Opening this week
Away from Her (PG-13) A man (Gordon Pinsent) coping with the institutionalization of his wife (Julie Christie) because of Alzheimer’s disease faces an epiphany when she transfers her affections to another man (Michael Murphy), a wheelchair-bound mute who also is a patient at the nursing home.
Gracie (PG-13) Set in the late ‘70s, a New Jersey girl (Carly Schroeder) fights to play on the boys’ varsity soccer team.
Knocked Up (R) Reviewed on page 88.
Mr. Brooks (R) A detective (Demi Moore) tracks a potential serial killer (Kevin Costner), an otherwise normal man with a devious alter ego (William Hurt).
Rise: Blood Hunter (R) After she wakes up in a morgue and discovers she’s now one of the undead, reporter Sadie Blake (Lucy Liu) hunts for the people responsible for her death and rebirth.
28 Weeks Later (R) Chilling, exciting, and pointed — and not for the squeamish — Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s reprise isn’t as fresh as Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and it lacks the personalized climax that raised the original to horror classic status. That aside, 28 Weeks Later is a very good picture that occasionally flirts with greatness, easily the best horror movie in years. It’s splattery horror that has brains as well as flying viscera. Fresnadillo has turned this tale of U.S. troops rebuilding London — hampered by a new outbreak of the rage virus — into a pitch-black political allegory of current events, but one which wisely doesn’t skimp on the zombie thrills. —Ken Hanke
Bug (R) Saying that Bug is William Friedkin’s best film in years does it a disservice, since I haven’t seen a really good Friedkin film in at least 30 years, though I’ve seen evidence of him trying to turn some sow-eared scripts into silk purse films. Bug, on the other hand, is actually a good film — not least because the source material is strong (originally a play by Tracy Letts) and it suits Friedkin’s style. Friedkin knows exactly how to bring cinematic technique to bear on a largely one set work. The problem here is the question of who exactly this disturbing, claustrophobic, frankly unpleasant psychological horror story was made for. It’s essentially watching two characters (Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon in fearless performances) descend into paranoid, mutually destructive madness. Too talky for the slasher crowd, too gross for the art house, and certainly not mainstream, it’s a bold, powerful work, but is there an audience for it? —Ken Hanke
The Condemned (R) Easily the best of the WWE movies to date, though that’s saying astonishingly little. Pro wrestler Steve “Stone Cold” Austin stars in this actioner from World Wrestling Entertainment Films. The film follows a group of convicts forced to fight to the death so their exploits can be broadcast over the internet. No prizes for guessing the outcome, though your jaw may drop when things stop dead for some preaching about the evils of violence — only to dredge up 20 more minutes of that evil as entertainment. Austin doesn’t embarrass himself, but is wisely never called upon to do more than look grim. Brit character actor Vinnie Jones, on the other hand, has charisma to spare, and again proves that he should be making better movies than this. —Justin Souther
Delta Farce (PG-13) For filmgoers who complain about movies where they’re required to think, we have Delta Farce, a movie for which absolutely no thought is necessary. This witless service comedy may be even worse than the last Larry the Cable Guy pooped out by Hollywood, not in the least because Mr. Cable Guy is here joined by the equally execrable Bill Ingvall and DJ Qualls. The trio are army reservists on their way to Iraq, who fall out of a plane and accidentally invade Mexico. (Why a plane flying from Georgia to Iraq is over Mexico in the first place is, ironically, worth thinking about.) It’s merely an excuse for a variety of racist and flatulence jokes, with time out for lots of homophobic panic. It would be offensive if it weren’t so utterly inconsequential. —Ken Hanke
Disturbia (PG-13) If nothing else D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia serves as an object lesson: if you set your goals low enough, you stand a fair chance of reaching them. Assuming that reasonably competent mediocrity was the goal here, Caruso and company have succeeded wildly. There are absolutely no surprises in Disturbia. It is exactly as advertised: a teen-centric variation on Rear Window with a hero under house arrest, a goofy best friend, a girlfriend, a disbelieving mom, unsympathetic cops, and a guy next door who’s a serial killer. It ultimately turns into a Freddy Krueger-lite affair. Fairly efficient at what it does, but nothing exciting. —Ken Hanke
Fracture (PG-13) Essentially a cat and mouse game a la Silence of the Lambs between stars Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. Wealthy Ted Crawford (Hopkins) has discovered that wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) is unfaithful. So he shoots her (though only enough to put her in a coma), hands over the weapon, confesses to the crime -— and then proceeds to prove how he couldn’t have done it, making a monkey out of hotshot assistant D.A. Willy Beachum (Gosling). It’s entertaining, but it’s also just Hopkins in one of his super intellect roles pitting his giant brain against a seemingly lesser adversary. Gosling even sports a Clarice Starling accent. —Ken Hanke
Georgia Rule (R) Georgia Rule isn’t a bad movie. It’s several bad movies with a good movie trying to get out. There are three good performances from stars Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, and Felicity Huffman, and solid direction from uber-professional Garry Marshall. But then there’s this truly weird script from Mark Andrus, who starts with a simple Lifetime movie premise -— rebellious teen (Lohan) sent by distraught mom (Huffman) to spend the summer with no-nonsense grandma (Fonda) in hopes of straightening her out -— and then complicates it with child molestation, alcoholism, parenting issues, and a bad case of fetishistic small-town worship. What could have been agreeable soap sinks under the weight of the attempts at importance. —Ken Hanke
