Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 2 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 2 

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MEGAMIND 2010 has brought us two animated features about a supervillain who eventually discovers his long-buried humanity, yet viewers who check out Megamind needn't have seen Despicable Me to feel slightly let down by this similar outing. Will Ferrell handles vocal duties as the title villain, whose joy at finally destroying his arch-nemesis, the preening Metro Man (Brad Pitt), soon turns to depression once he realizes there's no one around to challenge him. He ends up creating his own superhero (Jonah Hill), but it isn't long before the supposed do-gooder realizes it's more fun to be bad and sets about destroying the city and kidnapping TV reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). Megamind now finds himself in the unlikely position of having to save rather than terrorize the civilians who have long feared and despised him. Megamind is perfectly fine for the kids, but adults might find their own megaminds wandering at various points throughout a film that doesn't compare to The Incredibles when it comes to affectionately tweaking the superhero genre. Certainly, there are some moments of delightful inventiveness — I love how Megamind occasionally disguises himself as Marlon-Brando-as-Jor-El-in-Superman — but all too often, safe and sentimental scriptwriting proves to be this film's fatal Kryptonite. **1/2

NO STRINGS ATTACHED Elizabeth Meriwether's script starts with a good idea: An emotionally blocked woman, Emma (Natalie Portman), and a perpetually peppy nice guy, Adam (Ashton Kutcher), find themselves attracted to each other, but because she's afraid of commitment, they agree to be "fuck buddies," satisfying each other's carnal urges whenever the need arises. No Strings Attached could have been fascinating had it made an honest attempt at exploring whether such a union could really work — think of it as a Last Tango in Paris for the Internet generation, with cell phones instead of butter as the story's chief accessory. But instead of Brando and Bertolucci, we have Kutcher and Ivan Reitman (who stopped mattering as a director after his partnership with Bill Murray in the 1980s), and the result is the usual rom-com ditherings, with the familiar assortment of stock supporting characters and one morally sound, preordained ending that again demonstrates the motto of hedonistic Hollywood is, "Do as I film, not as I do." The picture is too bland and forgettable to hurt Portman's Black Swan Oscar chances, though I imagine her primary competition, The Kids Are All Right's Annette Bening, will still be reading the negative notices with glee. *1/2

127 HOURS Let's be honest with one another. I'd be dead. You'd be dead. Almost everyone we've ever known would be dead. But not Aron Ralston. After five days of slowly withering away while his right arm remained lodged between a boulder and a rocky wall in a Utah canyon, Ralston did the unthinkable and used a small, dull knife to cut off the arm so that he might continue to live. 127 Hours, based on Ralston's memoir, is writer-director Danny Boyle's mesmerizing account of those fateful days in the outdoor enthusiast's life. But while a stirring parable about the indomitability of the human spirit, this story doesn't quite lend itself to a cinematic rendition — it just sounds too simple, too constricted. But Boyle and co-scripter Simon Beaufoy expand the picture in all sorts of marvelous ways. Visually, the film is always hopping with the same energy as its protagonist (played in a career-best performance by James Franco), relying on split-screen techniques and other lively tricks of the trade. And thematically, the picture doesn't settle for the expected "man vs. nature" route, instead realizing that it isn't nature that's at fault but one man's own near-fatal folly. By turns funny, frightening, inspiring and, yes, nauseating, 127 Hours turns cinema into an extreme sport, leaving us satisfactorily spent. ***1/2

RABBIT HOLE One of the best films of 2010, Rabbit Hole features a devastating performance by Nicole Kidman that would deserve every Best Actress prize on tap were it not for the presence of Black Swan's Natalie Portman on the awards scene. Kidman is all coiled tension and seething anger as Becca, who, along with her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart, also top-grade), is still attempting to cope with the accidental death of their young son eight months earlier. The loss has caused some distance between the couple, and both handle the tragedy in different ways. In tackling David Lindsay-Abaire's play (with a script penned by the playwright himself), director John Cameron Mitchell — incidentally, going 3-for-3 on my year-end 10 Best lists, following Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus — makes sure to never betray the material with maudlin melodrama or cheap theatrics. By giving us characters who are sympathetic yet also ofttimes infuriating, the film earns every audience emotion the hard way, not through pandering but by never flinching from its uncomfortable truths. For viewers willing to brave a beautiful bummer, Rabbit Hole proves to be a wonder. ***1/2

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