movie reviews July 2011

Cowboys & AliensProject NimThe SmurfsCrazy, Stupid LoveBride Flight CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER A LITTLE HELP FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2page one: inside the new york timeswinnie the pooh (2011)BEGINNERS Horrible Bosses •  The Zookeeper •  Buck •  Larry Crowne •  Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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Cowboys & Aliens
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

The idea of cowboys taking on malevolent extraterrestrials sounds like the ultimate guilty pleasure. What closet Luddite wouldn’t love watching cowpokes duking it out against high-tech spacemen and teaching them how to fight old school? It’s too bad it’s been done before.

Yes, Cowboys & Aliens is adapted from a comic book created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, but a Kansas City animation team called MK12 created a mesmerizingly odd short called The History of America where spacemen and open rangers face off. It’s a technical marvel loaded with a sidesplitting pseudo historical narration and warped imagination. MK12 has later gone on to do graphic work in movies by Marc Forster (Stranger than Fiction, Quantum of Solace).

Because Cowboys & Aliens is produced by Steven Spielberg and made with A-list talent, the eye candy is certainly formidable. The skuzzy critters don’t show up until the movie is half over, but they are suitably creepy, and the space duels and the galloping action are well staged. As he’s demonstrated in Iron Man and Zathura, director Jon Favreau has a sure hand with action and eye candy. Curiously, the flesh and blood components are lacking this time.

A committee has been credited with the script, and it shows. Most of the characters are one-note, and plot strands are started but then abandoned later. As a result, most of the performers aren’t asked to do much except look like they’re caked in dirt.

Daniel Craig stars as an amnesiac drifter who wakes up to find himself in 1870’s Arizona with a bizarre metallic bracelet around his wrist and surrounded by a gang of armed cutthroats. The only thing he’s sure of is that their guns are optional.

When confronted, he subdues them within a few seconds. He arrives in a small, struggling town and learns that he resembles a wanted man named Jake Lonergan and that the local sheriff (Keith Carradine) is sending him to jail along with the spoiled son (Paul Dano) of a local cattle baron.

Naturally, the surly tycoon Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is unhappy with his offspring’s captivity and is eager to settle the score with Jake because the drifter stole a considerable amount of gold from him.

Before a showdown can take place, a horde of flying machines starts lassoing the town’s residents including Dolarhyde’s son. The residents also discover that Jake’s bracelet can shoot down one of these menacing vehicles even though Jake has only a vague idea how to use it.

With the help of an Apache tracker (Adam Beach) that Dolarhyde has adopted, Jake and the Colonel ride after the malevolent ETs in hopes of giving them a taste of frontier justice. Riding along is an odd woman (Olivia Wilde) who understands the invaders and their sinister motives.

With all of the explosions and scary aliens, Cowboys & Aliens manages to stay watchable throughout. The sad thing is that Ford’s Dolarhyde is the one dynamic character in the film.

Ford relishes playing an age-appropriate character with a colorful past, but nobody else seem to have anything interesting to do. Craig is appropriately enigmatic and tough (he usually plays James Bond), but the script doesn’t have a firm grasp on the character. When explanations for his opening predicament arise, they seem halfhearted, as if the filmmakers were in a hurry to blow something else up.

Whereas Favreau’s Iron Man embraced the quirkiness of its title character, Cowboys & Aliens could do a better job of maximizing how odd the situation is. The frontier people in this film seem just a little too assured with their situation. A little bewilderment might have made more dramatic sense.

In other words, Cowboys & Aliens would have been even more fun if Favreau and his cohorts had embraced the weird instead of minimizing it. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted on 07/29/11)

Project Nim
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

The joy of James Marsh’s documentaries is that, while frequently enlightening, they play more like gripping features. Events that occurred thirty years before play as if they’re occurring for the first time. In addition, they don’t fit neatly into any sort of genre. For example, the Oscar-winning Man on Wire unfolds like a tense heist movie but also fills a viewer with a sense of wonder at high wire artist Philippe Petit’s achievement.

Project Nim provides a similar roller coaster ride for the emotions, while raising important questions about how human beings interact with animals.
The story of Nim Chimpsky is familiar to linguistics students. In the 1970s, a mother named Stephanie LaFarge took in a baby chimp dubbed Nim Chimpsky (as a jab at linguist Noam Chomsky) in the hopes that through sign language, the chimp might communicate with people. Dr. Herbert Terrace of Columbia University supervised the experiments in which it was hoped that Nim could learn how to converse in a manner that was more sophisticated than previous experiments.

Nim proved to be a fast learner, but he wouldn’t settle for being a mere lab rat or a cuddly critter. If he never learned how to make the sort of linguistic advances that Terrace wanted to see, Nim still proved he wasn’t stupid.
He exploited tensions in the relationship between Stephanie and her husband, and learned to sign that he wanted to go to the bathroom as an excuse to get out of tedious sign language lessons. He also had a vivid memory of who in the human world had wronged him.

Nim lived for 26 years, which is roughly half the normal lifespan of a chimp. Terrace frequently showed off Nim’s feats to journalists, gaining Nim and himself considerable notoriety. The scientist and his famous subject, however, only dealt with each other for five years.

In today’s light, the idea of raising a chimp to adulthood, as a human seems far more ludicrous than it did in the 1970s. After the age of three, chimps become too strong for humans to manipulate or control. Chimps bite with 10 times the force humans do, so keeping them around the house is out of the question. It’s surprising the project continued as long as it did.

Nim’s life after the experiment is just as eventful but not as well known. Marsh reveals Nim’s triumphs and tragedies with a novelist’s flair. Much of Nim’s life is dramatic, but Marsh skillfully avoids sensationalism while delivering the necessary jolts.

His interviews are astonishingly candid and raise some disturbing concerns about the experiment. For example, Terrace had affairs with two of the women involved in the original Project Nim, so his findings and techniques could easily be called into question. Because Nim was a child of the ‘70s, it shouldn’t be surprising that he enjoyed drinking beer and smoking weed.
With multiple points of view, at times Project Nim comes off as a zoological “Citizen Kane,” with each person’s traits emerging in their descriptions of Nim. The fact that his own soul still emerges is a testament to Marsh’s filmmaking and a sign that we humans may not be the true masters of our domain. (PG-13) Rating: 5 (Posted on 07/29/11)

The Smurfs
Reviled by Dan Lybarger

Winnie the Pooh is a terrific movie that captures the wit of the original A.A. Milne stories and the warmth of the old Disney television specials, while retaining a whimsical charm of its own. Its only real flaw could be that the film is too short.

