Film reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS

The Prestige
PG-13, 128 minutes
Now playing at Carmike Cinema 6
Using my infallible powers of precognition, I predict that 2007 will be a good year for magicians. And I’m not talking about those faux-hip “street” magicians like David Blaine—their time is up. No, I’m talking about the old-fashioned stage magician, the guy with the doves and the tuxedo. Late 2006 has already seen two tricky, turn-of-the-century magician yarns hit movie theaters (The Illusionist and The Prestige). Do I sense a trend akin to 1998’s asteroid chic (which swept—and destroyed—the world courtesy of Armageddon and Deep Impact)? Ask me again next spring, when models are pulling rabbits out of their Christian Dior top hats on the runways of Paris.
Following close on the heels of The Illusionist, the temporally and subjectively similar film The Prestige mixes magic, science and a good, old-fashioned bit of revenge into one intriguing historical fantasy. In the end, it may not be the greatest trick ever performed on screen, but it’s got enough flash and dazzle to keep most audiences entertained right on up to the shocking (in more ways than one) finale.
All of this should come as no surprise. After all, the film is written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who has already proved his taste for intelligent, twist-filled narratives in his films Memento, Insomnia and Batman Begins.
This newest effort is set around the turn of the century, and involves a professional rivalry between two London stage magicians. Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) start off their careers as assistants to a going-nowhere illusionist. One fateful night, a trick goes wrong and Angier’s wife is killed, drowned during an on-stage water escape. Angier blames Borden, who may or may not have tied an improper knot. Angier’s anger takes the form of a rapidly escalating game of one-upsmanship. Over the years, these two men try to top each other with more and more elaborate stage illusions, pausing occasionally for the odd murder attempt.
As a loving recreation of Victorian showbiz and the often heated rivalries that dominated the world of prestidigitation, The Prestige is both gorgeous and compelling. It does, however, violate at least one rule of magic: A good trick should be simple. The set-up here is quite complicated. Narratively, the film jumps around in time and place. At one point, Angier is reading Borden’s diary and having flashbacks. At another point, Borden is reading Angier’s diary and having flashbacks. It takes a bit of concentration to sort it all out.
Eventually, the story takes Angier to America in a hunt for real-life fringe scientist Nikola Tesla (played—surprisingly, but quite effectively—by David Bowie). He’s looking for the ultimate trick, and he believes Tesla and his cutting-edge electrical experiments might just give him what he’s looking for to finally defeat Borden.
One of the problems with a film like this is that viewers are told, from the very beginning, that the characters will do their utmost to trick each other and the audience. It’s a movie about magicians, after all, so audiences will be looking for every twist, every trick. But, while most can be worked out with a bit of brainpower and some close observation, the story won’t be entirely spoiled by figuring out a few secrets (unlike, say, most M. Night Shyamalan films).
The acting is quite strong (Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson are welcome members of the supporting cast), and the historical atmosphere is appropriately gloomy and mysterious. Some may find it hard to sympathize with either protagonist, as they’re both sort of vindictive jerks. But the situation they’ve gotten themselves stuck in is so intriguing, it’s hard not to be riveted to the screen for the whole 128-minute thrill ride.
There is a moment, late in the film, when The Prestige crosses over, skipping genres from historical drama to something else entirely. This is a tricky thing to pull off. At first, it seems a bit out-of-the-blue. But Nolan has a strong sense of purpose here, and he manages to blend this new element quite well into the narrative. (It helps that he’s operating from a pre-established story—a novel by British author Christoper Priest.)
Dark, original, and a real treat to look at, The Prestige is a tricky bit of legerdemain. Some may find the narrative too baroque, and may trip themselves up guessing at the film’s various twists, turns and inevitable plot holes. But, if you simply allow Nolan to take you by the hand and guide you through this grim, entirely over-the-top revenge fantasy, odds are you’ll fall for his lovely illusion hook, line and sinker.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of Amer-ica for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (R, 82 minutes) Is he funny because he’s an annoying jerk or is he funny because he’s pretending to be an annoying jerk? Either way, the end result is the same. Rabid fans of Brit comedian Sasha Baron Cohen (“Da Ali G Show”) will love this embarrassingly rude faux documentary about a Kazakhstani journalist (Cohen) who comes to America to make a film. Non-fans will simply be aghast at the endless footage of fat, fully nude guys wrestling that comprises this film’s humor. Most of the run time is simply made up of “Jackass”-style pranks in which the racism and xenophobia of Americans is allegedly exposed. (Although it should come as no big surprise to anyone that rednecks at the rodeo get a little mad when you make up words to the National Anthem.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Catch a Fire (PG-13, 98 minutes) Aussie Phillipe Noyce (The Quiet American, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Patriot Games) directs this dark political thriller set in South Africa during the turbulent 1980s. Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) portrays real-life hero Patrick Chamusso who was jailed and tortured after being wrongly suspected of sabotage at an oil refinery where he worked. Tim Robbins plays against type as a seemingly soulless colonel in the country’s Police Security Branch whose cruel pursuit drives naïve, apolitical Patrick on a transformative quest to free his country from oppression by any means necessary. Noyce contributes a slick production, driving home (perhaps a bit too heavily) the story’s modern-day metaphor. Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Death of a President
(R, 90 minutes) This hyper-controversial TV movie out of England posits the assasination of George W. Bush in Chicago. Strip away all of the controversy, however, and its a relatively dull fake documentary about a political conspiracy. It plays out like a “whodunnit,” but the mystery isn’t all that exciting. Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

