Reviews in Short

By Cole Smithey

500 Days of Summer. As a post-modern dissertation on a doomed lead-or-be-led relationship, director Marc Webb’s romantic comedy suffers from script formatting that randomly jumps between specific days in the life of an affair between ego-hindered Tom (Gordon-Levitt) and commitment-phobe Summer (Zooey Deshanel). In spite of its overworked structure, the movie captures a believable romance between Tom and Summer, who work together at a greeting card company. Insecure Tom lets Summer make the first move, and he pays dearly for it, as she lays the ground rules for what will be an emotionally bumpy ride. Summer insists that she doesn’t believe in "love," while their coziness turns would-be architect Tom into a veritable songand-dance man. The lopsided romance goes repeatedly off and on until a dramatic change of heart creates a climax that makes one of them a better person and reveals hypocrisy in the other. Gordon-Levitt is great as a hopeless romantic, and Zooey Deshanel embodies a cold-fish charmer whose mod girl styling is but a clever disguise for a person looking for a better deal. (Fox Searchlight) Rated PG-13. 96 mins. (B-)

The Collector. Quite probably the worst film of 2009, "The Collector" (no relation to the great John Fowles novel) is director/co-writer Marcus Dunstan’s gratuitous attempt at torture porn after writing the scripts for the fourth and fifth installments of the "Saw" franchise. Arkin (Josh Stewart) is a building contractor with his eye on the contents of a safe in the home of a wealthy client. In the interest of paying off a looming debt to his ex-wife, Arkin breaks into the home while the family is away on vacation, only to discover that he has walked into a booby-trapped chamber of horrors. How it is that a killer installed a complex design of deadly blades on pulleys and gears in the few hours since Arkin last left the house is of little interest to a filmmaker concerned only with abusing his audience with gut wrenching scenes of human suffering and blood spewing violence. The storytelling on display is beneath remedial. The filmmaker’s refusal to even bother with a cogent ending shows a contempt for his audience that is unforgivable. "The Collector" is an open-handed insult to fans of the horror genre.%u2028(Liddell Entertainment) Rated R. 88 mins. (F)

Public Enemies. By the time director Michael Mann gets around to making clear his intention of creating a throwback to Hollywood gangster films of the ’30s, "Public Enemies" has long since worn out its welcome. Essentially an extended chase picture, the film (co-written by Mann and two other screenwriters) never bothers to define characters hell-bent on crossing the finish line of a narrative race of which everyone already knows the outcome. Johnny Depp is miscast as John Dillinger. Although, considering Mann’s glossy approach to his subject, it seems Depp’s measured and mannered performance is just what the director ordered. Consistently tight camera shots exemplify Mann’s inability or unwillingness to look beyond Dillinger’s milieu of cohorts and would-be police captors to the social conditions that enabled the famous bank robber to be idolized by the American public and nicknamed "the Jackrabbit" for his effortless escapes. However, the film does come miraculously together, albeit briefly, during a mesmerizing scene, in which Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie Frechette (Marion Cottard), is being tortured by a police investigator. Cottard hits a dramatic zinger that erupts from the screen with a glimpse of what the film could potentially have delivered. The spectacle of blaring machine guns, antique car chases and hurried prison escapes is not without moments of sheer entertainment. But when that’s all there is, you just don’t have much of a movie.%u2028Rated R. 143 mins. (C-)

Funny People. Writer/director Judd Apatow raises the stakes on his already stellar formula for generating laughs with a comedy that is equal parts sincerity and wit. Set in a real-life world of Los Angeles stand-up comics, the story revolves around Adam Sandler, very much playing himself, as George Simmons, a hugely successful comedian living it up in his Hollywood Hills mansion. News that he’s dying of leukemia inspires George to hire local newbie standup comic Ira Wright (perfectly played by Seth Rogen) to write jokes and work as a personal assistant who will guard George’s medical secret from the press. An awkward friendship develops between George and Ira, as George tries to set the record straight with family members, old friends and his former fiancée Laura (Leslie Mann). Rogen is an ideal comic foil for Sandler’s character, and the film provides a great format for each to express a range of comic levels. "Funny People" is by far Adam Sandler’s best movie, because Apatow writes comic set pieces that allow germs of humor to expand between the more obvious laughs that Sandler hits with sharp-shooter accuracy. At two hours and 20 minutes, "Funny People" runs about 15 minutes longer than it should. But this is still the funniest movie of the year. (Universal) Rated R. 140 mins. (A-)

Orphan. "Orphan" is a persuasive addition to the subgenre of bad-seed horror films, like "The Omen," where a creepy little kid wreaks havoc and murder on the lives of ill-equipped adults. The real child of hell here is 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a charming orphan of Russian descent whose induction into the wealthy family of John and Kate Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) allows for more than a few shocks of tragic violence and some very uncomfortable familial manipulation. Kate’s recent miscarriage of a daughter inspires the couple to bring an adopted girl to join their 10-year-old son, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), and their hearing-impaired, 6-year-old daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer). Kate is a recovering alcoholic whose drinking almost cost Max’s life near their lakeside house. Despite Esther’s polite demeanor and undeniable artistic gifts, bizarre events makes Kate suspect that Esther is a source of trouble. Director Jaume Collet-Serra redeems himself after his disastrous "House of Wax" with a genuinely scary movie ramped up by a truly inspired plot twist. (Warner Brothers) Rated R. 120 mins. (B )

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