I wish I could say the same thing about The Smurfs.
Just because something reminds you fondly of your childhood, doesn’t mean it will make a good movie. While many feel nostalgic for The Smurfs, the 1980s television cartoon wasn’t very good to begin with and hasn’t improved with age.

Like most of the shows that the Hanna-Barbera Inc. churned out during the 1970s and ‘80s, The Smurfs, an adaptation of comics that Belgian artist Peyo created in 1958, reeked of indifference. With both the stories and the animation, it was easy to spot the shortcuts that were taken to get the series out every week.

The new 3D computer animated-live action hybrid doesn’t have any of the same technical deficiencies of the Saturday morning toons. Nor does it have much of anything else, unless you count product placement and urine gags as content. Unless you can come up with a poop joke that’s as funny as the one in Up or a farting sequence as masterfully executed as the one in Blazing Saddles, you shouldn’t bother. Yes, bodily function can be funny, but not when accompanied by little blue guys.

Director Raja Gosnell, the brain behind such sophisticated, cerebral fare as Home Alone 3 and Beverly Hills Chihuahua, manages to do nothing interesting or worthwhile with the characters.

Admittedly, there isn’t much to do with them. When the characters burst into the word “Smurf” the way Richard Pryor used to burst into profanity, it gets annoying. Fantastic Mr. Fox had much funnier fake cussing.

The Smurfs are all named after their primary personality trait like Grouchy (voiced by George Lopez), Brainy (Fred Armisen), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) or Gutsy (Scottish actor Alan Cumming, sounding, oh, Scottish). There really isn’t any room for the characters to grow, and the performers, while capable, don’t have distinctive enough voices. Instead of live actions stars, the film might have worked better with cartoon voice actors, who specialize in molding their voices fit their animated avatars.

There’s still only one female, Smurfette (moonlighting singer Katy Perry), and her token presences seems even creepier than it did in the 1980s. Did the folks behind the old series have problems with women? They haven’t been solved here, and Perry’s lackluster performance doesn’t help.

What’s especially sad is that veteran comic Jonathan Winters is stuck playing Papa Smurf, the blue patriarch. Winters is legendary for being able to come up with great improvisational zingers, but Gosnell and an army of screenwriters give him almost nothing to do but sound concerned.

The current story sends the blue folks and Gargamel (Hank Azaria), the wizard who wants to capture them, through a vortex into contemporary New York. Once there, they disrupt the live of two expectant parents Patrick and Grace Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays). It takes no effort to guess that Papa Smurf will dispense some type of bromide to Harris’ new dad and that it will feature the word “Smurf” at least twice.

Patrick has to help the Smurfs get back home while designing ads for his tyrannical boss (Sofia Vergara). About all that happens is an interminably long trip through FAO Schwarz where the Smurfs encounter inanimate toys with more personalities than they have.

Yes, this movie is aimed at tots, but are our youngsters well served by a movie where Gargamel confuses a Champagne bucket with a chamber pot? Long-term exposure to this needless exercise is guaranteed to leave you as blue as the Smurfs themselves.  (PG) Rating: 1.5 (Posted on 07/29/11)

Crazy, Stupid Love
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Dan Fogelman has made his mark writing some delightfully witty children’s cartoons like Bolt and Tangled. Ironically, he’s also penned one of the most enjoyable adult movies in recent memory with Crazy, Stupid, Love. With its scalpel sharp dialogue and likable characters, parents may find themselves inadvertently discovering the delights their children already knew about Fogleman’s writing.

Steve Carell stars as Cal Weaver, a shy married man who discovers that his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) wants a divorce. Her timing could have been better. She unloads on him during both a dinner date and the drive home. The news hits Cal so hard that he looks like a Marine who has just acquired his thousand-yard stare. His blank gaze indicates that Emily might have been kinder by stabbing her husband instead of dumping him after a fling with her coworker David (Kevin Bacon).

Unsure of how to rebuild his life, Cal hits the bar scene where he takes to the single life with the same ease that a whale adapts to a beach. In his mid-40s, he looks like yet another drunken loser instead of a potential mate. Repeatedly referring to himself as a cuckold doesn’t help for some reason.

A suave bed hopper named Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on Cal and gives him a thorough makeover, while helping himself to a little of Cal’s cash. With a new set of clothes and a wittier set of pickup lines, Cal learns how to use his somewhat goofy manner to appeal to women and soon woos several, including a feisty teacher (Marisa Tomei).
Jacob, on the other hand, quickly tires of the casual flings and starts falling for a law student named Hannah (Emma Stone), whose comebacks are more clever than his lines. Meanwhile, Cal begins to wonder if all of his cavorting, while fun, is still a poor substitute for the marriage he used to have.

Had Fogelman merely followed Cal and Jacob around, the film would already have been rewarding, but adding some other plot strands adds an extra layer of unpredictability. Cal and Emily’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has a debilitating crush on his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Further frustrating matters, she sees the divorce as a chance to finally declare her love for the nicest of her employers, Cal.

Fogelman loads the film with unexpected connections where seemingly unrelated characters have more to do with each other than previously thought. At times, there seem to be a few too many of these surprise connections, but it’s refreshing to see a film with too much on its mind instead of too little.

Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the team behind the underappreciated I Love You Phillip Morris) manage to set the right tone and have a remarkable ease getting the best out of the performers. Carell, in particular, manages to project enough dignity to prevent viewers from simply leaving him for dead, and Gosling can be slick without being soulless, which is a rare trait.

With people like Moore and Bacon involved, the supporting cast is expectedly strong, but even Bobo and Tipton manage some juicy turns and almost merit a movie of their own.