The Departed
(R, 149 minutes) Martin Scorsese seriously reworks the 2002 Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs, transferring the intense cops-and-robbers action from the Far East to the East Coast. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a fresh recruit from the Boston Police Academy who is put deep undercover in an Irish mob run by flamboyant gangster Jack Nicholson. At the same time, Nicholson has got his own undercover agent (Matt Damon) operating inside the police department. Much bloodshed erupts when our two moles are dispatched to find out each other’s identities. Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Flags of Our Fathers
(R, 132 minutes) James Bradley’s book about the Battle of Iwo Jima (and that famous flag photo) gets adapted by screenwriters Bill Broyles (Apollo 13, Jarhead) and Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) and directed by Clint Eastwood. Not too shabby. Film follows the life stories of the six men who raised that famous flag. Amazingly, the film both celebrates the heroism of the battle and also deconstructs the government’s cynical PR manipulation of the event. Ryan Phillippe, Barry Pepper, Adam Beach and Jamie Bell are among the low-key cast. Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Flicka
(PG, 100 minutes) It’s safe to assume that roughly half the females in America have read Mary O’Hara’s equestrian novel My Friend Flicka. Here’s another film version, this one starring Alison Lohman (White Oleander) as a rebellious teen who raises a wild mustang to prove to her father (real-life hick Tim McGraw) that she’s capable of taking over the family ranch. There’s lots of weeping and hugging and pretty shots of horses. Girls will love it. Boys, I’d advise you to remain in the parking lot and stomp on ketchup packages for 90 minutes. Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Flushed Away
(PG) Didn’t get enough CG-animated animals this summer? Here’s some more. This is actually the first computer-animated film from Aardman Studios (makers of the “Wallace & Gromit” films). The story follows the adventures of an uptown rat who gets flushed into the sewers of London. Voicecast includes Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy. It’s cute stuff, but you can expect a poop joke or two this time around. Coming Friday; check local listings

The Grudge 2
(PG-13, 95 minutes) Director Takashi Shimizu tackles his tale of vengeful ghosts for the sixth time (four films/remakes/sequels in Japan and two in America)! This one kills off the gal from the first American version (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and passes the ghostly curse off on her sister (Amber Tamblyn). As in previous installments, there’s more creepy atmosphere than outright horror, but the story is starting to take noticeable shape…assuming you’re not burned out on stringy black hair and little Japanese kids in pale makeup. Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Infamous
(R, 110 minutes) Yes, this is the other Truman Capote biopic. It also covers the period in which Capote was researching his book In Cold Blood. This one, however, stars Sigourney Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hope Davis, Sandra Bullock and Isabella Rossellini. Oh, and some Brit named Toby Jones as Capote. This version is lighter, glossier and can’t help but suffer in comparison to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in Capote. Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Marie Antoinette
(PG-13, 123 minutes) Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) was roundly trashed at the Cannes Film Festival for this blithe adaptation of the life of France’s ill-fated queen. The hip cast (Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon) and revisionist’s disregard for history won’t lure many Francophiles, but young viewers with a taste for eye candy and new wave pop tunes may have fun. Just don’t expect to pass your history test after watching this trendy biopic. Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Open Season
(PG, 86 minutes) Wow, Ashton Kutcher fans are certainly like pigs rolling in filth this week. Between this and The Guardian, there are two Kutcher films in which to wallow. Frankly, it seems like overkill—not unlike the dogpile of computer-animated animal movies we’ve been subjected to this summer. Here, Kutcher plays a cartoon deer who helps a domesticated grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) to survive in the wild. Only complication: Hunting season starts in three days! Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Prestige (
PG-13, 128 minutes) Reviewed on page 58. Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Running With Scissors
(R, 116 minutes) Augustin Burroughs’ autobiography gets the big screen treatment with an impressive cast, including Annette Bening, Brain Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh and Gwyneth Paltrow. Unfortunately, “Nip/Tuck” creator Ryan Murphy turns the whole affair into a cartoonish and rather dull affair in his first theatrical outing. Fans of Burroughs’ colorful book will be disappointed. It’s your basic coming-of-age tale about a kid raised by a crazy mother, who deposits him at the doorstep of her even crazier psychiatrist. Dysfunction ensues. Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
(G) Yes, well, somebody’s got to keep Tim Allen employed. This time around, Martin Short arrives as the scheming Jack Frost who wants to…oh, you know, ruin Christmas or something. Stay home and watch “The Year Without a Santa Claus” instead. Coming Friday; check local listings

