriving by ferry at the remote and craggy Shutter Island, site of the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The marshals have come to help find an escaped murderer, Rachel Solando, who has mysteriously disappeared from her locked cell.

Continue reading 'Shutter Island': Smoke On The Water, By Kurt Loder

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FROM MTV.COM: Knowing that Chris Columbus directed the first two Harry Potter films, you may find his new movie — "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," to give it its full, galumphing title — to be jarringly familiar. It concerns three kids — one stalwart boy, one feisty girl, one comical sidekick — who have special powers and are sent to a special place (Camp Half-Blood!) for training under the mentorship of a wise older protector; there's a secretly fiendish teacher and also a quest on which our heroes are guided by a magical map. Too bad there's no Voldemort figure, although we do get Steve Coogan in fiery demon drag — which unfortunately is nowhere near the same thing.

Like the book on which it's based — the first in Rick Riordan's best-selling series of young-adult novels — the movie is heavily infested with the gods of ancient Greek mythology, which may prove confusing to those who've forgotten their Olympian arcana. The story begins with two of the top gods, Zeus (Sean Bean) and Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), meeting on the top deck of the Empire State Building. Zeus is angry that someone has stolen his trademark lightning bolt, and he suspects it was Poseidon's half-human son, Perseus, who lives down below in New York with his all-human mother, Sally (Catherine Keener). Poseidon's been out of touch, but says he'll see what he can do.

Continue reading 'Percy Jackson & The Olympians': Demigod Squad, By Kurt Loder

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FROM MTV.COM: Looking for a rom-com fix this Valentine's weekend? Rather than fall for the calculated come-on of "Valentine's Day," you might want to revisit some much better films instead. For example:

» "Jerry Maguire"
» "Moonstruck"
» "Knocked Up"
» "House of 1000 Corpses"

Okay, I exaggerate. "Valentine's Day" does have a few good lines, and a couple of lively performances. But the movie is overstuffed with plot and characters; they're confusing to keep up with, and not all that interesting even when you're able to figure them out.

The story takes place on ... well, you know what day it takes place on. Ashton Kutcher is a love-struck Los Angeles florist who's just proposed to his sleep-over girlfriend, Jessica Alba. "I can be a sappy moron all day," he crows, with unwarranted presumption, "because it's Valentine's Day." His best friend, Jennifer Garner, is happy for him, in part because she's finally found Mr. Right — a doctor played by Patrick Dempsey, whose many endearing qualities include a talent for juggling fruit (among other things, if you get my meaning).

Continue reading 'Valentine's Day': Heart-Shaped Schlock, By Kurt Loder

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FROM MTV.COM: "The Wolfman," here at last, is sadly lacking in snarl. There are plenty of bared fangs and flesh-rending claws, of course, and there's much howling at the moon, too. But the movie is essentially an exercise in Gothic atmosphere. It's lavishly produced, sumptuously scored (by Danny Elfman), and beautiful to look at. It's just not very scary.

But how could it be? Is there anyone who doesn't know the simple story, at least in outline? Or who needs to have it told once again? Given the film's troubled production — the last-minute director switch, the re-shoots and re-editing, the year-long release-date delays — it's probably turned out better than anyone might have hoped. But it still feels redundant.

Continue reading 'The Wolfman': Furball, By Kurt Loder

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FROM MTV.COM: "Dear John" is a movie that tells all you need to know right in the title: soldier boy meets perfect girl; they bond, kiss, irritate a jealous suitor; boy ships out for combat, girl pines at home; love letters criss-cross the sea in torrents; she suddenly stops writing; months pass; then he receives ... one last letter. I'm afraid the boy's name is in fact John.

The most interesting thing about this picture — the thing that might make it work for a viewer in a certain woozy frame of mind — is the deadpan sincerity that director Lasse Hallström brings to the material. He doesn't see the story as a shop-worn anachronism (it's set in 2001, but it feels like 1944), and he doesn't milk it for heart-wringing sentiment (the plot does all the milking on its own). He plays it straight, and invites us to sniffle along if we want. There's something kind of admirable about this, I guess, in a going-down-with-the-ship sort of way.

