Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Aug. 25 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Aug. 25

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THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE The penchant for creating faux-excitement simply by making everything blaring and calamitous is a specialty of both producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub, who previously gave us two daft National Treasure movies. This is basically more of the same, although unlike that twofer, this at least has the decency to clock in at under two hours. Nicolas Cage is miscast as Balthazar Blake, one of Merlin's original disciples(!) who turns up in modern-day NYC searching for a novice wizard. He finds him in geeky college kid Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), and they team up to battle another Merlin disciple: treacherous Maxim Horvarth (Alfred Molina). Inspired in part by the delightful Mickey Mouse sequence from Disney's 1940 Fantasia (there's even a scene in which Dave battles dancing mops), The Sorcerer's Apprentice is strictly standard action-fantasy fare, not too bad as these Bruckheimer boom boxes go. There's some clever CGI trickery mixed in with the more lackluster effects, Baruchel is appealing in his limited way, and the jackhammer pace insures that there's no time to get bored. But is any of it memorable? Hardly. I remember the contours of my theater seat better than I recall the particulars of this cinematic sleight of hand. **

TOY STORY 3 Threepeats may be rare in the sports world, but they're even harder to achieve in the cinematic realm. Yet here comes Toy Story 3, bucking the odds and satisfying sky-high expectations to emerge as the perfect final chapter in a trilogy that's guaranteed to live on for generations (to infinity and beyond?). In this outing, Andy is set to go to college and has to decide what to do with the few remaining toys from his childhood, all stuck in a box that has been gathering dust under his bed for years. Through miscommunication, the gang ends up at a daycare center that promises to be a playhouse paradise. But things aren't quite what they seem, and Woody (Tom Hanks), ever loyal to Andy no matter the cost to his own future, plots a great escape. In most respects, this gem is careful to avoid repeating its predecessors. There are some memorable new characters (including the immaculately groomed Ken, voiced by Michael Keaton), and the four screenwriters superbly tap into the feelings all of us have encountered during our respective childhoods, when we employed our toys as a passageway to new worlds and new experiences. Toy Story 3 may look like a family film, but as it tackles issues of loss, identity and self-worth, it reveals itself as perhaps the most adult movie out there. ****

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE The Twilight Saga: Eclipse isn't the best of three, but neither is it the worst. Instead, this adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's book falls somewhere in the middle, between the nicely captured teen angst of 2008's Twilight and the ill-fated emotional oasis of 2009's The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The series is often only so much melodramatic glop, but at its best, it also taps into that essence which informs youthful, blinding love. The canniness of the franchise is that it uses its protagonist, Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart), to literalize these desires, as she must choose between sparkly emo vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and hunky werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). There are a number of ingredients likely to earn titters, from some overripe lines to several of the characterizations; yet for all the film's flaws, there's much that it gets right. The visual effects are vastly improved, and Stewart again makes Bella a watchable heroine. And while Pattinson and Lautner may not be the most accomplished actors around, they're desirable for these roles, especially in the scenes in which Pattinson's ethereal angst bounces off Lautner's robust earthiness. No, Eclipse may never sparkle as brightly as its centerpiece vampires. But neither does it suck like them. **1/2

WINTER'S BONE Memorable movie characters often pop out at us from the most unlikely of places, and this understated indie effort surprises by serving up such a figure in Ree Dolly. Ree, played by Jennifer Lawrence in a breakthrough performance, is 17 years old, smarter than everyone around her, sports a lip that sometimes gets her into trouble, and takes a screen beating as impressively as anyone since Brando's Terry Malloy got clobbered in On the Waterfront. But Ree won't back down. Living in poverty somewhere in Missouri's Ozark terrain, she learns that her dad has skipped bail after putting up their house for collateral. Not thrilled by the prospect of being homeless, she sets out to locate her wayward pop, running into resistance from all manner of dangerous and ignorant people. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize (as well as a screenwriting award) at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Winter's Bone, adapted by writer-director Debra Granik and co-scripter Anne Rosellini from Daniel Woodrell's novel, is suffused with pungent backwoods flavor (the film was shot on location), which adds an unsettling authenticity to Ree's quest. An assured directorial effort from Granik, the picture offers a rare look at a region that will seem as foreign to most moviegoers as the forest moon of Endor. ***1/2


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