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Capsule Reviews of Current Movies


Opening this week

Becoming Jane (PG) Reviewed here.

Daddy Day Camp (PG) Cuba Gooding Jr. no doubt adds to his long list of duds with this family-friendly comedy about a dad who expands his day care business with a summer camp.

Rush Hour 3 (PG-13) Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker reunite in Paris, inadvertently getting mixed up with the Chinese Triad crew.

Skinwalkers (PG-13) A 12-year-old boy and his mother become the targets of two warring werewolf packs.

Stardust (PG-13) Reviewed here .

Capsule reviews

The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13) Bourne is back for a third and (supposedly) final adventure and nothing has changed in terms of quality, but nothing else is the same. Once again Greengrass and Damon deliver on a movie packed with more “holy shit!” moments than you can shake an Uzi at. Greengrass hasn’t just topped the previous Bourne movies in every way, he’s raised the bar for the spy and action genres for years to come, and he’s done it in a movie with surpassingly little dialogue. Damon plows through The Bourne Ultimatum like a force of nature; a silent, living weapon on a mission of determined, unstoppable discovery. Every moment is jammed with danger, pounding against the screen in waves of energy and intensity. Perhaps even more amazing than the movie’s ability to do things that’ll make your jaw drop is the way it manages to pull off character development in the middle of all those car crashes and explosions. If you’re like me, your nails will be firmly buried in the arm of your chair throughout the film’s 111 minutes. —Joshua Tyler

Bratz (PG) When I first heard of Bratz I had no idea that Bratz was a line of dolls and no clue what these dolls were. Bratz, it seems, are little dolls with disproportionately large heads, provocative clothes, and approximately two pounds of make-up. I have no idea why they’re called Bratz. Slutz would be nearer the mark. Oh, yes, the dolls have no noses, which naturally leads to a variant on the old Monty Python gag that begins with, “My doll has no nose,” prompting the question, “How does she smell?” and earning the response, “Awful.” Now, the four “actresses” comprising the cinematic Bratz have noses, but the movie still smells awful. It’s kind of Mean Girls-lite minus the humor and with the dubious message that bonding equals shopping and a shared sense of fashion is the only basis for real friendship. —Ken Hanke

Hairspray (PG) The latest in a spate of movie-to-Broadway-to-movie adaptations, Hairspray couldn’t be more charming and joyous, more get-up-and-dance toe-tapping, more simply agreeable. Oh, sure, there’s satire galore about the wages of conformity and the price of small-mindedness — there’s no hedging in the send-up here of the idiocy of racial segregation, the crux around which Balitmorean teen Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who’s lovely) experiences her coming of age in 1962. But it’s couched in bouffant cotton candy and spritely songs. Even John Travolta in his drag fat suit as Edna, Tracy’s mom, is cuddly and adorable. If you want John Waters’ original film version — which is surely more redolent of his snide, acid humor — that one still exists, of course. But if you want the fluffy, featherweight but enchanting Broadway version, it’s as good as entertainment for the masses gets. —MaryAnn Johanson

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (PG-13) New director David Yates has delivered the grittiest, grimmest, most significant Harry Potter film yet. Even the light moments here ring with the gloomy force of the larger story. Harry is hauled up before the Ministry of Magic for trumped-up charges; the wizard newspaper The Daily Prophet is full of the denials from the Ministry that Voldemort has returned and that Harry is a liar for saying so; and a new headmaster has been appointed at Hogwarts to stamp down on the rebellion simmering there among the students — with obvious echoes of current world events. Meanwhile, Harry worries that he is more like You-Know-Who than anyone will tell him. That’s the real and palpable horror here: not the magic spells and the scary creatures, but the shadows that lurk in one seemingly ordinary boy, and that lurk all around us in the Muggle world. Escapism? Order of the Phoenix is as grounded in authenticity as movies get. —MaryAnn Johanson

Hot Rod (PG-13) The story of an amateur stuntman (SNL’s Andy Samberg) who must raise $50,000 to pay for his father’s heart operation, thus getting the chance to beat him at hand-to-hand combat and gain his respect, Hot Rod is an idiotic comedy that mix and matches the stylings of Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Napoleon Dynamite into one punishingly unfunny comedy. There’s never any attempt at actually crafting an honest-to-goodness joke. Instead we get a lot of bogus, worn-out ‘80s nostalgia and phony random gags. It’s not even a movie; it’s a series of one-liners for high school kids to quote once classes start back up. —Justin Souther

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (R) Your typical execrable Adam Sandler “comedy” with one minor difference — it’s a series of lame, offensive homosexual panic and “don’t drop the soap” gags that Sandler and company think they can get away with for 90 minutes as long as they spend the last 20 minutes speaking out for gay rights. I’m inclined to think the movie’s actually sincere. The problem is that this doesn’t change the fact that this stupid tale of two firefighters (Sandler and Kevin James) pretending to be a gay couple to get benefits is woefully unfunny, meandering, and just not very well made. At best, it’s an awful movie with its heart in the right place. That doesn’t keep if from being a bad movie, but if it makes even one homophobic jerk stop and think for a moment, then it’s a bad movie that wasn’t for nothing. —Ken Hanke

