Reel Critics: 'Darkest Hour' comes off a bit dim

"The Darkest Hour" is the latest film to focus on the invasion of Earth by aliens from outer space.

The strange invaders are without any solid form. They appear as shape-shifting units of powerful glowing energy. They float down from the sky looking very beautiful. But they instantly vaporize anything they touch.

The special effects are fun to watch as buildings, cars and people explode into tiny pixels of dust and ash. The scenes of Moscow full of burnt vehicles but empty of people are spooky. But the story follows a cookie-cutter screenplay for apocalyptic movies.

A small group of Americans visiting Russia survive the overwhelming attack. Rachael Taylor ("Transformers") and Olivia Thirlby ("Juno") are the hot babes of the group. Emile Hirsch leads the boys of the bunch. They search for other survivors and ways to fight the new menace.

The plot and dialogue contain every possible cliché as they dodge the evil aliens with limited success. Call it a low-budget version of "War of the Worlds" that's missing the Spielberg touch.


'We Bought A Zoo' will tug at your heart

"We Bought A Zoo" will melt the hearts of children of all ages, directed with unabashed heart by Cameron Crowe ("Say Anything").

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) wants to live where he and his family won't have constant reminders of his late wife. That's Mistake No. 1. Mistake No. 2 is don't let your 5-year old choose your home, no matter how adorable.

Benjamin takes on an 18-acre property, including a rundown zoo, a sky-high stack of bills and a zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson) and her cousin (Elle Fanning), both of the gorgeous blonde variety.

As improbable as this real-life drama sounds, we happily buy into it. The realistic depiction of grief and the rift between father and son may have you reaching for a hankie before it's over.


Actors impress in farce 'Carnage'

"Zoo's" polar opposite would have to be "Carnage," a blistering comedy of manners based upon the hit play "God of Carnage."

Directed by Roman Polanski, this is a four-character farce that takes place in the apartment of the Longstreets (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly). They are visited by the Cowans (Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz), whose young son roughed up the Longstreets' son on the playground.

With the exception of high-strung Mrs. Longstreet, everyone is polite and vaguely indifferent. But civility soon wears thin, and the gloves come off even before the scotch comes out.

While skillfully acted, "Carnage" is ridiculous and sad, like watching an episode of "Real Housewives." Being cooped up with these acid-tongued narcissists for 80 minutes gives new meaning to "life in a zoo."

Please don't feed the animals.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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