(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson, J. Hoberman, Dan Kois, Michelle Orange and Robert Wilonsky)
The Extra Man Delicate, gangly Louis Ives (Paul Dano) yearns to be both a Gatsby-era gentleman and a pretty young lady. Caught fondling a lacy brassiere, he's dismissed from his teaching post at a Princeton prep school and heads to New York with writerly aspirations, sharing an East 91st Street apartment with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a dye-job blowhard who makes his living as a walker to desiccated society matrons. Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman's adaptation of Jonathan Ames's 1998 bildungsroman affectionately honors its characters' idiosyncrasies, never diluting them into typical indie-comedy quirk.
Kline flourishes in the role of a well-cured ham: When not escorting Upper East Side octogenarians, Henry devotes his energies to reviving his playwriting career, frenzied movement therapy in the living room, and lecturing Louis with advice that's "to the right of the Pope." Kline's manic behavior is nicely balanced by Dano's awkward conflict about his disparate sources of pleasure, putting down his copy of Washington Square to seek out a trannie bar. Though their peculiarities are heightened, Henry and Louis aren't broadly drawn; going below the surface, the filmmakers and the cast (including a marvelous performance by Marian Seldes as an osteoporotic doyenne) successfully create the hardest characters to pull off: exotic yet recognizable New Yorkers. (M.A.)
Rated R 108 minutes
Avatar The money is on the screen in James Cameron's mega-3-D, mondo-CGI, more-than-a-quarter-billion-dollar baby, and the bling is almost blinding. For the first 45 minutes, I'm thinking: Metropolis! Then the 3-D wears off and the long second act kicks in. The movie opens brilliantly with an assembly line of weightless mercenaries disembarking at planet Pandora's earthling (that is, American) base--a fantastic military hustle, with the paraplegic volunteer Jake (Sam Worthington) wheeling through a sea of Jeeps, trucks, and robots. Every shot is a fascinating study, thanks to the plethora of depth-complicated transparent monitors, Kindle-like devices, and rearview mirrors that Cameron has positioned throughout the frame. The Sky People, as the native Pandorans or Na'vis call them, are on a mission to strip-mine this lushly verdant planet to save their own despoiled world. As preparation, they are attempting to infiltrate the Na'vis by linking human consciousness to Pandoran avatars. Thus Jake finds himself inside a 12-foot-tall, blue-striped, yellow-eyed, flat-nosed humanoid--and he can walk! When, waking up back in the lab, Jake realizes that "out there is the true world and in here is the dream," you know that it's time for him to go native, complete with tender blue-monkey sex. Avatar seamlessly synthesizes live action, animation, performance-capture, and CGI to create what is essentially a non-participatory computer game. But the muscular visuals can only trump the movie's camp dialogue and corny conception up to a point. (J.H.)
Rated PG-13 160 minutes
The Kids Are All Right Serious comedy, powered by an enthusiastic cast and full of good-natured innuendo, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right gives adolescent coming-of-age and the battle of the sexes a unique twist, in part by creating a romantic triangle between a longstanding, devoutly bourgeois lesbian couple Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and the newly identified, merrily free-spirited sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), responsible for both the couple's teenage children. Normality, as made clear by the introductory family dinner that features two mothers acting all motherly, rules. (The moms' designated kink is their occasional use of gay male porn as an aphrodisiac.) Whereas Cholodenko's two previous features, High Art (1998) and Laurel Canyon (2003), each focused on an innocent young woman swept up in the glamorously baffling sex-and-drugs scene swirling around a charismatic older female artist, the situation here is reversed; unexpectedly drawn in to and fascinated by the ultra-domestic household created by a pair of charismatic femmes, the swinger is the straight man (literally). Premiered last January at Sundance, The Kids Are All Right triggered a lively bidding war. The enthusiasm is unsurprising: It's actually a pretty conservative movie. Given its juicy premise, The Kids could have been played for sitcom, reality show, or soap opera--had it had been made in 1970, it might have been an Echo Park Teorema, with everyone winding up in bed together. Ten years into the 21st century, it's a heartfelt poster for family values. (J.H.)
