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The Foot Fist Way, Kung Fu Panda, Sex and the City, more

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THE FOOT FIST WAY Certainly, we here at CL want to promote and celebrate regional filmmaking whenever possible, but not at the expense of credibility. To be sure, somebody appreciated this low-budget comedy co-written by buddies Jody Hill (who also directed), Danny McBride and Ben Best (all products of the North Carolina School of the Arts), and that somebody would be Will Ferrell, who loved this film so much that his production company picked it up and he was able to secure national distribution for it. The star's interest is hardly surprising, since The Foot Fist Way basically plays like a Will Ferrell vehicle without Will Ferrell. Here, the central man-child is Fred Simmons (McBride), a doltish Tae Kwon Do instructor who runs his own martial arts school in a Concord, N.C., strip mall. Fred is married to a slatternly wife (Mary Jane Bostic) prone to copying her bare boobs and butt on the office Xerox machine (and who gets off the script's funniest line: "I was really drunk; like Myrtle Beach drunk"), and his misplaced self-esteem crumbles after she admits to giving her boss a hand job. Fred takes his aggression out on his students (most of whom are kids), and even his moment of triumph – getting a Tae Kwon Do champ-turned-B-movie-actor (Best) to visit his school – ends badly. Audience members satisfied with a comedy that offers a handful of ever-so-mild smiles will enjoy this, but anyone on the prowl for sharp satire or even a belly laugh or two will be sorely disappointed by a film whose smugness is never justified by its frat-house humor. *1/2

Current Releases

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN This C.S. Lewis adaptation is darker than 2005's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which seems to be the path taken by many second installments in film franchises (The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the Future Part II, The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation). In this one, the Pevensie kids – Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) – return to the magical land of Narnia, only to find a gloomy environment in which humans have taken over and all mystical creatures are hiding in the forests. Eventually, the woodland inhabitants, the Pevensie siblings and the dashing Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) band forces to restore Narnia to its previous glory. A couple of familiar faces from the previous picture return, yet it's cast newcomer Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) who walks away with this film; he's excellent as Trumpkin, a surly dwarf who aids the cause. As for the kids, this is clearly a case where girls rule while boys drool. Susan cuts a fierce figure as a warrior queen, while Lucy is allowed to establish the strongest bonds with the Narnians. On the other hand, the interesting Edmund is given too little to do, while Peter is only slightly less generic than fellow pretty-boy Caspian – whenever Peter and Caspian bicker, it's like watching the leaders of two feuding boy bands get in each other's faces. Overall, though, this is that rare sequel which improves upon the original; even the visual effects, shaky in the first film, are far more smoothly executed here. ***

THE FALL The Fall opens with the most striking title sequence I've seen in quite some time – it derives most of its power from composer Krishna Levy's gorgeous score and Colin Watkinson's evocative cinematography – and closes with a lovingly crafted tribute to the great stuntmen of the silent era. Unfortunately, everything in between these bookend sequences is a crock. A remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film named Yo Ho Ho, this is a visually sumptuous but emotionally hollow story about an injured stuntman (Lee Pace) who tries to coerce a fellow hospital patient – a little girl (Romanian newcomer Catinca Untaru) with a broken arm – into unwittingly helping him commit suicide. He does this by earning her friendship through the telling of a fairy tale that finds a diverse group of warriors teaming up to take down a villainous ruler (Daniel Caltagirone). Director Tarsem's first film, the Jennifer Lopez dud The Cell, was largely criticized for accomplishing little more than showing off its helmer's music-video background, yet that film looks as narratively complex as Chinatown when compared to this trite offering. Tarsem filmed his epic in well over a dozen countries, generating plenty of Frequent Flyer Miles for himself but offering nothing to audiences hoping for more than just visual extravagance. And while the fantasy yarn is deadening enough, even worse are the scenes involving young Untaru, whose ungainly performance and difficulty with the English language (subtitles would have been nice) conclusively demonstrate that not all children are natural actors. Making movies isn't child's play, and The Fall proves that in more ways than one. *1/2

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