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Flick picks and pans

See the movie listings in this Arts & Entertainment section for theaters and showtimes. Go to http://www.aspentimes.com/film for in-depth movie reviews.THE HAPPENING: Not much happens in fright specialist M. Night Shyamalans latest. The Sixth Sense director effectively delivers his usual broody air of foreboding. And this fear-mongering story of an airborne toxin that causes victims to snuff themselves will induce seat-squirming as people shove hairpins into their throats or hurl themselves en masse off a high rise. The shock value wears off quickly, though, and Shyamalan strands us in a boring cautionary tale with an infantile eco-message about humanity needing to live in harmony with nature or else. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel play a couple racing through the countryside to keep ahead of some mysterious substance that induces suicide. The movies vague, shame-on-us finger-pointing would have been tepid in the 1960s and 1970s, when Hollywood condemned our rapacious species with more fun and interesting future-shock flicks such as Planet of the Apes and Silent Running. All Shyamalan comes up with is an intriguing impetus for a story that ultimately goes nowhere and says nothing. Classified: R for violent and disturbing images. Running time: 91 minutes. Rating: Two stars out of four. (Germain, AP) THE INCREDIBLE HULK: The fanboys will probably be happy with this incarnation of The Incredible Hulk. At least we can say that much for it. And thats something we most assuredly could not say about Ang Lees somber, introspective and largely derided 2003 take on the beloved Marvel Comics hero. Theres a lot more action this time around as you might expect from Transporter director Louis Leterrier a deafening, endless amount by the colossal conclusion as well as fond references both to the comic book series and to the television show it inspired starring Bill Bixby. (Leterrier even sneaks in some of Joseph Harnells Lonely Man theme, or as Stewie on Family Guy refers to it, That sad, walking-away song from The Incredible Hulk.) This version is indeed bigger-stronger-faster, which seems appropriate in telling the story of a guy whos been juicing. But the inevitable comparisons to Iron Man, Marvel Studios first blockbuster this summer, serve as a glaring reminder of what the Hulk lacks: wit and heart. Despite the presence of Edward Norton, an actor capable of going just as deep as Robert Downey Jr., we dont feel a strong sense of Bruce Banners inner conflict. Thats surprising, given that the famously detail-oriented Norton worked over Zak Penns script. Liv Tyler seems a bit stiff as Bruces long-lost love, Dr. Betty Ross, but the movie is livened up by Tim Roth as Bruces new nemesis and Tim Blake Nelson as the mad scientist who is trying to help Bruce rid his body of gamma rays. Classified: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content. Running time: 114 minutes. Rating: Two and a half stars out of four. (Lemire, AP )INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL: Nineteen years after the previous Indy adventure, a film in the same tradition, involving man-eating ants, sword fights between two people balanced on the backs of speeding jeeps, subterranean caverns of gold, vicious femme fatales, plunges down three waterfalls in a row, and the explanation for flying saucers. Harrison Ford holds up well as Indy, Cate Blanchett is a sublime femme fatale, Karen Allen is back as Indys first love, Shia LaBeouf is the boxer with the ducktail. Same old same old, Indy says, but thats why I liked it. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 124 minutes. Rated: Three and a half stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate)KUNG FU PANDA: The adaptation of such a delicate creature as the giant panda to a habitat like the summer movie season a zoo if ever there was one is an obvious ploy for family crowds. But Kung Fu Panda is surprisingly fun and free of the usual blockbuster bloating, despite its star-packed voice cast. It also has easily the best computer animation of a DreamWorks production yet, far surpassing the look of Madagascar or even Shrek. Its not quite on Pixars level, but its close. Our hero, Po, voiced by Jack Black, is an overweight dreamer who has more in common with Blacks Nacho Libre than Hsing-Hsing. He puts the giant in giant panda. Despite his lack of talent, the duty of protecting his village is thrust upon Po. But at every turn, the gravity of the kung fu archetype is contrasted with Pos oafishness. Hes advised: Panda, we do not wash our pits in the Sea of Forgotten Tears. Hes plucky, but its not Pos grit that endears us to him; its his casual good-naturedness. The voice work throughout is good, particularly that by Dustin Hoffman and Ian McShane. Angelina Jolie as Tigress is completely forgettable. As summer movies get bigger and bigger, they often make us, the audience, feel smaller and smaller. The bright Kung Fu Panda is a simple and lighthearted exception. Classified: PG for sequences of martial arts action. Running time: 91 minutes. Rated: Three stars out of four. (Coyle, AP) SEX IN THE CITY: The clothes! The shoes! The magical depiction of Manhattan and the promise of finally finding true romance! Its like porn for women. And we havent even gotten to the sex part of the Sex and the City movie yet. Fans will be thrilled to see their old