89 posts categorized "2-1/2 jalapeños"


Field plows into frumpy, fantasizing 'Doris'

Sally Field as the title character in "Hello, My Name Is Doris." Seacia Para/Roadside Attractions

Generally speaking, when an extraordinarily gifted actress like Sally Field, a two-time Academy Award winner (Norma Rae, Places in the Heart), is out front, a film is strong enough to warrant a trip to the neighborhood movie house.

That’s almost the case with "Hello, My Name Is Doris," but not quite.

Field, nominated for a third Oscar as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in 2012, pours her acting soul into Doris. She’s a 60-something New Yorker from Staten Island who has just lost her mother and now must fend for herself at work, with her friends and, perhaps most importantly, when she’s alone.

Not unlike Doris, however, there’s just too much baggage in this layered comic-drama for even a gifted pro like Field to carry herself. Doris is not just conflicted, as any lonely woman in her 60s might be after losing her closest human contact (her mother).

In many ways, Doris is still a teenager in her mind, even though she’s nearing retirement age at the office where she keeps accounts in a cubicle that can barely contain her volatile angst. Let’s just say her path to happiness and mental stability is as cluttered as her home, where she throws a fit when relatives and a psychologist try to get her to part with a hoarded single snow ski she has no use for.

There’s enough going on in Hello, My Name Is Doris to suggest that Field would have a Field day (if you’ll pardon the pun) rumbling through the mental mess that is her title character. Unfortunately, this tale of an aging wallflower desperate to blossom into a relationship with the handsome young new art director named Max (John Fremont) careens off into something that’s a little bit Walter Mitty (an uncontrollable fantasizer) and a lot made-for-TV movie material.

Director Michael Showalter, who also co-wrote the script, is working with material first explored in an eight-minute NYU student film. Expanded to 90 minutes, however, Hello, My Name Is Doris runs out of creative gas, much like so many of those funny Saturday Night Live skits that died on the feature-film vine.

Field is fine, more than fine, in fact. She jumps into the lovable frump bag that is Doris body and soul. There are no complaints from this aisle seat about Fremont, currently starring on the small screen as Schmidt opposite Zooey Deschanel on the Fox sitcom New Girl. And it’s fun to see Tyne Daly as Roz, a steadfast best friend to Doris.

Unfortunately, Hello, My Name Is Doris is not constantly compelling enough to live on eccentricity alone on the big screen. It might play well on TV in prime time, but somewhere down the list of cable channels that attend more to matters of the heart than matters of essential cinema.


MPAA rating: R (profanity)
90 minutes
Jalapeño rating: 2½ (out of 4)


How come 'The Judge'?

The judge's son (Robert Downey Jr.) draws up a contract to defend his estranged father (Robert Duvall). (Warner Bros.)

Judge, if I may approach the bench, who directed this cliché-filled misuse of two of our finest living dramatic actors?

Let me amend that, Your Honor.  Much of the blame must go to the screenwriters.  Oops, check that.  It seems that you, David Dobkin, co-authored the original story as well.  Well, guilty as charged, then.

The Judge, which hangs around for well over two drawn-out hours, is a hard-hitting father and son courtroom melodrama that plays out in small-town Indiana.  If it wasn't for Academy Award winner Robert Duvall and two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr., this carnival of a courtroom drama would be thrown out of cinematic court the first time highly unlikely circumstances keep the plot chugging along to its inevitable, contrived conclusion.

That's the rub for critics and movie fans, though. The Judge pairs Duvall and Downey as an estranged small town judge on the brink of severe human frailty and the son who only interrupts his pending bitter divorce and his successful Chicago law practice of getting rich crooks off the hook because there's been a death in the family.

Once back in his old tiny Indiana burg, Downey's Hank Palmer clashes violently with the old man, Duvall's Judge Joseph Palmer, bumps into his old high school girlfriend "Sam" (Vera Farmiga) and steps in to defend his reluctant father when he's linked to a hit-and-run incident.

To be honest, Duvall and Downey together were all I needed to pay retail and stand in line.  Once there, though, I felt a little sorry for both tremendous actors who had to wade through one plot cliché after another to get to the money shots:  Duvall at 83 and Downey, who almost threw his acting gift down the drain through drug abuse, in fine form and duking it out verbally with the precise timing and nuance few other actors can bring.