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
(R, 84 minutes) Ah, there’s nothing like beating a dead horse. And then stringing its corpse up in a garage and hitting it with a hammer and then cutting it up with a chainsaw and then eating it. The director of the crummy tooth fairy horror flick Darkness Falls attempts to cash in on the relative success of 2003’s TCM remake. In this prequel, a group of teens on a road trip breaks down in the middle of nowhere and is terrorized by an evil sheriff (R. Lee Ermey) and his twisted offspring. At least there’s lots and lots of blood and guts for you gorehounds out there. Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Comment Policy

Film reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS

Catch a Fire (PG-13, 98 minutes) Aussie Phillipe Noyce (The Quiet American, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Patriot Games) directs this dark political thriller set in South Africa during the turbulent 1980s. Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) portrays real-life hero Patrick Chamusso who was jailed and tortured after being wrongly suspected of sabotage at an oil refinery where he worked. Tim Robbins plays against type as a seemingly soulless colonel in the country’s Police Security Branch whose cruel pursuit drives naïve, apolitical Patrick on a transformative quest to free his country from oppression by any means necessary. Noyce contributes a slick production, driving home (perhaps a bit too heavily) the story’s modern-day metaphor. (Devin D. O’Leary) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Departed (R, 149 minutes) Martin Scorsese seriously reworks the 2002 Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs, transferring the intense cops-and-robbers action from the Far East to the East Coast. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a fresh recruit from the Boston Police Academy who is put deep undercover in an Irish mob run by flamboyant gangster Jack Nicholson. At the same time, Nicholson has got his own undercover agent (Matt Damon) operating inside the police department. Much bloodshed erupts when our two moles are dispatched to find out each other’s identities. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Employee of the Month
(PG-13, 103 minutes) There are people who are rabid Dane Cook fanatics, reveling in his every inside joke and secretive hand gesture. And then there are those of us who think he’s a nice enough young fellow who has yet to actually say anything funny. Here, Cook continues searching for the bridge between standup comedy and acting. He plays a slacker employee at a warehouse store who suddenly gets ambitious after hearing that the hot new girl (Jessica Simpson) will gladly date the employee of the month. As far as Jessica Simpson is concerned, there are people out there who think she’s a talentless bimbo. And then there are… No, wait, that’s pretty much it. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Flags of Our Fathers
(R, 132 minutes) James Bradley’s book about the Battle of Iwo Jima (and that famous flag photo) gets adapted by screenwriters Bill Broyles (Apollo 13, Jarhead) and Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) and directed by Clint Eastwood. Not too shabby. Film follows the life stories of the six men who raised that famous flag. Amazingly, the film both celebrates the heroism of the battle and also deconstructs the government’s cynical PR manipulation of the event. Ryan Phillippe, Barry Pepper, Adam Beach and Jamie Bell are among the low-key cast. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Flicka
(PG) It’s safe to assume that roughly half the females in America have read Mary O’Hara’s equestrian novel My Friend Flicka. Here’s another film version, this one starring Alison Lohman (White Oleander) as a rebellious teen who raises a wild mustang to prove to her father (real-life hick Tim McGraw) that she’s capable of taking over the family ranch. There’s lots of weeping and hugging and pretty shots of horses. Girls will love it. Boys, I’d advise you to remain in the parking lot and stomp on ketchup packages for 90 minutes. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Grudge 2
(PG-13) Director Takashi Shimizu tackles his tale of vengeful ghosts for the sixth time (four films/remakes/sequels in Japan and two in America)! This one kills off the gal from the first American version (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and passes the ghostly curse off on her sister (Amber Tamblyn). As in previous installments, there’s more creepy atmosphere than outright horror, but the story is starting to take noticeable shape…assuming you’re not burned out on stringy black hair and little Japanese kids in pale makeup. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Guardian
(PG-13, 136 minutes) Until now, Hollywood hasn’t given the Coast Guard the same sort of love it has extended to Marines or firemen or cops or Russian hit men. There just aren’t a lot of Coast Guard-based action films. Now, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher are here to rectify the situation. Costner takes over the “gruff older instructor with an emotionally scarred background,” leaving Kutcher to play the “cocky but hunky new recruit with a lesson to learn.” The Guardian does a good job of showing how dangerous the jobs of Coast Guard rescue swimmers actually are, but at 136 minutes, Costner and Kutcher spend a little too much time sitting around and chatting. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Illusionist
(PG-13, 110 minutes) Edward Norton stars as a magician who, because of his apparent supernatural powers, becomes a threat to the Hapsburg empire in fin-de-siècle Vienna. The movie’s a love triangle that’s supposed to stir our passions, but it doesn’t quite get the job done, partly because Norton lacks hypnotic appeal and partly because the whole thing seems to be taking place inside a cardboard box. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Jackass Number Two
(PG-13, 103 minutes) Sigh… Yes. They made a second one. Teenagers who love to pour hot sauce in their eyes, jump off buildings and kick each other in the nuts are super friggin’ stoked! Everyone else simply continues to mourn the slow, steady death of civilization. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Last King of Scotland
(R, 121 minutes) This gritty biopic recounts the life of brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin as seen by his personal physician. (Yes, Amin did at one point declare himself King of Scotland.) Forest Whitaker (fresh off “The Shield”) gives a major performance, making Amin both monstrous and pitiful. The film’s jarring camerawork adds to the thrilling nature of this ugly but absorbing tale. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