Writer-directors Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles) from Pixar have been recently making some grownup films of their own. Perhaps more cartoon writers and directors should get into the over-20 market, their work would be appreciated. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted on 07/29/11)

Bride Flight
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Inspired by the Dutch entry in the Last Great Air Race in 1953, in which pilots competed to see who could fly the 12,300 miles from London to Christchurch, New Zealand the fastest, Marieke van der Pol's screenplay reconstructs the flight on which young Dutch women were hastened to their husbands-to-be, the Bride Flight. The film follows three imagined composites as they make their way as homesteaders in a new world. Regrettably, director Ben Sombogaart's labored frame, set in present day, sets the pace for the original story, allowing it to hit only the most overly dramatic moments and burdening it with a tedious momentousness.

Through the long flight, Ada (Karina Smulders), Esther (Anna Drijver) and Marjorie (Elise Schaap) become fast friends. In addition, Ada and fellow passenger Frank (Waldemar Torenstra) foster an attraction that culminates in a passionate kiss on one of the refueling stops, leading Ada to reveal the indelible situation in which she finds herself. All hijinks are brought to an end when the plane lands and the women are met by their prospective husbands. With only a few last longing looks, Ada is led off by her husband (Micha Hulsof), a frugal, religious zealot to the bunker where they live. Straight-laced Marjorie is handed off to a respectable rooming house for the time before her wedding, and Esther and Frank check into the hotel.

By itself, the stories of the three women embarking on a new life would be enough. Although on the contrived side, the characters and their circumstances would make a fine movie. The actresses are charming and the stage sets and landscape of a burgeoning territory is engaging. However, the flight and its results are only the jumping off point for Bride Flight. In fact, much emphasis is put on the Frank's death (briefly played by Rutger Hauer) and his funeral attended by the three women, now old and much more settled (Pleuni Touw as Ada, Petra Laseur as Marjorie and Willeke van Ammelrooy as Esther). Because the frame comes first, there are no surprises in the movie. Although it likes to think it has a whopper, it doesn't.

Unfortunately, the dialog is too often bogged down in exposition. Plus, with no surprises, the audience is held captive to long, monotonous build-ups. Even the one love scene seems to drag. In addition, in what should have been a quiet, emotional movie are many histrionic grand gestures. At one point, Esther chases after her friend and son with a menorah in hand. It's very hard to get worked up about an incident you've been sitting with for at least an hour when it's concluded with such a laughable moment.

In more capable hands, the script would have been cut in two. And perhaps eventually someone will eventually make a good movie about the “Bride Flight.” (R) Rating: 2 (Posted 07/29/11)

Captain America: The First Avenger
Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

While the buzz for an Avengers movie has done nothing but grow with each comic convention, Captain America: The First Avenger has been awaited with almost equal glee. Every fan-boy felt tingles down their spine with each released photo from the set (Cap’s outfit: awesome! Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull? Double-triple awesome!). In every way it seemed like Marvel Studios had learned their lesson, and were going to deliver an action packed thrill-ride that would leave us all drooling for next year’s Avengers’ movie. I mean, how could this fail? It’s a super-soldier named Captain America fighting Nazis. How can you screw this up?

Three words: the origin story.

For years comic fans and geeks in general have screamed a very simple message to Hollywood: Stop screwing around with the origins of superheroes, and get on with the action already. A prime example is Superman: While maybe somebody in Mongolia might not know he’s an alien from Krypton, pretty much everybody else does, so please don’t spend half an hour re-re-re-covering his origins.

Now, I of course know WHY producers do this: it’s filler that’s relatively cheap to film compared to big fight scenes while still being “faithful” to the comic books. So, of course, it’s been done to death, to the point where it’s become the standard in the death-spiral of the re-boot shit-storm.

The weird thing is … there’s plenty here that would work, if it had just been put together without the pacing of paint drying. The plot is simple, and (mostly) true to canon. Chris Evans does a decent job as Capt., the look of the 1940s is fantastic, and I mean c’mon, Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull.

You see Captain America was as much a stylized icon of all those everyman-Americans who accomplished seemingly impossible feats in WWII, as he was a superhero. “Steve Rogers” was a simple 90-pound weakling from Brooklyn who was willing to undergo a dangerous experiment just so he could get in there and fight, the basic virtue of good versus evil. His new power was tempered by his humble, honest (and yes, American) straightforward upbringing. Later, his years of military experience made him the natural leader of the Avengers, and one of the most respected superheroes in the world.

There’s no question director Joe Johnson has put all that character development in here, in spades, but there’s just one problem: He makes all that BORING. Although I’m sure it was less, it felt like an hour before Rogers became the Captain. After that he fights some Hydra guys, and then Red Skull in a yawn-inducing final battle. That’s it. I’m not kidding.

A lot of critics out there are going to disagree with me, but I think time will prove me right: this is a boring movie that wastes time bludgeoning the audience with Roger’s character development and has more fight scenes in its trailer, it would seem.

The saddest thing here is that the buzz coming off Thor could only grow if Marvel had delivered even a decent movie, leading to a huge wave for Avengers, not to mention the whole pro-patriotic spin they’ve got here (I’m afraid some movie-goers will be a little blinded by the stars and stripes that come with a character named Captain America), but I came in to this movie almost demanding myself to like it … and I still didn’t.

I would just give it a “2” rating, but I will up that for Tommy Lee Jones, who not only has the best lines in the movie, but actually makes the film almost thaw out of the same ice the Captain gets buried under. (PG 13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 07/22/11)

A Little Help
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

A Little Help is a movie that’s both small in scope and rewards. It lacks the emotional depth or insight for drama, and the laughs are too anemic for drama. Writer-director Michael J. Weithorn has a long résumé in sitcoms like Family Ties and The King of Queens, but he doesn’t seem capable of coming up with more than 20 minutes of interesting material.

It also doesn’t help that it’s tricky to believe the sunny Jenna Fischer from The Office as a depressed alcoholic who can’t seem to get through a typical day. Laura (Fischer) has an easier time talking to the dental patients she treats as a hygienist than she does with her own husband Bob (Chris O’Donnell).

The two have grown apart and haven’t made love in months. Their son Dennis (Daniel Yelsky) is closer to Bob, which naturally makes Laura jealous. The tension only gets worse because Bob rarely makes it home on time. Naturally, Laura suspects that Bob is doing something besides real estate transactions.

Adding to her gloom, her parents Warren (Ron Liebman) and Joan (Leslie Ann Warren) think she’s a failure and that she can’t measure up to her more composed sister Kathy (Brooke Smith).