Director Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) co-wrote the original story that became the flawed, almost laughable at times screenplay by Nick Schenk (Gran Torino) and Bill Dubuque (a first-timer).  Dobkin insults his audience and his actors repeatedly by asking everyone to suspend their disbelief to impossible limits.

What must Downey have thought when he read in the script that when he falls off his bicycle on the highway that the first driver by would be his old high school squeeze "Sam"?  Actually, it's testament to his will to stay in character that Downey (and Farmiga, who was so terrific opposite George Clooney in Up in the Air) got through the scene without breaking character and laughing hysterically.

This kind of silliness happens at all-too-regular intervals for, I suppose, comic relief in a movie crying out to play it straight and edgy as a taut drama about a father and son fighting through deep wounds to reconnect.

I can't even imagine Gregory Peck having to succumb to cliched bits of comic relief to portray deeply conflicted small town lawyer Atticus Finch. 

Of course The Judge is by no means a drama even remotely resembling the greatness of To Kill a Mockingbird or other memorable courtroom classics.

Occasionally, great acting trumps sloppy film-making, though.  This is one of those cases.

If you're a fan of Duvall (Tender Mercies, The Godfather) and/or Downey (Chaplin, Zodiac), The Judge is worth it just to see two great actors clash like verbal titans able to elevate even trite dialogue to the level of an art form.

MPAA rating:  R (for language including some sexual references)

141 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  2½ (out of 4)


Booty calls with entanglement pitfalls

Kudos to "Friends With Benefits" director Will Gluck for daring to sprinkle some real-life drama into a silly little romantic-comedy that flashes some skin and lesser parts romance and comedy.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, two rising stars of the Yeah, Us Generation, do all they can with a premise doomed from the beginning:  Sex without emotion or entanglements.

Let's face it, folks.  The booty call, no commitment relationship already had its chance on the big screen.
Earlier this year Oscar winner Natalie Portman ("Black Swan") and Ashton Kutcher (Charlie Sheen's soon-to-be replacement on TV's "Two and a Half Men") gave it a goofy go in "No Strings Attached."

The idea failed, although the movie had some merit as a romantic-comedy.

Even good actors like Timberlake ("The Social Network") and Kunis ("Black Swan") can't make "Friends with Benefits" hook an audience as entertainment, however.  The problem is that director Gluck's first effort since last year's semi-entertaining "Easy A" attempts to stuff some serious life lessons, including but not limited to the sex without commitment thingy, into a format that's traditional romantic-comedy.

Dylan (Timberlake) plays a hotshot Web site graphic designer in L.A. who's recruited by Jamie (Kunis), a get-it-done corporate headhunter.  She lures him to New York for an interview at GQ magazine.

Both are on the rebound from recent breakups, which are inter cut nicely by Gluck to open the film.

Like Portman and Kutcher in "No Strings Attached," Dylan and Jamie take the plunge into a grand experiment doomed to failure:  vigorous sex with none of the cuddling, or "Call me" or whining about a sex partner who might encounter someone else away from the not-so-sacred pact.

Jamie, claiming to be a "good girl," makes Dylan swear on a Bible that neither partner will violate the special bond.  The Bible, however, is a Bible app on an ipad.

Welcome to The Good Book in the New Digital Age, movie-goers.

Jamie's Mom (Patricia Clarkson) wanders off in the direction of every man she sniffs.  Dylan, on the other hand, is sort of hiding the fact that his dad (superbly played by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins of "The Visitor") has some serious, heartbreaking health issues.

I like the fact that "Friends With Benefits" attempts to fry some real life stumbling blocks in the same pan as the over-easy romance and peek-a-boo frolics under the sheets.  For those who seek out R-rated movies for such things, there's more raunchy sex talk than exposed skin, except for a showcase of Timberlake's bare Southern extremities.

"Friends With Benefits" is a tough call for a critic.  If modern, graphic pillow talk is all you require in a romantic-comedy, it's a semi-rewarding hour and a half or so in a movie house.

Otherwise, some very good veteran actors (Jenkins, Clarkson) and young rising stars (Timberlake, Kunis) might just appear to be hanging around on the screen for a very long time.


'Transforming' monsters and movies

I'm sitting here wondering what the word "movie" even means these days.

It used to be much easier to discern.  A feature film was a combination of story, acting, direction, sound and some special effects (if necessary) that would occasionally erupt into something magical on screen.

