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Capsule Reviews of Current Movies

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Opening This Week

30 Days of Night (R) Based on the comic book mini-series of the same name, 30 Days of Night centers around a sleepy Alaskan town-turned-vampire buffet. The ever-bland Josh Hartnett stars.

The Comebacks (PG-13) One of the keys to parody flicks like Airplane and The Naked Gun is that they spoof super-serious fare. Not The Comebacks. While it tackles every sports movie of the past 10 years, it also spoofs Dodgeball, itself a sports parody. If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge this movie.

Gone Baby Gone (R) The career resurrection of Ben Affleck continues as the Oscar-winning screenwriter and tabloid punchline tackles Mystic River scribe Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone. Ben’s baby bro Casey stars as a cop looking for a missing girl in Boston.

Into the Wild (R) Reveiwed here.

Molière (PG-13) French satirist Molière gets the Shakespeare in Love treatment.

Rendition (R) Reveiwed here.

Capsule Reviews

3:10 to Yuma (R) If James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma can’t generate life into that most moribund of genres, the western film, then it’s probably time to consign the idea of westerns to Boot Hill and be done with it. The film is a remake of a more-or-less assembly-line 1957 film of the same title — and one of the rare occasions where the remake is much better than the original. Deeper and darker than the 1957 original, Mangold’s film still follows the basic outline of a poor rancher (Christian Bale) who agrees to help escort a local badman (a charismatic Russell Crowe) to the titular train that will take him to prison. The problem is that the prisoner’s gang has a different idea. Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is that it’s a revisionist western that manages to feel traditional — up until the ending. Tense, thought-provoking, well-acted, and exciting. —Ken Hanke

Across the Universe (R) Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe is an imperfect film, but it’s a terrific imperfect film. The enormity of what it does achieve — combined with the impossibility of what it tries to achieve — makes it an essential film, regardless of its occasional missteps. Her ambitious attempt to present a portrait of the 1960s in terms of Beatles songs — hooked to a slender love story about two young people (Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess) — is both daring and satisfying. The key to the enterprise is that Taymor clearly loves and respects the songs. The new arrangements never trivialize the material even when — as in the case of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — they reimagines it. The film will pay extra dividends for Beatles fans who will realize that the story follows the career arc of the Fab Four from their Cavern Club days in Liverpool to Let It Be, which was released just after the group’s break-up. An altogether stunning work. —Ken Hanke

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

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (R) Fie on those who have trashed this entertainingly overheated historical conceit! Yes, it’s completely indefensible as history. So what else is new? As someone noted years ago about the much respected Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) in terms of history, the movie got it right that he wore funny hats, was fat, and had eight wives. Not much has changed in 74 years. Here we have Cate Blanchett (in a performance somewhere between Glenda Jackson and a drag queen) as a pretty preposterous Queen Elizabeth I, hopelessly in love with swashbuckling Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen, who looks nothing like the picture on the tobacco can), while battling court intrigue, Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), and the Spanish Armada. The whole thing is over-directed by Shekhar Kapur like a Busby Berkeley musical and is a lot of fun — if not taken seriously. —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

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. —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 (R) 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 Kingdom (R) An FBI team — Jennifer Garner’s forensics examiner, the intelligence analyst played by Jason Bateman, Chris Cooper’s explosives expert, and the team leader played by Jamie Foxx — 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

Michael Clayton (R) High-powered legal drama that once again proves that George Clooney is the movie star of our age. Playing the title role, Clooney stars as the “fixer” of a powerful New York law firm (headed by Sydney Pollack). He’s the guy they call in to clean up other people’s messes, and he’s handed a beauty when the firm’s top litigator (Tom Wilkinson) — a brilliant, but unbalanced man — goes off his medication and proceeds to scuttle a multi-billion dollar class action suit in a fit of conscience. It’s not entirely believable, but the dialogue is so literate and the performances from Clooney, Pollack, Wilkinson, and Tilda Swinton are so good that the film’s occasional improbabilities hardly make a dent. Those in search of a satisfying, adult thriller aren’t likely to do better. —Ken Hanke

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (PG) 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. It’s underwritten and over-directed, and the young lead, Alexander Ludwig, isn’t charismatic 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

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. —Justin Souther

Tyler Perry’s Why I Didn’t Get Married (PG-13) Having learned — after the box office flop of Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls — that his films fare better with his fan base if he actually appears in them (even if not in drag as the popular Madea character), writer-director Tyler Perry is back with another critic-proof serving of pseudo-high-minded drama with lashings of religiosity. This round he focuses on four couples and their various marital strifes. It all plays like a bad Lifetime TV movie and a catalogue of every marriage problem you could hope for. Platitudes, homililes and bromides abound — all feeling like they were cribbed off bumper stickers. Perry’s fan-base will flock to it. Everyone else should be very wary indeed. —Ken Hanke

We Own the Night (R) A competently made film that unfortunately suffers from being too emotionless and too unaffecting, We Own the Night tells the story of a nightclub manager with ties to the mob must help his brother and father, both cops, survive threats from the Russian mafia. The familial aspect never feels genuine, and the performances are either a waste (Mark Wahlberg) or too detached or glum (Joaquin Phoenix) so that the movie lacks any likable characters. It ends up feeling like a missed opportunity, and is ultimately forgettable, despite the talent involved. If you want a real thriller, Eastern Promises is probably still playing somewhere. —Justin Souther

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