The situation becomes grimmer when Bob dies and leaves his family with a shockingly slim legacy. Laura’s family sets her up with an aggressive attorney (Kim Coates) who is convinced that a hospital where Bob had be treated missed obvious signs of heart disease, and that the winnings of a suit could easily make up for Bob’s paltry life insurance.

Laura doesn’t want to sue because she’d rather not be go through the pain, especially because she might find out that Bob had indeed been cheating on her. She also starts finding herself growing closer to Kathy’s laidback husband Paul (Rob Benedict). Paul, who enjoys weed as much as Laura likes booze, clearly has more in common with her than with his stuffy, overbearing spouse.

There’s some real potential, but the sparks never ignite. Fischer is a capable actress, but she simply doesn’t convey despair. Furthermore, Weithorn does his cast no favors by preventing his characters from growing or changing. They never seem to learn from their misdeeds and seem well on the path to repeating them.

Weithorn also comes up with some subplots that simply don’t pay off. A Little Help is set in 2002. Because Dennis is ashamed of his late father’s career as a lowly real estate salesman, he goes around claiming that Bob was really a firefighter who died in the World Trade Center saving the lives of others. Of course, the lie is exposed, but the revelation simply fizzles. Dennis is such a sketchy character that it’s hard to care one way or the other about his fibs.

There are some modest delights here and there. Rock legend Dion Dimucci has a fun cameo playing himself, and Jakob Dylan’s moody songs give the proceedings a weight the rest of the film doesn’t have. Sadly, A Little Help needs a lot of help to live up to its promise. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 07/22/11)

Friends with Benefits
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

It’s not surprising that Friends with Benefits, a movie about a couple who copulate without any emotional commitment, can’t touch viewers’ hearts, heads or gonads.

Despite starring appealing performers like Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, there simply isn’t enough humor or chemistry to fill 109 minutes. There are celebrity cameos, bawdy gags and little real entertainment value. Apparently, it took four credited screenwriters to come up with stale gay jokes and thin characters who don’t seem remotely believable. Worse, Friends with Benefits has the same plotline as No Strings Attached and even less imagination.

Mila Kunis plays Jamie, a corporate headhunter who recruits web designer Dylan (Timberlake) to take over online operations for GQ. Because both have just broken up with their paramours (Andy Samberg and Emma Stone), neither wants to start another relationship, but Jamie and Dylan can’t resist each other’s hot bods.

Not much else happens after that except for some tepidly dull love scenes and some flat bodily function humor. Apparently director Will Gluck (Fired Up!, Easy A) can’t quite grasp that Judd Apatow’s movies tend to have likable characters and genuine wit to go with the gross-out sequences. Without the other two thirds of the equation, the fun soon disappears, as it does in Jamie and Dylan’s relationship.

Kunis is a terrific comic actress, and Timberlake, in movies like Black Snake Moan and The Social Network and in multiple appearances on Saturday Night Live, has demonstrated fearlessness in both comic and dramatic roles. He leaps eagerly into playing weak or goofy characters without a trace of self-consciousness.

Neither performer is asked to do more than simply look good and deliver wisecracks. Because he’s in a comedy, you’d think one of the filmmakers would have been smart enough to provide a box for Timberlake’s crotch.

Some first-rate supporting players like Woody Harrelson (as GQ’s sports editor), Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins are stuck with roles that really don’t let the performers show what they can do. Clarkson, for example, was far better utilized in Easy A, and she was probably on screen for 10 minutes at the most.

What’s most disconcerting about Friends with Benefits is that it sneers at the clichés of the genre but falls prey to them at the same time. In several sequences, the characters watch a parody of a romantic comedy that features Jason Segel. These segments mock the maudlin tone of rom-coms and their often unintentionally amusing lack of attention to detail. Who knew New York had palm trees?

Unfortunately, Friends with Benefits requires viewers to suspend disbelief as well. In order to be drawn into the film, viewers are expected to believe that print media (or any media for that matter) is still a flourishing business. Yes, Dylan works for GQ, but even they have to deal with falling ad revenue.

It’s wonderful that Kunis and Timberlake have agreed to be dates for participants in the next Marine Corps Ball in November. The Marines certainly deserve the respect. One wishes they and Gluck could have shown the fans some respect by demanding a much stronger script before dumping this insomnia cure on the public. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted on 07/22/11)

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Part 2

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 answers any nagging question some might have about the other seven adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novels. If a character’s motivations seem odd or contradictory in one of the earlier films, Rowling and screenwriter Steve Kloves manage to explain them away now. We learn now why Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) couldn’t have faced down the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) until this installment.

While Deathly Hallows: Part 2 brings closure to the sprawling saga, the primary reason to see the film is because it’s entertaining.

Director David Yates, who has supervised the last three Harry Potter films, has managed to fit in hair-raising escapes, jaw-dropping battles, tasty eye-candy and terrific performances while just barely passing two hours. His brisk, no-nonsense handling keeps the final installment moving and effortlessly juggles the action with the exposition. After a while, it’s easy to forget why we’re going to so many flashbacks because the current story is working so well.

Harry, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) reunite in exile to try and collect special artifacts called Horcruxes that contain chunks of the lizard-faced Voldemort’s soul. If the three can locate and destroy all of these items, he’ll go from being a powerful overlord into being someone Harry can defeat.

Naturally, these items aren’t easy to spot (most are smaller than lunch boxes), and many are hidden in areas where the trio from Gryffindor house would be risking their lives. It doesn’t help that they’re wanted persons and, because of their fugitive status, actually have to break into the school at Hogwarts to locate the items. An additional obstacle exists because the new headmaster at Hogwarts is Voldemort’s crony Snape (Alan Rickman). Even with magic and a wand he’s taken from Draco Malfoy (Tom Fenton), Harry’s task may be impossible.

As He Who Must Not Be Named, Fiennes comes off as intimidating even if he barely speaks above a whisper. Hidden under enough layers of makeup to warm him in Antarctica, Fiennes still manages to convey enough hate and smugness to make Harry’s triumph all the more desirable.

The rest of the cast is loaded with a who’s who of talented Brits like Julie Walters and Maggie Smith. Some are on screen for only a minute or two, but all approach their tasks with the proper enthusiasm. Without interesting muggles or wizards, these tales get old quickly.