The Invisible (PG-13) Neither a horror picture nor a mystery, despite its tagline, “How do you solve a murder when the victim is you?” (The one horrific scene in the trailer isn’t even in the movie.) Instead, The Invisible is a romantic fantasy propped up with typical life lessons about unlikable characters becoming less unlikable by the end. Troubled teen (Margarita Levieva) thinks snotty rich kid (Justin Chatwin) turned her in for a jewel robbery, so she and her gang beat him up and leave him for dead. Ah, but he’s really in limbo and has to get someone to find him and get help before he goes to the other side — a neat trick, since no one can see or hear him and Lassie’s nowhere in sight. Chances are you won’t care what side of limbo he ends up on. —Ken Hanke
Kickin’ It Old Skool (PG-13) First-time director Harvey Glazer and TV writers Trace Slobotkin, Josh Siegal, and Dylan Morgan have conspired with the breathtakingly untalented Jamie Kennedy to create a brand new genre — the laugh-free comedy. You might think that after Kennedy proved himself capable of emptying every theatres nationwide with Malibu’s Most Wanted and Son of the Mask, someone would have said, “Enough!” But, no, he’s back as a break-dancer who awakens from 20 years in a coma so he can enter a dance contest, win the girl and save the old homestead. The pathetic ending will have you on the edge of your seat — literally, ready to spring from the theatre as soon as possible. —Ken Hanke
Lucky You (PG-13) When I first saw that Curtis Hanson’s long-delayed Lucky You was opening against Spider-Man 3, I thought those responsible for such a suicidal move must have been nuts. Having seen it, I still think they’re nuts. It’s not torture per se, but it is distressingly inconsequential. Eric Bana is a charming compulsive gambler with daddy issues. Robert Duvall is a charming compulsive gambler with son issues. Drew Barrymore is the world’s dumbest would-be chanteuse. Poker is played — lots of it — and predictable drama ensues. Sleep may well ensue, too. —Ken Hanke
Next (PG-13) Despite a title that suggests the saga of a man sitting in a barber shop waiting for an empty chair, Next is actually a preposterous sci-fi yarn from a Philip K. Dick story that asks viewers to accept 1) that Nicolas Cage can see two minutes into the future and 2) that Jessica Biel would sleep with him. Talk about science fiction. Ever since Ridley Scott scored with an adaptation of a Dick story by making Blade Runner, studios have been crazy for Dick (so to speak), trying mostly in vain to duplicate Scott’s success. This one is no better or worse than most, though it may be funnier, especially with its German-accented French-speaking Russian bad guys with a nuclear warhead at the center of things. —Ken Hanke
Perfect Stranger (PG-13) Here I was, expecting a big-screen version of the old Bronson Pinchot TV series Perfect Strangers and instead I get Halle Berry and Bruce Willis IMing each other (carefully saying aloud everything they type for all the illiterates in the audience), in what is supposed to be a sexy thriller. Problem is, it’s neither sexy nor thrilling. Berry’s a hotshot reporter out to prove that Willis murdered her best friend, meaning of course that she has to seduce him (this is obviously how reporters do things). The big deal — besides the teaming of two stars with zero chemistry — is supposed to be the film’s trick ending, which is not only preposterous, but renders the first 90 minutes meaningless. —Justin Souther
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (PG-13) At World’s End turns out to be everything Pirate’s of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’s fiercest detractors claimed it was — an over-stuffed, over-plotted and, most surprisingly, just plain dull. It is possible, though, to stay awake simply from trying to keep track of the several hundred plot threads drifting through this thing. 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 — namely, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, who doesn’t appear until nearly 45 minutes into the film and then disappears for other chunks of World’s End. —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
Spider-Man 3 (PG-13) Had Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 not raised the bar so high, it’s likely that Sam Raimi’s third effort might have felt like something … more. Unfortunately, it makes the sequel mistakes the second installment refused to make, and ends up straying from the stuff that made its predecessors soar. The plot’s overloaded with conflicts and villains and bloated with action where the earlier films wisely focused on Peter Parker’s heart and soul as much as Spidey’s superpowers. The problems of two people may not amount to a hill of beans, but they’re what made us fall in love with Peter and Mary Jane — not CGI wizardry that creates a guy who breaks apart into chunks. In the wake of two near-masterpieces in their genre, mere satisfying summer entertainment somehow seems like a huge disappointment. —Scott Renshaw
Vacancy (PG-13) To hell with marriage counseling. According to director Nimrod Antal and screenwriter Mark L. Smith, nothing will fix a failed marriage faster than trapping the battling couple in a Roach Motel (“couples check in but they don’t check out”) where they’re slated to star in a snuff movie. Apart from paying for otherwise decent actors Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, the costs here had to be virtually nonexistent. Less gory and, thankfully, less inclined toward torture porn than so much modern “horror,” Vacancy is fairly effective at what it does. The problem is it doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before. —Ken Hanke
Waitress (PG-13) A comedy about professionally unethical behavior, spousal abuse, adultery, and stalking, Waitress is warmly bittersweet, genuinely funny, and sincerely heartfelt. If Waitress is a feminist film — and it is; oh, it is — it’s not because it is loud but because it is quiet, because it is about the suffering silently, and not about the breaking free. Until, of course, the moment that is about breaking free. Life is messy: really messy. This is, if nothing else, the tale Waitress has to tell. —Maryann Johanson
Year of the Dog (PG-13) If you took everything I dislike about indie filmmaking, packed it into one tube, and gave it a good squeeze, Mike White’s Year of the Dog would shoot out. It’s all there: forced quirkiness, faux profundity, annoying musical score, overbearingly arch performances, unlikeable characters you’re supposed to like, etc. Molly Shannon plays a drab office worker, who becomes unhinged when her dog dies. So of course she becomes an animal rights activist with a penchant for forging checks and forcing her views on others. This is supposed to be charming, and she’s supposed to have found herself. It isn’t and she hasn’t. —Ken Hanke