Tyler Perry in Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to JailTYLER PERRY'S MADEA GOES TO JAIL

Tyler Perry's wildly popular, drag-act creation Madea - the tough-talking matriarch (played by Perry himself) with zero tolerance for foolishness, church, and most of her family members - is an admittedly entertaining figure. Yet she's a really odd character to build a movie around, because this bosomy yowler steadfastly refuses to change, or "grow," or develop in any way that could sustain a feature-length narrative; she's a one-joke, and one-rant, conceit. Maybe that's why it always feels like Madea is intruding on her films, even the ones with her name in the title. By necessity, the movies in which she appears have to treat her as a special guest star, because if they were just 100-ish minutes of Madea's antics, nothing would ever happen in them.

Isla Fisher in Confessions of a ShopaholicCONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC

Since I'm not their target demographic, I guess it shouldn't bother me that so many perky, theoretically harmless chick flicks these days are so breathtakingly shrill and stupid. But why doesn't it bother their target demographic? January gave us the offensively unfunny Bride Wars, and now, hot on that film's stiletto heels, comes Confessions of a Shopaholic, which trashes its promising setup and excellent performers in a candy-colored morass of clichés, contrivances, and incessant brainlessness. The film is like a rom-com take on Speed Racer - it even has John Goodman as a loveably ineffectual dad - and it doesn't feature one moment of recognizable human behavior. And audience members still applauded at the end.

CoralineCORALINE

Employing extraordinarily supple, nearly tactile stop-motion animation and 3D effects, the children's film Coraline is filled with visual magic, and just about corners the market on unsettling imagery. A grinning pair of parental doppelgängers, with buttons sewn into their eye sockets, serve a dinner composed of mango milkshakes and chocolate beetles. Two morbidly obese British dowagers unzip their skins and emerge as lithe trapeze artists. A feral alley cat talks, and a theatre full of mutts attends a vaudeville, and it's all strange and clever and tantalizingly designed. Is it ungrateful, if not downright senseless, to admit that I could hardly wait for this movie to end?

Jamal Woolard in NotoriousNOTORIOUS

Every musician's life is different, of course, but every musical bio-pic seems fundamentally the same: The humble beginnings, followed by the first hints of greatness, followed by the early romantic interests, followed by the steady rise to fame, followed by the new romantic interests, followed by the explosive success, followed by the personal setbacks, followed by the professional setbacks, followed by the cementing of the legend ... and if the movie can find room for a title card reading "With his life he proved that no dream is too big," so much the better.

This past Friday, larger movie markets saw the debuts of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, and Steven Soderbergh's Argentinia epic Che.

Our market, meanwhile, only got The Day the Earth Stood Still, Nothing Like the Holidays, and Delgo.

Sigh. Let's dive in, then.

Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, chose to open a whopping seven wide releases this past Friday, and since the market apparently wasn't glutted enough, also expanded distribution of the Ed Harris western Appaloosa from 14 theatres to 1,045. As business strategies go, this one was a bit of a head-scratcher, but it was refreshing to see a weekend when there truly was something new for everyone - the only people screwed in the deal, it seems, were movie critics without access to press previews.

Oh hey, that's me!

Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess in 2121

Based on the Ben Mezrich nonfiction Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, the film 21 boasts a far snappier title, yet I wouldn't recommend viewing it if you're even a day older than that. It's not often that a true story is re-told with such aggressive fraudulence, but 21 is a rare and rather spectacular failure - one in which your bullshit detectors wail at you early on and don't stop until you're rendered nearly deaf. The movie is directed by Robert Luketic, who also helmed Legally Blonde, and it's all just slightly less believable than Legally Blonde.

 

Nate Hartley, Owen Wilson, David Dorfman, and Troy Gentile in Drillbit TaylorDRILLBIT TAYLOR

Last summer, when Superbad hit it big, we learned that co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote a first draft of the script when they were 13. Rogen is now credited as co-writer (with Kristofer Brown) for the revenge-of-the-nerds comedy Drillbit Taylor, and although I haven't done any research on the film's history, I'm kind of hoping it's something he began working on when he was, say, eight or nine. Juvenile is one thing, but remedial is quite another, and unfortunately, Drillbit Taylor feels as though it was hastily assembled during a grade-school sleepover in which Rogen began prepping Superbad, with My Bodyguard and Ferris Bueller's Day Off used as additional "inspiration."

 

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!DR. SEUSS' HORTON HEARS A WHO!

If you can separate your memories of Dr. Seuss' books from the experience of the computer-animated Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, you can have a reasonably good time at the film. You'll likely have a reasonably good time anyway, but for maximum enjoyment, it's best to ignore any prior knowledge of the kindly elephant and his microscopic speck-dwellers and simply accept this antic entertainment for the disposable blockbuster it is. Horton looks like a Dr. Seuss adaptation; it just doesn't much sound like one.

Amy Adams and Frances McDormand in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a DayMISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, in which an unemployed British governess becomes the accidental social secretary to a ditzy American chanteuse, is the sort of movie that's likely to be (agreeably) written off as "lighthearted." But that description doesn't suggest just how exhilarating this "lighthearted" outing actually is, or just how remarkable Frances McDormand and Amy Adams are in it. I'm the type of person who instinctively rolls his eyes at the "you'll laugh, you'll cry" plaudit, but at director Bharat Nalluri's Miss Pettigrew, I laughed, I cried, and I don't think a minute passed in its hour-and-a-half running length in which I didn't grin from ear to ear.

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