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' Jack the Giant Slayer'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

"Jack the Giant Slayer" takes the fairy tale and, like magic beans, makes it sprout on a grand scale.

In addition to Jack, an orphan "not wildly keen on heights" played with wonder and gumption by Nicholas Hoult, the story features a spunky princess, her regal father, an untrustworthy suitor, a knight charged with her safekeeping and a gaggle of giants on their sky-high turf and miles below on Earth.

The bones -- and beans -- of the bedtime story are still here, but writers Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney have made changes small and very large.

They nicely set up parallel stories of young Jack and Princess Isabelle and jump a decade ahead when Isabelle's mother has died and Jack is 18 and living with his tenant-farmer uncle since the death of his widowed father from the plague.

Jack is sent to sell their horse and cart but becomes distracted, saves a young woman who turns out to be the princess, loses the cart and swaps the horse for beans, with the promise of money to come. The princess later strikes out on her own, gets lost and lands at Jack's cabin, where a leaky roof ends up watering the beans and sending the house shooting heavenward.

When Jack and others -- including the weasel Roderick (Stanley Tucci), who is supposed to marry the princess, and chivalrous knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor) -- start up the beanstalk, they get much more than they bargained for.

Director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects") knows how to paint on a big canvas in this old-fashioned adventure with 25-foot-tall giants.

-- Post-Gazette

' Stoker'

2 1/2 stars = Average
Ratings explained

"Stoker" is a visual treat from the creative opening credits to the colorful splendor of nature that's almost blinding. Director Park Chan-wook embraces texture, shapes and colors with such exuberance that each scene is a celebration of the visual. It's almost brilliant enough to distract from a plot that has some very dark problems.

Mia Wasikowska turns in a creepy performance as India, a young woman who just turned 18 and has lived an emotionally confined life. That world gets even smaller and darker when her father dies in an automobile accident. The arrival of Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode), an uncle she never knew existed, could be the spark she needs to come out of her emotional cocoon.

The film's big question is whether she will emerge as a beautiful butterfly or a killer moth.

The script by Wentworth Miller, a 1990 graduate of Quaker Valley High School best known as the star of the Fox TV series "Prison Break," delves deep into these questions: Are we predestined to be the people we become? Does our family or the environment shape the way we become? These deep questions can't be perfectly answered in the 98-minute running time and that forces the film to make large leaps that leave points in its dust.

-- By Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers


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First Published June 20, 2013 4:00 AM


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