Rated R 104 minutes
Lottery Ticket Midway through Lottery Ticket, a teen-comedy-cum-wish-fulfillment fantasy, the movie's hero, Kevin Carson, goes on a spending spree. The holder of a $370 million lottery ticket that he can't cash in until after the July 4 holiday, Kevin accepts a $100,000 loan from a local gangster, and proceeds to spend it all in one night. Because Kevin is played by the rapper Bow Wow (né Lil' Bow Wow), it's tempting to view this section of the film as aspirational autobiography. This is basically how Bow Wow lives most of the time, right? The kids at my screening cheered wildly for every scene of Kevin's cash frenzy. It would be pretty sweet to have that much money! Credit Lottery Ticket for honesty, I guess, in never making an argument against being fabulously wealthy. The theme of this formulaic but vibrant comedy could best be described as a paraphrase of Biggie's well-worn credo. Mo' money, mo' problems--but mo' money, yeah, definitely. Lottery Ticket works best when it uses the housing project to orchestrate zany collisions of broad comic types, all played by familiar faces: the neighborhood gossip (Charlie Murphy); the hysterical granny (Loretta Devine); the avaricious preacher (Mike Epps). Ice Cube plays a retired ex-boxer named Thump, and watching him putter around telling stories of bygone days is a sorry reminder of just how very, very long it's been since Friday, the movie that perfected the template from which Lottery Ticket was drawn. (D.K.)
Rated PG-13 99 minutes
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Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore About as unremarkable as a film about talking animals organized into competing intelligence agencies can be, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore overcompensates for its pre-school premise (I don't know if you've heard, but these house pets--they don't like each other) with a steroidal storyline. Using a combination of live action and CGI that will give some audience members PTSD flashbacks to the recent Marmaduke (hold me), director Brad Peyton has been charged with following up the 2001 original with the sequel no one was hoping for--in pointless 3-D. The usual pop culture allusions (Bond is lamentably spoofed; Roger Moore voices a buttoned-up cat) are meant to keep moms and dads grimly entertained, but their kids will be a casualty of the overcrowded whiteboard of a plot. A hapless police dog named Diggs (James Marsden) is recruited into a doggie underground to help stop Kitty Galore (Bette Midler), a hairless cat embittered by the industrial accident that uglified her, from taking over the world. A hater of both dogs and humans, Kitty has gone rogue, and apparently learned how to launch a satellite into space. Cats and dogs (and pigeons and Christina Applegate) must work together to deliver every pet-related groaner imaginable within 85 minutes. (M.O.)
85 minutes Rated PG
The Last Airbender While the message boards continue to fume with charges of racism aimed at writer-director M. Night Shyamalan for changing cartoon characters from Asian to Caucasian (except the villains), let's pursue a less arguable crime--that of lousy filmmaking. Adapted from a Nickelodeon cartoon about a young boy who's part Luke Skywalker, part Neo, and all heroic hodgepodge, this is one muddled attempt at franchise-making: confusing, drab, sluggish. (Ugly, too, if you're forced to see it in 3-D.) Aang (Noah Ringer) is the boy savior who disappeared 100 years ago and took with him the power to, ya know, bend air--which is to say, manufacture poorly computer-generated gusts of wind after performing what appears to be capoeira. Aang was frozen, somehow, in a ball of ice beneath a pond, and, in his absence, the Fire Benders (led by Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi as the main--and hilarious--baddie) have seized control of the planet and banished the Earth Benders and Water Benders to ghettos. Aang, naturally, will liberate them if only he can learn how to use The Force . . . or the Matrix . . . or something? Perhaps followers of the series will be more forgiving; this installment--with a sequel-teasing final scene that feels awfully desperate--is written entirely in fanboy shorthand. But to those of us who lose patience quickly with blurry, poorly acted, clunky kung-fu movies, The Last Airbender appears to have been shot using stereo instructions. Worse still: This could have been directed by anyone. Or no one. (R.W.)
104 minutes Rated PG