Yates returns to some of the same frantic visuals that Chris Columbus used in the first movie, but he thankfully makes sure that each of the cool effects serves a narrative purpose. Whereas the earlier Harry Potter films were cluttered with dazzling distractions, Yates holds off on the fireworks until the story requires them.

Instead of feeling like a last gasp, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 feels more like the film its predecessors have aspired to be. It’s better to leave us wanting more than to have us asking where the magic went. (PG-13) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 07/15/11)

 

Page One: Inside the New York Times
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

As newspapers lose ad revenue and struggle to keep pace with the Internet, apps and television, it’s easy to wonder if they are still necessary. It doesn’t take director Andrew Rossi long to demolish that question.

Page One: Inside the New York Times acknowledges that America’s Paper of Record has had a rough time during the last decade, and many of their misfortunes have been their own making. The paper gave Judith Miller and Jayson Blair a relatively free hand, which resulted in the former warning about WMDs that didn’t exist and the latter revealing that he was both a serial plagiarist and a serial fabricator.

It’s a major step down for the newspaper that first published the Pentagon Papers, which revealed that the United States had entered the Vietnam War under false pretenses.

If these ethical lapses weren’t enough of a problem, the Times’ financial standing has also been precarious. Thanks to Craig’s List killing the classified ad market and web sites enabling advertises to bypass media organizations and sell directly to consumers, newspapers didn’t need the meltdown of 2008 to lose money.

The Times took out a loan from the controversial Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, which could lead readers to wonder if stories about him were compromised.

While acknowledging these and other issues, Rossi consistently and persuasively demonstrates that what the Times does is important and that the nation benefits from its efforts. He spends a good deal of the film follow the paper’s media columnist David Carr.

Yes, it’s the same David Carr who quipped with Bill Maher about Kansas and Missouri and our low sloping foreheads. He’s since apologized, but when you look at some of the fools who claim to represent us on the school boards and in other elected offices; it’s easy to see why an outsider might get the wrong idea. There’s hardly a voter in any part of the country who hasn’t felt some remorse when a newly elected pol has revealed his or her true nature in office.

While I’m still smarting from the insult, I have to admit that Carr is fascinating to watch. He’s a recovering addict and freely admits the cost drugs took on him. Carr’s haggard face and high, gravelly voice belie what an eloquent and forceful champion Carr is for his employer. When taking part in a debate with Times detractor and Newser.com founder Michael Wolff, Carr makes short work of his opponent by brilliantly pointing out that the lion’s share of Newser’s content actually comes from paraphrasing and linking to Times’ stories.

Carr also proves to be an aggressive but thorough reporter. He may be rude, but part of his charm is that he has no appetite for baloney.

When Rossi investigates how real estate mogul Sam Zell and his subordinates mismanaged the Tribune Company and ignored flagrant sexual harassment complaints, he seems motivated by self-righteousness, but he gradually finds the data to back up his claims. He includes damning footage of Zell telling journalists that he’s solely interested in raising shareholder price and couldn’t care less about the quality of the reporting. It’s easy to get the feeling that Zell isn’t alone in thinking journalism isn’t a public trust.

The rest of the film follows the editors as they nervously wait for copy to come in and wonder which stories are worth releasing and when. The film includes a fascinating examination of how WikiLeaks became an international phenomenon.

While some of the site’s revelations are urgent, many need a careful reporter’s eye to provide the context that’s necessary to understand them. For example, in Page One, Times’ reporters discover that a video of civilian casualties in Iraq had removed additional footage that explained how the tragedy happened. At the same time, Page One demonstrates how new and old media can make powerful alliances that enable them inform us when governments or industries aren’t acting in our best interests.

Page One does raise some really important questions about how journalism will work in the years to come. By getting to see what it’s like to nervously wait for a reporter to get a story in, it makes us realize that we as readers need to be just as discerning about the copy that passes under our own eyes. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 07/15/11)

 

Winnie the Pooh (2011)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Disney’s animated adaptations of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh’s stories have been pleasantly cute, but they’ve frequently failed to capture why Milne’s stories are so enjoyable.

As tots, my brother and I didn’t love those tales because they were age appropriate. We loved them because Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) was hysterically funny. His constantly grumbling tummy leads him into trouble.

Thankfully, 2D animation directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall actually seem to have read Milne’s tales and have created one of their own that doesn’t feel torpid and sanitized. No, the young ones won’t learn any bad words or get scared, but parents won’t feel the need to take a 69-minute nap.

One delightful touch is John Cleese’s wry narration. To recapture the tone and even the look of the books, Pooh often wanders along giant letters, and Cleese often speaks directly to characters as the story progresses. This little bit of meta-discourse keeps the film from getting stodgy or dull. You never know when Cleese’s voice will deliver another jarring revelation.

The new installment begins with Pooh discovering that his “hunny” supply has been depleted. It never occurs to him that his own consumption might be the culprit. During the pursuit, he discovers that the gloomy donkey Eeyore (Bud Luckey) is missing his tail, making the slow moving critter even more morose.

The hunt for both Pooh’s sustenance and Eeyore’s prized possession require the help of Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter), the large human child who visits the stuffed animals in the 100 Acre Wood. When the lad attempts to inform his pals that he will be back soon, he writes “back son.” This causes the allegedly clever Owl (Craig Ferguson, with a sense of false erudition) and the excitable Tigger (Cummings again) to lead the animals in a fevered pursuit of the “Backson,” a character that seems to live only in their imaginations.

Because the Backson isn’t there to defend itself against the allegations, he’s an easy scapegoat, and all the creatures wind up tripping over themselves trying to catch it. The cast manages to make all the characters lovable even if they, with the exception of Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall), chase folly more than the Backson itself. Cummings gives Pooh a guileless, earnest charm and Tigger an infectious energy to counteract his considerable pride. They may have brains of fluff, but it’s hard not to like them.

The committee-written script has plenty of fun exchanges (notice how the word “issue” leads to a bizarre tangent), and the animation nicely captures the look of classic Disney Pooh cartoons. Zooey Deschanel’s bouncy closing song is also a worthy addition.

