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FILM REVIEW ‌ Capsule Reviews

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Opening This Week

Are We Done Yet? (PG) Nick Persons (Ice Cube), his new wife (Nia Long), and her two kids leave the city behind for a fixer-upper in the ‘burbs — an investment which quickly turns from a dream into a nightmare for Nick, as the contractor (John C. McGinley) working on the house bonds with everyone in the family ... except Nick.

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Grindhouse (R) Back-to-back flicks from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. In Tarantino’s Death Proof, three Austin ladies out for a night on the town are trailed by Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a scarred outsider with one killer car; in Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, a dancer (Rose McGowan) and her ex-boyfriend (Freddy Rodríguez) are a town’s only hope against an outbreak that turns everyday people into flesh-hungry aggressors.

The Reaping (R) Katherine Morrissey (Hilary Swank), a professor known for debunking miracles, heads to a small town in Texas to investigate occurrences that appear to be the 10 Biblical plagues.

Firehouse Dog (PG) Rexxx, Hollywood’s top canine star, gets lost and is adopted into a shabby firehouse. He teams up with a young kid (Josh Hutcherson) to get the station back on its feet.

Critical Capsules

300 (R) Yes, 300 is great to look at (though its burnished golds and CGI’d settings begin to feel like watching a series of production sketches long before the movie ends). But there’s not a hint of humanity in the evil Persians, as the demonized enemy. It’s also alarmingly homophobic, which is a pretty strange approach for a movie that’s non-stop beefcake. And, for that matter, it’s neither terribly exciting, nor involving, since it never gives us a single character to care about, and as soon as it’s set up the action, it’s merely repetitive. It is loud, however. —Ken Hanke

Amazing Grace (PG) What looks like a must-avoid enterprise on the surface turns out to be one of the better films to hit screens this year thanks to the craftsmanship of director Michael Apted and a mind-blowing cast of Brit thespians. Amazing Grace may not be quite amazing, but it’s one of the nobler “based on true events” efforts I’ve seen in some time. A necessarily simplified (and somewhat sanitized) biopic on William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffud), who fought to abolish the slave trade in Britain in the 18th century, the film works on its own merits and a splendid — and often quite witty — script by Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things). A very pleasant, if somewhat old-fashioned, surprise. —Ken Hanke

Blades of Glory (R) Have you seen Anchorman? How about Talladega Nights? Then you’ve seen Blades of Glory. Will Ferrell and Jon Heder star as rival figure skaters who are banned for life from the sport, only to find a loophole which will allow them to compete as a pair. Ferrell does his patented “Hey, look at me, I’m funny” shtick, and Heder seems to be forever trapped in his Napoleon Dynamite persona. There are a handful of amusing gags, but little that will stay with you once you leave the theatre. —Justin Souther

Breach (PG-13) This is one smart thriller: It lets you draw your own conclusions, actually requires that you’re connected to current events in order to get the full brunt of the anxiety and dread bubbling under its surface. Screenwriters Adam Mazer, William Rotko, and director Billy Ray (who made the underrated Shattered Glass, also about lies and deception and self-delusion) refuse to speculate about the motives of the real-life Robert Hanssen, who, it is said, was the most damaging traitor in American history. No excuses are offered for Hanssen’s extraordinarily destructive behavior, and Chris Cooper’s hard performance brooks little sympathy. Rarely has the subtext of a film been so vital to appreciating its power. —MaryAnn Johanson

Bridge To Terabitha (PG) Based on the Katherine Paterson children’s novel of the same name, Bridge to Terabithia follows two preteen outcasts (aren’t they all?) as they attempt to escape the realities of growing up by creating their own imaginary fantasy world. More a human drama about loss and guilt than the fantasy epic it’s being billed as, it’s a rare family film that does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it fairly well. Terabithia manages to be pleasant and well-intentioned without being saccharine — and also has enough sense to praise creativity and imagination above all else. — Justin Souther

Dead Silence (R) It’s refreshing to see the boys who helped create the current vogue for repellent sadistic horror with Saw — director James Wan and co-scenarist Leigh Whannell — do a complete about face with an almost old-fashioned supernatural horror flick. While it’s at least few corpses shy of the cemetery in terms of horror classics, it’s a game try, and parts of the film are very good indeed. The story about the wrathful specter of ventriloquist Mary Shaw (played with the kind of malevolence you’d expect from Judith Roberts, who played the Whore of Babylon in 1979’s religioso exploitation non-classic The Late Great Planet Earth) and her 101 dolls (so much creepier than Dalmatians) is pretty solid, and even when it doesn’t quite work, it’s rarely less than fun. —Ken Hanke

