Reviews in Short

By Cole Smithey

Reviews in Short

Ponyo. Anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki, best known in America for his 2001 film "Spirited Away," stays true to his common themes of nature, elderly people and polite children with an American-dubbed version of his Japanese mini epic "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea." Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Little Mermaid," this beautifully animated film is set in a small, seaside village in Japan, where 5-year-old Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas) lives with his mother, Lisa (voiced by Tina Fey) in a modest, cliff-top house. Sosuke is thrilled when he discovers a goldfish trapped in a glass jar in the surf near his house. He names the unusual fish with a human face “Ponyo” (voiced by Noah Cyrus). Little does Sosuke realize that he holds the ability to transform the fish he adores into a little girl his own age, or that such a transformation could threaten the delicate balance of the global ecosystem. Ponyo’s seafaring father, Fujimoto (voiced by Liam Neeson), is a kooky individual with a wild shock of long, orange hair, and her mother is Granmamare (voiced by Cate Blanchett), a divine goddess of the sea. "Ponyo" is an entertaining fantasy movie for kids in which painstaking attention is given to balancing physical reality with magical fantasy. Already a hit in Japan, it’s an instant classic of children’s animation. Rated G. 101 mins. (B )

A Perfect Getaway. David Twohy, the filmmaker responsible for sci-fi cult favorite "Pitch Black," creates a deconstructionist suspense thriller that plays like a college screenwriting project gone awry. Geeky Cliff and spunky Cydney (Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich) go on a dream honeymoon in Honolulu, where the island’s lush beauty attracts them to a mountainous hike only accessible by foot, helicopter or kayak. News of the brutal murder of a couple not unlike themselves makes Cliff and Cydney suspicious of two other couples they encounter along the way. It would be cheating to go into any of the film’s third act surprises that pull the rug out from under everything that has gone on before, but suffice it to say, the revelation of a seriously flawed plot device serves merely to ramp up a predictable series of violent set pieces. "A Perfect Getaway" is an example of an amateurish attempt at reinventing a suspense formula that is rarely done right. There just isn’t much satisfaction in playing a game where the dealer is playing with a different deck of cards. It’s a childish kind of filmmaking that Alfred Hitchcock would call irresponsible. Rated R. 98 mins. (C)

Julie & Julia. If writer, director and coproducer Nora Ephron had better producers around to save her from herself, "Julie & Julia" could have been the movie it wants to be: a Julia Child biopic with Meryl Streep doing a fantastic job as the TV chef that taught America how to cook. Instead, "Julie & Julia" represents two very unequal stories battling toward a cinematic TKO. In the lightweight corner sits blogger cook Julie Powell, whose blog-based book about cooking her way through Child’s 1961 cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Ephron adapted for the movie. Julie decides to cook the book’s 526 recipes over the course of a year and religiously blog about the experience. Julie (played by the cute-as-a-button Amy Adams) lives in a crumby Long Island City apartment over a pizzeria with her doting husband (played by a severely miscast Chris Messina), when she isn’t working a day job that reeks of screenwriter manipulation as an oppressed government phone worker. In the heavyweight corner stands Streep, thrilling herself and the audience as the larger-than-life Child. Witness Child with her much more believably devoted husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) living in Paris where she, already in her 40s, enrolls at the Cordon Bleu school of cooking and takes to it like a fish to water. Ephron adapted material from Child’s posthumous memoir, "My Life in France," and the book proves much stronger source material than that of a young blogger. Shocker.%u2028Rated PG-13. 123 mins. (C-)

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 song-and-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)

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