"Transformers:  Dark of the Moon" is proof positive that eruptions still fill movie screens.  In fact, the grandly exploding fireballs and weapons of asinine destruction seem to increase in scope and intensity with each new weekend, especially in the summertime, when students and fan boys swarm to the latest barrage of pyrotechnics.

I thought I'd seen every source of material possible when the movie franchise "Pirates of the Caribbean" launched from a theme park ride.  There no longer appeared to be a need for a novel or a screenplay, or much acting, come to think of it.  Mugging into the camera became the name of the game.

But the theme park cinematic springboard was nothing compared to what's going on with the "Transformers" franchise, which is rattling the walls of your neighborhood cineplex as we communicate.

The "Transformers" series, you see, is inspired by clicky, clacky cars and trucks that can be maneuvered like kindergarten-level Rubik's Cubes into mechanical good aliens (Autobots) and very bad hombre aliens (Decepticons) that like to duke it out on Planet Earth.

The first two violence-riddled flicks were extremely successful at the box office, as I'm sure No. 3 will be as well.  Young movie-goers and aging fan boys have bought into the hype and often cheer as one giant former Chevy beats a former 18-wheeler into a bleeding pile of twisted metal.

Pardon me for coming from the position of a cynical old grouch film critic on this.  But I liked it better when kids played with toy Transformers (I prefer the term Go-bots) instead of movie studios toying with impressionable movie-goers and, perhaps (Just my theory) attempting to convince movie-goers that real plot development, accomplished acting and the like are Old School and thus something no longer of value.

We can accuse or thank producer/director Michael Bay for that, especially since he's called the shots on all three "Transformers" flicks.

Bay has no concept of when to cut an expensive special-effects laden scene.  So they drag on in the very definition of repetition for what appears to be forever, but turns out to be just an ungodly 155 minutes.

Mechanical space-alien blood flows freely in "Transformers:  Dark of the Moon."  And, guess what, it's red like ours.  I don't really grasp that concept.  I thought they would bleed oil, or maybe transmission fluid.  But I'm sure that's just something I missed in story exposition.  Oh, I forgot.  There isn't any (OK, there's a little).

The Transformers leave quite a mess behind as what appear to be generally American made cars and trucks morph into gear-grinding warring foes.  Despite their advanced technology, the Autobons and Decepticons battle with giant swords more than you might expect.

Shia LaBeouf is back for the third paycheck, excuse me, starring role as Sam Witwicky, friend of the good Go-bots.

Megan Fox, however, has been banished from the fold for, according to published reports, saying some unkind things about her director.  So in slinks Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly, Sam's new girlfriend.  Actually, she holds her own with the sparse dialogue in her first feature film and likely will return if she doesn't bad mouth Mr. Bay.

Sitting through more than two hours and a-half of clanking heavy metal like this, I tend to look for something positive; an oasis in a desert of destruction as it were.

That can be found in the scenery-chewing performances by excellent veteran actors John Malkovich ("Burn After Reading"), Frances McDormand (a Best Actress Oscar winner for "Fargo") and John Turturro ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?").  Somehow, Turturro has managed to brighten all three "Transformers" as an eccentric human element.

A movie like this must be judged not as a literary work turned into a motion picture, but for what it is.

I have no problem with that.  My lament is this:  "What is it?"


Larry the overused 'Cars' guy

In its first sequel with more likely to come, Disney/Pixar's "Cars" franchise heads to Europe and Asia with Mater, the good-natured rusty tow truck, out front.

That, of course, means a spotlight vocal prance by Larry the Cable Guy.  It also means a heavy helping of corn pone humor.  In other words, "Cars" has shifted into a cash-for-clunkers franchise in its second drive across the screen,

I freely admit to being a Larry the Cable Guy fan.  By that I mean the clever comedian with the sleeveless shirt and the raunch-riddled mouth who has turned lowbrow redneck humor into his own license to print money.

Unfortunately, that's not the Larry we get in the "Cars" sequel.  We get a sanitized voice that's muffled into a G-rating.

And even worse, Larry is expected to carry the entertainment load this time, instead of just being one of the more interesting digitally animated four-wheeled characters hanging out in Radiator Springs, a place where cars act like humans instead of automobiles.

"Cars 2," another slick, occasionally eye-popping example of Pixar expertise, is too long at almost two hours, especially for kids beginning to squirm behind their oversized 3-D glasses.

