New Reviews

Seth Rogen plays a guy named Ben Stone, who's been stoned most of his adult life. Katherine Heigl, free from the gloomy climes of Seattle Grace Hospital, is Alison Scott, who's been promoted from E! segment producer to on-air talent, goes to a club with her sister (Leslie Mann), and winds up in bed with Ben. Turns out, of course, he's given her the gift that keeps on giving in nine months. What follows is inevitable: A mistake turns into an accidental relationship turns into True Love turns into heartbreak turns into happiness at last, which gives nothing away, because writer/director Judd Apatow is not one to betray the characters he loves like family. It's the journey—which lasts more than two hours, and feels much shorter—in which the audience is meant to find delight and even a bit of melancholy, as Apatow wrings the biggest laughs from the smallest moments. What makes Knocked Up a terrific film is its relaxed, shaggy vibe; if it feels improvised in places, that's because Apatow trusts his actors enough to let them make it up as they go, like the people they're playing. It's more than just a loose-limbed variation on About a Boy. It's a sincere meditation on adulthood, accountability, and fidelity—and, yeah, getting high. (Robert Wilonsky) (Countywide)

This astounding little film, which John Carney wrote and directed, is a deceptively simple movie—a narrative strung together by pop songs, but without the sheen (or arrogance) of most cinematic musicals. By day, a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) sings Van Morrison on a street corner for spare change. At night, he switches to his own compositions, most written for the girlfriend who's abandoned the guy (who has no name in the film or credits other than The Guy). A Czech girl (Markta Irglov, billed only as The Girl) approaches The Guy and asks him about his songs. He brushes her off; she's pretty but too young. She's also persistent. It turns out this Girl selling flowers to strangers for loose coins is also a musician—a pianist and singer, every bit The Guy's equal. And so theirs becomes a friendship and partnership—though not quite a relationship, because of The Guy's ex and The Girl's estranged husband. He teaches her his songs and they marshal their forces to book time in a recording studio, where they cut a few tracks that will lead them…where? We have no idea at all by the end of 88 minutes that come and go far too fast. Ah, but that's the thing about Once: You'll want to see it twice. (Robert Wilonsky) (Mann Rancho Niguel, Laguna Niguel; Regency South Coast Village, Santa Ana)

Based on a serialized novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, this loopy anime from director Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress) isn't a movie that's meant to be understood so much as simply experienced—or maybe dreamed. Here's what I know for sure (and plot-wise, it isn't much): Our psychotherapist superheroine Paprika, a.k.a. Dr. Atsuko Chiba, learns that her laboratory's dream machine, the DC-Mini, has gone missing. So she goes looking for the errant device, digitally jacking into her colleagues' dreams and discovering clues that include menacing geisha dolls and the recurring nightmare of a guilt-ridden police detective—who happens to hate movies. Like the best work of Kon's compatriots Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) and Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), Paprika is a film in which, minute to minute, basically anything can happen; the narrative is almost completely unbound. But Kon wouldn't be his genre's supreme self-reflexivist if he didn't insist on revealing frames within the frame—which here include not just characters' dreams, but movie and laptop screens, plus a Planet Hollywood-esque elevator that stops on floors devoted to Tarzan and James Bond. At once cinephobic and cinephilic, Kon's heady cure for blockbuster blues couldn't have come along at a better time. (Rob Nelson) (Edwards University, Irvine)

See “Spall, Bearer.” (Via Lido, Newport Beach)


What if you took It's a Wonderful Life and replaced George Bailey with a scruffy Parisian con man and swapped Henry Travers' doddering guardian angel for the half-naked chick with the $10 million pasties from Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale? You'd wind up in the humid imagination of La Femme Nikita writer-director Luc Besson. In this amiably inconsequential fairy tale, one-armed Moroccan-born comic Jamel Debbouze draws on his sawed-off, scrappy charm as a quick-talking Brooklyn-based loser who's about to jump into the Seine to avoid his gambling debts when suddenly a literal suicide blonde (Rie Rasmussen) materializes on the same bridge. When the leggy sprite and her companion aren't wandering a desolate neon-flecked City of Lights—shot in silvery black-and-white—the portentously named Angela (geddit?) throws roundhouse kicks in a bid to restore her man's latent decency. Is she the director's muse? Is ex-pat Debbouze's love-hate relationship with Paris symbolic of Besson's own tenuous position in Gaulywood, where he functions as a kind of Gallic Jerry Bruckheimer? There's little beyond the surface-deep pleasures of this talky, balky, strangely subdued distaff riff on Wings of Desire, although the knockabout pairing of the raffish Debbouze and the gawky Rasmussen provides ungainly sweetness. But the loony grand passion and profligate imagination of Besson's sci-fi whatsit The Fifth Element are sorely missed. (Jim Ridley) (Edwards University, Irvine)

In what could be construed as a very expensive home movie, the Shues (siblings Elisabeth and Andrew, of the proud glares and somewhat less reliable acting ability) rally to tell the story of how soccer saved a family in the wake of an eldest son's death. Directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), Gracie draws on several aspects of Shue family history, including the death of their older brother and Elisabeth's determination to play soccer with the boys growing up in New Jersey in the '70s. The title character (Carly Schroeder) idolizes older brother and soccer star Will, whose death sends her family, particularly father and coach (a valiant Dermot Mulroney), into a tailspin. Gracie's dream is to play on her brother's soccer team and score the big goal for him, but the men (and The Man) have other ideas. Firing on all formulaic cylinders, Gracie is heavy with tidy meaning and mealy morality; the most dubious idea here is that if you don't let a girl play soccer, she just may turn to cigarettes, halter tops, and sex with the starting forward. (Michelle Orange) (Countywide)

Bloody disappointing, that's what Mr. Brooks is. Kevin Costner plays a respectable Seattle businessman who kills for thrills, thanks to the goading of an imaginary friend who looks a whole lot like William Hurt. Costner's Earl Brooks is such a square (appropriate, perhaps, for a man who made his fortune in box manufacturing) that he kills all of two people in the movie's first 90 minutes or so. If only Mr. Brooks weren't trying so hard to make some point about the hereditary nature of addiction it might have been fun. Instead we get a morality tale in which a father (Costner) passes along to his daughter (Danielle Panabaker) his killer genes and then tries to reverse the cycle of addiction, lest his little girl wind up as tortured as he claims to be. Mr. Brooks mutters to himself The Serenity Prayer (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . . “) and goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (where he admits only to being “an addict”), but the device is hollow and ham-fisted—a slight gag meant to elicit an ironic chuckle, not illuminate a character so barely fleshed out he's little more than a bespectacled skeleton firing blanks at the audience's heads. (Robert Wilonsky) (Countywide)

This film was not screened in time for our reviewers. (Art Theatre, Long Beach)

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