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The Cricket
Sean P. Means
Sean is the movie critic and columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket.

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Friday movie roundup: Perilous 'ParaNorman'

There's something for everybody at the movies this weekend, as Hollywood gets rolling on its August clearance sale – trying to move out the troublesome or hard-to-market movies that couldn't compete against the early-summer blockbusters.

What's likely to be the top title at the box office this weekend is "The Expendables 2," the testosterone-fueled sequel to the 2010 action movie. Joining Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews are more muscular stars – including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (who both cameo'd in the first one), Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris and Michelle Yeoh (who is, yes, a woman – but one capable of beating up most of the guys listed). Alas, the movie was not screened for Utah critics.

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Neither was "Sparkle," a remake of a 1976 music-industry melodrama about three sisters striving for Motown success and discovering the pitfalls of fame along the way. Jordin Sparks stars, and the movie also boasts the final screen appearance of Whitney Houston.

For the kids – or, at least, kids with a macabre streak – is the stop-motion animated tale "ParaNorman," in which a boy (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who can talk to ghosts discovers that it's his fate to protect his town from a witch's curse. The animation is gorgeously detailed and playful, and the story takes Norman into some decidedly odd and fascinating directions.

And don't forget the charming family fantasy melodrama "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," which opened Wednesday.

For Utah audiences, Friday also brings the World War II drama "Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed." Director Ryan Little, who made the first "Saints and Soldiers" in 2003, doesn't bring back any of the characters from the first film – but continues the thematic examination of people keeping, finding or losing their faith in the face of war. The movie makes the most out of a miniscule budget, and Little keeps the action and the drama bubbling along nicely.

On the art-house slate, the weirdest of the week is "Klown," a dark and wildly raunchy comedy from Denmark. Writers Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, playing characters who are fictional versions of themselves, expand on their popular TV series for this story of an awkward guy (Hvam) trying to prove that he's good father material. His plan: Kidnap his girlfriend's 12-year-old nephew (Marcuz Jess Petersen) and take him along on a canoing trip with Christensen – who's been planning the trip as a way to go to an exclusive brothel without his girlfriend finding out. The level of filthy humor makes "The Hangover" look like a Disney cartoon, but it's still scathingly and inappropriately funny.

"Trishna" is a fascinating cross-cultural drama, in which writer-director Michael Winterbottom ("24 Hour Party People," "Welcome to Sarajevo") transports Thomas Hardy's 19th-century tale of female oppression, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, to modern India. The setting is perfect, a clash of tradition and modernity, and the beautiful Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire") is electrifying as the woman caught between them.

German actress Diane Kruger ("Inglorious Basterds," "National Treasure") is the best thing about the costume drama "Farewell, My Queen," playing a dithering Marie-Antoinette in the days before the fall of the French monarchy. Alas, the movie's not about Marie-Antoinette as much as it is her drab servant, Sibonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux, from "Midnight in Paris"), who watches all the machinations upstairs and downstairs.

Lastly – and you may only hear about this movie if you listen to right-wing talk radio – is the conservative documentary "2016: Obama's America," which features the anti-Obama viewpoint of author Dinesh D'Sousa. It wasn't screened for us "lamestream" critics, either.

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