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Cloverfield, How She Move, Juno, more



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THE BUCKET LIST If Morgan Freeman and Judi Dench ever made a film together, would the world simply explode? After all, Freeman always plays the smartest character in his movies and Dench always plays the wisest character in her pictures, so wouldn't this fall under some sort of "irresistible force meets immovable object" scenario? At any rate, it's an idea more worthy of discussion than any of the pseudo-weighty nonsense on view in The Bucket List, an interminable film about terminal patients who learn important life lessons before, yes, kicking the bucket. Freeman plays Carter Chambers, an auto mechanic with an IQ equal to that of Stephen Hawking. Dying of cancer, he shares a hospital room with the filthy rich Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson), who's beginning to realize that money can buy everything except an extended lease on life. With each man facing less than a year to live, they both elect to go out in a blaze (or at least daze) of glory, by dutifully performing tasks on their self-penned "bucket list" of activities they've always wanted to do. The list includes such items as "go skydiving" and "laugh until I cry"; unfortunately, "entertain audiences who pay to see this Bucket of you-know-what" is nowhere to be found. A lazy and condescending package from top to bottom (with uninspired efforts put forth by director Rob Reiner and scripter Justin Zackham), The Bucket List isn't nearly as torturous as the similar, "laughing in the face of death" Patch Adams; then again, neither is a broken back. *1/2

CLOVERFIELD Chalk it up to literary redundancy among critics, but it's almost impossible not to describe this terror tale as "Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project," as it exclusively relies on the camcorder wielded by one of its characters to capture the rampage of a frightening behemoth as it destroys Manhattan with single-minded determination. Past films that employed this trick often seemed silly – what sane person wouldn't drop the camera in the face of real danger? – yet in our modern-day, techno-crazed world, the need to capture everything on film (as if to validate its authenticity, not to mention provide the shooter with a fleeting 15 minutes of fame) is such a built-in instinct for many people that the actions of the protagonists in this movie rarely come into question. Director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard also effectively tap into post-9/11 anxieties: It's impossible to witness collapsing skyscrapers and the resultant deadly debris hurtling down New York City streets and not be reminded of that fateful day. While some might consider such a tactic to be in extremely poor taste, there's no denying its potency when viewed through fictional horror-film lens – for all its newfangled innovations, the movie shares DNA with similarly themed sci-fi yarns from the 1950s. And like many fantasy flicks, this one also contains a defining "money shot" (a la the exploding White House in Independence Day); in this case, it's the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty, forlornly resting on a city street. Heads roll in Cloverfield, and none more startlingly than this one. ***

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY The apex to The Bucket List's nadir, this French effort from director Julian Schnabel takes a comparable blueprint – how a person moves forward with life after his body fails him – and makes it come alive via a startling visual style, knotty characterizations and a terrific central performance. Based on a true story, the film centers on Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), the cocky editor of the French Elle magazine who suffers a stroke at the age of 43 and thereafter finds himself in a paralyzed state. The only part of his body he can move is one eye, but while wags may want to dismiss this as My Left Eye, Bauby's story and Schnabel's approach turn this into a different type of biopic than the Daniel Day-Lewis Oscar winner My Left Foot. Propelled by Ronald Harwood's delicate script (which gives us access to Bauby's inner monologues in a crisp and believable manner) and camerawork (courtesy of Saving Private Ryan lenser Janusz Kaminski) that allows the film to break away from the tale's inherently claustrophobic atmosphere, this steadfastly avoids reducing the notions of perseverance and heroism to convenient catchphrases. Amalric is excellent in a tricky role, and there are further stellar contributions by Emmanuelle Seigner as his devoted wife and especially Max von Sydow as his father – the latter's two scenes are the emotional high points of the film. ***1/2

HOW SHE MOVE A thoughtful, heartfelt drama that can't quite get past the conventions of its plot mechanics, How She Move is the latest dance flick in which motion trumps emotion. That's not to say there isn't a certain amount of poignancy in the central plotline of a young teen hoping to break free of her dire surroundings – it's just that this picture only truly comes alive when its talented young cast is strutting its stuff in rhythm to the music. Reminiscent not only of dance yarns like Take the Lead and the documentary Rize but also of straightforward dramas like Girlfight and Akeelah and the Bee, How She Move focuses on African-American teenager Raya (Rutina Wesley), a student at a private school who's forced to move back to her impoverished neighborhood after her parents spend all the family funds trying (and failing) to save Raya's drug-addicted sister. Deemed stuck-up by Michelle (Tre Armstrong), a sullen classmate with a perpetual chip on her shoulder, Raya tries to keep her head down and solely concentrate on her studies, but she ends up getting drawn back into the world of stepping, a high-energy form of dancing practiced by both Michelle and Bishop (Dwain Murphy), a charismatic guy who hesitantly allows Raya to join his dance team just in time for the annual Step Monster competition. The screenplay by Annmarie Morais saddles the characters with too many scenes revolving around tired dialogue, but director Ian Iqbal Rashid compensates by staging the vigorous dance scenes as if his life – or at least his career – depended on it. **1/2

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