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Notes from the Back Row

Assassins, dragons and sharks, oh my!

As politicians at every level seem less likely to compromise on anything and radiation casually drifts across the Pacific Ocean, you can't blame a guy for getting pessimistic about the future. And as the world's conflict zones get more conflicted and religious extremists provoke other religious extremists seemingly just for kicks, it actually kind of makes sense that a guy would want to hole up in Northern Finland and spend every waking moment molding his daughter into a highly efficient killing machine.

At least it makes sense in Hanna , a circular sci-fi/action/fairy tale opening this Friday at the Village 8. Saoirse Ronan ( Atonement, The Lovely Bones ) stars as the girl while Eric Bana ( Munich) stars as the father who takes the Terminator 2, Kick-Ass style of parenting to the next level. Ronan yearns for a whole new world and with the push of a simple red button she enters a kinetic coming-of-age conspiracy thriller full of stunning landscapes, hyper action scenes, plot and logic holes and the occasional Red Riding Hood reference. Cate Blanchett plays the wolf role and while the film misses the heart on more than a few occasions it's still good enough to check out - especially for a PG-13.

The R-Rated Your Highness also opens this week. It's a weed-smoking, D&D- playing, adventure comedy with contemporary sensibilities in a medieval setting. That means it's full of slackers who say "F#ck" a lot while trying to rescue a princess from an evil wizard. Add in some too-easy gay jokes, a couple Oscar nominees, a village of topless women, a severed Minotaur cock and Danny McBride ( Eastbound and Down, Foot Fist Way) doing his same old thing and you have one of the least intelligent comedies of the year.

But that doesn't mean Your Highness is a total bust. Fans of McBride and director David Gordon Green ( Pineapple Express) don't expect high art, they expect High art. Your Highness isn't great - the script is lazy, the effects are dodgy, and even an all-star cast including James Franco, Natalie Portman (wet, in a thong) and Zooey Deschanel can't elevate the weaknesses - but the costumes and miniatures are fun and fans of '80s VHS masterpieces like Willow, Beastmaster and Krull should get a kick out of it all. McBride's schtick is nothing new and this one's really a renter, but go with low expectations and smoke twice as much as you think you need and you should be okay.

Speaking of shitty effects, Soul Surfer also opens Friday. It's a dramatization of the true story of a surfer girl who got her arm bit off by a shark and later returned to the water and the sport she loves. Inspiring stuff, but not in the hands of director Sean McNamara ( Bratz: The Movie, Caspar meets Wendy) who glosses over any conflict, pumps up the condescending Jesus-messages and oversees one of the worst CGI shark attacks since Megladon. Blue Crush this isn't. McNamara does inject a bit of decent tabloid media commentary but the rest of Soul Surfer is a little too "Yay-Jesus, Whites rule!" for me. Skip it.

Rounding out the week's offerings is Arthur , a remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore flick, this time starring Russell Brand as the spoiled rich kid and Helen Mirren as a nanny. Jennifer Garner plays the unlovable woman Arthur is forced to wed if he wants to keep his inheritance. This version is dumbed-down but Brand and Mirren apparently give it their best. I wouldn't know - I skipped it to spend more time teaching my kid how to be an assassin.