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The Namesake

We grow to care deeply for the characters, and that is the film’s power and success.

reviewed by Cathy Conway Miller

Sure, you won’t want to miss the summer blockbusters. But amidst the hoopla, hype and techno thrills at your local multiplex, don’t overlook one of the gems of the season, The Namesake.

Director Mira Nair (Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding) has brought to film Jhumpa Lahiri’s popular, Pulitzer-prize winning novel. The result is a beautifully wrought and poignant movie. The film’s universal themes — including the problems inherent to families across the generations, especially those of immigrant families and the struggle for identity of the younger generation — will be easily grasped and embraced by boomers and Gen Xers alike.

The story line follows the touching love story of a traditional Indian couple, brought together through an arranged marriage, as they adjust to their new life together in America and then to the problems of raising children who are more of the new land than of their own tradition. The title of the movie refers to their son’s name, Gogol, which provides a mysterious link to his father’s past and provides the thread linking together the two cultures and generations.

The film shuttles the viewer back and forth in time and place. We are transported from the streets of Calcutta, bustling with exotic sounds and sights and to the gray, snowy streets of a New York winter. Two cultures are skillfully presented — traditional Bengali as well as modern American — and we feel the richer for exposure to both. We feel these are very good and complex people. We grow to care deeply for the characters, and that is the film’s power and success.

The Namesake is the kind of movie you will want to discuss over coffee. You may even contemplate a trip to India — where the family reunites — after the astounding scenes of the Taj Mahal.

Great drama • R • 117 mins.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

This better-than-average teen movie could’ve been a whole lot more.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

Two lovelorn teens fall for each other on a crazy night traipsing through downtown New York City in the cute and clever romantic comedy Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas) scores points for giving us a better-than-average teen movie with teenagers who don’t act or look like they are 30-something — even if the movie ends up covering a lot of the usual ground.

Nick (Michael Cera) has recently broken up with girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), and he regularly makes her mix CDs as he tries to recover. Nick’s gay bandmates Thom and Dev (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron) try to cheer Nick up by taking him into the city for a gig and a quest to find a secret show being put on by his favorite band, Fluffy. Meanwhile, suburban high school classmate Norah (Kat Dennings) is also out that night searching for Fluffy and meets Nick randomly at Nick’s band’s show. One coincidence leads to another, and Nick and Norah are on an all-night, no-adults journey through Manhattan.

The joy in this movie evolves from the believability of Nick and Norah. Cera (Juno; Superbad) is his usual mellow self and generates big laughs through his understated way of reacting to any and all situations. His anger barely registers above a whisper when he tries to assert himself to a drunken couple trying to get in the backseat of his car because they think his yellow Yugo is a cab: “I assure you this is not a cab, my friend.” Dennings (The 40-Year Old Virgin) looks the bad girl part, but we can tell she has an earnest heart behind that caustic mouth and dark eyes.

What brings them together is their love for the same kind of music. Undoubtedly, younger indie rock fans will enjoy the soundtrack. One wonders if it isn’t destined for the best seller’s list like soundtracks of equally poignant films about young lovers, 2004’s Garden State and last year’s Juno.

However, despite the smart interplay in individual scenes, the script doesn’t have anywhere to go beyond the usual sex and fall-in-love stuff. I suppose that is enough. It’s just that you have a certain sense when you leave the theater that it could’ve been a whole lot more. Sort of like a mix CD filled with fun poppy songs.

Good romantic comedy • PG-13 • 90 mins.

© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The massive statue of Abraham Lincoln comes to life — and to the rescue during the epic Battle of the Smithsonian.

Night at the Museum:
Battle of the Smithsonian

A convoluted mess designed to show off spectacular special effects and spin some history-inspired zingers

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

Ben Stiller returns as a museum night watchman, this time at Washington, D.C.’s, Smithsonian Institute, in the lackluster action-comedy Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Perhaps it’s cute enough for children, but with only a few good ideas and a story that never gets going, adults will be bored.

