Reel Critics: 'Secret World' is sweet, subtle

Animation master Hayao Miyazaki has become the Walt Disney of Japan.

He is the director and driving force behind the Oscar winning"Spirited Away" and the acclaimed "Ponyo." Both of those fantasy films had intriguing issues appealing to adults and older children on many levels.

"The Secret World of Arrietty"is a much more simple and gentle approach to the hidden worlds that Miyazaki loves to explore.

As in his previous films, there is a brave and resourceful young girl at the center of the action. Arrietty is a member of a race of tiny people called Borrowers. They lead a concealed life in the gardens surrounding a large country home.

They conduct forays into the home at night to "borrow" small amounts of food and supplies to sustain their existence. These exploits lead to tension and danger from marauding crows, cats and insects. When a sickly boy comes to stay at the home, his sighting of Arrietty brings new challenges to her entire family.

The depictions of their many adventures are beautiful and captivating. This lovely film is sweet and subtle, but may be too slowly paced to keep younger children fully entertained. Nevertheless, it's sure to be a nominee for Best Animated Feature at next year's Oscars ceremony.


Surrender and enjoy 'This Means War'

"This Means War" is part spy thriller, part buddy comedy, part naughty chick flick. While not completely successful, it's the perfect date movie with something for everyone.

It's the battle of the blue eyes as FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are absurdly handsome, well-tailored CIA agents. After a slick shootout in the Far East, the guys come back to L.A. to sit around and tap their pencils in an absurdly slick, high-tech office.

Tuck wants to find a nice woman and settle down. What luck his first Internet date should be with Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), an absurdly beautiful blonde. Their blue eyes meet, and Tuck is smitten. But that same night, FDR has an accidental meet cute with Lauren, and he's smitten too.

Ms. Witherspoon, ever perky, is playing a variation on her "Legally Blonde" character but without a sense of purpose. The real chemistry is between FDR and Tuck, friends who would take a bullet for each other but have no qualms trying to outdo the other when it comes to love (and cyber stalking, ick).

Laugh-out -oud hilarity is casually tossed out by Chelsea Handler as Lauren's married, harried BFF (who carries "special juice" in her own sippy cup). Handler's crude commentary about sex and dating kept the movie's juices flowing between bullets.

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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