Little Miss Sunshine
(R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Man of the Year
(PG-13, 105 minutes) What if Robin Williams were a wacky disc jockey? No, what if Robin Williams were a wacky doctor? No, what if Robin Williams were a wacky politician… A more pressing question might be, what if Robin Williams were still funny? Here, he plays a comedian on a late-night political talk show who ends up getting elected president. Can you just imagine what it would be like if Patch Adams were giving a White House press conference? I can, and it scares me. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Marie Antoinette
(PG-13, 123 minutes) Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) was roundly trashed at the Cannes Film Festival for this blithe adaptation of the life of France’s ill-fated queen. The hip cast (Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon) and revisionist’s disregard for history won’t lure many Francophiles, but young viewers with a taste for eye candy and new wave pop tunes may have fun. Just don’t expect to pass your history test after watching this trendy biopic. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Marine
(PG-13) Clearly, with the overabundance of intelligent, highbrow films flooding out of Hollywood these days, what the market really needs is more films produced by Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. Here, we have pro wrestler John Cena (one-time “Dr. of Thugonomics”) as a marine who returns from battle to find his wife ensnared in a kidnapping plot. What’s a musclehead to do but kick lots of villainous ass? Sounds like the perfect thing for people who have worn out their DVD of Commando. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Open Season
(PG, 86 minutes) Wow, Ashton Kutcher fans are certainly like pigs rolling in filth this week. Between this and The Guardian, there are two Kutcher films in which to wallow. Frankly, it seems like overkill—not unlike the dogpile of computer-animated animal movies we’ve been subjected to this summer. Here, Kutcher plays a cartoon deer who helps a domesticated grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) to survive in the wild. Only complication: Hunting season starts in three days! (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Prestige
(PG-13) Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) rounds up a couple castmembers from Batman (Christian Bale, Michael Caine), mixes them in with a few new friends (Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie) and gives them an unusual period drama/sci-fi/fantasy to play around in. Jackman and Bale play a couple of turn-of-the-century magicians/professional rivals. When Bale performs the ultimate trick, Jackman tries desperately to uncover the secret. Based on the novel by Christopher Priest. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Saw III
(R, 107 minutes) The Saw films don’t really consist of much more than a string of people being tortured to death via various arcane methods by the philosophical serial killer Jigsaw (think Rube Goldberg crossed with Leatherface). Nonetheless, this slick and popular series of gore films has become a dynasty; hence, its now annual appearance on movie screens. In this latest installment, a female doctor (Bahar Soomekh) is kidnapped and forced to keep the dying killer alive long enough to run his latest game of kill or be killed. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Science of Sleep
(R, 105 minutes) Director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) tries his hand at writing a trippy comedy/fantasy/romance. Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También) plays an insecure artist who moves to Paris to reconnect with his widowed mother and ends up falling in love with his charming neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Unable to express himself in his waking life, our hero soon escapes into the wiggy world of his dreams. I think. It’s actually pretty hard to tell what’s going on in this phantasmagoric mess. Whatever’s going on, it sure is a lovely, whimsy-filled head trip presenting Gondry in his most undiluted state. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
(R, 84 minutes) Ah, there’s nothing like beating a dead horse. And then stringing its corpse up in a garage and hitting it with a hammer and then cutting it up with a chainsaw and then eating it. The director of the crummy tooth fairy horror flick Darkness Falls attempts to cash in on the relative success of 2003’s TCM remake. In this prequel, a group of teens on a road trip breaks down in the middle of nowhere and is terrorized by an evil sheriff (R. Lee Ermey) and his twisted offspring. At least there’s lots and lots of blood and guts for you gorehounds out there. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Comment Policy

