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By Michael Calleri

Canadian-born actor Christopher Plummer's most famous role is Captain Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music," but he has given very good to superb performances in every film of his I've seen. He will be 82 years old in December, and his acting continues to be a highlight of the movies in which he appears, more than 100 features during his rich and impressive career. Remarkably, he has only been nominated for an Academy Award once, a best supporting actor nod for 2009's "The Last Station," in which he played Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.

Plummer gives another Oscar-worthy performance in "Beginners," in which he plays a widower named Hal, who, in his mid-70s, announces to his son Oliver that he is gay and that he knew he was gay when he married Oliver's mother some 40 years before. The revelation stuns the son, but he begins to celebrate a greater appreciation of his father and enjoys watching him meet new people and experience a pleasant relationship with another man played by Goran Visnjic.

On the other hand, Oliver, who is wonderfully acted by Ewan McGregor, has had his share of problems with women. He is straight, but now in his late 30s, he begins to wonder if he will ever really connect with a woman, if he will ever find happiness in love.

Much of "Beginners" is a memory piece because, and this is not ruining the moviegoing experience for you since it happens at the immediate start of the film, Oliver is going through his father's possessions due to the death of this beloved man.

His friends at work -- he is a graphic designer -- encourage him to be with people, so he attends a party, where he meets an actress who, due to laryngitis, can't speak aloud. Played by Melanie Laurent, the woman will have a pivotal role in Oliver's coping with the feelings and situations that weigh heavily on him.

"Beginners" is beautifully written and smartly directed in a non-linear style by Mike Mills, for whom the movie is somewhat autobiographical. Its drama is sharp and there are gentle laughs.

In addition to Plummer's excellence, it should also be pointed out that McGregor, in spite of his celebrity, is an actor I find quite underrated. The Academy Awards folks should also consider a nomination for McGregor. He makes his characters utterly real, utterly believable. His Oliver deals with an emotional loss, while searching for a whisper of hope.

Kevin Spacey plays nasty characters very well. One of his most famous rotten fellows is seen in "Swimming With Sharks," in which Spacey plays the movie producer from hell. It's an iconic characterization; therefore, it comes as a surprise to see him repeat virtually the same evil boss role in the new raunchy comedy "Horrible Bosses." As expected from the always good Spacey, he's terrific, but it is a little too familiar.

The movie revolves around three hapless guys who all have monstrous bosses they would like to see murdered.

Dale, played by Charlie Day, is a dental hygienist working for Jennifer Aniston's perpetually horny dentist. With words and deeds, she sexually harasses him every chance she gets, but Dale, dummy that he is, actually considers some of the attention he receives as kind of hot.

Nick, played by Jason Bateman, has Spacey for a boss, and it's no day at the beach. He's even ordered to be drunk, or else, at six in the morning.

Kurt, played by Jason Sudeikis, suffers the brutal and repulsive rants of playboy Colin Farrell.

The three commiserate with each other and discuss the possibility of knocking off their bosses. In the fashion of Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train, they consider reciprocal murders, each killing another's boss, so that the police can't make a connection between victim and killer.

They eventually find their way to a hitman, a decidedly loopy Jamie Fox, to explore the possibility of hiring him to rid them of their employment miseries.

"Horrible Bosses" is crude, lewd, and occasionally quite funny. In this new era of mining comic filth in which we find ourselves, it doesn't hold back. What allows this movie to be a cut above some of the rest of the R-rated comedies that have been tossed into theaters is the superb comic timing of the entire cast, and the fact that the raunch has a purpose.

The picture has a Three Stooges feel to it in terms of its rampant silliness, and the genuine Stooge-like camaraderie you enjoy watching in the three workplace losers.

"Zookeeper" has the pleasing Kevin James, but not much else going for it. James plays a good-natured man who works at a zoo and really likes the animals. And -- plot contrivance here -- the animals really like him.

However, when it comes to romantic love, he's a failure. The woman to whom he's repeatedly proposed marriage keeps rejecting him. The zoo animals are aware of this, and in the privacy of their cages and compounds, they chatter away, gossiping about this and that.

One day, the critters decide to reveal to our hero that they can, in fact, speak, and they then proceed to offer him all kinds of romantic advice.

The voices of the animals are provided by a number stars, including Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Nick Nolte, and Don Rickles, but nothing they say is all that entertaining.

Would it surprise you to learn that a nice, unattached female animal lover is also working at the zoo? She's played by Rosario Dawson. You know where this is going, don't you?

Talking animals can be enjoyable if they have something to say. Unfortunately, the film's five screenwriters -- a large number, believe me -- clearly weren't thinking funny. I don't know what they were thinking, but it definitely wasn't funny.

Frank Coraci directed as if he were under orders to work fast and cheap. "Zookeeper" is little more than a diverting idea for a pleasant half-hour sitcom. Nothing about it merits feature length.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 12, 2011