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Movie reviews: SHELLSHOCKED!

A movie about a shell is among best of the year.
Credit: A24

MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON

One of the best movies of the year stars a one-inch shell who wears shoes! That might shock you, but not me, given who's behind it. The hilarious and talented Jenny Slate dreamed him up. She's also the voice of Marcel, a voice she came up with when she was spending a weekend with friends in cramped quarters and was feeling especially 'small.'  

The character started as a video short on YouTube. Three installments over 12 years have drawn nearly 50 million viewers! 

Now, Slate and her ex-husband, director Dean Fleischer-Camp, have expanded Marcel's world into feature length. Turns out he's been living among a community of shells, all of whom have disappeared except for his Nana Connie. So, he sets out to search for them. 

His favorite show "60 Minutes" (with a cameo by Lesley Stahl) even gets involved. Voicing his grandma, is none other than Isabella Rossellini! She doesn't teach Marcel but allows him to learn.

Marcel, a positive energy philosopher for our times, says self-assured things like: "Guess why I smile a lot? 'Cuz it's worth it!" ... or when he's feeling down: "The space in my heart gets bigger and louder every day." 

If all of this sounds goofy, just give "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" a chance. This little shell has more heart than and ten human characters combined. He might break your heart but change your life a little, too. That's what a great movie should do.

(A24. Rated PG. Running Time 1 hr. 30 mins. In Theaters Only)

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

For as much heart as "Marcel" brings, "Where the Crawdads Sing" lacks. Paging Rachel Adams and Ryan Gosling: save this "The Notebook" wannabe! I don't care if you've aged out of the roles!  Based on one of the most popular novels in recent years, it's the story of Kya, who's grown up in a shack in the North Carolina marshlands. The rest of her family escaped her abusive father, but she stuck it out. Shunned by the nearby town, she thrives on her own, becoming an accomplished naturalist illustrator. But the real drama comes with a lover's triangle and a murder she's blamed for.

Director Olivia Newman has done mostly TV to this point. She does not pull enough of the mystery or passion out of the story, and the casting of Kya and her two guys is just off, (unlike the always reliable David Straithairn who plays the defense lawyer). Now, it's possible if you've read the book, which I had not, you might fill in the emotional blanks. But a movie should stand on its own, and this one is not the Southern classic it hoped to be. What stuck with me as I walked away was Taylor Swift's haunting end credits song, not the film.

(Columbia Pictures. Rated PG-13. Running Time 2 hrs. 5 mins. In Theaters Only)

MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS

What is it with British-made films that just bring the charm! There have been a couple of others so far this year ("The Duke" and "The Phantom of the Open"). Now it's "Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris." This is also based on a popular novel but delivers in spades, thanks to the sweet but salty Lesley Manville in the lead. (Ironically, she also had a role in another fashion movie, "Phantom Thread.") She plays a widow in the 1950s, still pining over the loss of her husband in World War II and thinking he might actually come home. She cleans houses, and when she comes upon a Christian Dior dress while working for a rich client, she makes up her mind, she's going to save up (and bet on the races) so she can buy an exquisite dress of her own. 

If you meet Mrs. Harris, you know, once she's determined to do something, it gets done! So, she sets off to Paris and manages to get into the design house. Now it's not all nearly that simple, but the kindness of a rich male client and the connections of an in-house accountant, boost her cause. And she even ends up changing the face of Dior.

I love this movie. Manville is perfect, so is the supporting cast which includes Jason Isaacs. Director Anthony Fabian was actually born in the states and moved around the world before settling in London. His movie has universal appeal.

(Focus Features. Rated PG. Running Time 1 hr. 55 mins. In Theaters Only)

PAWS OF FURY: THE LEGEND OF HANK

What would you'd you think if I told you there's a kids' animated movie based on "Blazing Saddles?!" Well, it's true - right down to the beans! Mel Brooks even co-wrote it and voices a character. "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" is the story of a dog recruited to be a samurai and lead a town full of cats that's facing a takeover. But first he needs to train and smooth over the whole cat vs. dog thing! Michael Cera voices Hank ... Samuel L. Jackson, his reluctant mentor. Ricky Gervais voices a villainous Siamese cat. This movie isn't just derivative of "Saddles," it feels like some "Karate Kid" and "Kung Fu Panda" are thrown in there, too.

A few 'break the fourth wall' moments aimed at studio insiders are unnecessary and go over the audience's head, but this is an entertaining-enough outing for the family. And we all root for the underdog, don't we

(Paramount Pictures. Rated PG. Running Time 1 hr. 37 mins. In Theaters Only)

    

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