Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 21

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SARAH'S KEY Wartime complicity takes center stage in Sarah's Key, an involving drama about a woman who reawakens a nation's shame as she tries to piece together a mystery buried in the past. Based on Tatiana De Rosnay's novel, this stars Kristen Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond, an American journalist who decides to research the the Parisian apartment that's been in her husband's family since some time during World War II. She soon learns that the previous occupants were the Starzynskis, who like many other Jews were rounded up by French officials in collusion with Germany. As Julia tries to discover the fates of the Starzynski family members — particularly Sarah, who was a child at the time — flashbacks allow us to track the events that transpired during and after the war. It's almost a given that the flashback scenes involving Jewish persecution are more weighty — and thus more involving — than the contemporary sequences in which Julia primarily bickers with her husband (Frederic Pierrot) over her unexpected pregnancy. And I wish more time had been dedicated to the intriguing question of whether it's always best to keep history alive or whether it's desirable in some instances to allow it to lay dormant. Yet the movie offers a unique angle on a familiar tragedy, and the performances by Thomas and especially Melusine Mayance (as the young Sarah) are key to the picture's success. ***

SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD IN 4D A desperate attempt by writer-director Robert Rodriguez to resuscitate a franchise that was already running on fumes by its third entry back in 2003, this insufferable kid flick casts Jessica Alba as Marissa Wilson, a retired spy whose husband Wilbur (Joel McHale) and stepchildren Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook) don't know about her former profession (they think she's always been an interior decorator). But when her arch-nemesis, the dastardly Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven), reappears on the scene with a master plan to speed up time until it runs out and the world ends, Marissa is called back into action and subsequently forced to let her stepkids join her on the mission. The "4D" in the title refers to the fact that this is presented in "Aroma-Scope," which means that patrons are handed scratch'n'sniff cards meant to be rubbed at designated times throughout the film. This is hardly a new idea: Like most cinematic gimmicks, it originated in the 1950s, and its most recent employment was in John Waters' 1981 Polyester (not Pink Flamingos, thankfully). The first smell deployed is bacon, and it's all downhill from there, with a couple of the spots reserved for flatulence odors. This, of course, is right in line with the rest of the movie, which has an unhealthy obsession with all things stinky: A robotic dog (voiced by Ricky Gervais) deploys "butt bombs," Cecil hurls used barf bags at villainous henchmen, Marissa wallops other goons with dirty diapers, and so on. It's nice to see the original Spy Kids, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara), as young adults, although they wear out their welcome around the time that Carmen wipes snot on Juni's shirt. *1/2

SUPER 8 Writer-director J.J. Abrams' Super 8 is set in 1979, a year that's nestled between the release dates of Steven Spielberg's first two blockbusters, 1975's Jaws and 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and his subsequent two blockbusters, 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark and 1982's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. (Spielberg's underrated 1941, which was released in 1979, was a flop.) The selection of this year makes sense, since the picture itself is surrounded on all sides by the influence — nay, the very spirit — of Mr. Spielberg (who, incidentally, is involved as a co-producer). But while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it's not always the best way to make a movie. Super 8 is a thoroughly entertaining popcorn flick, but one does get the sense of Abrams sweating up a storm in an effort to produce the sort of guileless matinee magic that Spielberg conveyed effortlessly. Newcomer Joel Courtney handles the starring role of Joe Lamb, who agrees to help his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) shoot a zombie movie for an amateur filmmaking competition in their home state of Ohio. Along with their gangly pals (Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso and Zach Mills), as well as their reluctant classmate Alice (Elle Fanning, a revelation here), the crew proceeds to begin filming at a rural railroad stop in the middle of the night, only to have said shoot interrupted when a train carrying a mysterious cargo derails. The military soon comes a-callin', followed shortly by a series of mysterious disappearances around town. E.T.'s suburban setting, Close Encounters' sense of government secrecy, Jaws' initially unseen menace, Raiders' climactic cliffhanger-style thrills — all of these elements are dutifully channeled by Abrams, who takes the classic Spielberg model and outfits it with a new engine. The effects are more polished, the Dolby sound is ratcheted up, and what was once spanking new (Walkmans, The Knack's "My Sharona") is now employed in the film as misty nostalgia. ***

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