Christopher Orr

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the magical portal that carries the four Pevensie children from our world into the enchanted land of Narnia is the titular wardrobe. In Prince Caspian, the honor falls instead to a subway station, and the shift conveys neatly the difference between the film adaptations of the two novels. The first, drawing on a metaphor for the psyche, was intimate and mysterious, yet a bit narrow and threadbare. The second, by contrast, offers a sleek but occasionally impersonal ride from point A to point B, with plenty of dramatic stops along the way.

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Are the Wachowski brothers the new George Lucas? It wasn’t so long ago that the question would have been an implied compliment. But Lucas’s cinematic reputation has taken a (deserved) beating in recent years, and it’s in this latter sense that I suggest the comparison. Like Lucas, the Wachowskis quickly graduated from small, character-driven cinema (Bound is still my favorite of their movies) to special-effects-laden blockbusters (the Matrix trilogy).

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Dear Hollywood (I'm not going to cite you individually by name, but you know who you are), I'm writing to ask you to please, please stop trying to kill Robert Downey Jr. It's bad for cinema, bad for the box office (as this weekend will emphatically attest), and simply not a nice thing to do. What am I talking about? You know perfectly well, but I will explain anyway: Downey has noted that his recreational drug use in the 1980s did not spiral into a full-blown debilitating addiction until he played an addict in Less Than Zero.

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Is there any actor alive who takes more obvious delight in his line readings than Robert Downey Jr.? He is precise yet baroque, contemplating each word with casual bemusement as it leaves his mouth. Though he is one of modern cinema's fastest talkers, it's not because he's in a hurry to tell us anything. Rather, he seems to feel that once a remark has passed through his mind, it's already happened; uttering it aloud is almost an afterthought. It's a form of delivery at once self-deprecating and self-absorbed: Are his thoughts unworthy of being shared?

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At last, the backlash. Following a series of unwanted pregnancy comedies (the not-at-all smart Smart People was the latest in the litany), we’re now treated to the inverse: Baby Mama, a comedy about pregnancy desired but denied. Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey) is the successful producer of a TV sketch comedy show called “TGS with Tracy Jordan” who--no, wait, sorry.

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What happens when a musical form associated with the dubious glamour of dying young becomes entwined with the less glamorous and far less dubious eventuality of dying old? This is the question implicitly posed, and movingly answered, by the documentary Young@Heart. The film draws its title from its subject, the Young@Heart chorus, a group of seniors based in Northampton, Massachussetts, who range in age from 74 to 93. When the chorus was initially formed twenty-five years ago, its musical repertoire consisted mostly of vaudeville songs.

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The title of the film Smart People seems almost a dare to critics: Can you make it through your entire review without calling the movie “stupid”? Alas, it isn’t easy. Ostensibly a seriocomic tale about coping with loss and finding a balance between ambition and decency, Smart People is, for the most part, a sour and thoughtless bore. Carnegie-Mellon English professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a widower who has not yet come to terms with his wife’s death several years ago.

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George Clooney is something of a Hollywood oddity. Though clearly a star of the highest megawattage (Time went so far as to recently proclaim him “The Last Movie Star”), he’s also a bit of a box office flop. Only five of his movies have grossed over $100 million domestically (Mel Gibson has twice as many; Tom Cruise, three times), and, of those, four--Batman and Robin and the Ocean’s trilogy--featured co-stars with more proven box-office appeal.

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Like many people, I've grown increasingly annoyed with movie trailers that give away too much. So yesterday, as a thought experiment, I wrote a review of the blackjack flick 21 based solely on its overstuffed trailer. Having now seen 21 (the movie) and not just 21 (the trailer), I’d say my pre-assessment was pretty close. The film is dull, overlong, morally confused, and just not very much fun.

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  An irritating trend in the movie business is the increasing tendency of studios to lure folks to the multiplex with trailers that are essentially complete summaries of the films they’re advertising: Here’s the main guy and the problem he needs to resolve; here’s the love interest, here’s how they first meet, here’s the rough patch they have to get through; here’s the villain, here’s the wisecracking best friend, here’s the unexpected plot twist that’s not going to be very unexpected now that we’ve featured it in the trailer--and there’s the movie.

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