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Knowing

With its plotline involving extraterrestrials, a kid in potential peril, and a man obsessed with uncovering the truth behind unexplained phenomena, this could easily have been tagged Clod Encounters of the Absurd Kind. Sober in its intentions but laughable in its execution, Knowing begins promisingly, as a letter written by a little girl in 1959 finds itself, 50 years later, in the hands of John Koestler (Cage), an MIT professor whose wife died in a hotel fire a year earlier and who now must raise his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) by himself. Koestler soon figures out that the piece of paper, on which the child scrawled nothing but a lengthy series of numbers, actually foretold all the major disasters of the past five decades. The problem is that three of the prophesied disasters have yet to occur, leaving Koestler in the unenviable position of trying to figure out how to stop large-scale tragedies from taking place. Meanwhile, a group of shadowy figures spend their time trailing young Caleb; they're meant to appear menacing, but that's hard to accomplish when they basically all look like Sting impersonators.

I Love You Man

I Love You, Man comes dangerously close to striking out before it even steps up to the plate. First off, the basic premise, about a guy who goes off in search of a male friend to call his own, sounds imbecilic even on paper. Strike one. And then there's the trailer, which, continuing an alarming trend these days, is cut in a shrill fashion to make the movie itself seem like a complete waste of time. Strike two. But I Love You, Man avoids striking out by remaining true to its own good-natured core. Like most films in the Judd Apatow vein (the man himself wasn't involved with this project, but the principal players are all veterans of his works), it attempts to strike a desirable balance between sweet sincerity and risque raunch. Yet perhaps more than any of the other films (Knocked Up, Superbad, etc.), it frequently pulls back when it reaches the edge of vulgarity. Delivering a performance that should have discerning women of all ages wanting to pinch his cheeks, Paul Rudd stars as Peter Klaven, a nice guy who's always put his energy into his relationships with women. Because of this, he doesn't have a single male friend -- the guy he's closest to is his gay younger brother (nicely played by Andy Samberg) -- so after he proposes to his girlfriend Zooey (immensely appealing Rashida Jones) and realizes he has no one to serve as his best man at their wedding, he sets out on a mission to find an eligible dude. His first few "dates" are disastrous, but he eventually meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), who's his complete opposite: disheveled in appearance, able to converse openly about sex, and completely comfortable in his own guy-skin.

Watchmen

Clunky football metaphors are never out of season, so think of director Zack Snyder as the cinematic equivalent of the quarterback who's clearly no MVP but is just good enough to get his team to the Super Bowl. In bringing (along with co-scripters David Hayter and Alex Tse) the sacred graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons to the big screen, Snyder makes almost all the right plays -- the movie is visually resplendent and remarkably faithful to the source material -- but too often fails to find the heart buried deep within the darkness.

Coraline

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas was actually Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas, given that it was the latter who actually directed the film. Here, he displays his mastery again, helming an eye-popping animated extravaganza he adapted from Neil Gaiman's best-selling book. Dakota Fanning provides the voice of Coraline, a lonely little girl who discovers an alternate world hidden behind a small door in her family's new house. Initially, life does seem more pleasant on the other side -- her alternate parents are hipper, the food is tastier, the entertainment is more dazzling -- but it's not long before things take a dark turn, and, with the help of a sage black cat, Coraline soon finds herself fighting for her very soul.

Push

Here's another sci-fi muddle that never breaks out of its geekspeak ghetto. Set in Hong Kong, the film centers on the Division, a U.S. government branch whose members seek out folks with psychic abilities. These psychics have different powers, which places them into one of several categories: Pushers, Watchers, Movers (but, alas, no Shakers), Bleeders, etc. Nick (Chris Evans), a Mover, has tried to maintain a low profile, but once Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a teenage Watcher, shows up and insists he help her find Kira (stiff Camilla Belle), a Pusher who holds the answer to taking down the Division, all hell breaks loose, as Division agents (led by Djimon Hounsou) and evil Asian psychics try to take them down.

Taken

Taken operates on a very simple premise: Scumbags kidnap Liam Neeson's daughter; Liam Neeson screws them up good. That's all the plot needed for this lightning-quick action yarn in which Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a former CIA operative who took early retirement in order to live close to his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Bryan's ex-wife (Famke Janssen) approves of their child traveling unsupervised with a friend (Katie Cassidy) to Paris, but the overprotective Bryan only reluctantly signs off. But father knows best af: Within hours of their arrival, the two teens are kidnapped as sex slaves. The script disappointingly turns Bryan from an ordinary man with specialized skills into a James Bond knockoff.

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More by Matt Brunson

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  • Review: Moana

    Again combining a fairly standard morality tale with eye-popping visuals, Disney has another hit in Moana, a rollicking yarn centered on a young lass (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) coming of age on a South Pacific island.
    • Nov 29, 2016
  • Review: Manchester By The Sea
  • Review: Manchester By The Sea

    A film that cuts close to the bone, with gentle humor only occasionally serving as a buffer against the harsh realities of these characters’ lives.
    • Nov 29, 2016
  • Review: Arrival
  • Review: Arrival

    A motion picture that turns out to be far more focused on humanity than on otherworldly visitors, it’s a transcendent viewing experience that gets under the skin and into the heart.
    • Nov 15, 2016
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