Film reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS
Film reviews

Man of the Year
PG-13, 115 minutes
Now Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

It’s always a bit depressing when you can imagine the entire pitch meeting that proceeded the making of a particular Hollywood film. I’m fairly confident the brainstorming session for Man of the Year went something like this: “How about Robin Williams as a wacky disc jockey?” asked the hack writer. “Nah, we already made that,” said the disinterested producer, staring out the window of his plush studio office. “Well, how about Robin Williams as a wacky doctor?” asked the writer, undaunted. “We already made that,” repeated the producer. “Oh. Um. Well then, what about Robin Williams as a wacky politician?” asked the writer, his voice rising in desperation. “That’s it!” shouted the producer, dollar signs suddenly flashing in his eyes. “You’re a genius!” Fade to black.
    Sad as that little scenario is, that sort of “meeting of the minds” happens every day in Hollywood. And it’s the very thing that leads to crap like Man of the Year.
    Back in 1987, director Barry Levinson (Diner, The Natural, Bugsy) built a popular war comedy around Robin Williams and his nonstop yapping. Good Morning Vietnam lacked practically any form of story or structure, but audiences didn’t seem to notice, what with Williams’ funny voices, imitations and constant rubber-faced antics. With Man of the Year, Levinson basically repeats the trick, crafting a slim excuse for Robin Williams to perform the same “ad libs” he’s been doing since “Comic Relief ‘87.” Williams plays Tom Dobbs, host of a late-night political comedy show (it’s fairly obvious that he’s supposed to be Jon Stewart from “The Daily Show”). So popular is Dobbs’ program that viewers begin begging him to run for president. On a lark, he does, drafting his manager (Christopher Walken) and his head writer (Lewis Black, natch) to help with his independent bid for office.
    Thanks to a glitch in the new nationwide voting machines, Tom ends up getting elected president. Isn’t that crazy? Imagine what it would be like if Patch Adams became president! Imagine all the cartoonish antics that could transpire in the White House. Now keep imagining it. Because, at this point, Man of the Year totally abandons its sole humorous concept. Instead of telling the story of what would happen if a funny, tell-it-like-it-is man of the people became president of the United States, Man of the Year devolves into a cheesy political thriller. Seriously.
    And so along comes Laura Linney (who should really know better) as an employee of the evil software company that built the voting machines. She’s discovered the glitch, but scheming company PR flack Jeff Goldblum (who at least does us the courtesy of underplaying his villainous role) doesn’t want that particular info leaked to the public. Naturally, he sets out to destroy the credibility of this dangerous whistleblower. This leads, rather preposterously, to a tacked-on romance between Williams and Linney that fails to convince for even a second. (For starters, she takes forever to get around to mentioning the fact that the election was flawed.) Basically, Linney and Goldblum look like they have been lifted from some cheap cable-TV thriller, while Walken and Black are mugging their way through a goofball comedy. Poor Williams is stuck in the middle, alternating his “Look, I can talk like a Jewish guy” shtick and his sappy “I won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting” melodramatics. Throw in a sentimental anti-smoking subplot that could have been spun off into a third movie, and you’ve got one painfully schizophrenic film.
    Levinson did the whole political satire bit far better in 1997’s Wag the Dog. That film at least had a point to it. Man of the Year is so dulled-down, so simplified and so eager to please every single demographic that our hero is neither Republican nor Democrat. He’s an equal-opportunity punchline dispenser who’s most cutting political comments are “If you’re representing special interest groups, maybe we should be like NASCAR, with little patches on the back,” and “I just farted a little bit back there, if any of you were going to ask.”
    Look at the state of American politics right now: We’ve got a never-ending war in the Middle East, a nuclear-armed North Korea and a Congress more interested in sleeping with pages than in passing laws. Is now really the appropriate time for a toothless, feel-good political satire? I vote no.

