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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Mini Reviews: November 25 & 27
by John P. McCarthy

Below are Mini Reviews from Cineman Syndicate for five films opening during the week of November 23, 2005.

ME AND ORSON WELLES. Richard Linklater's paean to the performing arts, from Robert Kaplow's novel, pits an omnivorous genius against a high-school kid. Set backstage at Welles' nascent Mercury Theater in 1937, the fictional tussle is hardly fair or surprising, but we're reminded that an illusion needn't be deep to be effective. The budding thespian (Zac Efron) cast in a modern-dress production of "Julius Caesar" seems too polished, which is partly why the movie's first two-thirds are eminently watchable yet unexceptional. During the final act, however, sparks fly when he's bested by Welles, adroitly channeled by Christian McKay. There are worse ways to come of age than slathered in greasepaint. (PG-13) GOOD DRAMA. Director - Richard Linklater; Lead - Zac Efron; Runnint Time - 113 minutes.  (Capsule review by John P. McCarthy)

OLD DOGS. John Travolta and Robin Williams have reached that age when an actor must occasionally make a fool of himself to earn a paycheck. This superannuated exercise isn't worth it, however, even when compared to other lowest-common-denominator throwaways. For example, it makes 2007's Wild Hogs, on which Travolta and director Walt Becker collaborated, look like a comic masterpiece. When two business partners and best friends learn that Williams' character fathered twins during a South Beach bender seven years earlier, their sports-marketing deal with a Japanese company is threatened. Racist, juvenile and nonsensical, it's among the worst of '09. Mugging by Kelly Preston, Seth Green and Rita Wilson doesn't help. (PG) POOR COMEDY. Director - Walt Becker; Lead - John Travolta; Running Time - 95 minutes. (Capsule review by John P. McCarthy)

THE ROAD. The last adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel won the Best Picture Oscar. Though nihilistic and violent, the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men conveyed the poetry of McCarthy's spare prose. This bummer about a father (Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in a post-apocalyptic world does not, either visually or through the dialogue and narration. We're meant to be touched by the will-to-live the man tries to instill in his progeny as they evade cannibals and battle the elements. But it's clear the movie has been heavily reedited; the ending rings false; and the overbearingly sentimental music can't compensate for the lack of even harsh lyricism. (R) FAIR DRAMA. Director - John Hillcoat;  Lead - Viggo Mortensen; Running Time - 113 minutes. (Capsule review by John P. McCarthy)

NINJA ASSASSIN. Delivering everything you'd expect from a film titled Ninja Assassin, this throwback to Asian fist-chuckers of the 1980s involves faceless, well-armed government organizations interfering with an ancient war between rival clans. A Europol agent (Naomie Harris) stumbles upon the mysterious Ozunu Clan and its ultimate warrior (chiseled Korean entertainer Rain). Betrayed on all sides by the corrupt and vengeful, they team to take down her double-crossing superiors and his bloodthirsty rivals. Speaking of blood, director McTeigue drenches his movie with gallons of it. Limbs are severed. Bodies are chopped in two. Stylishly gory, it makes Kill Bill look like Sesame Street. Without question, you get what you pay for. (R) GOOD ACTION. Director - James McTeigue; Lead - Rain; Running Time - 96 minutes. (Capsule review by Sean O'Connell)

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Disney returns to its 2D animated roots with this lively but derivative Princess saga about a New Orleans waitress named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) whose smooch with an egotistical frog prince doesn't turn him human but, instead, turns her green and long-tongued. Bright, varied visuals enliven energetic if not quite indelible Broadway-ish jazz tunes. The progressiveness of Disney depicting its first African-American heroine, however, is -- like its feel-good celebration of hard work and true love -- diluted by questionable stereotypes as well as the puzzling decision to have Tiana spend most of the film as a mucus-y frog. (G) FAIR ANIMATED FANTASY. Directors - Ron Clements & John Musker; Lead - Anika Noni Rose; Running Time - 97 minutes. (Capsule review by Nick Schager)


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