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Film Clips

Surf's Up, Knocked Up, Pirates 3, others

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New Releases

SURF'S UP The world needs another penguin movie about as much as it needs another Rambo flick. Turns out we're getting both, but while it's too early to comment on the upcoming Stallone sequel (though be sure to check out that incredibly violent trailer on YouTube), the animated film about the flightless fowl isn't bad, with a narrative slant that overcomes its typically blasé story about an underdog who triumphs against the odds while learning important life lessons regarding friendship, sacrifice and self-awareness. Employing a mock-documentary format rarely seen in animated films -- only Aardman's Oscar-winning Creature Comforts (screened this Sunday in the NoDa Film Festival; see the lead Flicks story) comes to mind -- this pleasant time filler plays like Dogtown and Z-Boys or The Endless Summer for the small fry, with its tale of a slacker penguin named Cody (Shia LaBeouf) who's only happy when he's surfing. He enters into a major international competition, where his rivals include new pal Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) and the bullying (and nine-time defending champion) Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader). An underachiever from the start, Cody eventually finds romance with a cute lifeguard named Lani (Zooey Deschanel, sexy even when voicing a penguin) and a mentor in The Geek (Jeff Bridges, slyly channeling The Dude from The Big Lebowski), a beach bum harboring a big secret. The abundance of schmaltz that plagued Happy Feet is thankfully missing here, though the movie does make sure to shoehorn in the obligatory flatulence gags. **1/2

Current Releases

AWAY FROM HER Iris would have seemed to be the first and last word on movies dealing with Alzheimer's disease, yet here comes Away From Her to provide it with troubled company. Like that somber drama, this new picture, which marks the assured directorial debut of 28-year-old actress Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter), proves to be a difficult, unsettling watch, all the more so for those who have lost someone to that dreadful disease. Yet what both films also share is a commitment to portraying the ravages of that affliction with clear-eyed honesty, tracking not only the effects on its victims but also on the caretakers who provide support even as their loved ones are fading away right before their eyes. Judi Dench was remarkable in Iris, yet it was Jim Broadbent who walked away with an Oscar. Similarly, early reviews have focused on Julie Christie's superlative performance, but it's really the Canadian veteran Gordon Pinsent who holds the film together. As his character watches his wife place a frying pan in the freezer or bond with a fellow patient (Michael Murphy) because she can't recall that she even has a husband, he draws us in with his stillness, his whispered frustrations, his seething impotence. His character's silence is deafening; you can hear his heart break a mile away. ***1/2

BUG Nothing less than depression set in when Ashley Judd went from being an extraordinary indie actress to a dull studio-hack heroine, so it's gratifying to once again see her tackling offbeat roles. And in Bug, she has one of her most memorable parts yet; she plays Agnes, a lonely waitress who's introduced to Peter Evans (Michael Shannon), a quiet man who right off the bat assures her that he's not an axe murderer. Clearly, though, there's something off about this brooding guy, but Agnes enjoys his company so much (or at least having company, period) that she invites him to stay with her. This irks her thuggish ex-con ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr., about as menacing as a French poodle), yet even his threats seem irrelevant once Peter begins to complain about the insect infestation in her apartment. Yet do the bugs really exist, or are they only in Peter's (and maybe Agnes') imagination? Working from Tracy Letts' screenplay (itself based on the latter's Off-Broadway play), director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) maximizes the claustrophobic feel of the intimate surroundings while drawing suitably anguished performances from Judd and Shannon. Lett's story is rather limited in its examination of how a lonely person's neediness will often overcome all other emotions, and its employment of government paranoia feels decidedly old-hat. Indeed, it might have taken David Cronenberg, that insect fetishist (Naked Lunch, The Fly), to truly turn this into a freak-out session. As it stands, Bug deserves some measure of buzz, even if it never truly gets under the skin. **1/2

KNOCKED UP Director Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin was unique in that it managed to successfully mix raunch with romance. Knocked Up, which reunites Apatow with Virgin supporting player Seth Rogen, attempts a similar balancing act, only it falls a tad short of attaining the same success as its predecessor. There's a sweet love story on view here as well, only because it's more rushed and not allowed to unfold at a natural clip, it ultimately plays second string to the picture's comedy quota. Fortunately, on that front, the movie's an unqualified hit: It's doubtful another film will be released this summer -- maybe even this year -- that offers as many theater-rumbling belly laughs as this one. Rogen plays Ben Stone, a slacker who meets and has a drunken one-night stand with Alison (Katherine Heigl), who's out celebrating the fact that she has just been promoted to an on-air position at E! Entertainment Television. Alison learns a few weeks later that she's pregnant, and she decides that she and Ben (with whom she discovers she has nothing in common) should attempt to make their relationship work for the sake of the baby. Apatow fails to sufficiently flesh out their courting period between that initial tryst and the birth of the child; still, thanks to the sweet performances by Heigl and especially Rogen, there's plenty of warmth to be drawn from the resultant drama. Yet in this picture, it's comedy that's king, with a nonstop barrage of great lines as well as deft contributions from a capable cast. ***

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