And, from this aisle seat at least, it's too boring.  That surprises me a little with Pixar head John Lasseter and co-director Brad Lewis at the helm.

Like Chevy Chase's "Vacation" franchise, "Cars" heads for Europe (and Asia) in search of new locales to perhaps find success in exotic backgrounds of Tokyo, Paris and London.

Owen Wilson returns as the voice of hotshot race car Lightning McQueen and is generally fine, if a little too laid-back.  McQueen lines up against chief rival Francesco Bernoulli (voiced with appropriate flair by John Turturro) in a series of Grand Prix races, which Mater either messes up or saves.

The film's other driving force is a spy caper featuring master British spy car Finn McMissile (veteran actor Michael Caine) and British desk agent Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who's pressed into field spy duty.

Frankly, the young kids in attendance seemed strapped in and paying more attention than I expected.  For those who hopped on this one-trick cinematic pony the first time around, though, "Cars 2" will likely come off as an unnecessary second drive around the animated garage.

Some good news, though:  The "Toy Story" short cartoon "Hawaiian Vacation" is a pleasant added-on surprise before "Cars 2" cranks up.

I am, however, still trying to figure out why a long trailer for "The Lion King" re-release in September takes anxious movie-goers around the "Circle of Life" one more time before "Cars" can start its engines.


Second 'Hangover' more like a leftover

OK, "The Hangover Part II" is "Bridesmaids" for men.

How's that for equality?

What the above statement means is that men may have gotten the jump on women (no pun intended; maybe a little) when it comes to bottom-feeder raunchy comedy.  But women, as displayed recently in "Bridesmaids," are just as capable as men when it comes to comic carnal knowledge on the Neanderthal level.

A contrived follow-up to the huge box office success of "The Hangover" in 2009, "Hangover Part II" takes its vocal rancor, blatant nudity and dumb guys buzzard luck not only to Thailand, but also to the very bottom of soft-porn shock raunch.

And this time director Todd Phillips ("Old School," "Road Trip"), who can be booked on charges of conspiring against decency by directing the first "Hangover," is packing a monkey.

Not just any monkey, either.  This capuchin monkey smokes cigarettes, peddles dope, snorts a little himself and engages in monkey-on-monk simulated sex.

Too tough for you?

Then you'll definitely want to move on down the hall of the multiplex to something a little more tame, like the third sequel of "Pirates of the Caribbean."A quick note, though.  There's a nasty, snarling monkey in that one, too.

The key cast members of the first "Hangover" all return.  That includes Bradley Cooper as Phil, the leader of the Wolfpack and Ed Helms ("The Office" on TV) as Stu, who lost a tooth the first time around and is the groom-to-be (seriously messed-up) this time.

Also, Zach Galifianakis returns as Alan, the self-proclaimed stay-at-home son, and Ken Jeong gets to get naked and screeches his lines again as Mr. Chow, an international man of crime.

Exceptional actor Paul Giamatti ("Sideways"), who appears to have forgotten to go on his pre-shooting diet and looks uncomfortably pudgy, joins the cast briefly as a businessman who just happens to be in the crime business.

In case you haven't already guessed, "Hangover Part II" travels the same path of lowest brow humor possible.  Just like the first, but then some.  Instead of misplacing the groom this time, a night of Bangkok debauchery leads to a morning where Stu's soon-to-be brother-in-law Teddy, a 16-year-old played by newcomer Mason Lee (director Ang Lee's son), is missing.

At least most of him is missing.  One of Teddy's severed body digits is discovered cooling in an ice bucket, which sets this less-effective misadventure in motion.

"The Hangover Part II," like its precursor, reveals all in a groan-inducing montage of gross-out photos during the final credits.

The good news is that no 3-D glasses are required for this one.  A barf bag might come in handy, though.

Fur flies in battle heavy 'Kung Fu Panda 2'

In the first animated family comedy "Kung Fu Panda," we learned what funny guy Jack Black might look like if he was born a noodle-making panda named Po in fictional ancient cartoon China.

And, oh yeah, that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, even roly-poly pandas.

The sequel, aptly titled "Kung Fu Panda 2," offers these insights:

That loving goose that runs the village noodle shop is not Po's natural father after all.  (Take a second if you need it to get over the shock.)