I Think I Love My Wife (R) Chris Rock directs, co-writes, and stars in a remake of Eric Rohmer’s 1972 film Chloe in the Afternoon. As in the original, Rock plays a husband who’s bored with his marriage, and puts his fidelity to the test when an old flame re-enters his life. It’s an uneven comedy that gets points simply for being a film that’s actually made for adults. Other than an out-of-place gag Viagra gag, the material is handled in a mature and on occasion, extremely frank, fashion (don’t go into this movie expecting a cute romantic comedy), though it has a tendency to meander. Still, it strongly hints that Rock has a great film in him — but he hasn’t quite found it yet. —Justin Souther

The Last Mimzy (PG) This film adaptation of Lewis Padgett’s 1943 short story “All Mimsy Were the Borogroves” (the title’s taken from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”) is so insubstantial it threatens to evaporate right off the screen. I don’t reject the idea of New Age sci-fi -— in fact, a sequel called Mimzy Vs. Ramtha might work — but it doesn’t really work here, largely because it’s never clear how serious these elements are. What’s left is a sci-fi flick about saving the future via some advanced teaching toys. Strictly for the grade-school set. —Ken Hanke

The Lives of Others (R) The Lives of Others — which just won a very well deserved Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film — has one of the greatest final lines of dialogue that I’ve ever heard in a movie. Written with a compelling wisdom and directed like it’s a classic ’70s noir by German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Lives continues to untangle long after that last line, revealing more secret complications and unanticipated significance the more you turn it over in your mind. The year is 1984, East Berlin. The subject: a secret love triangle among a playwright, his lead actress and lover, and a Stasi surveillance agent. This is an amazing film. —MaryAnn Johanson

The Lookout (PG-13) Screenwriter Scott Frank (Minority Report) turns writer-director with this character-driven crime thriller about a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) with brain damage who’s coerced into helping a gang of crooks rob the bank where he works as a janitor. The results are not only an auspicious directorial debut for Frank, but one of the few truly intelligent movies out right now. The characters — save for the purely evil head of the gang (Greg Dunham) — are well defined and recognizably human, the plot well-developed and believable, and the performances are first rate throughout. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is remarkably good in the lead, and he’s matched every step of the way by Jeff Daniels as his wry-humored blind friend. Catch it quick. Miramax has dumped the film in a time slot where it’s bound to disappear in a flash. —Ken Hanke

Meet the Robinsons (G) Mildly diverting at best. The hook for this animated sci-fi flick lies in its “Real D” 3-D presentation, at least in theatres that support the format. The effect — a polarized process rather than anaglyphic 3-D — is indeed impressive and makes the film a pleasant novelty. What it doesn’t do is offer much appeal for anyone past the age of experiencing a major loss of social status unless he or she gets the tie-in lunchbox. Anyone else is apt to find the film a lightweight, overstuffed, and undercooked trifle. —Ken Hanke

Music and Lyrics (PG-13) The best Hugh Grant straightforward romantic comedy he’s made in some time is witty, playful, charming, and satisfying, an unpretentious confection that’s just right and a little bit more. From the moment the movie begins — with an ersatz music video from the 1980s of Alex Fletcher (Grant) and his old pop group Pop performing their hit “Pop Goes My Heart” — it’s on the right track, and it only gets better. The songs are good enough to believe as hit-making material, and Grant is perfect as a has-been who’s comfortable with that status but ready to make a comeback. Gently satirical material blends with a pleasantly quirky romance — thanks to the chemistry of Grant and Drew Barrymore — to produce truly enjoyable light entertainment. —Ken Hanke

Premonition (PG-13) When you’re dealing with dramas that use the notion of time travel as a metaphor for regret and loss, you’d better pay attention and not pretend that causality doesn’t matter. Premonition is in expansive company when it comes to lunkheaded attempts at temporal twists; only Twelve Monkeys and Primer have ever really demonstrated the intelligence to do it right. But the resolution screenwriter Bill Kelly settles on fails the causality test so miserably that it’s like some perverse logic test, and the attempt to weave a half-assed sub-plot about lost religious faith into the events feels like deus ex machina desperation. Premonition comes unstuck in time, then finds itself stuck in a loop it’s not smart enough to get out of. —Scott Renshaw

