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Movie reviews: 'Titanic 3D,' 'American Reunion' 

TITANIC 3D

***1/2

In retrospect, it's easy to be cynical and stuffy about James Cameron's 1997 Titanic. It surpassed previous champs Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as the top moneymaking film of all time (itself eventually surpassed by Cameron's Avatar), a personal affront to countless moviegoers over a certain age. With its record-tying 14 nominations and record-tying 11 wins, it turned members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences into a bunch of teenage fangirls (it wasn't until six years later, with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, that AMPAS members turned into a bunch of teenage fanboys). It allowed Cameron, a genius as a filmmaker but an SOB as a human being (his ego's at least twice the size of the big boat itself), to become the self-proclaimed "king of the world."

And it led to a lengthy period when it seemed as if Celine Dion's ubiquitous "My Heart Will Go On" was the only song ever recorded in American music history.

But now it's time to go back to Titanic, which has been re-released to theaters not only in celebration of its 15th anniversary but, more soberly, only a few days removed from the precise 100th anniversary (April 15, 1912) of the disaster that snuffed out 1,500 lives. Cameron spared no expense for this re-launch, spending millions to convert the film into 3D. Admittedly, most pictures that weren't originally filmed in that process but were only converted later as an excuse to boost ticket prices have failed to provide much extra oomph to the 2D imagery (e.g. Clash of the Titans, Alice in Wonderland), but if there's one thing to be said about Cameron, the man knows how to derive the most technological bang for his buck. Titanic in 3D looks fantastic, employing the format in a way that makes viewers feel as if they're the ones rounding a corridor corner or fighting to stay afloat in that icy Atlantic water.

Fifteen years later, the highs and the lows still remain; luckily, what's good about the movie continues to easily outweigh its flaws. The fictional storyline is hoary in the extreme, relying on a "wrong side of the tracks" romance: Shortly after boarding the ship as it prepares to embark on its maiden voyage, poverty-stricken artist Jack Dawson spots socialite Rose DeWitt Bukater and instantly falls for her. In these career-propelling roles, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are excellent, delivering warm, winsome performances that provide their romance with an epic grandeur it certainly wouldn't have attained in less capable hands.
The trouble, for both the young lovers and the audience members, is the presence of Rose's fiancé Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), a supercilious millionaire who would just as soon push the lower classes off the face of the earth as give them the time of day. As I watched Cal constantly berate the poor, expose his ignorance in wince-worthy dialogue (criticizing a painting by Picasso, he opines that the artist will never amount to anything), smack Rose around, and try to kill Jack by taking shots at him, I kept wondering why Cameron had elected to leave off a mustache that Zane could twirl at regular intervals - the character is even more cartoonish than actual cartoon character Snidely Whiplash.

Yet despite the pesky presence of Cal, it's a credit to Cameron's hot-and-cold screenplay that even as the ship goes down, taking Zane's career with it, we're utterly committed to the plight of Jack and Rose. Their characterizations personalize the second half of the film, which is basically one sustained "money shot." Overlooking a couple of shaky CGI snatches, the effects are superb, and the final submergence of the "unsinkable" craft is absolutely dazzling.

AMERICAN REUNION

**1/2

Although the "raunchy teen sex comedy" got off to a rousing start with 1978's classic National Lampoon's Animal House, the lamentable rip-offs that followed - almost all of them centering on high school or college boys desperate to lose their virginity - insured that the genre was dead and buried by the end of the 1980s. So when American Pie came around in 1999, the time was right for a resurgence, with the stakes raised for directors Paul Weitz and writer Adam Herz to produce something more memorable than the previous decade's rot gut. They largely succeeded: The ingredients that elevated American Pie a few notches above such '80s atrocities as Loose Screws, Private School and Porky's Revenge were its treatment of female characters who without exception were smarter and more mature than their male counterparts, its sizable amount of heart to go along with its expected crudity, and some noteworthy gags perfectly executed by a young and appealing cast. Where all the sequels go wrong is that none manage the balancing act between sweetness and seediness as well as the original film.

In American Reunion, everyone - and I mean everyone - returns from the first installment (yes, even "the Shermanator"). They're all older but not necessarily wiser, dealing with the rigors and rigidity of 30-something life. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) now have a kid and no longer have time for each other. Oz (Chris Klein) is a successful sportscaster dating a party animal but pining for Heather (Mena Suvari), who's involved with a doctor. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is now happily married but still recalls his first love, Vicky (Tara Reid). Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas, still drawling like Nicolas Cage) has become an international man of mystery, off on exciting adventures in exotic locales. And Stifler (Seann William Scott) is still the Stifmeister, adamantly refusing to mentally or emotionally advance past the age of 17.

The gang elects to have an unofficial 13th anniversary reunion, which brings everyone back to their hometown of East Great Falls, Michigan. While the other characters spend their time reminiscing and rebuilding relationships, Jim, as always, has it the hardest - and not just because he again gets his penis caught in a compromising position while masturbating. In addition to trying to rekindle the romance in his marriage, he must fend off the advances of an 18-year-old beauty (Ali Cobrin) he baby-sat back in the day as well as lend support to his dad (Eugene Levy), who's been lonely since the passing of his wife.

Levy's always a treat, and here he gets to leave the house long enough to party with Stifler and mix it up with Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge). He's the only cast member given any sort of expanded character arc by writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (imported from the Harold & Kumar series), as everyone else pretty much does what's expected of them - and some of them don't even get that much (Reid appears so fleetingly that one wonders if they had to drag her off a Malibu beach and force her to take part).

Still, the actors settle comfortably back into their old roles, and Scott seems to take particular relish in reprising his part of the vile, vapid Stifler. His character provides many of the overcooked gross-out bits, but his live-wire energy as a man-child who doesn't want to grow up provides a needed jolt to a saga that, after all, did begin back in high school.

 

 

 

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