And perhaps most importantly, audiences will be told that the best way to fight really, really well is to find inner peace.

That's a pretty thin story arc for a movie franchise featuring the voices of A-list stars like Black, Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), Dustin Hoffman (Master Shifu) and others.

From this aisle seat, the first time around in 2008 was a novel hoot.  Po learned to kung fu fight with his idols, the kung fu masters listed above, and generated a ton of fun going through the process.

The sequel, written by the same team of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, feels a little strained when it comes to story fodder.  Jennifer Yuh Nelson moves up from head of story on the original "Kung Fu Panda' to the director's chair in this one, and may still have a little to learn when it comes to battle overkill vs. character development and depth.

And while I'm on my soap box, the bow to the unnecessary trend of pushing 3-D glasses for a premium price is not only unnecessary, it's ineffective.

To me, the animation looks a little muddy and less defined for the second Po go.  And the emphasis is on fighting, which is sometimes creative but repetitive and boring at other times.

Gary Oldman, who hammed it up recently as wolf-hunter Father Solomon in "Red Riding Hood," brings gusto to his vocal role.  He's Lord Shen, a peeved peacock that embraces the Industrial Age only to forge cannons to wipe out his foes and, while he's at it, kung fu.

Young children might delight in all the mayhem.  Adults who bring them, however, are likely to be yawning before Po even raises a paw to bid farewell to his Pa.

Duty calls, you see, even for a fun-loving panda that would probably rather hang around the kitchen and see how many noodles he can stuff into his furry mug.

Since movie studios need to worry about bottom line profit margin and pandas do not, I get the feeling that once around the kung fu block was enough for Po.

It certainly was for me.


'Pirates' of the all-too-familiaran

Most comedy-slanted adventure-thrill movies are like theme park amusement rides.

The good ones are exhilarating the first time, exciting and fun the second time around and decreasingly OK each time after that.

In the case of Disney's cash-cow franchise "Pirates of the Caribbean" featuring the wobbly swagger of Johnny Depp as 
amusingly narcissistic pirate-with-a-heart-of-ghostly-booty Capt. Jack Sparrow, it is exactly like that.

That's because, as almost everyone on the planet is aware, "Pirates of the Caribbean" reversed the usual movie trend.

Instead of a popular movie re-tooled as an amusement park theme ride ("Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye," for instance), "Pirates of the Caribbean" launched as a popular theme park ride and then made the jump to movie screens with Depp out front in 2003.

"Pirates of the Caribbean:  The Curse of the Black Pearl" defied the odds (Really?  A movie out of an amusement ride?) and swashbuckled its way to exhilarating status, not to mention financial treasure.

Movie treasure tends to not remain buried for long, though.  So "Pirates" set sail with sequels in 2005 (subtitled "Dead Man's Chest") and 2007 ("At World's End").

The key word in the title of the 2007 model was "world."  No one said "At Franchise's End."

So this weekend the masses will no doubt line up for "Pirates of the Caribbean:  On Stranger Tides," the latest variance on a fading theme.  On as I prefer to put it adding a snake's hiss, the third s-s-s-s-s-s-sequel.

If "On Stranger Tides" came out of the moviemaking chute first, it would have been -- if not quite exhilarating -- plenty good as a comedy-adventure thrill ride.  

Depp, of course, owns the Capt. Jack Sparrow character so well that when his familiar face is slowly revealed hiding under a judge's wig, the audience greets him with anticipation and glee, as if he's a long-lost weird uncle returning home with expensive gifts.

"Pirates 4" is all about a race to find the Fountain of Youth.  Exceptional actor Ian McShane (Al Swearengen in the "Deadwood" TV series) joins the cast as legendary pirate Blackbeard and is, as you might expect, outstanding.

Penélope Cruz, an Academy Award winner (supporting) for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," cuts a wide acting swath as Blackbeard's daughter Angelica.  Cruz replaces the departed  Keira Knightley, and is not exactly anyone's definition of a helpless ingénue.

There's no lack of action, or cool pirates costumes or, of course, Depp mugging into the camera.  The beautiful but bloodthirsty mermaids are a welcome addition, actually.

And new director Rob Marshall (Oscar nominated for the musical "Chicago") keeps things sailing along at a decent pace despite the film's overlong voyage of two hours and 21 minutes.

