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The Foot Fist Way, Kung Fu Panda, Sex and the City, more



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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 It's now 1957, and World War II has since been replaced by the Cold War, meaning that our intrepid archeologist-professor-swashbuckler (Harrison Ford) now has his hands full battling Commies instead of Nazis.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. ***

KUNG FU PANDA Kung Fu Panda isn't notable for what it is as much as it's notable for what it isn't. It isn't obnoxious. It isn't soulless. It isn't packed to the rafters with potty humor. And it isn't made solely for the ADD-afflicted. In short, it isn't like the majority of today's non-Pixar animated features. The narrative is strictly formulaic, but the delight is in how it wraps its familiar messages of acceptance and self-confidence in a provocative visual scheme that's always pleasant to absorb. In that respect, it has more in common with Dr. Seuss than the dubiously titled Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! Jack Black employs his patented schtick as an overweight panda who longs to become a martial arts expert, but it suits this story just fine. As the vicious snow leopard who seeks to claim the high-and-mighty title of Dragon Warrior, Deadwood's Ian McShane effectively provides guttural menace. And while the actors who provide the voices for the legendary martial arts outfit The Furious Five aren't given enough to do (Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu and especially poor Jackie Chan are the victims), all is forgiven whenever the character of Master Shifu appears on screen. It's a sizable part, meaning that we're constantly treated to Dustin Hoffman's quirky take on the role of a diminutive red panda who serves as mentor to the other animals. Hoffman has played a remarkable array of characters over his 41-year film career – Benjamin Braddock, Ratzo Rizzo, Dorothy Michaels, etc. – but I never thought he'd be tackling Mr. Miyagi. I was wrong. ***

PRICELESS The women of Sex and the City look as chaste as Mother Teresa when compared to Irene, the protagonist of this French comedy. Promoted by the studio as the modern-day counterpart to Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly (though the film itself evokes Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges more than Blake Edwards), Irene (played by Audrey Tautou) floats around the French Riviera looking for wealthy men to pamper and provide for her. Her current suitor Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff) has agreed to marry her, but out of boredom, she has a fling with a young millionaire named Jean (Gad Elmaleh). But it's a case of mistaken identity: Jean is actually a bartender at the resort, and Irene is furious after Jacques dumps her and Jean (now unemployed for sleeping with a guest) is unable to provide for her. Hopelessly smitten, Jean remains in her orbit even after she lands another suitor (Jacques Spiesser), and once he finds himself the companion of an older woman (Marie-Christine Adam) who mistakes him for a gigolo, Irene softens and begins to teach this novice the rules of the game. The P.C. Patrol can feel free to tut-tut at the characters' morals, but Priceless is such a charming romantic comedy in the fairy-tale vein (a la Pretty Woman) that any ill will would be seriously misplaced. After being drained of all personality for her role in The Da Vinci Code, Tautou regains her Amelie effervescence, while The Valet's Elmaleh again displays an easygoing rapport with his own comic intuitions. Add to this frothy mix some gorgeous shots of the French Riviera, and Priceless proves to be a steal at any cost. ***

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