As if to make up for the short running time of Winnie the Pooh, Disney has included the charming 2D short, The Ballad of Nessie, which is drolly narrated by Scottish comic Billy Connolly. In a rhymed tale, viewers are informed how the monster (who doesn’t seem terribly ogre-ish here) came to inhabit Loch Ness.

I’m still more fond of Pooh when he’s on the page instead of on the screen, but at least these folks have a better understanding of the source material and why people love it. (G) Rating: 4 (Posted on 07/15/11)

 

Beginners
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Mike Mills’ Beginners darts back-and-forth across time and features a voiceover that informs viewers much of what they already know. What makes the film engrossing is that it comes from someone who’s trying desperately to make sense of a world that eludes easy explanations.

Based loosely on Mills’ own situation, Beginners deals a successful graphic artist named Oliver (Ewan McGregor) who is still trying to come to terms with the loss of his father Hal (Christopher Plummer). The older man has been married to Oliver’s mother Georgia (Mary Page Keller) for decades, but shortly after she dies, Hal decides to explain why the two were never close.

He’s gay.

At 75, Oliver watches a new vitality and a childlike curiosity overcoming Hal. Hal even finds a boyfriend named Andy (Goran Visnjic) with astonishing speed. Hal revels in his new life while refusing to admit to anyone other than Oliver that he’s got terminal cancer.

Years later, Oliver reluctantly takes care of Hal’s cute but high maintenance dog and spends most of his off duty hours brooding. When he talks to the dog, we see subtitles informing us what the lovable pooch is thinking. All of this would seem cutesy and silly if it weren’t reflective of the kind of thinking that Oliver does to make a living. He designs album covers and other cool projects, but he also has to draw things to make sense of his long string of bad relationships. Unfortunately, thinking about the women who’ve broken his heart only drives him into a deeper malaise.

Oliver’s co-workers and pals drag him to a party in hopes of preventing his sour moods from infecting them. There he meets an enigmatic French actress named Anna (a magnificently typecast Mélanie Laurent). She’s quickly taken by both Oliver and his dog, and he reciprocates. The pairing isn’t always smooth. Whereas Oliver was close with his father and genuinely loved him, Anna’s dad calls her with disturbing confessions.

Essentially both father and son wind up being beginners because Hal’s experience out of the closet and Oliver’s in a meaningful relationship overwhelms them both. By revealing the story through flashbacks and through Oliver’s clearly subjective point of view, Mills effortlessly explains why Oliver can’t leap into a fairytale relationship with Anna. He also deals with Oliver’s discomfort both with Hal’s newfound sexuality and his unwillingness to tell others about the dire state of his health. Oliver doesn’t think of himself as homophobic, but he clearly resents Andy’s flighty ways.

Plummer projects gusto and often seems as if he can simply bluster his way past mortality. He’s also charismatic enough to make you wish that Hal could succeed. At the same time, there’s something pathetic about Hal because he’s willing to let Andy cheat. Apparently the demand for geriatric gay men is rather slim. It’s easy to wish he could find a partner with something other than quick thrills on his mind.

McGregor proves an idea center for the film. He doesn’t detract from Plummer or Laurent but doesn’t get buried by them either. It takes a special performer to make moping interesting, and McGregor certainly fits the bill. There’s an energetic look in his eyes that keeps Oliver from seeming like a lost cause.

It’s hard to swing a stick without hitting a wonderful performance in Beginners. Visnjic usually plays dark and menacing roles so it’s astonishing how effortlessly he captures Andy’s glee and frivolousness.

Despite the fact that death plays such a dominant role in Beginners, it’s an oddly uplifting film. While acknowledging the impact the dead have on the present, it’s still about movie about living. (R) Rating: 5 (Posted on 07/11/11) Haiku Beginners Everyone should have a dead gay father just like Christopher Plummer.  

 

Horrible Bosses
Reviewes by Dan Lybarger

All of us have had supervisors who have made our lives miserable. It’s too bad that Horrible Bosses seems to have been made to satisfy these ogres instead of the people who’ve suffered under them.

horrible bosses

The film has been constructed with such indifference and carelessness that it’s easy to suspect that director Seth Gordon (who once made the terrific documentary King of Kong) and producers Brett Ratner and Jay Stern must have the same eye for quality control that Colin Farrell’s character Bobby Pellitt has. No idea is too week; no gag is too puerile; no character is too sketchy and no line of dialogue is too stupid for exclusion from the final cut.

Gordon and three credited screenwriters (Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein) don’t seem to realize they’re actually working with a tricky setup and that it takes skilled comic minds to make murder funny. Few thinkers of this sort seem to be involved here. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Jason Sudeikis play Nick, Dale and Kurt, a trio who’s combined IQ is apparently below that of Moe, Larry or Curly. Nick’s boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) is a fanatical stickler for detail who loves bullying his subordinates and frequently breaks his promises, except when he’s threatening to make Nick’s life a living hell.

Dale’s boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston) is a dentist who doesn’t let fillings get in the way of her attempts to make a sexual toy out of him. While some might fantasize about being propositioned by an attractive, sexually aggressive woman, Dale is engaged and simply wants to do his job without relationship-breaking distractions.

Kurt, on the other hand, has a great boss (Donald Sutherland) who trusts him and runs what may be the most environmentally friendly chemical company in the United States. Unfortunately, this fellow dies and is replaced by his selfish, cocaine addicted son Bobby (Colin Farrell). The company’s new owner is eager to downsize people despite the fact that the firm is profitable and has no concept on how to handle the business’ volatile byproducts.

Because the job market has flat lined and none of the three is in a position to quit a career, no matter how degrading, the three try to hatch schemes that will end their bosses’ reigns of terror. The three are even willing to pursue, shall we say, permanent solutions to their problems. None of the three is smart of vicious enough to commit regicide. While it’s good that Gordon isn’t asking viewers to side with homicidal employees, the protagonists aren’t as sympathetic as they should be. Charlie Day’s Dale is downright irritating. Whenever the three hatch a plan, Dale is guaranteed to botch it. In many ways, he’s playing the same sort of role that Zach Galifianakis played in The Hangover. The sad thing is that the shtick has been getting old even when Galifianakis plays it.

