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THE AVENGERS PG-13 Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye to save Earth from an invading army of alien monsters led by Loki. The heroes quarrel and come to blows like siblings, but these confrontations teach them to integrate their superhero abilities when tackling Loki’s army of seemingly unstoppable giants. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, each Marvel comic book character is explored within the confines of a two-and-a-halfhour movie that must dedicate its opening to the Avengers’ origin story and its closing 30 minutes to a climactic us-against-them showdown. The film’s post-production 3-D enhances gut-wrenching action set in the Big Apple, where the invaders take skyscrapers apart like Tinkertoys—deeds that cry out to be avenged. (Lisa Miller)
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS PG-13 The damsels of director Whit Stillman (Last Days of Disco) are a gaggle of haughty, pretentious girls from a second-tier Ivy League college whose extracurricular activities include running the campus Suicide Prevention Center (dispensing donuts and tap dance lessons) and trying to improve the hygiene of frat boys by introducing them to expensive soap. The script is dry and mordant (“I love clueless and hackneyed expressions because they’re largely true,” declares Violet, the ringleader), but the delivery is somehow off. Damsels in Distress suggests Evelyn Waugh in search of a good cast, as the deadbeat acting and rather slack pace work against the story’s madcap potential. Damsels is a smart comedy that the Brits would make much better. Here’s hoping for a Masterpiece Classic remake with a sparkling crew of quirky Oxford co-eds. (David Luhrssen) Opens May 4 at the Oriental Theatre.
THE DEEP BLUE SEA R The Deep Blue Sea opens like a sad, wordless sonata of disappointed yearning and eros between Hester (Rachel Weisz), her illicit lover Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) and her sympathetic, cuckolded husband (Simon Russell Beale). Few words are spoken and none exchanged through the opening scene until Hester is jolted awake from her failed suicide by overdose. The circa-1950 London setting will remind film buffs of Neil Jordan’s take on Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, although writer-director Terence Davies’ new film (based on Terence Rattigan’s play) is harder-edged in Hester’s heedless pursuit of passion with a man who doesn’t love her. Weisz’s performance is fine, except that she’s incapable of maintaining the aura of Englishness her character demands. Her Hester is more Borough of Queens than Knightsbridge. (D.L.)
Opens May 4 at the Oriental Theatre.
THE RAVEN R Edgar Allan Poe in pursuit of a serial killer? It’s not a bad idea, given Poe’s role in creating the modern detective story and casting the template for Arthur Conan Doyle and all who followed, but The Raven’s execution borders on pathetic. The story drips from the hackneyed Hollywood mold of tone-deaf screenwriting, anachronistic dialogue, one-dimensional characters and softcore torture porn. John Cusack could have been a good Poe, but the film gives him little to do but try to maintain his dignity as he ponders, weak and weary. Thus quoth the Raven: Cusack, fire your agent! (D.L.)