The Departed (R, 149 minutes) Martin Scorsese seriously reworks the 2002 Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs, transferring the intense cops-and-robbers action from the Far East to the East Coast. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a fresh recruit from the Boston Police Academy who is put deep undercover in an Irish mob run by flamboyant gangster Jack Nicholson. At the same time, Nicholson has got his own undercover agent (Matt Damon) operating inside the police department. Much bloodshed erupts when our two moles are dispatched to find out each other’s identities. (Devin D. O’Leary) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4
Employee of the Month (PG-13, 103 minutes) There are people who are rabid Dane Cook fanatics, reveling in his every inside joke and secretive hand gesture. And then there are those of us who think he’s a nice enough young fellow who has yet to actually say anything funny. Here, Cook continues searching for the bridge between standup comedy and acting. He plays a slacker employee at a warehouse store who suddenly gets ambitious after hearing that the hot new girl (Jessica Simpson) will gladly date the employee of the month. As far as Jessica Simpson is concerned, there are people out there who think she’s a talentless bimbo. And then there are… No, wait, that’s pretty much it. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Flags of Our Fathers (R, 132 minutes) James Bradley’s book about the Battle of Iwo Jima (and that famous flag photo) gets adapted by screenwriters Bill Broyles (Apollo 13, Jarhead) and Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) and directed by Clint Eastwood. Not too shabby. Film follows the life stories of the six men who raised that famous flag. Amazingly, the film both celebrates the heroism of the battle and also deconstructs the government’s cynical PR manipulation of the event. Ryan Phillippe, Barry Pepper, Adam Beach and Jamie Bell are among the low-key cast. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Flicka (PG) It’s safe to assume that roughly half the females in America have read Mary O’Hara’s equestrian novel My Friend Flicka. Here’s another film version, this one starring Alison Lohman (White Oleander) as a rebellious teen who raises a wild mustang to prove to her father (real-life hick Tim McGraw) that she’s capable of taking over the family ranch. There’s lots of weeping and hugging and pretty shots of horses. Girls will love it. Boys, I’d advise you to remain in the parking lot and stomp on ketchup packages for 90 minutes. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Flyboys (PG-13, 139 minutes) This resolutely old-fashioned, airborne action flick takes us back to the days of World War I where we get to watch cute young stud James Franco (Spider-Man) join up with the famed Lafayette Escadrille to fight the evil Red Baron (just like Snoopy). The film mixes every war movie cliché together with some state-of-the-art CGI. At least the WWI dogfights look impressive (if you’re into WWI dogfights). Plus, it features copious use of the word “fokker.” (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6
The Grudge 2 (PG-13) Director Takashi Shimizu tackles his tale of vengeful ghosts for the sixth time (four films/remakes/sequels in Japan and two in America)! This one kills off the gal from the first American version (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and passes the ghostly curse off on her sister (Amber Tamblyn). As in previous installments, there’s more creepy atmosphere than outright horror, but the story is starting to take noticeable shape…assuming you’re not burned out on stringy black hair and little Japanese kids in pale makeup. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Guardian (PG-13, 136 minutes) Until now, Hollywood hasn’t given the Coast Guard the same sort of love it has extended to Marines or firemen or cops or Russian hit men. There just aren’t a lot of Coast Guard-based action films. Now, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher are here to rectify the situation. Costner takes over the “gruff older instructor with an emotionally scarred background,” leaving Kutcher to play the “cocky but hunky new recruit with a lesson to learn.” The Guardian does a good job of showing how dangerous the jobs of Coast Guard rescue swimmers actually are, but at 136 minutes, Costner and Kutcher spend a little too much time sitting around and chatting. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Illusionist (PG-13, 110 minutes) Edward Norton stars as a magician who, because of his apparent supernatural powers, becomes a threat to the Hapsburg empire in fin-de-siècle Vienna. The movie’s a love triangle that’s supposed to stir our passions, but it doesn’t quite get the job done, partly because Norton lacks hypnotic appeal and partly because the whole thing seems to be taking place inside a cardboard box. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Jackass Number Two (PG-13, 103 minutes) Sigh… Yes. They made a second one. Teenagers who love to pour hot sauce in their eyes, jump off buildings and kick each other in the nuts are super friggin’ stoked! Everyone else simply continues to mourn the slow, steady death of civilization. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Jet Li’s Fearless (PG-13, 103 minutes) Allegedly Jet Li’s final martial arts film (say it ain’t so, Jet!), this historical kung fu film was a major hit in its native China. Li plays the legendary Chinese martial arts hero Master Huo Yuanjia, the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu sports federation (basically, the first organization to pit fighters agaisnt one another in one-on-one bouts). It ain’t a whole lot different than his other historical fight films (like Once Upon a Time in China) But the occassionally witty fight choreography keeps things punchy. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Last King of Scotland (R, 121 minutes) This gritty biopic recounts the life of brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin as seen by his personal physician. (Yes, Amin did at one point declare himself King of Soctland.) Forest Whitaker (fresh off “The Shield”) gives a major performance, making Amin both monstrous and pitiful. The film’s jarring camerawork adds to the thrilling nature of this ugly but absorbing tale. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

