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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005 04:48 am

Third time's a charm

Zathura reflects author's vivid imagination

Chris Van Allsburg’s wildly imaginative, lavishly illustrated children’s books contain simple yet heart-warming messages that have wide appeal and are obvious candidates for adaptation to the big screen. Unfortunately, the first two — Jumanji (1995) and The Polar Express (2004) — misfired. The same cannot be said of Zathura. Here, finally, is a film that matches Van Allsburg’s vivid and imaginative sensibility and reflects his special ability to combine humor with pathos.    In Zathura, we meet two young brothers, Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo), who are dealing with their parents’ divorce in very different ways. Walter, the eldest boy, walks around with a chip on his shoulder; Danny does his best to put on a brave face and happy demeanor. The bond between these two will be sorely tested one afternoon when they find an old space-adventure board game and begin to play. Before they know it, the game turns out to be all too real, and they and their father’s house are floating in outer space, where they face meteor showers, a race of ravenous reptile aliens, a rampaging robot, a mysterious astronaut, and other perils.   One of the reasons Van Allsburg’s books are such a hot commodity now is that modern special effects have caught up to his imagination. But even though these visuals in Zathura are arresting, the story proves surprisingly effective. Credit Hutcherson and Bobo, two young actors who deliver moments of genuine sincerity. The relationship between Walter and Danny is the key to the success of the film. Hats off to these two performers for making it real and to director Jon Favreau for guiding them.

Also in theaters this week. . .

Derailed [R] Two married business administrators meet on their morning commute. They begin seeing each other on the sly, or so they think. An attentive criminal blackmails the two love birds and they must comply to save their families. Parkway Pointe

Get Rich or Die Tryin’ [R] Marcus (Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson), resorts to selling drugs when his mother dies. After a near-fatal misfortune, Marcus puts all his energy into realizing his dream of becoming a successful rapper. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Good Night, and Good Luck [PG] The story of broadcast journalism legend Edward R. Murrow and the significant show that brought down a demagogue. Parkway Pointe

Jarhead [R] An adaptation of Marine Anthony Swofford’s memoir of time spent in the trenches during the first Gulf War. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Prime [PG-13] A robbing-the-cradle romance between Rafi (Uma Thurman), an established 37-year-old career woman and David, a 23-year-old painter from Brooklyn. ShowPlace West

Shopgirl [R] Thoughtful Mirabelle, a shopgirl, finds herself stuck between loving two men: Ray, a rich older man and Jeremy a young struggling musician. ShowPlace West

The Weather Man [R] A troubled Chicago weatherman tries to hold it together at the height of his broadcasting career despite his plummeting personal life. Parkway Pointe
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