Former museum guard Larry Daley (Stiller) is now a successful TV pitchman for gimmicky inventions like the glow-in-the-dark flashlight. However, he still returns every so often to visit New York’s Museum of Natural History to see his old friends, the exhibitions that come alive at night. Seems the museum is getting a makeover, and the exhibits are being sent into archival storage at the Smithsonian. Alarmed by a call from cowboy miniature Jedediah (Owen Wilson), Larry goes to Washington to rescue his old friends from evil and ancient Egyptian pharaoh (Hank Azaria) who plans not only to take over the museum but perhaps the world.

The plot is a convoluted and nonsensical mess designed to show off spectacular special effects and throw some history-inspired puns and zingers our way. Unfortunately, these puns and zingers aren’t very effective. Azaria as the pharaoh feels the need to take on a speech impediment to seem funnier. Bringing Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) and Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabet) together in an evil scheme may seem inventive, but only Guest gets off anything resembling clever humor.

The film’s most inventive scenes have Larry and Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) finding famous paintings and sculptures coming to life. Art fans will find themselves identifying these now-moving works of art, from a Jeff Koons’ dog bouncing around the room to a watchful Roy Liechtenstein. But the intelligence ends there. Logic is missing, too. 

Still, you might be entertained if the film could find a pace that didn’t set our minds to wandering. Every time we almost start to engage, it stops itself in its tracks, which won’t help with the kids, either. What the movie needs is a Cat in the Hat finale. These come-to-life exhibits have made quite a mess of the Smithsonian’s hallowed halls (disturbingly so), without explanation or consequences. Maybe that would make for an interesting sequel: Night at the Museum 3: The Aftermath.

Fair action-comedy • PG • 105 mins

Nights in Rodanthe

Conflict is weak. Humor bores. Romantic tension could use a little blue pill. Don’t even get me started about the horses.

reviewed by Mark Burns

In a former life, Nicholas Sparks was a roving minstrel who sang tales of tragic romance in a minor chord. His emotionally exploitive ballads were so bad that villagers suspected Sparks of witchcraft and chased him away with mud and sticks. This set back time’s embrace of romantic idyll 100 years — until medieval Aquitaine swooned to the lyric of Tristan and Isolde.

True story. Probably.

Watch out! Here comes Sparks again, in a novel adapted to film.

Adrienne (Diane Lane) and Paul (Richard Gere) have followed their mid-life crises to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. She, taking care of her friend’s oceanfront inn, is a separated mom wrestling through her emotions as a disgraced husband tries to weasel his way back. Paul, the lone guest at said oceanfront inn, is an emotionally stunted divorced doctor with an estranged son.

They meet, vent and set to shoring up one another’s weaknesses with their yin-yang compatibility. Then they come together. In friendship. In rapture. In love.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to Sparks. At the very least, this film can be appreciated for the overt escapism of mature, romantic melodrama classed up with themes of virtue and aspirations toward the nobler reaches of the human spirit. Adrienne illustrates the complications of modern family life and personifies the struggle to rediscover one’s true self and find the bravery to be truly happy. Paul stumbles forward in a quest to restore love and humanity to a career-driven life.

Lovely sentiments, sure. But they’re delivered as so much schlock.

Nights in Rodanthe offers up a flat tale that borrows tired lines and scenarios from the common romantic imagination and strings them together with anemic storytelling. Conversation feels like group therapy, and lame exposition lacks zing.

The few dramatic bits that don’t taste of cardboard are grossly sappy. Conflict is weak. Humor bores. Romantic tension could use a little blue pill.

Director George C. Wolfe (Lackawanna Blues) delves deeper into the sappiness than even Sparks might have intended, with whitewashed flashbacks, endless strains of tinkling piano and foreshadowing so obvious that the filmmakers might as well have handed over the script.


Poor romance-drama • PG-13 • 97 mins.


© Focus Features

#9, voiced by Elijah Wood, and #7, voiced by Jennifer Connelly, flee for their lives from the Fabrication Machine in Shane Acker’s epic adventure fantasy 9.

A masterpiece of mood, but so very draining

reviewed by Mark Burns

Steampunk Pinocchios fight to render a hellscape somewhat less damned in this gothic end-times fantasy.

