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Capsule Reviews of Current Movies

Opening this week and ongoing

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Opening This Week

Captivity (R) Yet more torture porn. A fashion icon (Elisha Cuthbert) is taken captive by a serial killer who preys upon her childhood fears via in a series traps and twisted games. My, how original...

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (PG-13)
La Vie en Rose (PG-13)

Critical Capsules

1408 (PG-13) Perhaps the best thing about Mikael Hafstrom's 1408 is simply the fact that it's a genuine horror film and not merely a parade of sadism and torture masquerading as horror. It's pretty much a standard Stephen King adaptation that wasn't made by Brian DePalma, Stanley Kubrick, or David Cronenberg. This is Stephen King Basic —slickly made, effective, and nicely acted. Think of it as The Shining (the novel) in miniature and you're in the right ballpark. Despite a nice turn from Samuel L. Jackson as the enigmatic manager of the hotel with the haunted room, this is largely John Cusack's show with most of the movie confined to his experiences in the evil room. (How evil is it? Well, it keeps playing the Carpenters on the clock radio. That's evil.) It's creepy and the "boo" moments generally work, which is more than you can say for most horror movies these days. —Ken Hanke

A Mighty Heart (R) Michael Winterbottom's powerful and provocative new film, based on the memoir by Mariane Pearl, is not a detective story, though it takes that format. It is not about the small details of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnapping and televised beheading at the hands of Islamic terrorists. It's about the big picture — the alarming portrait of the dangerous and strange new world we're living in. It is in the atmosphere that saturates A Mighty Heart, of the new cold brutality of a global culture in which people on both sides of the battle lines believe that torture works, that intimidation works, a culture in which paranoia and religious bigotry prevail. A Mighty Heart is a stinging slap in the face. "Welcome to the 21st century," it says. "This is our mess; we made it, we'll have to live with it."

Evan Almighty (PG) Not exactly a sequel per se to 2003's Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty takes the biblical story of Noah, modernizes it, and then tells it the way Christian church leaders probably wish it was. You know, the warm, fluffy, pop-up book version with cute, fuzzy animals and none of that whole wrath of God, weeping and gnashing of teeth stuff that's actually in it. Also missing is my favorite part of the biblical story: Noah's drunken, nude, arguably homosexual post-flood celebration. For Evan, Steve Carell keeps his clothes on (most of the time) and goes for friendly, family-oriented comedy instead. Evan Almighty is a carefully PG family movie, geared towards being the kind of film church groups take their kids to after Sunday school. —Joshua Tyler

Evening (PG-13) Lajos Koltai's film is not without interest. The problem is that most of the interest stems from the fascination of watching a slow-motion train wreck, providing time to linger on and savor every grisly moment of the disaster. Despite a terrific cast v Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Meryl Streep — and a great writer (Michael Cunningham) it's unpersuasive soap opera, little more than Redgrave having deathbed flashbacks that are supposed to convince us that 50 years ago she was Claire Danes, and that she — along with most of the cast — was all a-dither over a guy (Patrick Wilson) who looks like he's in need of a powerful laxative. It seems she never got over this "defining" moment and the ensuing tragedy. My guess is that the viewer will be over it long before the end. —Ken Hanke

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (PG-13) The good news about Four part deux is that, unlike the bulk of today's comic book movies, it doesn't think it's Shakespeare and Citizen Kane rolled into one. The bad news is that it still isn't any good. The fact that the movie realizes it's a silly comic book movie doesn't change the fact that it is a silly comic book movie, and this sequel may be even sillier than the first film in its cheesy camp-fest approach. Here we not only have the improbable quartet of superheroes and their mysteriously revived nemesis, Dr. Victor Von Doom, but a new villain — the Silver Surfer, who looks like an improbably BVD-clad 1930s modernist statue of a wrestler, who travels through outer space on a metallic surfboard preparing planets for his master, Galactus, to "eat." Just to be clear: this is not Shakespeare. —Ken Hanke

