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Film Clips 

Capsule blurbs from recently reviewed movies

New Releases

HANNIBAL RISING This prequel to the myriad Hannibal Lecter titles now lining DVD shelves hits theaters reeking of "cash-in-quick sequel," so it's somewhat shocking to note that, for a good while anyway, its creators actually make a go out of creating something beyond the expected. Director Peter Webber, who earned kudos for his Johannes Vermeer sorta-biopic Girl With a Pearl Earring, lavishes painterly attention to the film's look (cinematographer Ben Davis shares the credit), while writer Thomas Harris (who apparently wrote the recently released novel concurrent with the screenplay) takes great pains to fill in the backstory on the cannibalistic serial killer and how the events in his youth -- WWII-era through the early 1950s -- turned him into a human monster. Unfortunately, after a fairly gripping first half, the movie devolves into a routine rip-off of Death Wish, with the youthful Hannibal (played by Gaspard Ulliel) exacting his bloody revenge on those who abused him years earlier and thereby turned him into the killing machine he eventually became. Rhys Ifans is effective as the sneering heavy, Gong Li adds understated concern as the woman who takes Hannibal under her wing, and Dominic West functions as the audience surrogate in the role of the kindly police inspector who seeks to understand Hannibal even as he tries to stop him. **

MUSIC AND LYRICS Assembly line romantic comedies often rise or fall based on the stars at their center, and Music and Lyrics is lucky to have both Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant (as opposed to, say, Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey) offering their services to the soggy premise. The perpetually perky (but rarely tiresome) Barrymore is a constant beam of sunshine in practically all her film appearances (God forbid she ever gets cast as Joan of Arc), while Grant is more entertaining playing charming rakes (About a Boy) rather than out-and-out rotters (American Dreamz). Here, they're both allowed to cater to their strengths, and even if they never quite click as a romantic couple -- admittedly a huge flaw in a movie released on Valentine's Day -- their individual personalities make up enormous stretches of terrain. Grant stars as Alex Fletcher, a former 80s pop star (literally, since PoP! was the name of his band) who's commissioned by current music diva Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) to write a new hit song for her. Alex's forte is in the melody, not the lyrics, so he ends up asking quirky Sophie Fisher (Barrymore), the woman who waters his plants, to help him on that end. Writer-director Marc Lawrence doesn't deviate much from the expected template (boy and girl meet cute, love cute, break up ugly and reconcile cute), but he includes a surprisingly generous number of laugh-out-loud lines, something I never expected from the guy who penned (among other chuckle-free affairs) Miss Congeniality and Two Weeks Notice. **1/2

NORBIT There's a reason makeup artist Rick Baker has six Academy Awards on the mantle in his workshop, and it can be seen in his latest collaboration with Eddie Murphy. Baker, who earned one of his Oscars for his work on Murphy's The Nutty Professor (as well as additional nominations for Coming to America and Life), had a hand in the designs Murphy dons in this comedy, and as usual, his efforts elicit gasps of admiration. Also worthy of (guarded) praise is Murphy himself, who once again is able to create a deft comic persona. That would be the title character, a mild-mannered nerd who, after being raised by Asian restaurant owner Mr. Wong (also Murphy), ends up marrying a frightening, 300-pound behemoth named Rasputia (Murphy yet again). Like the geek Murphy played in Bowfinger, Norbit is a likable man whose rotten luck and sweet demeanor earn our sympathies. What doesn't engender audience goodwill is the rest of this picture, which, in addition to not being particularly funny, is petty and mean-spirited when it comes to any character not named Norbit or Kate (the willowy love interest played by Thandie Newton). Yet for all the stereotypes perpetrated by this film -- the black-hating Mr. Wong, a jive-talking huckster (who else but Cuba Gooding, Jr.?), a garish pimp (who else but Eddie Griffin?) -- the one most likely to offend is its centerpiece: Rasputia, an African-American caricature who's oversexed, overfed and in all other regards over the top. First, Martin Lawrence as Big Momma, then Tyler Perry as Madea, and now this? Enough already. **

Current Releases

BECAUSE I SAID SO A nasty piece of cinema posing as a romantic comedy, Because I Said So is this year's Monster-In-Law, a vicious stab at the maternal instinct that also manages to humiliate the iconic actress at its center. Diane Keaton headlines the film as Daphne, a 59-year-old woman who still dotes on her youngest daughter, Milly (Mandy Moore). Determined to find Mr. Right for Milly, Daphne interviews prospective suitors and settles on a wealthy architect (Tom Everett Scott), but her plans are upset by the additional presence of a struggling musician (Gabriel Macht). For all its faults -- reprehensible characters, grotesque racial profiling (check out the Asian masseuses), a dog not only humping the furniture after hearing moans emanating from an Internet porn site but actually licking the computer screen as well -- the movie's most unforgivable sin is its treatment of the great Diane Keaton. Jane Fonda had lost her acting chops by the time she returned from retirement to appear in Monster-In-Law, but Keaton is still an active and accomplished performer. But watching her humiliated on camera in the service of such a loathsome character (she shrieks! she whines! she falls on her ass!) is inexcusable. Just a few years ago, Keaton played a character who was sexy, funny and intelligent in Something's Gotta Give. This one's more like Something Gave Out. *

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