Awful ‘Anonymous,’ Tedious ‘Time,’ Cheeky ‘Puss,’ Drab ‘Diary,’ Middling ‘Martha’

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F.S.
Contributing Writer

“Anonymous”

Sam Reid stars as Earl of Essex in “Anonymous.”

Shakespeare didn’t write the plays and poems attributed to him, and he was an illiterate, greedy hack actor happy to accept another man’s accolades for himself.  He was also a blackmailer and very possibly the murderer of Christopher Marlowe.

That’s the contention of “Anonymous” (wide release), a florid, extremely silly combination of garbled history, rampant speculation and creaky period melodrama that seriously argues that the Bard’s work was really composed by Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford – a view that it would be charitable to call widely discredited.

The picture features some good actors – Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth, Rhys Ifans as Oxford, David Thewlis as William Cecil – but also terrible ones, like Rafe Spall as Shakespeare.  And the convoluted tale it spins about the political maneuverings surrounding the succession to the English throne – supposedly the explanation for De Vere’s work – is historically absurd and played like a bad Victorian potboiler.
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“In Time”

Director Roland Emmerich has previously specialized in off-the-wall action spectacles like “Independence Day,” “10,000 B.C.” and “2012.”  This movie is more ridiculous than any of them, and it’s not even fun.

Andrew Niccol, who played with the idea of a genetically engineered humanity years ago in  “Gattaca,” returns to the idea with “In Time” (wide release), which posits the notion that everybody in the world stops aging at 25, and the length of time they add to that minimum depends on whether they can earn, beg, borrow, steal – or inherit – additional minutes, hours, days, months or years.  Their current totals are displayed via a clock on their forearms.

This system has led to a totally segregated society, in which the time-rich elite live in a lavish, isolated enclave and everyone else slaves to survive from moment to moment in dank urban settings.

The premise – reflective of today’s growing income disparity – has promise, but the movie soon turns into a tiresome, repetitive action flick in which Will Salas (Justin Timberlake, too lightweight for the role), one of the ordinary folk, challenges the system, aided by the rebellious daughter of the man who runs the whole operation.  The duo is pursued by an obsessive cop straight out of “Les Miserables.”

Even the setting of the movie – a bland, dusty city that might be the future LA or an alternate universe – is uninteresting.

The plot of “In Time” kicks in when a suicidal rich guy hands the century on his wrist over to Will with the message, “Don’t waste my time.”  Unfortunately, Niccol’s picture wastes ours with cliches and silliness.
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“Puss in Boots”

Antonio Banderas voices Puss, the loveable sword-fighting cat, in “Puss in Boots.”

“Shrek the Third” showed that the fractured fairy-tale series about a good-hearted green ogre had outlived its inspiration, but its makers have revitalized the franchise by shifting the focus to subsidiary character “Puss in Boots” (wide release).

Antonio Banderas has a field day voicing the pint-sized feline combination of Zorro and Pepe le Pew, who gets involved with his childhood pal Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and cat burglar Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) to steal the magic beans that will take them to the giant’s cloud castle, where they’ll find the goose that lays the golden eggs.

As usual nowadays, the last act of “Puss in Boots” goes off the rails, consisting of multiple double-crosses and what can only be called a fairy-tale version of “Godzilla” featuring a gigantic Mother Goose.

But, for most of its running time, this is an enjoyable family romp.
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“The Rum Diary”

Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Rispoli star as Kemp, Moburg and Sala who work together in “The Rum Diary.”

Johnny Depp’s fascination with Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist he played in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” continues with “The Rum Diary” (wide release), an adaptation of Thompson’s early novel about an alcoholic reporter who takes a job with a paper in Puerto Rico in 1960.

What passes for a plot has the fellow involved with a bunch of unscrupulous businessmen aiming to build a huge hotel on a pristine nearby island.

But mostly the picture is about his relationship with his eccentric co-workers, including a frazzled editor and a sarcastic photographer.

There are some laughs in the first half of the picture, but overall this  “Rum” doesn’t carry the punch you’d expect.
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“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen play Patrick and Martha in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”

A girl escapes from a cult and finds it difficult to adjust to the real world in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (Magnolia).

That might sound like the beginning of an after-school special, but the film is actually an intense portrayal of the troubled heroine’s fragile psychological state, using abrupt chronological shifts, flashbacks and unsettling episodes to depict her memories and fears.

Elizabeth Olsen gives a strong, nuanced performance in the lead, and writer-director Sean Durkin shows subtlety and imagination in telling the story.

But while “Martha” is the sort of independent effort that shows promise, ultimately its fractured style comes to seem an affectation, and it doesn’t so much end as simply stop, leaving you scratching your head about what’s just happened.

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