Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Nov. 30 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Nov. 30

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KUNG FU PANDA 2 Hollywood's obsession with 3-D — or, more accurately, the extra bucks it generates — is so out of hand that it would hardly surprise me to learn that 3-D remakes of Scenes from a Marriage and My Dinner with Andre are in the works. Yet for all of its uselessness when it comes to live-action films not named Avatar, the gimmick is a logical fit when it comes to animated efforts, as witnessed by its employment in (among others) Toy Story 3, Despicable Me and now Kung Fu Panda 2. Yet it isn't just that extra dimension that elevates this agreeable sequel to the 2008 blockbuster. As was the case with this spring's Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2 displays a terrific set design that's atypically detailed and vibrant for a toon flick. Whereas it was ace cinematographer Roger Deakins (True Grit) who served as visual consultant on that Johnny Depp vehicle, here it's Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro who's billed as creative consultant, clear examples of studios not cutting corners when it comes to acquiring the best. KFP2's backgrounds are frequently so gorgeous to behold that aspiring art directors might further pad the film's box office haul via repeat viewings. Everyone else will probably be satisfied after one showing, as the serviceable story finds Po (returning star Jack Black) again teaming up with the kung fu masters collectively known as The Furious Five (Angelina Jolie and her underused co-stars Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross), this time to vanquish a deadly enemy (Gary Oldman) who holds the key to Po's mysterious past. The kids will have a good time, and the adults will be entertained to the point that they won't secretly be wondering what R-rated film is playing in the adjacent auditorium. **1/2

LIKE CRAZY Three-quarters twee and one-quarter Glee, Like Crazy won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance shindig, beating out a slate of 15 other titles that included Take Shelter and Martha Marcy May Marlene. If nothing else, this stands as proof positive that even the film festivals can be as misguided in their selections as the notorious Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The film won a second Sundance honor for the lead performance by Felicity Jones, an acceptable selection given that she's the best thing about this film in which LA college kid Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and British exchange student Anna (Jones) hook up, only to be separated by the ocean after she willfully extends her visa stay illegally and is booted back to the UK (that these adults would be so stupid in this post-9/11 age of stringent airport laws is a daft narrative concept, but we'll let it slide). The whole thrust of the film is that these two people should be together no matter what — think Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Titanic's Jack and Rose, Brokeback Mountain's Ennis and Jack — but director Drake Doremus (scripting with Ben York Jones) doesn't make a very compelling case for his lovebirds. While it's easy to see Anna's adoration, Jacob won't even consider moving to England to be with his presumed soulmate, preferring instead to remain stateside and periodically take up with a co-worker (a wasted Jennifer Lawrence) who deserves better than the treatment he doles out to her.

Ultimately, Like Crazy is a love story about two often annoying people who don't have much discernible chemistry and are mostly bonded by their mutual love for Paul Simon. The singer's Graceland is referenced, but as these two prattled on, I only desired to hear the sound of silence. *1/2

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE Make all the Mary-Kate and Ashley jokes you want, but don't dis Elizabeth Olsen. In Martha Marcy May Marlene, the younger sister of the Olsen twins delivers a breakthrough performance that will remind many of Jennifer Lawrence's excellent work last year in the similarly unsettling (though clearly superior) Winter's Bone. Olsen stars as Martha, who's long been under the thumb of a cult leader (John Hawkes, even more menacing here than in the aforementioned Bone) but finally works up the nerve to escape. She goes to stay with her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulsen) and Lucy's husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), but since she's reluctant to talk about her experiences, the couple grow increasingly impatient with her odd behavior and violent outbursts. T. Sean Durkin, making his feature-film debut as both writer and director, establishes a chilling mood in the fascinating flashback scenes detailing Martha's life in the cult community, but it's the prickly turns by Olsen and Paulsen that save the family sequences, which make up the less interesting and more frustrating part of the film. The ambiguous ending will be loved by many, loathed by an equal amount; I feel there were better ways to conclude the story, but I understand that it comes with the art-house territory. ***

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Director: T. Sean Durkin

Writer: T. Sean Durkin

Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy, Louisa Krause, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner and Christopher Abbott

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Director: Drake Doremus

Writer: Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones

Cast: Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin, Chris Messina, Alex Kingston, Jennifer Lawrence, Finola Hughes, Charlie Bewley, Jamie Thomas King, Oliver Muirhead and Ben York Jones