Pride (PG) Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard) is a swim coach in the ’70s whose ragtag gang of street kids begins competing against rich white schools in the water. As you’d expect in a movie like this, they’re winning. Along the way to success, Jim encounters a lot of the usual stumbling blocks. The difference here is that they’re half-hearted obstacles. With a story incapable of creating legitimate dramatic tension, Pride is left relying on sports action alone to carry it. And let’s face it: there’s just nothing exciting about watching the backstroke. The film’s only salvation is great performances from Howard and co-star Bernie Mac. —Joshua Tyler

Reign Over Me (R) In Reign Over Me, Sandler plays a New Yorker whose wife and three daughters died in one of the hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001. In a movie with a tragically serious undercurrent, Sandler’s like an eight-year-old playing emotional dress-up in clothes that are way too big for him. In a sense, that makes him the perfect leading man for writer/director Mike Binder, whose movies are often amusing, but it makes this one an incredibly awkward viewing experience — because, in case I hadn’t already mentioned it, he’s using a national tragedy as the backdrop for his punch lines. The overriding sensibility that permeates Reign Over Me (apart from Don Cheadle’s charming performance) is lack of control over the material. —Scott Renshaw

Shooter (R) A solid performance from Mark Wahlberg and stylish direction from Antoine Fuqua can’t disguise the fact that Shooter is just an acceptable actioner laboring under the delusion that it’s something altogether more important — which perhaps explains why it’s 20 minutes too long and ends at least three times. Wahlberg plays an embittered ex-Marine sharpshooter who’s tricked into being the fall-guy for a presidential assassination attempt (whoops!), which sends him on the lam and off to prove his innocence, even if that requires blowing up half of America. This odd attempt to create a liberal-minded revenge fantasy never really jells, but it’s not unwatchable. —Ken Hanke

TMNT (PG) Early ‘90s pop culture icons the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make their return to the big screen, this time entirely digitized. While it does a good job of capturing the spirit of the whole deal, the movie quickly turns into a generic retread. It’s the same excruciatingly lame one-liners, the same action sequences, the same inter-Turtle relationships, even the same catch phrases — except this time with 18 years of age added on. If you’re a still a fan, you’re likely to find this film entertaining and faithful to its predecessors. If you never gave a damn in the first place, this newest incarnation is unlikely to make you a believer. —Justin Souther

The Ultimate Gift (PG) Saying that Michael O. Sajbel’s The Ultimate Gift is the best thing to come from FoxFaith Films does it a disservice — it’s far classier and better made than the drek that’s emerged from that studio to date. The better-than-usual cast — especially Bill Cobbs, Lee Meriweather and Abigail Breslin — help. That’s not to say that it’s a great movie. It’s old-fashioned, driven by clichés, has an annoying TV movie-like score, and owes much to the Lloyd C. Douglas religious novels of an earlier era. It’s not deep by any stretch of the imagination. Still, its largely innocuous story of a young man (Drew Fuller), who learns the meaning of life by having to fulfill the requirements of his grandfather’s (James Garner) will isn’t entirely disagreeable, in a Hallmark card sort of way, if that’s your thing. —Ken Hanke

Wild Hogs (PG-13) Four middle-class, middle-aged family men decide to take a cross country road trip aboard their motorcycles, until trouble arises when they run into a gang of real bikers. The whole concept is supposed to be rife with nonstop hilarity, until the requisite feel-good ending where the guys learn the true meaning of love, family, and friendship. (Think City Slickers with motorcycles.) The hilarity, unfortunately, is nonexistent, consisting more or less of gay jokes, feeble attempts at irreverence, William H. Macy running his bike into things, Tim Allen doing his normal Home Improvement everyman shtick, and Martin Lawrence being his standard annoying self. And what is John Travolta doing in this steaming pile of manure? —Justin Souther

Zodiac (R) Maybe if you’ve never seen any recent (by that I mean in the past 30 years) horror films, you’ll be shocked and horrified by the very limited carnage presented in the early scenes of David Fincher’s preposterously overlong (154 minutes) Zodiac. And maybe if you go in realizing that this isn’t so much a movie about the infamous Zodiac killer who terrorized San Francisco in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and it isn’t so much about trying to catch the killer as it is about the obsession of San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmark (Jake Gyllenhaal) with the Zodiac, you’ll find the film more pleasing than I did. It’s well made and certainly well acted (especially by Robert Downey, Jr., whose absence from the final 30 minutes of the proceedings is keenly felt). It’s occasionally creepy, for that matter, but it doesn’t make for very compelling drama. —Ken Hanke

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