Most of the gags involve either bodily functions or the trio’s ineptitude at criminality. Frequently, they seem just a little too stupid at the latter. They actually ask their GPS operator where to find hit men, and when Nick is caught on a traffic camera speeding away from a crime scene, he tells the cops he was drag racing. Yes, it’s a lame excuse, and it’s not funny either.

The three also consult with an ex-con (Jamie Foxx) whose underworld name suggests Oedipal issues. To say that the role is a waste of the Oscar-winner’s talent is to say that the iceberg put a small hole in the Titanic.

Speaking of Oscar-winners, Kevin Spacey should probably return one of the two he’s received because he’s simply rehashing his performance from the much funnier and smarter Swimming with Sharks. He does nothing here he hasn’t done better in the previous film except take stab wounds with a hypodermic needle (don’t ask).

Aniston spends a good deal of Horrible Bosses sporting the same lingerie she’s worn in magazine articles. While what little clothing there is fits her nicely, at least the GQ and Rolling Stone photo shoots she’s done with similarly non-existent fashions don’t waste a reader’s time with the witless dialog she has to recite here.

Only Farrell appears to have given the film his all. Sporting an embarrassing comb over that reflects Bobby’s fatuousness; he seems to be having a ball demolishing his image as a sex symbol. Bobby needs the drugs AND the money to draw a woman’s interest.

As the credits roll, the filmmakers treat viewers to the sequences that didn’t make the final cut. There’s lots of giggling as the performers botch a line or deliver wisecracks that are equally unamusing to the ones that made it into the film. It’s enough to make you wish you could hand a pink slip to the Warner Bros. exec that green lit this one. (R) Rating: 1.5 (Posted on 07/08/11)


The Zookeeper
Reviewes by Brandon Whitehead

While I was one of the few people that thought Paul Blart: Mall Cop was kinda funny, I also remember this little skit later on where Jimmy Kimmel sneaks into Kevin James’ bedroom and wakes him up to tell him that he wasn’t up for an Oscar. It was a funny bit, poking fun at James’ low-brow slap-stick humor, but I can’t shake the feeling that he might actually have really been a little upset, and just given in to Hollywood’s need for dumb humor that makes a quick buck.

zookeeper

Why? Because The Zookeeper makes Paul Blart: Mall Cop look like a frickin’ masterpiece. Seriously, nobody expected much … but this film is just awful.

We start with our zookeeper, Griffin Keyes (James) proposing to Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), only to get turned down in a truly epic failure. So sad to see their favorite zookeeper (a zoo apparently is run by four or five people, by the way) fail at love, the animals decide to break their pact to never reveal to humans that they can talk and give him some much needed mating advice.

Griffin soon is using Kate (Rosario Dawson), an eagle veterinarian, as a fake girlfriend to make Stephanie jealous. On the animals’ advice he pees on things to establish his territory and makes “attack stances” at her obnoxious new boyfriend Gale (Joe Rogan). All of this works, of course, and Griffin dumps his job for the far more prestigious one of a car salesman and gets back Steph, only to realize that he is betraying his true self, returns to the zoo and the arms of Kate, who has loved him all along.

I just saved you eight bucks.

Really, the only interesting premise here — that animals can talk — is just dumped out on the floor and left there. I kept mentally wandering away, trying to figure it out: I mean, can ALL animals talk? What about fish or bugs? Do animals talk to each other when they try and eat each other? Do animals in France speak French? What about cows? Wouldn’t they be willing to break the “pact” when they see themselves rolling up to the slaughterhouse? Did early humans learn how to talk from animals? What about dinosaurs, could dinosaurs talk?

Although James does his best to eek out a few laughs in this lifeless plot, even his well-meaning physical bumbles and falls grow tiresome, and after awhile he stops seeming charming and just becomes an annoying, stupid jerk.

Then there’s the central message here, which is pretty much this: The best way to get a woman is through a combination of deceit and mild verbal abuse. I am not kidding that is the central romantic message of this film.

Well, there’s also the message that a zookeeper, whom I would expect are highly trained and well respected, are considered far less cool to women than a car salesman.

Even the film itself looks crappy. The zoo looks like a cheap little set, and the CGI mouths put on real animals look really fake, and as for the gorilla…

Yeah, the central supporting character is a guy in a gorilla suit. If you want to see some real animals, go to a real zoo, and skip this stinky safari. (PG) Rating: 0.5 (Posted 07-1-2011)


Buck
Reviewes by Dan Lybarger

From watching Dan M. “Buck” Brannaman work with horses, it’s easy to believe that he’s some type of mystic who has an occult way of getting the creatures to do his bidding. But as Cindy Meehl reveals in her new documentary Buck, Brannaman uses something more powerful and potentially more difficult than hocus pocus to tame horses.

Buck

Following the precedent set by trainers Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, he and other masters of “natural horsemanship” attempt to think as the animals do. Essentially, these folks do their best to make the horses feel comfortable with people, so much so that getting a human on the back of the animal seems effortless.

This ease comes at an affordable but heavy price. People who follow Brannaman’s teachings have to earn the trust of the horses and to develop a relationship with the animals that’s much more sophisticated than simply making them beasts of burden. To get the best out of the horses, in Brannaman’s view, we have to be the best people we can be around them. When we’re bad, the horses can reciprocate with a vengeance.

If the effort involved in Brannaman’s training seems rigorous, Meehl includes graphic footage of the alternative. The old images of a horse being “broken” are so upsetting; you don’t need to be PETA member to appreciate what Brannaman can do.

While there are others who can do what Brannaman does, it’s doubtful that any are as telegenic. His deep, soft but calmly assured voice gives him an instant air of authority. Even if Brannaman sounded like Gilbert Gottfried, he’d still have seemingly endless ways of explaining equine behavior to city folks like me who don’t know their way around a corral. He politely tells a nervous rookie equestrian to use his “other left hand” to deal with the animal. As the older footage Meehl excerpts indicates, this ease with two-legged creatures is the result of decades of work.

It’s paid off. Brannaman makes a comfortable living ($600 a person for a four-day training session) for his rugged lifestyle. Brannaman was consulted on Nicholas Evans’ novel The Horse Whisperer and on the movie adaptation that Robert Redford directed and starred in. In the documentary, Redford fondly recalls learning from the master and how Brannaman could do more with his own animals that the seasoned Hollywood trainers could do.