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Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Producer: Jeff Skoll, Michael Polaire, Jonathan King and Ricky Strauss

Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan and Jennifer Ehle

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Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Writer: Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel

Producer: Melissa Cobb

Cast: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Gary Oldman and Michelle Yeoh

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Director: Peter A. Ramsey

Cast: Antonio Banderas

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Director: Gavin O'Connor

Writer: Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman

Producer: Greg O'Connor

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Kurt Angle, Kevin Dunn, Bryan Callen, Jennifer Morrison, Jake McLaughlin, Frank Grillo and Liam Ferguson

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Director: Shawn Levy

Writer: John Gatins and Richard Mathis

Producer: Shawn Levy, Susan Montford, Don Murphy and Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Kevin Durand and Anthony Mackie

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Director: Rupert Wyatt

Writer: Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa, Jamie Moss and Pierre Boulle

Producer: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa

Cast: James Franco, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, David Hewlett, Tyler Labine, Leah Gibson and Jamie Harris

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Director: Bill Condon

Writer: Melissa Rosenberg and Stephenie Meyer

Producer: Wyck Godfrey, Stephenie Meyer and Karen Rosenfelt

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Jackson Rathbone, Amadou Ly, Ty Olsson and Wendell Pierce

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Director: Jim Sheridan

Writer: David Loucka

Producer: Daniel Bobker, Ehren Kruger, David C. Robinson and James G. Robinson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marton Csokas, Claire Geare, Taylor Geare, Rachel G. Fox, Mark Wilson, Jonathan Potts and Lynne Griffin

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Director: Dennis Dugan

Writer: Steve Koren

Producer: Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo and Todd Garner

Cast: Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, Allen Covert, Dana Carvey, Natalie Gal, Tim Meadows, Katelyn Pacitto, Valerie Mahaffey and Regis Philbin

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Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: John Orloff

Producer: Roland Emmerich, Larry Franco and Robert Léger

Cast: Xavier Samuel, Rhys Ifans, Jamie Campbell Bower, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Joely Richardson, Rafe Spall, Derek Jacobi, Tom Wlaschiha and Edward Hogg

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Director: Paul W. S. Anderson

Writer: Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak

Cast: Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelson, Juno Temple and Gabriella Wilde

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Director: Brett Ratner

Writer: Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson

Producer: Brian Grazer, Eddie Murphy and Kim Roth

Cast: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch and Gabourey Sidibe

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Director: John Singleton

Writer: Shawn Christensen and Jeffrey Nachmanoff

Producer: Doug Davison, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Dan Lautner, Roy Lee and Lee Stollman

Cast: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Michael Nyqvist, Antonique Smith, Denzel Whitaker and Nickola Shreli

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Director: Tate Taylor

Writer: Tate Taylor and Kathryn Stockett

Producer: Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan

Cast: Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Mike Vogel, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Jessica Chastain and Chris Lowell

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Director: Mark Waters

Writer: Sean Anders and John Morris

Cast: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Andrew Stewart-Jones and Curtis Shumaker

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Director: Bennett Miller

Writer: Michael Lewis and Stan Chervin

Producer: Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Kathryn Morris, Tammy Blanchard, Erin Pickett, Sergio Garcia and Stephen Bishop

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Director: Andrew Niccol

Writer: Andrew Niccol

Producer: Marc Abraham and Eric Newman

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Justin Timberlake, Alex Pettyfer, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Elena Satine, Ethan Peck, Matthew Bomer and Vincent Kartheiser

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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Hossein Amini

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks and Bryan Cranston

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Director: Gary McKendry

Writer: Matt Sherring

Cast: Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Grant Bowler, Michael Dorman, Ben Mendelsohn and Aden Young

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Director: Thierry Jonquet, Éditions Gallimar, Pedro Almodóvar and Agustín Almodóva

Writer: Pedro Almodóvar

Producer: Agustín Almodóvar and Esther García

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Corne, Roberto Álam, Eduard Fernández, Blanca Suárez, Susi Sánche, Bárbara Lenni and Fernando Cay

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Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Dustin Lance Black

Producer: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer and Robert Lorenz

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Lea Thompson, Ed Westwick, Armie Hammer, Dermot Mulroney, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Donovan and Stephen Root


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