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Youth Without Youth, more

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DR. SEUSS' HORTON HEARS A WHO! In Horton's world, "a person's a person, no matter how small," but in our world, a mediocre movie's a mediocre movie, no matter how overhyped, overblown and overbearing. There are some who will give this animated film a free ride by virtue of the fact that it's roughly 10,000 times better than the ghastly live-action version of Dr. Seuss' The Cat In the Hat. That's true, but it's also true that a month-old loaf of bread isn't nearly as disgusting as a year-old loaf, and I wouldn't care to indulge in either. There's a reason that the 1966 TV version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! remains the best Seuss on film, and that's because its 26-minute length comes closest to approximating the brief reading time of one of his delightful books. But when stretched out to 90 minutes, a great deal of padding is needed, thereby maximizing the chances of screwing up the source material. That's definitely the case here, since the basic story – Horton the elephant finds himself ridiculed by the other jungle denizens when he insists that a speck on a clover contains an entire civilization – retains its appeal. But the additions are misguided, beginning with a decidedly non-Seussian reference to "poop" (ah, more scatological humor for the kiddies) and ending with an atrocious Pokemon-inspired sequence that must be seen to be disbelieved. And while the animation often captures the intricate details found on the pages, the sense of whimsy is largely missing, replaced by a heavy-handed touch made all the more noticeable by the marquee-value-only casting of Jim Carrey (as Horton), Steve Carell, Seth Rogen and others. **

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is the sort of airy confection that will be dismissed by many as a pleasant but forgettable bauble, and that's OK. But catch it on the proper wavelength, and its pleasures are not only bountiful but durable. It's romantic without being cynical, witty without being puerile, and blessed by two divine performances from Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. McDormand plays the title character, a British maid in 1939 London who all too suddenly finds herself unemployed. Desperate to remain off the streets, she dupes her way into the position of social secretary to American actress Delysia Lafosse (Adams), an opportunistic if sweet-natured starlet whose biggest problem seems to be choosing between two playboys (Tom Payne and Mark Strong) who can advance her career and a struggling pianist (Lee Pace) who truly loves her. Yeah, I know: It's a no-brainer guessing who gets her hand by the fadeout. Yet despite Adam's screwball-style performance – as enchanting as her turn in Enchanted – the film's main source of delight doesn't rest with Delysia's affairs of the heart but with Miss Pettigrew's. A prim woman who lost her beloved during the First World War, Miss Pettigrew has long given up on any chance at romance. That a potential suitor comes along in the form of a successful clothing designer (Ciaran Hinds) seems just right, not only by the demands of the storyline but by the demands of our own hearts. McDormand sells her character with utter conviction, and the only thing possibly more praiseworthy than Miss Pettigrew is the movie that bears her name. ***1/2

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 tradeoff, 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. **1/2

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