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Valentine’s Day

Directed by Garry Marshall
Hollywood veteran Marshall (producer of such shows as “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley”) brings a big cast to the bigger screen for this intertwined set of romantic storylines for the Hallmark of holidays. There are enough familiar faces here to supply 10 simpler romantic comedies with talent, covering the generations of couples in love from Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo, to the young Taylors (Swift and Lautner).    

There’s a Marshall-esque tone to all of this that starts out feeling a little too safe and easy, but it slowly wins you over and works surprisingly well as the various characters’ lives and plotlines become more and more obviously connected. At the heart of it all (yes, I went there) is Ashton Kutcher as the third generation owner of a flower shop, dealing with his busiest day of the year (although he never seems especially busy). His own relationship with his girlfriend (Jessica Alba) and his best friend’s (Jennifer Garner) relationship with her doctor boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey) both seem on the up and up. But paths cross in the world of flowers and their relationships become entangled with a washed up football player, his agent and publicist, a sports reporter, two teenaged couples, a young boy, and his grandparents (amongst others).

Some of the notable performances come from Maclaine and Elizondo as the still in love grandparents, and in smaller roles Jessica Biel as the publicist and Topher Grace as a young mail room agent-wannabe who has the questionable fortune of dating a phone sex worker (Anne Hathaway). Biel is surprisingly good here. Grace is his normal natural self, as always making me wish we saw more of him.

Much of this has the air of a fun reunion of sorts as Marshall re-teams with assorted actors from past projects (including Hathaway from “The Princess Diaries,” Julia Roberts from “Pretty Woman” and Elizondo and Larry Miller from both). It’s worth staying until the end for an outtake inside joke during the credits.

However, not all is heavenly matched and the film does have weak spots. I’m not a fan of George Lopez and he seems as stiff as ever here. While I think Taylor Swift is a fresh and intelligent young talent, she’s given a painfully stupid character to play. She seems a little self-conscious, as do some of Hathaway’s phone “encounters.” And few, if any, of the surprise revelations that actually manage to be surprising.  

But on balance, these don’t ultimately matter. “Day” works as both pleasantly enjoyable entertainment and as a huge help in any game of celebrity connections (such as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon). The preview audience seemed overwhelmingly positive as they exited, and the upbeat reactions I heard were coming from just as many men as women, and from all ages, which bodes well for a weekend of demographically diverse date movie choices.

The Wolfman

Directed by Joe Johnston
“The Wolfman” bites, both figuratively and literally. This is a grand scale remake of the horror classic and has that moody, limited color palette cinematography, full of English moors and dark carriages that are summoned with suspiciously ease. I actually liked the way the film looked, but I didn’t like much else.

One of the similarly few things I like about the “Twilight” movies is the ease with which the werewolf characters transition in mid-leap, with none of the knuckle-cracking, hair-sprouting close-ups and lingering grimaces. The werewolf curse seems profound enough – the tendency to slaughter innocents on a lunar cycle – without having to repeatedly dwell on the skeletal retrofitting involved. But “The Wolfman” employs all the transitional tricks of six-time Academy Award winning (including for the much more enjoyable “An American Werewolf in London”) makeup specialist Rick Baker. All of which got old about half way through the first time we saw them.

The story also seems retrofitted and edited with developments that seem to go nowhere. Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, and actor, who returns home to investigate the disappearance of his brother after his own long absence from the family estate. Upon arrival, he discovers dark secrets and multiple bloody murders. This is a film that throws severed arms and heads around with abandon. But a gypsy subplot seems poorly realized, and there’s something inherently disappointing in a movie like this when a gratuitously violent character declares that he will imminently kill everybody in a room and promptly proceeds not to. Del Toro is joined by Anthony Hopkins as his father, Emily Blunt (so much better in the currently showing “Young Victoria”), and Hugo Weaving as a detective investigating the murders.

The running time at the press screening seemed to be approximately 20 minutes shorter than the 125 minutes posted on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), which is never a good sign in terms of relatively last-minute tinkering. Given so much apparent cutting, I could have done without the sudden and oddly disorienting cameo by Gollum during a fevered dream. But then again I could have done without the rest of the movie too. It doesn’t bring anything new to an already well-represented genre.


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