Arts+Movies » Capsule Reviews

FILM ‌ Capsule Reviews

comment

opening this week

Brokeback Mountain (R) Reviewed this week at www.charlestoncitypaper.com.

Glory Road (PG-13) Texas Western coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) and his all-black starting five head to the NCAA tournament in 1966.

Hoodwinked (PG) Reviewed this week on page 30.

Last Holiday (PG-13) After she's diagnosed with a terminal illness, Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) decides to take a European vacation.

The New World (PG-13) Reviewed this week on this page.

critical capsules

Bloodrayne (R) The filmmaker you love to loathe, Uwe "Tax Write-off" Boll, is back with another of his legendarily awful videogame-to-movie atrocities. If I thought for a minute this Roquefort-riddled camp-fest was as intentionally ridiculous, stilted, witless, and over-the-top as it is, I'd actually give it some credit. But BloodRayne's claptrap quality is pure happenstance, born of the kind of colossal ineptitude that comes along maybe once a generation. It's all topless women, bad martial arts, goofy blood-letting, vampires, and a big-name cast looking alternately bored and embarrassed. --KH

Casanova (R) I must have been out of the room when the critical memo went out saying that movies had to be "deep" to be any good, since I don't share the general disdain with which this lighter-than-air historical romp from Lasse Hallstrom has been greeted. It's witty, gorgeous to look at, stylish to a fault -- and beautifully acted by a perfect cast including Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, and Lena Olin. Sure, it turns the story of Casanova into bedroom farce, but what's wrong with that? --KH

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (PG) It's hard to imagine how much more right director Andrew Adamson and his four FX houses and his perfectly perfect cast could have gotten The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. With this film, also, it becomes clear that there is nothing well-done CGI cannot convincingly re-create. It's in all the tiny details, the rock-solid reality of even the most impossible things in the magical land of Narnia, that make you not just believe but feel its solidity and substance. C.S. Lewis' classic fantasy is here warm, sweet, funny, scary, magnificent, gorgeous, expansive, and intimate, but mostly completely and utterly charming. -- MaryAnn Johansen

The Family Stone (PG-13) If you don't know what you're getting into from the moment you walk into the cinema, you haven't seen many movies. Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings uptight girlfriend Meredith (even her name sounds severe) Morton (Saraha Jessica Parker) home for the holidays to meet his functionally dysfuctional family. Said family is the antithesis of uptight. A good cast (Diane Keaton, Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams) helps make this one of those films that succeeds not because it surprises you but because it does what you want it to do, like cinematic comfort food. -- KH

Fun with Dick and Jane (PG-13) A dumbed-down, slapdash reworking of a 1977 movie that wasn't all that smart to begin with. At least in the original, George Segal and Jane Fonda had some chemistry and were basically likable -- things not true of Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni as down-on-their-luck yuppies who turn to a life of crime. More desperate than funny, it takes two-thirds of the film to even get to the point, and even then it's too tame to be very interesting -- unless you think Jim Carrey making faces is intrinsically amusing. -- KH

Grandma's Boy (R) This is by no means a great movie. In fact, it's a mess that hardly pretends to have a plot. But there's a certain charm to that and, frankly, it's a lot funnier than most things Adam Sandler's name is attached to -- including the ones he stars in. It helps if you number video game nerds, role-playing game geeks, and stoners among your acquaintances, because you'll find them all in here -- and sympathetically portrayed. Allen Covert, as a game tester who has to move in with his grandmother and her friends, is a lot more likable than such Sandler stalwarts as Rob Schneider (whose requisite appearance is blessedly brief here). --KH

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (PG-13) There's a lot that's disconnected and disjointed in the muddled middle of Goblet of Fire -- this is the Harry book that prompted speculation that it might have to be broken into two films to do it justice, after all. And for all the startling and delightful bits that remain, most of the characters other than Harry suffer a bit from dramatic malnourishment. But Ralph Feinnes' Voldemort is Darth Vader and Satan in one slithery package, and he's absolutely terrifying. The finale of Goblet of Fire is unsettling, in a way that'll have you squirming in your seat. Which is as it should be. There's a level of horror operating here that raises this beyond escapist family fare and into the realm of cutting metaphor for adolescence. Which is also as it should be. -- MJ

Hostel (R) It's better than Eli Roth's first film, Cabin Fever, but if Roth does -- as executive producer Quentin Tarantino insists -- represent "the future of horror," then horror must be going into the recycling business. Except that the characters are rather more than usually unlikable, all this occasionally effective thriller does is slap a revenge climax onto a standard torture and murder yarn about American tourists running afoul of a sadistic killers who pay a Slovakian hostel owner for the privilege of killing unwary foreigners. It may up the sadism, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. --KH

King Kong (PG-13) Peter Jackson could have and should have lost at least 30 minutes from his monkey opus. But be ready to forgive him. None of the many versions of Kong's story have approached the greatness of this film -- perhaps not even the 1933 original. The essentials remain spot-on faithful to that original movie, but in between those he's made this pic his own. The result is much more than a sympathetic monster movie; Kong has become a deeply emotional, even tortured film. --JT

