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Movie reviews: 'What to Expect When You're Expecting,' 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,' 'Battl...

| Thursday, May 17, 2012, 2:14 p.m.
In this film image released by Fox Searchlight films, Judi Dench, left, and Celia Imrie are shown in a scene from 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.' (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight Films, Ishika Mohan)
In this film image released by Fox Searchlight films, Judi Dench, left, and Celia Imrie are shown in a scene from 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.' (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight Films, Ishika Mohan)
In this film image released by Lionsgate, Matthew Morrison, left, and Cameron Diaz are shown in a scene from 'What to Expect When You're Expecting.' (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Melissa Moseley)
In this film image released by Lionsgate, Matthew Morrison, left, and Cameron Diaz are shown in a scene from 'What to Expect When You're Expecting.' (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Melissa Moseley)
In this film image released by Lionsgate, Chris Rock, left, and Tom Lennon are shown in a scene from 'What to Expect When You're Expecting.' (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Melissa Moseley)
In this film image released by Lionsgate, Chris Rock, left, and Tom Lennon are shown in a scene from 'What to Expect When You're Expecting.' (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Melissa Moseley)
In this film image released by Lionsgate, Chris Rock, left, and Rodrigo Santoro, right, are shown in a scene from 'What to Expect When You're Expecting.' (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Melissa Moseley)
In this film image released by Lionsgate, Chris Rock, left, and Rodrigo Santoro, right, are shown in a scene from 'What to Expect When You're Expecting.' (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Melissa Moseley)

'What to Expect When You're Expecting'

PG-13 for crude and sexual content, thematic elements and language; 2.5 stars

"What to Expect When You're Expecting" is a "Valentine's Day" take on impending parenthood. Assorted couples cope with pregnancies, planned and unplanned, adoption and the epic change that is coming to their lives.

It's wafer-thin, but it has plenty of laughs -- a lot of them involving pregnant women's bodily functions, the rest coming from Chris Rock, who unloads lots of daddy-to-be wisdom on one prospective father. But what's surprising is how touching this film from the director of "Waking Ned Devine" manages to be. Kirk Jones and the screenwriters found real pathos in adapting the Heidi Murkoff self-help book, dubbed America's "pregnancy bible."

Elizabeth Banks plays Wendy, a self-help book author, a pregnancy "expert" who has never been able to get pregnant herself. Until now. She and hubby Gary (Ben Falcone) are all set to glow with the "angel's kisses" of "this miracle." And then her husband's ex-race car driver dad (Dennis Quaid) and his trophy bride (Brooklyn Decker) one-up them. Father and mother-in-law are expecting twins.

Anna Kendrick is the food-truck chef whose one-night tumble with a high-school flame (Chace Crawford), also a food-truck cook, put her in a family way.

Cameron Diaz is a super-fit TV fitness guru newly pregnant with her "Celebrity Dance Factor" partner (Matthew Morrison of TV's "Glee."). Sure, she found out she was pregnant by throwing up on live TV. But she figures, as fit as she is, she can do this pregnancy thing in her spare time.

And Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro are buying the house and prepping for an adoption.

In montages, couples visit obstetricians or explain their state of mind to friends or colleagues. Couples bicker over matters big -- circumcision, the baby's name -- and small.

And then we return to Wendy, who has built a career out of romanticizing this experience, but who has no more clue about what she's facing than her daft assistant. If Rock is the voice of comic wisdom in "What to Expect," Banks is its heart. She brings pathos and humor to a character who is hell-bent on loving this circle of life thing, until she's overwhelmed.

The film is basically a light, superficial and frothy little romp through the pregnancy experience. It's choppy and episodic, and funny -- especially when Rock, a veteran dad in real life -- is holding court. But the overarching message is both moving and amusing.

Expecting a baby? You have no idea what to expect.

• Wide release

— McClatchy-Tribune News Service

'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'

PG-13 for sexual content and language; 3 stars

A cast of great Brits of old-age pensioner vintage lights up John ("Shakespeare in Love") Madden's film of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," an adorable comedy about elderly pioneers tackling life's last great adventure.

