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Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing in Charlotte

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THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN This C.S. Lewis adaptation is darker than 2005's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which seems to be the path taken by many second installments in film franchises (The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the Future Part II, The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation). In this one, the Pevensie kids – Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) – return to the magical land of Narnia, only to find a gloomy environment in which humans have taken over and all mystical creatures are hiding in the forests. Eventually, the woodland inhabitants, the Pevensie siblings and the dashing Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) band forces to restore Narnia to its previous glory. A couple of familiar faces from the previous picture return, yet it's cast newcomer Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) who walks away with this film; he's excellent as Trumpkin, a surly dwarf who aids the cause. As for the kids, this is clearly a case where girls rule while boys drool. Susan cuts a fierce figure as a warrior queen, while Lucy is allowed to establish the strongest bonds with the Narnians. On the other hand, the interesting Edmund is given too little to do, while Peter is only slightly less generic than fellow pretty-boy Caspian – whenever Peter and Caspian bicker, it's like watching the leaders of two feuding boy bands get in each other's faces. Overall, though, this is that rare sequel which improves upon the original; even the visual effects, shaky in the first film, are far more smoothly executed here. ***

THE FALL The Fall opens with the most striking title sequence I've seen in quite some time – it derives most of its power from composer Krishna Levy's gorgeous score and Colin Watkinson's evocative cinematography – and closes with a lovingly crafted tribute to the great stuntmen of the silent era. Unfortunately, everything in between these bookend sequences is a crock. A remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film named Yo Ho Ho, this is a visually sumptuous but emotionally hollow story about an injured stuntman (Lee Pace) who tries to coerce a fellow hospital patient – a little girl (Romanian newcomer Catinca Untaru) with a broken arm – into unwittingly helping him commit suicide. He does this by earning her friendship through the telling of a fairy tale that finds a diverse group of warriors teaming up to take down a villainous ruler (Daniel Caltagirone). Director Tarsem's first film, the Jennifer Lopez dud The Cell, was largely criticized for accomplishing little more than showing off its helmer's music-video background, yet that film looks as narratively complex as Chinatown when compared to this trite offering. Tarsem filmed his epic in well over a dozen countries, generating plenty of Frequent Flyer Miles for himself but offering nothing to audiences hoping for more than just visual extravagance. And while the fantasy yarn is deadening enough, even worse are the scenes involving young Untaru, whose ungainly performance and difficulty with the English language (subtitles would have been nice) conclusively demonstrate that not all children are natural actors. Making movies isn't child's play, and The Fall proves that in more ways than one. *1/2

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL Let's try to put this in perspective, shall we? On the Scale of Cinematic Achievements, the eagerly awaited Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull places dead last among the four big-screen Indy adventures. Given the quality of its predecessors, however, that can hardly be construed as a smackdown. It's now 1957, and World War II has since been replaced by the Cold War, meaning that our intrepid archeologist-professor-swashbuckler (Harrison Ford) now has his hands full battling Commies instead of Nazis. The Russkies, led by a slinky ball of black-haired menace named Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), are after an object – a crystal skull, of course – that will aid them in their quest for world domination. Standing in their way is Indy and his gang – chiefly, old flame Marion Ravenwood (three cheers for the return of Raiders of the Lost Ark's Karen Allen) and a brash young greaser (Shia LaBeouf). Longtime fans of the series will find the references to past films delightful, and they'll similarly be pleased to find Spielberg once again at his most limber: The director hasn't made a film this light and carefree in a long time. The first two-thirds of the film are such a blast that it makes the final section – a CGI blowout low on thrills – feel like even more like a downer. But this is really about one character – and the actor who plays him. After frittering away the past 11 years in poor projects, the 65-year-old Ford again plays a role that fits him like a glove, and his enthusiasm and athleticism serve to further fuel our own glee for the project. ***

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