Memoirs of a Geisha (PG-13) If a trip to Epcot Center's Japanese pavilion is impossible, just pop into Memoirs of a Geisha, cuz it's totally, like, Japanesey. Except what's really cool is that it's like those all-you-can-eat Asian buffets, where they've got a little bit of chow mein and a little bit of tempura, but nothing, like, too strange and yucky like sushi. Like, it's Asian enough to be cool, like Hello Kitty, but not so alien that you're like, Huh? It's also neat how director Rob Marshall cast, like, Chinese actors as the Japanese geisha girls and then -- and this is really neat part -- had them all speak American, so the movie wouldn't be too hard for people. -- MJ

Munich (R) Munich is not about the historic 1972 slayings of Israeli Olympic athletes by Arab terrorists, though it starts with that event. Steven Spielberg movie explores what followed, when a group of Mossad agents were sent to track down and assassinate the Black September members responsible. In doing so, they nearly become terrorists themselves. This is easily Spielberg's best film since Saving Private Ryan, and it's nice to see him return to heavier, more exacting material. This is a great movie, but not a friendly one. It asks a lot of its audience, and staying with it till the end demands a price. But Munich is going to stick with you long after leaving the theatre. --JT

The Producers (PG-13) Once you get acclimated to the fact that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick -- reprising their stage roles -- are still playing to the last row of the balcony, you're apt to enjoy this musical version of the 1968 Mel Brooks classic. It's loud, obvious, gaudy, over-the-top, and utterly theatrical, but it preserves the zany plot about putting on a glitzy musical, Springtime for Hitler, that's "guaranteed" to fail, allowing its producers to pocket the excess money from the 25,000 percent of stock they sold. It won't eclipse the old film, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, but it's a fun variation. --KH

Rent (R) Chris Columbus' film adaptation of Jonathan Larson's 1996 hit Broadway musical will probably become, at the very least, a cult hit, even though it's too weird (read: gay) for the red staters and probably too smarmy and overemotional for the literati. The story of a year in the life of a group of 20-something, boho, starving artist-types in New York's East Village, it's loosely based on Puccini's La Bohème. A good chunk of the "message" is the kind of trite pap you'd expect the owner of a "Hang in There!" kitten poster to take as deep philosophy. But the feeling behind the play's lyrics is anything but ersatz, and if there's a director who knows how to deftly spoon-feed sentiment, it's Columbus. -- Sara Miller

The Ringer (PG-13) It tries to make Johnny Knoxville likable and at least succeeds in making him less repulsive, but this well-intended comedy about a guy who pretends to be mentally challenged in order to participate in the Special Olympics is so bland and ordinary that it's more a snooze-fest than a laff-fest. It paints a warm and realistic picture of the mentally challenged, but its moralizing "messages" are utterly predictable and it's never more than mildly amusing. --KH

Rumor Has It (PG-13) A clever premise -- that The Graduate was a true story -- gets Rob Reinered to death in this misbegotten mess. The writer, Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven), was sacked less than two weeks into production and Reiner waltzed in to turn a satire into a pretty standard romantic comedy. (Does anybody really think The Graduate was a romcom?) The results are lopsided, to say the least. Shirely MacLaine steals every scene she's in, but she's not in enough of them to save the film from its own plot. --KH

Syriana (R) While writer-director Stephen (Traffic) Gaghan is to be commended for attempting to upgrade the geo-petro-politics discourse from the present administration's hall of mirrors obfuscation plan, the fact that his movie, by any measure, isn't very good, kind of louses up its excellent timing. In trying to be a one-film introductory lesson in petro-maniacal greed, a '70s-style thriller, a character study, and a primer on assorted Middle East miseries, Syriana just packs too much information, and it's often as glib as it is incomprehensible. As is, it suffers from the odd problem of being -- at over two hours -- too short for any lasting impact. -- Ian Gray

Walk the Line (PG-13) Walk the Line is Johnny Cash's story and more. It captures his life from shortly before his first record up until his marriage to the woman he'd spend the last 35 years of his life with, June Carter. Because of that, this is both of their stories. Featuring a legendary performance from Joaquin Pheonix as the Man in Black, filled with Cash's music and full of rousing life, Walk the Line is a fantastic success. You'll clap, you'll cheer, you'll cry, and then you'll run out and buy every scrap of Johnny Cash music you can find. This is a special film, much more than a biopic: it's an emotional masterpiece, and easily one of the year's best. -- Joshua Tyler

Wolf Creek (R) Three unlikable 20-somethings drink and dope their way through the Australian outback to see a hole in the ground (OK, so it's where a meteorite hit, but from ground level it's a hole). That eats up about an hour of Wolf Creek. Then their car breaks down and they find themselves at the mercy of a really sadistic version of the Crocodile Hunter, who proceeds to torture them to death in, frankly, not very creative ways. First it's boring, then it's vile, then it's over. Be grateful for the last. --KH

Yours, Mine, and Ours (PG) Last time I checked, Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo were not quite in the same league as Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, the stars of the original version of this bloodless remake. Why, then, remake it, unless you can supply stars of a similar caliber? The real reason behind this mess is a desire to cash in on the inexplicable popularity of the dumbed-down remake of Cheaper by the Dozen -- so why not dumb-down an already pretty dumb movie? After all, if a dozen kids are funny, 18 will be even funnier, right? Consider yourself warned. -- KH

Add a comment