Movie reviews: ‘Pirates,’ ‘Midnight in Paris’

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AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS PUBLICLY DISTRIBUTED HANDOUT PHOTO PROVIDED BY DISNEY FOR EDITORIAL PURPOSES ONLY.
Posted May 20, 2011, at 3:46 p.m.
Last modified May 22, 2011, at 12:27 p.m.

“The First Grader”

Based on the true story of a Kenyan man who goes to school for the first time at age 84, this drama hits all the feel-good notes you expect it to hit. Adversity is overcome and forgiveness is granted, lessons are learned and hearts are warmed. But strong performances and a stripped-down visual aesthetic help mitigate some of the movie’s potential mawkishness. Director Justin Chadwick’s film, based on a script by Ann Peacock, follows the unlikely challenge Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo) chooses for himself toward the end of his life. When he hears on the radio that the Kenyan government is offering free primary education, he walks to the tiny, rural schoolhouse near his remote village home to enroll. He’s initially turned away but, quietly undaunted, returns and insists he needs to learn how to read. Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris), the head teacher, reluctantly agrees to take a chance on Maruge and finds space for him in her already crowded classroom. Jane and Maruge eventually form an easygoing friendship, with Maruge serving as a kind but reserved mentor to the children he towers over, all of which is sort of adorable. PG-13 for some disturbing violent content and brief nudity. 103 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four. (Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic)

“Midnight in Paris”

Woody Allen has found the right time and the right place with this, his lightest, funniest and most-satisfying movie in a long time. Shooting a full film in France for the first time, writer-director Allen has crafted a pastry-light romantic fantasy with virtually no dramatic pretensions, unlike the comic dramas and even outright tragedy that has dominated his work for the last eight years or so. Allen presents a wide-eyed-with-wonder view of the City of Light that nicely complements his story of an American writer (Owen Wilson) who pines for the 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. All things seem possible here, so when the impossible starts to happen, it’s easy to slip into the clever conceit Allen uses to test his protagonist’s devotion to a nostalgic dream of days past. “Midnight in Paris” bears similarities to 1985′s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and 1990′s “Alice,” in which Allen used magical elements similar to those he employs here. The new movie has little of the heft or pathos of those earlier ones, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rachel McAdams co-stars as Wilson’s fiancée, with Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and a scene-stealing Alison Pill among the strong, well-cast supporting players. PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking. 94 minutes. Three stars out of four. (David Germain, AP Movie Writer)

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

The fourth film in the ridiculously successful Disney franchise is the shortest in the series, but it still feels overlong and overstuffed: needlessly convoluted yet, at the same time, phoned-in. And the fact that this one’s in 3-D does nothing to liven up the action. Those three-dimensional digital effects mainly consist of various swords and snakes and such being flung at our faces.  Boo! Did you jump? That’s not to say this summer behemoth doesn’t have its thrilling moments. Rob Marshall takes over for Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three “Pirates” movies, and his knack for choreography comes shining through in individual set pieces. It’s everything in between that makes this such a repetitive bore. Johnny Depp’s performance as the randy Capt. Jack Sparrow, which seemed like such a free, goofy, inspired bit of work when the first film came out back in 2003, now feels so dialed-down and obvious, it’s as if he could do it in his sleep. As for the plot — not that it matters, really — this time it follows a search for the fabled Fountain of Youth. Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane co-star. PG-13 for intense sequences of action-adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo. 136 minutes. One and a half stars out of four. (Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic)

 

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