Knocked Up (R) Genuinely brilliant comedy is a rare and precious thing. Such miracles of gut-busting humor come along infrequently enough that you have to ask yourself: When you're doubled over and gasping for breath at the jokes in a movie like writer/director Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, does it matter that it's based on a relationship you don't buy for a second? Apatow isn't content with sticking his awkwardly mismatched pair together for what they perceive is the good of their unborn child. Instead, he has Ben and Alison turn into an adorably-in-love couple practically from the moment they buy What to Expect When You're Expecting together. They fall for each other — not just Ben for the obviously hotter-than-he-deserves Alison, but mutually — for no remotely plausible reason other than simply because Apatow's script says so. But Apatow's script says so many other things so hilariously that I didn't really care. —Scott Renshaw

License To Wed (PG-13) Revolting sitcom-ish new conservatism dressed up as a feature film. Mandy Moore and John Krasinski are a charming but instantly forgettable young couple madly in love and ready to get hitched — but not before going through a mandatory retro gantlet of busybodyish interference by a startlingly villainous man of the cloth played by Robin Williams. It's all extremely creepy, and Reverend Frank would be the villain in any decent version of this tale. But he's not: he's the hero, and all of Reverend Frank's nauseating, pervy antics turn out to be entirely justified in the end, which is even more appalling that Robin Williams' performance. But I'm making it sound like License to Wed is worth getting bothered about. It isn't. —MaryAnn Johanson

Live Free or Die Hard (PG-13) The title sounds like it ought to star Fifty Cent, but in fact Live Free or Die Hard (I guess they thought that calling it Die More Hardest would be stretching things) is all about Bruce Willis being a wisecracking bad-ass and engaging in an increasingly preposterous series of action/adventure set-pieces. This attempt to resuscitate the Die Hard franchise after the passage of 12 years and the remainder of Mr. Willis' hairline is surprisingly effective at doing what it sets out to do. The bad guys are decent B-listers (Timothy Olyphant and Maggie Q), all Willis gets for a sidekick is Justin Long (of Jeepers Creepers and Mac commercials fame), and the plot never makes much sense. (It's all about computers doing the kind of things computers can only do in the movies.) But as a thrill ride where a lot of stuff blows up and Willis trades barbs with anyone within earshot, it's a lot of adrenalin-fueled fun. —Ken Hanke

Nancy Drew (PG) There's something magnificently old-fashioned about Nancy Drew, the new adaptation of the beloved children's books, and about Nancy Drew herself here. But there is, just as in the original 1930s books, also plenty that's charmingly subversive. Nancy's on to the biggest case of her tender career: the mysterious death of '70s starlet Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring in flashbacks), in whose former mansion the Drews just happen to be staying while in Hollywood. The plot is simplistic, if appealing, and will truly thrill only middle-schoolers; even this devoted Nancy fan from childhood acknowledges that there is little here to attract adult audiences. But it's dandy for young girls, particularly any who need a reminder that resisting peer pressure and being your own person can be really cool. —MaryAnn Johanson

Ocean's Thirteen (PG-13) In a summer where every intended blockbuster has so far been the third in a series, it's a relief to note that the fourth third to come along, Ocean's Thirteen, is surprisingly the best of the new lot. No, it's not up to Ocean's Eleven, but it rights nearly everything that was wrong with the maddeningly meandering Ocean's Twelve. Even without a comparison, though, this entry is simply terrific, star-studded fun of a kind that's not to be sneered at. The set-up — delivered in an agreeably jumbled manner that foreshadows the film's deliberate 1960s sensibility — finds Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) double-crossed by gambler-hotelier Willie Bank (Al Pacino), so naturally Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his pals have to set things to rights — in the most entertainingly convoluted manner possible. —Ken Hanke

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (PG-13) Nearly 45 minutes into Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) still hasn't shown his face on screen. But because screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and director Gore Verbinski can basically do whatever they want with the franchise at this point, they attempt to make up for this inexplicable oversight in a way that ultimately summarizes everything that's wrong with the movie: They populate the scene in which Sparrow finally does appear with approximately two dozen hallucinatory duplicates of him. Because if one Capt. Jack Sparrow is good, then a score of him must be 20 times better, right? None of the previous films could exactly be called textbook examples of streamlined storytelling, but at least they were buoyed by an understanding of where the focus needed to be. At World's End back-loads all the action into a climactic sea battle between the Black Pearl and Davy Jones' Flying Dutchman on the rim of a swirling vortex, and by that point the film seems so desperate to leave viewers energized that it practically pummels them insensible. No one seemed able to tell Verbinski and company when to stop puffing the film full of grandeur — or that 20 Johnny Depps in one scene isn't the same as one Johnny Depp used correctly. —Scott Renshaw

