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Capsule Reviews of Current Movies

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OPENING THIS WEEK

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (R) Cate Blanchett returns to the role that made her a star, that of QE 1, in this sequel to the Academy Award-winning Elizabeth, with Shekhar Kapur once again sitting in the director's chair. Geoffrey Rush and Clive Owen also star in this historical epic about the more tumultuous years of the Virgin Queen's reign.

The Guestworker (NR) Previewed here

A Man Named Pearl (NR) Reviewed here

Michael Clayton (R) The advance word on this George Clooney-led flick, helmed by Bourne writer Tony Gilroy, is that it's a solid adult thriller, a rarity in these dark days when men in tights dominate movie houses. Dr. Green plays a world-weary former DA who finds himself in the middle of a very nasty corporate conspiracy. Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson co-star.

Tyler Perry's Why I Didn't Get Married (PG-13) Janet Jackson returns to acting in this latest offering from the ever industrious Tyler Perry, the grand "dame" of the contemporary African American popular theater scene.

We Own the Night (R) A tale of two brothers, one a cop, the other in league with the Russian mob starring Marky Mark, Leaf Phoenix, and Robert Duvall.

CRITICAL CAPSULES

2 Days in Paris (R) Actress Julie Delpy makes her directing debut with 2 Days in Paris, which is at once a gimlet-eyed love story and a refreshingly cynical take on the French character. Her Paris is a hotbed of racists, nationalists, on-the-make men, and vegan anarchists who blithely set fast-food restaurants on fire. What makes her first effort compelling and richer than its jokey patter initially suggests is how she overturns the cinematic allure of the City of Light. The film follows the snarky Parisian Marion (Delpy) and an equally critical American, Jack (Adam Goldberg), as they hop off a night train from a Venice vacation and appear to suffer the consequences of too little sleep and too cramped quarters. While some of Delpy's gags can feel derivative — such as a diagram that pops up onscreen to illustrate Jack's reading material and a scene with Marion's artist ex that has the attitude of an '80s sex comedy — the act of seeing France and relationships through a world-weary woman's eyes is certainly worth the admission price. —Felicia Feaster

The Brave One (R) The always interesting Neil Jordan brings us this dark, complex, deeply disturbing film starring Jodie Foster as an NPR radio host who turns vigilante when her fiance (Naveen Andrews) is killed by a gang of thugs in Central Park. The story is more than a little like Michael Winner's Death Wish with Foster in the old Charles Bronson role, but the film itself is closer in spirit to Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs — and just as uncomfortable. This is no pro-vigilante screed, but a sober, somber look at the darkness of the soul of an otherwise decent person who gives in to vengeance and violence — and in so doing makes us look at ourselves. It's powerful stuff, but not exactly pleasant. —Ken Hanke

Feast of Love (R) Good dialogue and performances — plus a refreshingly adult view of sex — aren't quite enough to overcome absurd contrivances and a clockwork plot in Robert Benton's Feast of Love. Worse, its multi-story plot gets the better of it. Characters do things in a manner that suggests their only motivation lies in the fact that they read the script and that's what it says they do. Morgan Freeman's professionalism helps, but he's done this wise old man schtick to death, while Greg Kinnear can only do so much in the role of a human doormat desperate to fall in love with anyone. What is supposed to present us with a feast of love is finally more like a $4.99 all-you-can-eat buffet of love — lots to choose from, but little of it done very well and all of it kind of tepid. —Ken Hanke

Feel the Noise (PG-13) What exactly is this thing? What point is it trying make? Beats me — apart from being a sloppy, clichéd, dull, humorless, low-budget movie that never seems to have any purpose or spark. Omarion Grandberry stars as an up-and-coming Harlem rapper who flees to his estranged father (Giancarlo Esposito) in Puerto Rico when he steals the rims off the wrong car. Once there he learns the healing power of reggaeton — a mix of hip-hop and reggae with a Latin beat. That's pretty much it. From there the film simply meanders around from set piece to set piece like a wounded elephant, until it finally, mercifully, keels over and ends. I don't know what reggaeton did to deserve this movie, but it must have been horrible. —Justin Souther

The Game Plan (PG) The story of a hotshot, self-centered football player who suddenly finds out he has a long-lost daughter who turns his life upside-down, The Game Plan is passable family entertainment that suffers from being wholly predictable and about 15 minutes too long. Think along the lines of The Pacifier or Kindergarten Cop, with the majority of the humor revolving around Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson being emasculated. The Rock remains more of a personality as opposed to an actor, but this works in his favor in this case, as he's never given much to do. —Justin Souther