Little Miss Sunshine (R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Love’s Abiding Joy (PG) Directed by Michael Landon Jr., this depressing Western drama is the first release from the newly minted FoxFaith pictures. It’s based on the Christian book series by Janette Oke, and is basically “Little House on the Prairie,” only preachier. Inexpensive cast includes Stephen Bridgewater, Brianna Brown and Erin Cottrell. (Nope, I’ve never heard of ’em either.) Three previous films (Love Comes Softly, Love’s Enduring Promise, Love’s Long Journey) were shown on the Hallmark Channel. If you loved them… (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Man of the Year (PG-13, 105 minutes) Reviewed on page 55. Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Marie Antoinette (PG-13, 123 minutes) Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) was roundly trashed at the Cannes Film Festival for this blithe adaptation of the life of France’s ill-fated queen. The hip cast (Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon) and revisionist’s disregard for history won’t lure many Francophiles, but young viewers with a taste for eye candy and new wave pop tunes may have fun. Just don’t expect to pass your history test after watching this trendy biopic. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Marine
(PG-13) Clearly, with the overabundance of intelligent, highbrow films flooding out of Hollywood these days, what the market really needs is more films produced by Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. Here, we have pro wrestler John Cena (one-time “Dr. of Thugonomics”) as a marine who returns from battle to find his wife ensnared in a kidnapping plot. What’s a musclehead to do but kick lots of villainous ass? Sounds like the perfect thing for people who have worn out their DVD of Commando. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Open Season
(PG, 86 minutes) Wow, Ashton Kutcher fans are certainly like pigs rolling in filth this week. Between this and The Guardian, there are two Kutcher films in which to wallow. Frankly, it seems like overkill—not unlike the dogpile of computer-animated animal movies we’ve been subjected to this summer. Here, Kutcher plays a cartoon deer who helps a domesticated grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) to survive in the wild. Only complication: Hunting season starts in three days! (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Prestige
(PG-13) Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) rounds up a couple castmembers from Batman (Christian Bale, Michael Caine), mixes them in with a few new friends (Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie) and gives them an unusual period drama/sci-fi/fantasy to play around in. Jackman and Bale play a couple of turn-of-the-century magicians/professional rivals. When Bale performs the ultimate trick, Jackman tries desperately to uncover the secret. Based on the novel by Christopher Priest. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

School for Scoundrels
(PG-13, 97 minutes) Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Roger, a moveless, grooveless young meter maid who signs up for a class in how to seduce women. There, he meets the devious Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), who helps our dorky hero and his fellow misfits unleash their inner cad. Unfortunately, Roger soon finds himself competing in a battle of wits against the underhanded Dr. P, who has taken a shine to the object of Roger’s affections (Jacinda Barrett from The Last Kiss). From writer/director Todd Phillips, who gave us Road Trip and Old School. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Science of Sleep
(R, 105 minutes) Director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) tries his hand at writing a trippy comedy/fantasy/romance. Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También) plays an insecure artist who moves to Paris to reconnect with his widowed mother and ends up falling in love with his charming neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Unable to express himself in his waking life, our hero soon escapes into the wiggy world of his dreams. I think. It’s actually pretty hard to tell what’s going on in this phantasmagoric mess. Whatever’s going on, it sure is a lovely, whimsy-filled head trip presenting Gondry in his most undiluted state. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
(R, 84 minutes) Ah, there’s nothing like beating a dead horse. And then stringing its corpse up in a garage and hitting it with a hammer and then cutting it up with a chainsaw and then eating it. The director of the crummy tooth fairy horror flick Darkness Falls attempts to cash in on the relative success of 2003’s TCM remake. In this prequel, a group of teens on a road trip breaks down in the middle of nowhere and is terrorized by an evil sheriff (R. Lee Ermey) and his twisted offspring. At least there’s lots and lots of blood and guts for you gorehounds out there. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Comment Policy