friends Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha back together and on the big screen, which makes it easier to ogle what theyre wearing, of course. Everyone else? Well, they never watched the HBO series and if they did, they didnt get it. Or theyre heterosexual men. But writer/director Michael Patrick King and producer/star Sarah Jessica Parker certainly know their audience: the devotees whove already reserved group tickets for opening weekend, which theyll celebrate in high style, complete with the requisite Cosmopolitan consumption and needless shopping sprees. In that regard, this hotly awaited follow-up to the hit TV show, which ended in 2004, is a success; this is one of those movies you have to assess in terms of whom its aiming to please. When Parkers Carrie announces that she and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) are finally tying the knot, it brings the friends back together: Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall). Surprisingly, despite its obsession with all things Manolo Blahnik, Sex and the City also has its share of tearjerker moments. Classified: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language. Running time: 142 minute. Rated: Two and a half stars out of four. (Lemire, AP) THE STRANGERS: Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman star as a couple with romantic difficulties who go for the night to their deserted summer cottage and are terrorized by home invaders. Competently acted and directed, but what a despairing exercise in nihilism. Classified: R. Running time: 90 minutes. Rating: One and a half stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate) THE VISITOR: Remember that little indie favorite from a few years ago, The Station Agent? Synopsis: A lonely man keeps to himself upon losing someone dear to him. He then meets an energetic stranger, who helps recharge his broken spirit. A couple of women also enter his life and help to reawaken his tender side. Thats The Visitor writer/director Thomas McCarthys follow-up to The Station Agent in a nutshell. Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is the lonely man at the center of The Visitor. He gets caught up in the lives of a couple of foreigners, who are in the country illegally. The film carries a harsh statement about post-9/11 immigration procedures, and while timely, relevant and compelling, it doesnt overshadow the heart of the story, which is about human connection. Particularly lovely is the friendship/romance that develops between Walter and Mouna (Hiam Abbass). Classified: PG-13. Running time: 103 minutes. Rating: Three and a half stars. (Budasi, Universal Press Syndicate)YOU DONT MESS WITH THE ZOHAN: For all its perceived shock value, all the concern that a comedy about conflict in the Middle East would offend just about everyone imaginable, Zohan is really rather conventional and familiar. At its core, its just Romeo and Juliet, wrapped in Adam Sandlers trademark raunchy humor. Sandler stars as the titular character, an Israeli commando who fakes his own death to escape to the United States and pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a hairdresser. Hes a superhuman trained killer but all he wants to do is make people silky smooth, one of many jokes that get repeated ad nauseam in Dennis Dugans overlong movie. While in New York, he wows his older female customers with his sexual prowess (and the haircuts he copies from his 1987 Paul Mitchell book), but he also finds hes fallen for his boss, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a salon owner who happens to be Palestinian. He also must elude a group of Arabs, led by cab driver Salim (old SNL buddy Rob Schneider), who want to report Zohans existence to the Palestinian terrorist (John Turturro) who thought hed killed him. Sandler co-wrote the script with longtime friends and comedy titans Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow, so it features smarter and more grown-up laughs than you would expect from a typical Happy Madison Production. With its messages of acceptance and reconciliation, the films heart is certainly in the right place. And with cameos from Mariah Carey, Charlotte Rae, George Takei, Dave Matthews and John McEnroe, its got to feature the most random cross-section of humanity since Zoolander. Mostly, though, its just plain silly. Classified: PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity. Running time: 113 minutes. Two stars out of four. (Lemire, AP) YOUNG@HEART: Young@Heart is a New England senior citizens chorus that has delighted audiences worldwide with their covers of songs by everyone from The Clash to Coldplay. Based in Northampton, Massachusetts, the group is made up of two dozen spirited seniors who specialize in reinterpreting rock, punk and R & B classics from a unique perspective. Their lineup includes former schoolteachers, executives, doctors and food service workers, and the chorus is guided by their longtime director Bob Cilman. With less than two months to go until a one night only concert in their hometown, the performers struggle with the new lyrics and unfamiliar melodies of seven new songs. During their thrice weekly rehearsals, they gradually take possession of music ranging from R&B classics like Allen Toussaints Yes We Can Can to Coldplays emotionally powerful balland Fix You, upending assumptions about old age, love, sex and death. (Fox Searchlight)


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