MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT
The leisurely pace, Hallmark Channel plotting, and largely septuagenarian ensemble cast of Dan Ireland's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremontseem tailor-made for the Paris Theatre, but this earnest, well-observed weepy has more depth than its genteel trappings might imply. Adapted from a book by the late English novelist Elizabeth Taylor (not the matrimonially inclined movie star), Mrs. Palfreychronicles the final phase of life for its titular character (Joan Plowright, frail but forceful). A recent widow, she installs herself in the Claremont Hotel—a drab backstreet London pension, nicely served by the film's minuscule budget—and eventually bonds with its other permanent residents. A sidewalk tumble deposits her in the care of awkward twentysomething writer Ludovic (the aptly goofy Rupert Friend), and the two embark on a predictably enriching friendship. Despite the setup, Ireland's film evades Harold and Maude–lite pathos by quietly underscoring the harsh realities of Mrs. Palfrey's late-in-life independence, from pervasive loneliness to forced idleness to diminished health. Pain and loss haunt even the pluckiest of the Claremont's tenants, and the director and his cast (including the great Anna Massey) approach the material—a syrupy epilogue notwithstanding—with humor and grace. (Mark Holcomb) (11 a.m. Sat.-Sun. at Regency Laguna South Coast, Laguna Beach)
SCARY MOVIE 4
Part three was so wretched, it actually made you miss the Wayans brothers, but the fourth Scary Movie has its share of good laughs. It unspools like a Mad magazine parody, primarily of The Grudge and War of the Worlds, but also some lesser targets both obvious (Saw) and not (Fahrenheit 9/11). Anna Faris returns, this time channeling Sarah Michelle Gellar, while Craig Bierko—underrated as a comic actor—goes to town on Hollywood's biggest target, Tom Cruise. (Other good spoof-casting choices include Chris Elliott for Adrien Brody and Bill Pullman for William Hurt in The Village, and Charlie Sheen for Pullman in The Grudge.) The jokes miss more than they hit, but there are a lot of them, and when they work, it's gold. (A gag that involves a car's automatic-locking system is utterly brilliant.) And given that director David Zucker recently became a Republican, bonus points for all the jokes involving Leslie Nielsen as a familiarly bumbling president. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)
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LA MUJER DE MI HERMANO (MY BROTHER'S WIFE)
If Lions Gate is planning a splashy foray into the potentially huge Latino market, the company is going to have to do better than this narcotizing Latin American import about a sex triangle between a narcissistic businessman (Christian Meier), his sultry wife (Brbara Mori) and his irresponsible younger brother (Manolo Cardona). One has to assume the roaring success ofLa Mujer de Mi Hermano on its home turf is due to the movie's abundance of panting flesh, much of it belonging to shapely Uruguayan soap mega-star Mori, whose errant wife preens and pouts and feigns Catholic guilt over her steamy sessions in the sack with her brother-in-law, who smolders furiously and pisses in the swimming pool for more reasons than initially meet the eye. Otherwise, this is a clumsy coming-out movie heavily swathed in a lethargic telenovela with much nicer furnishings. Adapted from his own novel (I shudder to think) by Jaime Bayly and directed practically in slow motion by MTV Latin America executive Ricardo Montreuil, La Mujer lumbers along, trapped in a long-faced score that appears to have been borrowed from a thriller, and without a smidgen of the saving irony that might have made of it a decent screwball comedy. (Ella Taylor) (Countywide)
MOUNTAIN PATROL: KEKEXILI
By their nature, conservationist melodramas are tough to put over: Unless you torture science Roland Emmerich-style, the concrete concerns are long-term (save the water, the whales, or the woods), and the principles, vacuum-packed by narrative pressure, can easily veer off into sanctimonious terrain. This 2004 Chinese adventure saga, which takes on the poaching of the endangered Tibetan antelope—and the volunteer force that struggled to stop it—s a film of startling textural power. Nothing in the last decade—not even Terrence Malick's The New World—has displayed such a ferocious intimacy with extreme landscape. But for all of its well-schooled orthodoxy and visual splendor, Lu Chuan's epic remains somewhat off-kilter: The passionate wartime camaraderie and doomed sense of martyrdom seem misplaced, and the real villains—the government that provides the west-China populace few other options for sustenance, and the international consumers who pony up for pelts—are left unaddressed. (Michael Atkinson) (Edwards University, Irvine)
PREACHING TO THE CHOIR
Two neighborhood busybodies (Denise Burse and Adriane Lenox), who gossip and prattle about in a manner reminiscent of the waddling duck sisters in Disney's The Aristocats (how's that for a random movie reference?), steal the show in this family friendly tale of a hip-hop star rediscovering his gospel roots. Teshawn (a charismatic Billoah Greene), a popular rapper with a pissed-off record producer (Adewale Akinnouoye-Agbaje) gunning for him, escapes LA and returns to Harlem, where his disapproving twin brother (Darien Sill-Evans) is pastor of a Baptist church badly in need of both new parishioners and fresh voices for its once-renowned choir. There is, of course, a big gospel contest coming up, where it's a good bet a famous local son will add an urban riff to a classic hymn or two. Screenwriters Kevin Heffernan and Peter E. Lengyel and director Charles Randolph Wright don't appear to have listened to much rap in their time, but they sure love church singing, as evidenced by this formulaic but innocuous little movie's one clever moment, a sing-off between choirs standing on their respective church steps, trying to lure in Sunday-morning worshippers. Now that's good marketing. (Chuck Wilson) (AMC Pine Square, Long Beach)
It's bad enough to lift premise, plot and character types wholesale from another so-so movie, worse when the aptly named director, Steve "Spaz" Williams, so hopelessly bungles the job that even your ordinarily accepting child can barely stay awake long enough to point out the comparisons with Madagascar. Does this sound familiar? A coalition of fractious but cute animals—lion with hero issues (voice of Kiefer Sutherland), pretty giraffe (Janeane Garofalo) batting away advances from squirrel with attention deficit disorder (Jim Belushi), logorrheic koala (Eddie Izzard)—breaks out of the New York Zoo in order to save one of their number, then finds itself in some unspecified wild battling a wildebeest dictator (William Shatner) climbing his way up the food chain. The animation is cheesy; the banter isn't funny; the score is noisy and grating; and the critters look like stuffed animals. The best that can be said for The Wild is that it's a most insincere form of flattery. The worst is that it's a sincere form of theft. (Ella Taylor) (Countywide)