'Definitely, Maybe' and 'Spiderwick Chronicles' are nifty films

Hollywood has served up some pedestrian to awful romantic comedies of late: bland, unintelligent and formulaic. Actually, the Brits have been far better at creating small nuggets of big screen romance, examples being "Love, Actually" and "Notting Hill."

Having said that, a nifty film that should not be dismissed as more of the same genre schlock is "Definitely, Maybe." The premise is interesting and it takes the standard three-act narrative and gives it a good kaleidoscopic shake. The outcome is captivating and sweet. Think of this spiffy film as the antidote to the most recent and truly awful romantic comedy, "Fools Gold," which seems like a sun-kissed, glossy layout in Vanity Fair magazine sans story.

What makes "Definitely, Maybe" so engaging is its smart story and interesting set up. Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) is sitting in his Manhattan apartment looking at his final decree of divorce, needing only his signature. Tossing the papers aside, he goes to pick up his 10-year-old daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), at her Manhattan school, where the students have just had their first (and clearly explicit) sex-ed class. Kids are spilling into the hall, abuzz with questions.

Maya insists that Will tell her his story about the women in his life (there were three) and how he met her mother. Will, reluctant at first &

Maya is tenacious and curious &

finally agrees, but does two things: he gives the tale a solid PG-13 flavor and he changes the names of the women, and thereby creates a kind of fairy tale mystery for the audience and for Maya. In fact he challenges Maya to figure out who her real mother is in the story. There is April (Isla Fisher), an apolitical, rocker sweetheart who Will is drawn to while working for Bill Clinton in his New York primary office. The year is 1992. There's Will's college sweetheart, Emily (Elizabeth Banks), who Will leaves behind in Madison, Wisc., when he goes to New York. And there's Summer, a friend of Emily's, an intriguing, liberated writer living with an aging college professor, played wonderfully by Kevin Kline who steals every scene of his cameo role.

Maya listens intently to the story, stopping Will with precocious questions, trying to puzzle out who her mom is while trying to divine what there is about romance and chemistry &

pheromones being sprinkled about like fairy dust &

and the courtship dance that people engage in as they sort out who might be right, close to right, or questionable, despite the heat of the moment.

"Definitely, Maybe" spans 16 years, with Maya lying on her bed in real time, refusing to go to sleep until Will spins out the story. Three delightful vignettes featuring these three interesting women are the result.

What this film offers is fine work by a strong ensemble, led by Reynolds, Weisz, Banks and Fisher. Each is delightful and one of the women is Will's true love, and one of them is Maya's mother.

"Definitely, Maybe" was released on Valentine's Day, and the reason is obvious. But no matter, you don't need a Saint's day to see and enjoy this nicely rendered movie.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Viewed from the point of view of an 8-year-old, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is completely wonderful. In fact, as the last scene faded and the credits began to roll, kids clapped. They had been thoroughly entertained. And how could they not be. With the now seamless perfection of computer graphics imaging (CGI), filmmakers can take books such as "Spiderwick" (five in the series), and make the goblins and trolls as real as any actor. It's remarkable, considering the scenes are shot against a blue screen and then everything is filled in afterward.

Where once Hollywood's fantasy/sci fi characters seemed artificial, hanging from thin wires, or obvious models made from clay, this new generation of films are the real deal and the technology is ideal for films such as this one. Where suspension of disbelief was once essential, the distance between fantasy and reality has been seriously truncated. There are no such things as trolls, fairies, and goblins and shape-shifting monsters...but then, again, perhaps all you need is Mr. Spiderwick's special glass, or to have a goblin spit in your eye giving you new vision.

Twin brothers Simon and Jared (Freddie Highmore) arrive at an old, very old, house somewhere in Vermont or Connecticut with their mother (Mary Louise Parker) and older sister, Mallory (Sarah Bolger). The three-story, 19th century Victorian telegraphs to every kid in the audience that this may not end well, and spookiness blinks from every window. Sure enough, Jared, the more adventurous brother, begins to discover that they are not alone. And so the intriguing story of Mr. Spiderwick (David Stratharin) is unveiled, and a nether world of fairies and trolls and a magic book unfolds. Of course, the brothers and sister are in harm's way, as the creatures, invisible to most, hunt for them and the book.

Be warned folks, the CGI is so good, some 8-year-olds may find the film too intense. There's no wiggle room between the special effects and a seeming reality. But it's up to parents to take their child's measure, because the small and large green creatures look fairly similar to the ones perhaps lurking under a child's bed or hidden in a closet waiting for the lights to be turned out.

Having said that, grab those small gremlins hanging around the house and take them off to see "The Chronicles of Spiderwick" and know that if the film is a major hit, there are always the books for back up. Sure, some critics might comment that "Spiderwick" is not "Harry Potter." Well, in a way it is, only for a younger demographic. It follows on the heels of "The Golden Compass" and "Narnia" and holds its own.

It must great to be a kid and see these wonderful stories come to the screen in such a gripping way.

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