As engaging as it is to watch Brannaman demonstrate his skills, Meehl also includes Brannaman and his family and friends candidly describing his own horrific upbringing. Brannaman’s father trained both his brother and him how to do rope tricks and rodeo riding. The lads even landed in a cereal commercial.

To develop the boys’ skills, the father beat them savagely. Sometimes, the abuse would come regardless of their behavior. The two were placed in a loving foster home and eventually grew into well-adjusted adults. Brannaman’s stepmother has a lively personality and steals the show whenever she walks in front of the camera. Clearly, neither Brannaman nor his brother would have become the tough but sensitive men they are today without the guidance she and her late husband provided.

If you believe that toughness and sensitivity don’t coexist, you haven’t seen Brannaman in action. He firmly scolds a woman whose chaotic environment led a brain-damaged horse to becoming so violent that even he can’t help the animal behave safely around humans. These scenes help make Buck more than simple hagiography. In these scenes Meehl demonstrates that working with horses requires discipline, and those who own horses shouldn’t take their responsibilities lightly.

Watching Brannaman wrestling with his own torments and reaching an understanding with horses is both mesmerizing and inspiring. It’s also refreshing to see a fellow who’s continually willing to learn and who demonstrates there’s an enormous difference between being a man and being a thug. As Brannaman demonstrates, it takes a real man to admit that he not only watches Oprah, but also even takes some advice from the show.

At least that’s what my girlfriend tells me. (PG) Rating: 4 (Posted on 07/01/11)

Larry Crowne
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Under the guise of a light summer romance, Larry Crowne is actually a snoozefest with a somewhat baffling schizophrenic storyline. Bogged down by unrealistic optimism, the script, credited to both screenwriter Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and director/celebrity-nice-guy Tom Hanks, never escapes its unrelenting dullness.

Larry Crowne

There's something off about the character of Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks). Although it's established he's both recently divorced and a 20-year Navy veteran, it's difficult to believe this man-child, who approaches his big box retail job — and the world in general — with absolute earnestness, could have ever managed a military career or a marriage. Hanks plays Crowne with remnants of previous roles from Forrest Gump and Big. In these previous roles, the lack of guile could pass as charm, whereas here it plays as creepy. Even his amateurish shoe-polish hair dye and pancake makeup make him seem developmentally disturbed, a sort of male Baby Jane.

Unfortunately, Crowne's child-like lack of irony is completely supported by the plot. He rarely makes his own decisions, and when he does they are literal and obvious. After seeing a cheap fill-up at the gas station, he parks his SUV in his garage and buys a scooter from the perpetual garage sale put on by his neighbors (Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson). Likewise, inspired by a course catalog at the sale, Crowne enrolls in community college. However, when on his first day he meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a scooter enthusiast who takes a strange immediate platonic interest in Crowne, his own transformation stops and he puts himself completely in Talia's overenthusiastic and callow hands.

Although Crowne's speech teacher, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), is his professed love interest, the bulk of the film centers on Talia's engineering of a makeover for Crowne. However, her unbridled eagerness and free-spirit ways quickly grow irritating, despite any snarky remarks meant to cover those bases delivered by Tainot, who, along with Talia's boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama) begins to question the odd couple's relationship. And as the camera lingers on these scenes, the audience is left to wonder if there's more than this or is that it in what’s going on here. Crowne accepts her changes too easily and happily.

Tainot provides the only source of gravitas in the film. However, Roberts plays her too lightly. Her story — a master's degree with a thesis on Shakespeare, a disappointing gig teaching speech at a community college, a possible drinking problem, and a porn-addicted husband (Bryan Cranston) — diverges so greatly from the feel-good narrative in which Crowne exists that it seems barely possible the two would take notice of each other, even in the same classroom. (PG-13) Rating: 1.5 (Posted 07/1/11)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Reviewd by Dan Lybarger

You can suspect that a movie in a franchise might be wanting if the filmmakers spend all their time in interviews explaining why the last movie sucked or why the leading lady was fired instead of letting viewers know what to look forward to in the new installment.

transformers, Bumblebee

Transformers: Dark of the Moon proves that the 2007 writers strike and Megan Fox’s vapid presence weren’t the only reasons that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was such a tedious, empty slog. As long as Michael Bay is in charge and the only interesting characters are extraterrestrial robots that can turn into cars, these movies are guaranteed to be overblown annoyances.

It’s also not as much fun to watch seemingly innocuous devices turn into sentient WMDs in an instant. Now that we’ve had two movies where trucks and cars can break into death matches, there’s not much suspense to be had.

At least credited screenwriter Ehren Kruger comes up with a promising scenario before squandering it on the same old nonsense. In the early ‘60s, the United States government discovers that a spacecraft from the Autobots home planet Cybertron has landed on the dark side of the moon.

President Kennedy orders the moon missions in order to retrieve it and find the craft before the Soviets do. Pretty soon we learn why the transmission from the moon in 1969 abruptly stopped and why the space program abandoned moon exploration in 1972.

It’s a fun blend of historical footage and silly speculation, but it’s as close as the Transformers series will ever get to wit.

After that, it’s more of the same. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is a bit morose because his past relationships with the benevolent Autobots can’t land him a job. Instead, he’s dependent on the good graces of his comely live-in British girlfriend Carly (former Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Because his heroic Autobot protector and car Bumblebee is too busy saving Earth, poor Sam has to settle for driving a Datsun that barely runs.

He also has to contend with the fact that Carly’s boss is a tycoon named Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), whose more assured fortunes make Sam’s own look bleak. If the romantic rivalry sounds pretty typical, it is, and fortunately Bay seems as bored with it, as his audience would be. And yet he continues.

Because Bay has the camera scanning up and down Huntington-Whitely’s lovely bod, it’s hard to tell if she can actually act. That puts her on par with her predecessor Megan Fox. Neither has been asked to do much more than confirm that Bay may be the worst director working with actresses today.

Of course, no one is watching these films for their insights into the human condition. It’s the robots duking it out that justify the existence of the franchise. With the 3D, Transformers: Dark of the Moon doesn’t feel quite as ADD-addled as its predecessors, but it’s not all that fun, either. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (Posted on 06/29/11)

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Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.
Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Brandon Whitehead can be contacted at kinginyellow@juno.com.


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