From the desk of The Movie Snob:
Zathura (B). I never saw Jumanji, but I get the idea that there is more than a passing resemblance between these two movies (based on books by the same author, I believe). Here, the protagonists are 10-year-old Walter and his 6-year-old brother Danny. Their parents are divorced, and they fight incessantly. When their dad leaves them alone in the house for a few minutes, Danny finds a beat-up old board game in the basement called “Zathura: A Space Adventure.” When he and Walter start to play the game, they are more than a little surprised to discover that their house has been ripped from the Earth and has become some sort of spaceship, orbiting a Saturnlike planet. Every time one of them takes his turn in the game, new dangers — or opportunities — arise, and it becomes apparent that they have to successfully finish the game in order to get back home. There are all sorts of heart-warming (some might say treacly) messages about the importance of family and working together and stuff like that, and on the whole it’s a pretty good family-oriented movie. It is a little too long (113 minutes) and a little too scary for younger kids, and there is a little bad language that should have been excised. But it has some funny moments and generally keeps moving along at a nice adventuresome pace. I say check it out.
Shopgirl (C). Screenplay-writer Steve Martin swings and misses with this slight movie about a romance between young Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) and much older man Ray Porter (played by — what do you know? — Steve Martin). Mirabelle spends her days looking forlorn behind the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles, and we are told up front that she is a lost and lonely soul from Vermont, anonymous and adrift in the big city, with a boatload of student debt to boot. She meets a friendly but eccentric (and not very clean-looking) fellow named Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) in a laundromat, and he is immediately smitten. But then she meets Ray, a computer tycoon who jets back and forth from Seattle, and soon Jeremy is out of the picture. Or is he? All three characters in this romantic triangle have issues, and Ray’s in particular remain opaque throughout. I just never felt invested in any of the characters, which spells doom for a romantic drama like this. Also, the Puritan in me can’t help objecting to how quickly and easily these people jump into bed together. O tempora! O mores!
Laurel Canyon (B-). I saw this movie on DVD and liked it a little better than I liked Shopgirl. Sam (Christian Bale) and his girlfriend Alex (Kate Beckinsale) are freshly minted Harvard M.D.’s, and she’s writing a dissertation on fruit flies to get a Ph.D. as well. He takes a residency in L.A., and they plan to stay in his mother’s house, which is supposed to be empty. To Sam’s great dismay, it is not. His mother Jane (Frances McDormand) is a record producer, and she and the band are in the house, working, drinking, and smoking pot. Nevertheless, Sam and Alex move in, and soon enough the sheltered Alex is forgetting all about her fruit flies and experimenting with all sorts of bad behavior. Sam is simultaneously tempted to stray by a second-year resident at the hospital where he is working. The message I took away from the movie is, “Don’t move to L.A., you’ll go crazy and mess up your life.”