The Great War/World War II apocalyptic smash-up is at an end. H. G. Wells-inspired robots have scythed organic life; humanity is extinct; and the only clues to civilization lie in ruin. Emerging into this dingy bleakness is 9, a clockwork soul zippered up in a swatch of burlap. Bewildered, he stumbles into a community of eight fellow Smurf-scale creations, each a fragment of their scientist creator’s essence. When he stretches out into the wilderness and accidentally awakens the mother of mechanical menace, 9 must discover his past and thus learn how to thwart his own kind’s extinction.

The film is the brainchild of director Shane Acker, a relative newcomer given rein by producer Tim Burton to expand on his original 10-minute short by the same name (viewable in its entirety on YouTube). Acker remains strikingly true to his original, retaining the style, character and summary tale while expanding with fully fleshed story, grander menace and voices. Perhaps even a point.

Story is fleshed out smartly, focusing on one creature’s awakening to a ruined world, then following him as he finds his source and purpose. Haunting clues serve as contextual touchstones to develop background, gradually prying insight on this alternate reality. 9’s curiosity and bewilderment enhance the alienness of the experience and drive the cast unto chaotic peril.

Coloring this trip is a weird amalgamation of alchemy, science and industrialism. This is one nightmarish trip. Just how dark? A giant robo-arachnid Hal buzz-saws the spine of a human skeleton, melding it with scrap to create a robotic bird of prey that hunts little dolls. Or take, for example, the occasional graying cadavers. Either way, this is not-for-kids dark. It’s a lush darkness, though, gorgeously and meticulously envisioned in hues of steel and oil, char and dirt.

Certainly there’s a brilliance to this. There’s a deft hand at work, imbuing rich personality in little satchels of soul and placing them in a very unsettling world stalked by skittering awfulness. It’s easy to imagine how such lush and imaginative imagery would make Burton bolt upright from his bed of nails and say, Whoah, cool! But it is so very draining, and — without spoiling anything — the end falls woefully short of uplift, coming across like hollow platitudes at a funeral.

This is a masterpiece of mood, and certainly worth a watch. But after a view you’ll likely be craving something bright and stupid.

Good animated drama • PG-13 • 79 mins.

No Country for Old Men

This chilling — not to mention bloody — morality tale is well written, well directed and well performed.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

A serial killer chases a man with stolen drug money while a sheriff pursues them in the brilliant and bleak drama No Country for Old Men. Ethan and Joel Coen (O Brother Where Art Thou?, Barton Fink) masterfully deliver a chilling — not to mention bloody — morality tale that is well written, well directed and well performed.

Rural 1980 Texas is a changing place. Not that we necessarily see it, but we’re told it; and clearly our movie’s characters feel it. No one feels it more than smart and grizzled sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who is on the brink of retirement when a series of murders bloody his dusty county.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is out hunting one day when he stumbles across a drug deal turned murder scene, and manages to land a briefcase of money in the process. Per usual, with such briefcases of such large amounts of cash, trouble follows close behind. But Moss is no dummy, and he suspects as much. Not that it matters. Stoic psychopath Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is the hunter, and everyone in his way is the hunted. Sheriff Bell just tries to cope.

As directors, the Coen brothers execute at their meticulous and exacting best. The way the camera moves and the way each shot is framed manages to mesmerize us while underscoring the import of all matters held within. At the same time, as writers, their dialogue (adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel) — ambling but trimmed back like Texas underbrush — can be both ironic and metaphoric, and we hang on every word.

No less mesmerizing are the performances. Brolin is rugged and quiet like a 1950s’ western movie star. Jones is his usual rock-solid self, perhaps a little slower but just as quick-witted and wise. And Javier Bardem gives us perhaps the scariest and creepiest movie villain since Anthony Hopkins bragged about eating human flesh with a glass of Chianti.

No Country for Old Men is not unlike the Coen brothers 1996 hit Fargo. Our hero is a folksy and clever police investigator, who seems a lifebuoy amongst a sea of mayhem. The Minnesota you betchas are replaced by Texas drawls, and the cold snow is replaced by hot dust. Fargo was funnier, and No Country for Old Men is more poetic. Nonetheless, these two films are quite the kindred spirits, and fans of one will surely fall for the other.

Great drama • R • 122 mins.

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