The conceit in this film of the Deborah Moggach novel is that these folks -- retirees without vast savings -- are the next great "outsourcing" gold mine. As for the seniors, why not spend your retirement in a country where living is exotic and cheap, where the culture is famed for its respect for the elderly?

Evelyn (Judi Dench, pitch-perfect) is a vulnerable-but-plucky new widow who has never worked, who lost her home to her late husband's bad debts. Muriel (Maggie Smith, flintier than ever) is an ailing old racist who sniffs at a black doctor, "He can wash all he wants, that color's not coming off." Jean and Douglas (Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy) refuse the meager lifestyle at a British rest home and buy into the luxurious promises of the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Madge (Celia Imrie, funny) is on the lookout for one last (and hopefully wealthy) husband. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is a randy old coot who doesn't feel like an old coot, and aims to prove it to the first willing woman he can find.

And Graham (Tom Wilkinson, on the money) is a crusty judge who fears nothing so much as his own retirement party.

They make their passage to India, to Jaipur, where they discover that young Sonny (Dev Patel of "Slumdog Millionaire") has overstated the virtues of his hotel.

Patel is engagingly enthusiastic as the over-reaching and incompetent eager-beaver Sonny. "In India, we have a saying. 'Everything will be all right in the end. And if it isn't all right, then it is not the end."

That's true of the movie, too. Madden squeezes in a lot of the book -- a forbidden romance, a family threat to the hotel, health issues. But "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" sugarcoats the poverty and scrimps on the sight-seeing.

But it all works out in the end, and that makes this charmer that rare movie that treats old age as more than tragic or cute, that never condescends to its characters or shortchanges its intended AARP-discount audience.

• Manor and AMC Lowes

— McClatchy-Tribune News Service

'Crooked Arrows'

PG; 3 stars

We call it corn, the Native Americans call it maize. Whatever you call it, there's a ton of it in the screenplay of "Crooked Arrows."

It' s billed as the first movie about lacrosse, the country's fastest-growing sport and also the continent's oldest, played by the six nations of the Iroquois confederacy going back a thousand years or more -- a heritage reflected in the underdog scenario that drives "Crooked Arrows."

Former "Superman" Brandon Routh (part Kickapoo, who knew) plays Joe Logan, a Sunaquat Indian and former lacrosse star who's now a sellout and a real-estate hotshot who wants to sell tribal land to a casino operator. The tribal elders agree, on the condition that Logan coach the tribe's moribund team, part of spiritual quest to restore Sunaquat pride, and Logan's own neglected heritage.

"Crooked Arrows" borrows liberally from every sports movie ever made -- it's a "Remember the Bad News Mighty Ducks," with all of the stock characters -- the giant, the chubby guy, the selfish star, the undersized kid, etc., each with his own predictable arc.

But it mostly works. "Crooked Arrows" (financed by the Onandaga Nation) finds a personality and a niche in its Native American setting. And "Crooked Arrows" has something many sports movies forget to include -- kids who can really play. The Sunaquat team has authentic Native American players (two play collegiately at Albany) who obviously know and love the game. Director Steve Rash uses them as the centerpiece of crisp, economical action scenes.

As for all of that high-fructose maize syrup, who doesn'twant to see an underfunded, undersized team of ancestor-honoring Indians beat the tar out of a private, borderline-fascist prep school?

• Robinson and AMC Lowes

— Philadelphia Daily News

'Battleship'

PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language; 1.5 stars

There will be bigger movies this summer, and better ones and worse ones. But there will not be a dumber movie than "Battleship." Ponderous and pandering, shameless and head-slappingly silly, this "Navy vs. Aliens" epic delivers a few thrills and a few laughs. In between the head-slaps, that is.

A pointless prologue establishes that NASA has sent signals to a distant Earth-like planet. Warnings from one scientist (Hamish Linklater, of "The New Adventures of Old Christine") are ignored.

Meanwhile, a reckless repeat offender (Taylor Kitsch) gets a bit buzzed on his birthday and commits a grand gesture (and very funny) break-in, just to fetch the fair Brooklyn Decker a microwave burrito. It's jail or the Navy, declares his Navy officer brother (Alexander Skarsgard).