The Heartbreak Kid (R) The film is based on a 1972 Elaine May film from a script by Neil Simon — a mildly cynical PG-rated affair that has here been trashed and tarted up into an outpouring of unrestrained sleaze. It's 116 minutes of tedium punctuated with outbursts of tastelessness. The idea was to return the Farrelly Brothers to the edginess of There's Something About Mary, but it turns out to be just so much hateful arrested development garbage. The premise of having Ben Stiller marry a girl (Malin Akerman — a kind of low-rent Cameron Diaz) only to find she's a living nightmare, whereupon he meets his true love (Michelle Monaghan) falls flat owing to the fact that his character is completely detestable. The best thing about it are the Bowie songs on the soundtrack — buy a CD instead. You can keep the songs and avoid the movie. —Ken Hanke

In the Valley of Elah (PG) With his latest film, In the Valley of Elah (Biblical site of David's set-to with Goliath), Paul Haggis informs us that he's against the war in Iraq and not a lot more — for two solid hours. Haggis' specialty is belaboring the obvious — and making movies that confuse the importance of the subject matter with that of the movie. Is he actually in search of some great truth, in search of an Oscar, or merely trying to compensate for having been a staff writer on TV's The Facts of Life for a couple years? Elah suggests all three. It's not that it's a bad movie. It's that it's simplistic, reductive, and obvious. An excellent performance from Tommy Lee Jones as a father investigating the murder of his soldier son and an even better one from glammed-down Charlize Theron as the cop helping him make it seem weightier than it is. —Ken Hanke

The Jane Austen Book Club (R) The Jane Austen Book Club is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's about people who read, which is a rarity in itself. It's about smart, complicated women the likes of which The Movies usually don't want to deal with. And it's not about empire waists and the hotness of Mr. Darcy (passing references to him aside). On the other hand, it doesn't really have all that much new or intriguing to say about those smart women or about books in general or Austen in particular. It points out a remarkable and yet not, in hindsight, entirely surprising fact: While movies about clever people who enjoy reading may, in theory, be desirable, movies about people actually reading are less than enthralling. I don't want to overly diminish the very real charms of Club, which features one of the most engaging ensemble casts I've seen in a goodly while. It's one of the most varied and engaging casts of women in an industry that typically allows one slot to "the girl," as if men were the only gender in which individuals were, you know, individuals. So hurrah for this band of gal pals at various romantic crossroads. These women are not stereotypes, and spending time with them is fun and rewarding. —MaryAnn Johanson

The Kingdom (R) An FBI team loses one of their own at the Riyadh housing complex of an American oil company. But when the U.S. government refuses to allow the FBI to travel to Saudi Arabia to investigate, the crew sneaks off to the Middle East, where they encounter more politicking from local princes and from their own ambassador (Jeremy Piven, in fine weaselly form). It's a law-enforcement clusterfuck, with the agents thwarted at every turn. And it's entirely frustrating — the desire to kick some ass just to get things moving seems like an understandable response. The Kingdom is a hard-edged story about a criminal investigation — think CSI: Riyadh — and it features an intense final act jammed with enough action for three movies. —MaryAnn Johanson

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (R) No, The Seeker has nothing to do with the Who song, nor does it appear on the soundtrack, which is perhaps a pity, since it might have enlivened this low-rent outburst of ersatz Harry Pottering around. The best thing I can think of to say about the film is that it's not as bad as I feared it would be, but that doesn't mean it's good. It's underwritten and over-directed, and the young lead, Alexander Ludwig, isn't charimatic in the least. The storyline is a basic good-vs.-evil affair that plays altogether too much like Harry Potter squaring off against Voldemort — on a severely hampered expense account. —Ken Hanke

Shoot 'Em Up (R) In Shoot 'em Up, a dour gentleman named Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) sits on a bench when a pregnant woman being chased by a man flashes past. When Smith sees her pursuer take out a gun, he decides to take a hand. Soon he has disposed of the would-be killer, ended up in a gun battle, delivered the baby, and attempted to get mother and son to safety. He eventually finds himself saddled with a hungry infant and a psychotic hitman (Paul Giamatti) and his henchmen in pursuit. It's preposterous, violent, bloody, and it is perhaps the most refreshingly creative explosion of pure bad taste to come our way in far too long. —Ken Hanke

Sydney White (PG-13) A modern retelling of Snow White, starring Amanda Bynes and set in college, Sydney White is a generic, fairly inoffensive comedy that's simply too long and too run-of-the-mill. Every reference and allusion to the Snow White story is handled in such a heavy-handed manner (instead of the Seven Dwarves you get the Seven Dorks, and instead of a poison apple, you get a poisoned Apple computer) that it soon becomes groan worthy. Not just that, but the humor is a mixed bag of lame sitcom-style wackiness and overwrought "nerds are weird" humor. —Justin Souther

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