Reviews in Short

By Cole Smithey

Battle for Terra. Too thematically dim to hold the interest of adults and too alienating and violent to appeal to children, "Battle for Terra" is an offputting, animated sci-fi flick for no one. The 3-D planet of Terra is inhabited by a fundamentalistbased utopian society of large-eyed tadpole-like creatures that swim and fly through their planet’s atmosphere, where everything resembles some form of plant life. An invasion force of earthlings are viewed as gods, until their mission of genocide becomes clear, and the Terrareans take to the skies with battle planes of their own. Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is a freethinker and plays Juliet to the crash-landed earthling astronaut Jim (Luke Wilson), whose affection for Mala might be the only thing to save her fragile planet that the would-be occupiers seek to take over. Impressive 3-D computer generated graphics are the only thing to recommend about this thematically tonedeaf sci-fi disaster. Rated PG. 85 mins. (C-)

Earth. The voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, narrates this lively and majestic nature documentary that traces a year in the life of our planet by way of some its most enchanting species. Fledgling birds take their first flight, monkeys contort their little bodies while crossing a river, and a polar bear floats on a lone iceberg looking for his next meal. Beautiful, lush photography from the team of highly skilled filmmakers behind the Emmywinning "Planet Earth" take the audience on an unforgettable global adventure that includes a close look at the behavior of lions, penguins, whales, exotic birds and elephants as they carry on their daily struggle for survival. (Disneynature) Rated G. 90 mins. (B )

Fighting. Writer/director Dito Montiel drops down a few rungs after his promising debut film, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," with an undernourished drama about small-town fighter Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) who comes to Manhattan, where he meets two-bit hustler Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard). Harvey introduces Shawn to a world of underground street fighting, and Shawn proves himself a viable money-maker with an early steak of hard fought wins. The well-filmed impromptu bouts are appropriately gritty and energetic, but it’s the film’s romantic aspirations between Shawn and cocktail waitress Zulay (played by newcomer Zulay Valez) that provide a much-needed emotional lift to the otherwise dead-end social atmosphere. The everwatchable Howard mixes things up with a quirky, slowed-down accent that keeps you hanging on his every word, and Montiel cranks up the suspense with a third-act surprise climax that pays off nicely. (Rogue Pictures) Rated PG-13. 105 mins. (B-)

The Soloist. In this film based on the book by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, Robert Downey Jr. plays a divorced newspaper journalist who discovers homeless musical prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) and takes responsibility for helping the mentally disturbed musician while writing a series of politically-charged stories. Newbie screenwriter Susannah Grant fails to create an engaging arc for her adaptation, and she punctuates the drama with distracting touches of inappropriate genre clichés. (Note to screenwriters: Spilling urine, raccoon or otherwise, on your protagonist doesn’t engender character development or empathy). As Lopez struggles with getting the irascibly schizophrenic Ayers into housing where he can play his freshly gifted cello, the need for maintained psychiatric care becomes more obvious. Heartfelt performances from Downey and Foxx can’t counteract a lack of narrative focus that prevents the film from taking hold. Rated PG-13. 105 mins. (C)

State of Play. Based on a politically charged BBC mini-series, director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") moves the action from the House of Parliament to Washington, where the suspicious death of a congressman’s co-worker mistress underlines the desperate state of newspaper journalism in America. Russell Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, a veteran Washington Post-styled reporter with close ties to Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) and Collins’ romantically fickle wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn). Cal uncovers a corporate espionage plan to privatize Homeland Security that seems related to the death of Collins’ mistress. Cal gets tossed in with neophyte newspaper blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to cover this story with scandalous elements that threaten to eclipse greater crimes at hand. Laced with telegraphed character development, ghost-in-the-machine plot points, and preachy commentary, "State of Play" is a pedantic thriller caught in its own obvious clockwork. Nothing is organic and no situation believable in a movie that plays like a collection of isolated sub plots. (Universal) Rated PG-13, 118 mins. (C)

Observe and Report. Writer/director Jody Hill makes a quantum leap from his low-budget 2006 debut feature "The Foot Fist Way" with a hilarious, subversive black comedy about America’s post-911 culture of authority-abusing misfits commonly referred to as security guards. Seth Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a racist, sociopath security guard who is far more Travis Bickle than Paul Blart. Ronnie is the bipolar head of security at the Forest Ridge Mall, where a trench coat-wearing flasher accosts the object of Ronnie’s wrongheaded affection, a vapid make-up counter clerk named Brandi (brilliantly played by Anna Farris). The arrival of local, no-nonsense police detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) threatens Ronnie’s ego to the point that he decides to apply to become a police officer after Harrison drops Ronnie off in a deadly ghetto to fend for himself. The film is a take-no-prisoners satire that rises to the level of Martin Scorsese’s 1982 milestone "The King of Comedy." Rogan’s performance is beyond perfect, and supporting efforts by Liotta, Celia Weston and Michael Pena are spot-on. "Observe and Report" is a diabolical send up of authoritarian culture. (Warner Brothers) Rated R. 106 mins. (A )

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