That sets the table for the Hopper brothers' Navy service, and for the day the aliens come -- in big, cumbersome, gear-and-shape-shifting ships which they use to encase a corner of Hawaii and the Pacific in a shielded bubble that means only three guided-missile destroyers -- two American, one Japanese -- can halt the coming invasion.

The basic set-up owes a lot to "Independence Day," the effects play like "Transformers: The Next Generation," and the banter occasionally rises to the level of amusing.

Erich and Jon Hoeber, who wrote the script, set up rules for this universe, and then break them. They commit great gaffes of logic in the name of convenience. Actor-turned-director Peter Berg had a tough job, ignoring the holes in the plot and a picture that doesn't stand up to even a 10-year-old's scrutiny.

• Wide release

— McClatchy-Tribune News Service

'Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview'

Not rated; 3 stars

"Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview" is a one-hour-plus interview conducted by Robert X. Cringely in 1995, for his PBS series "Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires," which aired the following year. Cringely appears on-camera only at the beginning, to introduce the piece, and while we hear his voice throughout the film, the camera shows only Jobs. It's just a static shot, the same angle, one guy talking.

But, what a guy. However you feel about Jobs, there is no disputing that he is captivating. The interview took place at a transitional time in Job's life. He had been ousted from Apple 10 years before in an ugly power struggle with John Sculley -- who comes in for a shellacking here -- and was running NeXT, the computer company Jobs had since founded. Six months from the time of the interview Jobs would sell NeXT to Apple; a year after that he would be back running the company, with iPods, iTunes, iPhones and more in the near future.

Loquacious -- he spends at least five minutes uninterrupted answering Cringely's first question -- Jobs is also thoughtful and prescient. He talks about Apple as a dying company, though surely part of that is lingering anger and resentment. And he revisits a few mistakes he made along the way. Humility certainly is not one of the traits you hear attributed to Jobs, and there isn't a lot of it on display here. There is, however, a sense of his being part of something bigger, whether it be his role in the development of the personal computer or Apple's launch.

It's also fun to see how geeked up he still got, remembering seeing his first computer, or figuring out how, with buddy and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, to use a computer to make free calls. (Impersonating Henry Kissinger, they got through to the Vatican, but hung up in laughter before getting the Pope on the line.)

So, why watch? If you are a Jobs fan, certainly, it's a must-see movie, a nice companion to Walter Isaacson's excellent biography, "Steve Jobs." But even if you're not, the film is a fascinating look at a man on the verge, about to make history again, in an even bigger way, and we don't get that chance very often.

• Regent Square

— The Arizona Republic

'Elles'

NC-17: Adult content, nudity, explicit sexuality and strong language; 2.5 stars

Years ago, journalists and prostitutes were taught the same adage: Don't get emotionally involved. But that was before blogs and Craigslist redefined the requirements for two of the world's oldest professions.

In the French drama "Elles," Juliette Binoche plays a multitasking magazine reporter whose mind and marriage are opened wide by a pair of part-time call girls. It's a fine performance in a forthright film, but the notion that a worldly Parisian is so estranged from the erotic universe is hard to swallow.

Anne (Binoche) is profiling a new sort of sex worker: college students who fund their education by turning tricks. Charlotte (Anais Demoustier) is a freckle-faced French gamine. Alicja (Joanna Kulig) is a buxom blonde from Poland. In interviews and flashbacks, both young women are philosophical about their customers, most of whom are married, middle-age and matter-of-factly perverse.

Be forewarned that director Malgorzata Szumowska is equally philosophical, depicting scatological sex acts in explicit detail.

We can tell from Anne's trembling lips that the stories -- and some tongue-loosening vodka -- have an intoxicating effect on the reporter, whose home life with a ladder-climbing husband and a porn-surfing son is dry and demeaning. Yet, her sensual awakening seems like something from 1970s suburbia, not a modern metropolis where Anne is supposed to be an esteemed professional.

"Elles" is provocative company, but it leaves us feeling hustled.

French with English subtitles

Harris Theater

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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