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Capsule reviews of films currently showing in Charlotte

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THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL An often fascinating blend of fact, rumor and outright fabrication, The Other Boleyn Girl feels like an Oscar-bait title that somehow got its DNA mixed up with a daytime soap opera. Based on Philippa Gregory's controversial novel, this tracks the political intrigue and bedroom shenanigans which sprang from the attempts of the Boleyn family to get in the good graces of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Prodded on by the most venal member of the clan, the scheming Duke of Norfolk (The Reaping's David Morrissey, as uninteresting as always), the quivering Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) agrees to offer his strong-willed daughter Anne (Natalie Portman) to the king as replacement for his majesty's current wife Catherine (Ana Torent), who has been unable to produce a male heir. But after Anne quickly falls out of Henry's favor, the men serve up Anne's demure sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) instead; a torrid love affair takes place, but when that begins to cool thanks to Henry's growing disinterest, Anne is brought back onto the scene. If Charles Laughton (winning an Oscar for 1933's The Private Life of Henry VIII) was the chunkiest Henry VIII ever put on film, then Bana might be the hunkiest, but it's hardly a desirable trade-off, given the actor's drowsy performance. His female co-stars fare better, though it's hard to accept the physically dissimilar Portman and Johansson as flesh-and-blood siblings; in fact, the whole project frequently feels like little more than celebrities playing dress-up, despite the efforts of scripter Peter Morgan (The Queen) to streamline so much contradictory material (the legion of scholars who view Anne Boleyn in a favorable light will bristle at this film's portrait of a heartless social climber). Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas (who plays his wife) co-starred 12 years ago in the exquisite Angels & Insects, so those hankering for a period drama might want to check that one out instead. **1/2

PENELOPE An ugly duckling of a movie, Penelope is a sweet but clumsy fable that's pleasing without being particularly distinguished. Christina Ricci has always sported a nose that tilts a tad upward, so it's perhaps either lazy casting or a sly in-joke that she was the one chosen to essay the title role, a poor little rich girl suffering from an ancient family curse that saddled her at birth with a pig's snout. Now 25, Penelope has been basically kept a prisoner in her own home by her busybody mother (Catherine O'Hara), who only allows blueblood bachelors to visit her daughter in the hopes that one of them will look past her deformity and ask for her hand in marriage (the curse can only be broken when Penelope's loved by "one of her own"). A tabloid reporter (Peter Dinklage) who's forever been trying to get a photo of Penelope hears of this arrangement, and he hires a down-and-out playboy (Atonement's James McAvoy) to gain entry into the home and take the snapshot; needless to say, real feelings develop, hearts get broken, and, as in Babe: Pig In the City, our snout-sporting protagonist finds herself adrift in a major metropolis. A piggy proboscis does little to curtail Christina Ricci's beauty, so the fact that her suitors hurl themselves out of second-story windows in a rush to get away from her is rather absurd; still, this is basically a fairy tale, so exaggerations are expected in the recounting of the fantasy yarn. But despite being blessed with a distinguished cast – Dinklage is particularly sharp, and Reese Witherspoon (who also produced) shows up in a small role as a no-nonsense delivery woman – director Mark Palansky, working from a wobbly screenplay by Leslie Caveny, can only muster so much charm in his muted attempt to make this picture truly take off. **1/2

SEMI-PRO In 1962's Only Two Can Play, Peter Sellers portrays a librarian who's tasked to write a theater review for the local newspaper. He pens the piece beforehand without even seeing the play, using the time he's supposed to be at the theater as a cover for an extramarital affair; the only reason he's caught is because the theater housing the production burns to the ground on opening night – after it's too late to stop the edition running his review. Barring a similar disaster happening at the AMC Carolina Pavilion, I probably could have written a review for Semi-Pro without having even attended the advance screening, using the covered time to catch up on my sleep. Will Ferrell as an idiotic guy prone to infantile outbursts – check. Ferrell MAKING LOUD NOISES and running around like a goofball in a desperate attempt to generates laughs – check. Ferrell sporting a laughable hairstyle (this one vintage 1970s) – check. Ferrell surrounding himself with his comedian friends, some with extremely limited talent – check. Ferrell resorting to ca-ca and pee-pee level jokes with alarming regularity – check. Ferrell MAKING MORE LOUD NOISES – check. And so it goes, reaching a point of such creative bankruptcy that Ferrell stands poised to become as tiresome a screen jester as Robin Williams. The plot, as if anyone couldn't guess from just watching any random 15 seconds, finds Ferrell cast as Jackie Moon, the self-adoring owner of (and player on) the Flint Tropics basketball team. When it appears that there's a chance for this dreadful squad to join the NBA, Moon does his best to whip his players into shape, even bringing aboard a veteran has-been (Woody Harrelson). As one of the team's two play-by-play announcers, Andrew Daly is funny; as the other announcer, Will Arnett is not. *1/2

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