La Vie en Rose (PG-13) Possessed of a voice at once transportive and painfully delicate, Edith Piaf rose from poverty in 1915 France to become the bright light of concert halls from the Paris Olympia to Carnegie Hall. She gained still more fame during World War II by supporting the French resistance. Piaf was a friend to Yves Montand, Jean Cocteau, and Maurice Chevalier until her death of cancer in 1963. Director Olivier Dahan’s moving portrait of Piaf, La Vie en Rose, moves in an impressionistic fashion, from Piaf’s guttersnipe childhood to her teenage years, to decrepitude and then back again to adulthood, all conveyed in a brilliant performance by 31-year-old Marion Cotillard (Big Fish, A Good Year). Dahan’s direction is stunning and as attentive to tone as to sophisticated film technique. He is able to render the emotional elasticity of Piaf’s life from ecstasy to tragedy. Yet despite its story of suffering that comes in unceasing waves, La Vie en Rose may be the most hopeful film yet made about the grueling rigor of living. —Felicia Feaster

Once (R) Once is a musical of sorts, only not in the way you probably tend to think of musicals. The Guy (Glen Hansard of Irish rock band The Frames) is a Dublin street busker, and the Girl (Marketa Irglová) is a classically-trained pianist, an immigrant from the Czech Republic making a meager living selling flowers and magazines in the street. In a near-perfect melding of music and filmmaking, Once finds dynamic ways to incorporate Hansard’s songs into the narrative, but what’s most remarkable about the film is that, aside from the force of its musical moments, it’s a surprisingly assured piece of filmmaking from a relatively inexperienced director and a couple of musicians moonlighting as actors. Playing characters who dance awkwardly around what they might ultimately mean to each other, Hansard and Irglová turn in naturalistic and utterly winning performances, their every conversation invested with an unspoken sense of the growing connection between them. —Scott Renshaw

Rescue Dawn (R) “Nature is not a force against you,” intones the narrator of an instructional film watched by U.S. sailors early in this war drama — which means the film clearly wasn’t directed by Werner Herzog. Dramatizing the same true story he already explored in the 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Herzog tells the tale of Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a Navy pilot shot down during a bombing raid over Laos in 1965. Captured and interned in a Viet Cong POW camp, Dengler is determined to escape — but as fellow POW Duane Martin (a terrific, uncharacteristically subdued Steve Zahn) observes of their surroundings, “The jungle is the prison.” This places the film squarely in Herzog’s wheelhouse — as a story of man trying to impose his will on the unforgiving world around him, it’s almost ridiculously compelling. But it’s also a reminder of how gripping an old-fashioned prisoner-escape yarn can be, with Bale providing the wild-eyed bravado of a man who never even considers failure as an option. While Herzog doesn’t seem as comfortable with the conventional set-up and denouement, he imposes his great filmmaking will on the narrative’s wild, untamed center. —Scott Renshaw

The Simpsons Movie (PG-13) Judging by its first weekend box office take, it was worth the 20 years it took The Simpsons Movie to make it to the big screen, and if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably agree. If you’re not, this film version isn’t likely to convert you. It’s essentially little more than a 30-minute episode extended to 90 minutes, a concept that both sells it to the fans and undermines itself. The first third is good, moving at lightning speed and not afraid to be random while setting up the plot about Homer accidentally turning Springfield into a toxic waste blight. Unfortunately, the film’s remainder becomes mired in the mechanics of that plot at the expense of the gags. For die-hard Simpsons addicts only. —Ken Hanke

Sunshine (PG-13) After dabbling for a decade or so in stories with at least a minimal grounding in human reality, Danny Boyle appears to have found the milieu that suits him best: When it’s the end of the world as we know it, he feels fine. In collaboration with his 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland, Boyle offers up another bleak near-future scenario in Sunshine. Boyle’s too talented to blow a concept like this — not when it would risk his next chance to put a jolt into imminent extinction. —Scott Renshaw

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. —Scott Renshaw

Underdog (PG) I’m sure the folks at Disney had some target audience in mind when they opted to turn the quaint cheese of the old Underdog cartoon show into the wrong-headed live-action mess that bears that name. I just can’t figure out who that target audience might be. They certainly didn’t aim for baby boomers who grew up on the cartoon, since they’ll find precious little about this big screen incarnation to remind them of the show. Whatever charm the cartoon had has been replaced with a pointless backstory about the origin of Underdog (we care?) featuring a real dog with creepy CGI mouth movements. It’s loud, crass, unfunny, and largely plotless. Undemanding five year olds may like it. ­—Ken Hanke

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