The highly touted 3-D element, though, is not worth the cinematic E-ticket premium price.  All you'll get is a sword or two that appear to be thrust right at your nose.

"Pirates" also sails this time without Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and, more importantly, director Gore Verbinski, who called shots on the first three adventures.

And, oddly enough, the fourth time around is actually based on something other than a theme park ride.  This screenplay, once again written by "Pirates" regulars Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, incorporates Tim Powers' 1987 novel  "On Stranger Tides."

Once the screenwriters throw the usual "Pirates" suspects (Capt. Sparrow, et all) into the mix, however, the subtitle should read:  "On Familiar Rides."


When the pitchman becomes the pitch, man

Before it runs low on exposé fire-in-the-gut power, which it does at about the three-quarter pole, Morgan Spurlock's latest crusading documentary comes across as a capital(istic) idea.

If the title, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" appears a little unusual, that's because Spurlock sold the title rights to the makers of pomegranate drinks for a million smackers.

That's right, Spurlock's effort to expose the evils of product placement in movies and other areas of our lives prostitutes itself, commercially speaking, in what the filmmaker must hope will be for the good of mankind and the profit of one Mr. Morgan Spurlock.

Whether he's stuffing McDonald's french fries into his body to the point of projectile nausea in the previous documentary "Super Size Me" (2004) or traipsing around the Middle East in search of Osama Bin Laden (2008), Spurlock appears to love the thrill of the chase.

Spurlock likes to kid around and insert humor as he overturns soiled rocks to reveal ills of the world. He has that in common with Michael Moore, his Oscar-winning ("Bowling for Columbine") peer.

The difference between the two remains Spurlock's limitations in gutting his foe and hanging his catch on a hook for a gripping trophy shot. Moore remains the master in filling a movie screen with the painful and sometimes comic ironies of life, whether it be corporate greed or a woman selling rabbits for "pets or meat."

Spurlock, try as he will, has never mined that kind of documentary gold.

In "Greatest Movie Ever Sold," the likable crusader of justice for all makes cold calls to gather clients willing to opt in with big bucks to finance the movie and shine a spotlight on, well, opting in. He even wears his labels on a NASCAR-like suit peppered with corporate logos, and he wears it proudly.

Spurlock eventually fills his coffer. Yet the filmmaker's money shot (rubba-dub-dub, a filmmaker, a kid and a Shetland pony in a tub) comes from a company that opted out.

And we come to the ultimate question: Should this movie be a hit or not?

If Spurlock and the film company make money off of an exposé about the evils of product placement in movies, isn't that a little like putting the cart before the soapy Shetland pony?


'Cats' -- Way off-off-Broadway and real

So much for the carefree hakuna matata (No worries for the rest of your days) when it comes to the nature documentary "African Cats."

The circle of life plays out in harsh reality in the third modern-day feature from the Disneynature division of the Mouse House.

Co-directed by seasoned nature filmmakers Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill ("Deep Blue," "Earth"), "African Cats" does an excellent job of showcasing chosen lions and cheetahs as they live, love, hunt and fight for survival in Kenya's savanna.

Unlike Disney's beloved "Lion King," which had its share of life-or-death situations, "African Cats" makes it clear from the opening credits that survival of the fittest in this wild will eventually get around to the sad facts of unfortunate life.

Whether this G-rated film is suited for "general audiences; all ages admitted" is best up to parents, of course. The gritty nature of the subject matter (lions attacking lions, a lion standing down a hissing alligator, etc.), however, would make it impossible for this critic to expose the harsh real world to a child under the age of 7 or so.

Samuel L. Jackson, a very able actor, narrates "African Cats" with enthusiasm. By giving all the key animals names, though, the filmmakers blur the line between entertainment and what could have been a spectacular fly-on-the-wall approach to just allowing nature to run its course on its own terms.

There's no question Scholey and Fothergill, as well as their talented crew, showed admirable patience over the course of more than two years to allow the captured saga to play out.

In "African Cats," the audience gets equal doses of playful lion cubs or newborn cheetahs tumbling over each other as they depend on Mom for protection and guidance.

In the real world, though, as is shown here, not all babies survive. And the hyenas that strike during a brilliantly photographed storm really do appear to be laughing, eerily, at their prey.

The directors are careful not to show bloody kills and graphic mating.

I wonder, then, if their attempts to shield the audience from the harshest reality is short-changing the "nature" half of the Disneynature business plan?