Ratatouille (G) Writer/director Brad Bird's latest from Pixar is the tale of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a country rat who's convinced that his destiny isn't scavenging through garbage, but creating haute cuisine. Remy makes his way to Paris, and teams up with cleaning boy Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) to become a hot-to-trot chef team. Ratatouille hits most of its high points in its tightly choreographed action sequences. Whenever Ratatouille is in motion, it feels almost as delightful as its Pixar predecessors. Yet in other ways, it sags where other Pixar films excelled. Remy makes for a surprisingly muted hero, neither his character nor Oswalt's voice performance ever vibrant enough to carry the narrative. Nearly every supporting character similarly lacks a breakout presence. Ratatouille marks the first occasion where a Pixar film manages to get only the visual presentation right, while serving up a recipe we've sampled many times before. —Scott Renshaw

Shrek the Third (PG) Just as Sam Raimi's genius with his first two Spidey outings ruined us for Spider-Man 3, Shrek and Shrek 2 ruined us for Shrek the Third. We're primed, now, for the tweaking of fairy tales and the post-ironic spin on myths and mythmaking. We've seen it. We've been around the park twice, bought the T-shirt and the Shrek ears, sent a postcard home. Now we're bored. What else ya got? More of the same? Yawn. The first two Shrek iterations breathed so naturally on so many levels, and Third exists on only one. Unlike its predecessors, it's never anything more than a passing fancy. —MaryAnn Johanson

Sicko (PG-13) I can't imagine a more important movie being released this year. I can't imagine another movie making me feel so ashamed for America as a whole, or doing so with more justification. Sicko is an explicit call for revolution, and it is a profound and horrifying one. The underlying point of Michael Moore's documentary is that our health care system in America is deeply sick because it is geared toward ensuring obscene profits for the corporations in the health-insurance racket and not toward ensuring that people are hale and hearty. With wit that's as devastating a takedown as any angry rant could be, Moore makes fun of the image of "socialized" medicine that's been sold to us by those same corporations. And in the larger context, he shows us how the American character has faltered under our system of "health care." The inevitable question he leaves us with is: How do we find the energy for a revolution when we've come to such a frail and feeble state in both body and soul? That's the depressing crux of Sicko. —MaryAnn Johanson

Surf's Up (PG) A mildly diverting, mildly entertaining, mildly accomplished little movie — something mildly superior to the general run of the "computer animated movie of the week" that has been flooding theaters for some time now. This attempt to cash in on the mania for penguins begun by March of the Penguins and carried on by Happy Feet is perhaps just one flightless waddler too many. In its favor, this tale of a penguin who was "born to surf" is told in a manner that makes sport of all those "surfing as a metaphor for life" documentaries, which — along with a terrific voice characterization by Jeff Bridges — gives the film an identity of its own. Not great, but it won't kill you if you have to take the kids. —Ken Hanke

Transformers (PG-13) Not another big-budget summer spectacle — this is a full-on Gen-X nostalgia trip. Thus we get a revival of the 1980s-birthed civil war between the noble Autobots and the conquest-minded Decepticons, brought to earth in the quest for a powerful object called the All Spark. It's busy, it's silly — and none of it matters when the big metal critters are dominating the screen in the many frantic action sequences. Unfortunately, this is a film directed by Michael Bay, so don't count on getting nearly enough sense of what that action is. Still, the Transformers truly are kick-ass movie creations, though Bay has seen fit to shoehorn them into a ridiculously over-stuffed story. It's all less than it could have been, and no more or less than exactly what meets the eye: a big party for anyone who was ready to applaud the moment a truck turned into a robot, just like it did in their bedroom 20 years ago. —Scott Renshaw

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