'Dear John': Dead Letter, By Kurt Loder

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FROM MTV.COM: It's a measure of the fleet wit with which "From Paris with Love" has been crafted that at one point, the film's star, John Travolta, is shown chowing down on a "Royale with cheese." True, we are in France; but we're far, far away from the antic world of Quentin Tarantino. The scene sits there on the screen like a cold Whopper that nobody wanted.

The movie is a mess beyond all the usual bullet storms and flying bodies that enliven most modern action flicks. The disarray begins with the nonsensical story, which was tossed off, possibly in moments, by the alarmingly prolific Luc Besson; and it achieves full sprawl in the hands of director Pierre Morel — a man who once gave us, in league with Besson, the furious parkour quickie "District B13." That movie had a story, too, but it was never allowed to interfere with the film's real subject, which was running, jumping, climbing, smashing — nonstop fun stuff. Here, the story invites our attention, which is unwise.

Continue reading 'From Paris With Love': Bullet Time, By Kurt Loder

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FROM MTV.COM: "Edge of Darkness" is a revenge thriller ripped from today's headlines. Well, ripped from the headlines of 25 years ago, anyway, back around the time when movies like "Silkwood" and "The China Syndrome" were mopping up Oscar nominations with their fact-based indictments of the nasty nuclear-energy industry.

The original "Edge of Darkness" was a 1985 BBC-TV miniseries whose director, Martin Campbell, has now turned it into a feature film, relocating the story to Boston. But Karen Silkwood was a real person, and "The China Syndrome" echoed the near-meltdown of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. "Edge of Darkness" has no such real-world roots, and so its concern with a sinister nuclear-research corporation and the brave young anti-nuke activists determined to blow the whistle on it feels stale and dated. It's a movie whose time has passed.

Continue reading 'Edge of Darkness': Dad Reckoning, By Kurt Loder

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FROM MTV.COM: You'd figure that formulating the basics of evolutionary biology would involve some hard traveling, both mental and nautical. But sweat cures? Stuffed-bird riots? Little ghostie girls chattering in a corner? Who knew about that stuff?

Director Jon Amiel's "Creation" is an imaginative approach to an impossible project. First, it undertakes to tell the story of the naturalist Charles Darwin's 20-year struggle to write "On the Origin of Species," his world-changing book about the way in which plants and animals have evolved over the ages through a process that Darwin called natural (as opposed to divine) selection. The movie also sketches in the five-year-long, globe-girdling voyage during which he collected the compendious data for his book, along with much peripheral information about his health (wretched), his relationship with his devoutly religious wife (strained) and his apparently never-ending connection to his dead 10-year-old daughter (feverish). This is a lot of material to pack into 108 minutes, and "Creation" goes lumpy in attempting it.

Continue reading 'Creation': Natural Man, By Kurt Loder

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FROM MTV.COM: German director Michael Haneke may be the world's chilliest filmmaker since Stanley Kubrick, who relinquished the title along with his life. Haneke's latest movie, "The White Ribbon," already festooned with prizes from Cannes to the Golden Globes, shows little sign of a warming trend in his work; but it does offer some of the pleasures of genre storytelling — at least until the end, when the director lobs the tale back into our laps to make of it what we will (which doesn't require a lot of pondering).

The picture suggests a sardonic reworking of the 1960 alien-invasion classic, "Village of the Damned." It's set in a remote village in Northern Germany in 1913, on the eve of World War I. Eichwald is a place of near-feudal social arrangement and harsh Protestant rigor. The land is presided over by a baron whose extensive fields provide sustenance for the local peasants; they in turn are tended by a kindly village doctor, an earnest young schoolteacher and a minister of monumental Christian rectitude. A timeless placidity reigns over the deep structures of communal order.

Continue reading 'The White Ribbon': Children's Hour, By Kurt Loder

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