Film reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS
Film reviews

The Departed
R, 149 minutes
Now playing at Seminole Square
Cinema Four
Famed New York director Martin Scorsese rarely abandons the Big Apple for another zip code. And only once before has he attempted a remake (1991’s juicy Cape Fear). But with the release of his newest film, he’s managed a surprising one-two punch.
    The Departed is a remake of Infernal Affairs, an ingenious Hong Kong thriller from 2002. Flavorfully rescripted by writer William Monahan (whose only previous screen credit was, oddly enough, the muddled crusade saga Kingdom of Heaven), Scorsese’s film cannibalizes only the barest internal framework of the original. Set in the cops-and-robbers world of inner-city Boston, the film introduces us to Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon, happy to let loose his native accent). Sullivan is a neighborhood kid from South Boston who grows up under the wing of local Irish crime kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). On Frank’s suggestion, the adult Colin joins up with the Massachusetts state police, giving Costello an insider’s view of the men who might try to bring him down.
    At the same time, we meet Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a hard-luck kid whose family has been intimately connected with the Boston mob. Intelligent, angry and with something to prove, Billy enters the police academy. Before graduation, however, he’s recruited by a sharp-eyed captain (Martin Sheen) and his right-hand man (Mark Wahlberg) to infiltrate the mob. Kicked out of the academy and sent off to jail on fake charges, Billy has soon established himself as a neighborhood screw-up. In time, his antics catch the attentions of Mr. Costello, who recruits him to join the organization. And here’s where things get interesting.
    We’ve got an undercover mobster who’s infiltrated the cops and an undercover cop who’s infiltrated the mobsters. Eventually, these two pretenders are asked to help sniff out the informer in their respective organizations. This sets off a delicate game of cat and mouse (or rat and rat), in which each man is looking for the other while pretending to hunt down himself. It sounds complicated, but Scorsese isn’t out to re-create the epic Goodfellas or the gritty Mean Streets here—in fact, this is the first full-on popcorn flick Scorsese has made since the aforementioned Cape Fear. His goal is to have some fun, and he proceeds as if the entire thing were some incredibly grim black comedy.
    Monahan’s script helps immensely in this respect, offering loads of amusing dialogue for these cops-and-mobsters to mouth. Wahlberg, especially, seems to be enjoying his role, speaking entirely in foul-mouthed schoolyard cutdowns. Nicholson, not so surprisingly, is in top form here, as well. It’s clear he ad-libbed much of his dialogue, and the film is all the better for his unpredictable performance. Damon and DiCaprio are nicely matched, even though they have very few scenes together. The film hinges on the twin trajectories of these two characters: Colin, who seems to relish his job as a mole, and Billy, who becomes increasingly more disturbed by the potentially deadly position.
    Scorsese doesn’t scrimp on the violence, delivering some of the most wince-inducing scenes he’s staged since Goodfellas. Even so, the film never feels bleak or overpowering. The plot, with its multiple levels of deception, borders on the ridiculous. Scorsese happily keeps it there, hovering just below a completely over-the-top parody of Hollywood action flicks. He takes the script’s complicated game of cups and balls at face value, shuffling the cups with blinding speed and leaving his audience goggle-eyed. Viewers can be  reasonably assured they’re going to get rooked in this game—but it’s entertaining enough just to watch the feints, cheats and deceptions of these extremely deft liars play out on screen.

All the King’s Men (PG-13, 120 minutes) Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel (filmed once before in 1949 with Broderick Crawford and John Ireland) returns to the big screen with a brand new, all-star cast. Based loosely on the life of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, the film follows the rise and fall of populist political animal Willie Stark (Sean Penn). Though our politician is a self-described “hick,” he isn’t above playing dirty—a tactic that causes much consternation in his right-hand man (played by Jude Law). Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Hopkins round out the credits. (Devin O’Leary) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Departed (R, 149 minutes) Reviewed on this page. Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Employee of the Month (PG-13, 103 minutes) There are people who are rabid Dane Cook fanatics, reveling in his every inside joke and secretive hand gesture. And then there are those of us who think he’s a nice enough young fellow who has yet to actually say anything funny. Here, Cook continues searching for the bridge between standup comedy and acting. He plays a slacker employee at a warehouse store who suddenly gets ambitious after hearing that the hot new girl (Jessica Simpson) will gladly date the employee of the month. As far as Jessica Simpson is concerned, there are people out there who think she’s a talentless bimbo. And then there are… No, wait, that’s pretty much it. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Facing the Giants (PG, 111 minutes) If only there were someplace that people who want to see an inspirational sports drama in which you root for the underdog football team could go (besides Rudy, Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights, Invincible, Gridiron Gang, etc.). O.K., so this sort of thing has been done once or twice before. The difference? Well, this one was produced by the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. There are more references to Jesus than there are to touchdowns. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Flyboys (PG-13, 139 minutes) This resolutely old-fashioned, airborne action flick takes us back to the days of World War I where we get to watch cute young stud James Franco (Spider-Man) join up with the famed Lafayette Escadrille to fight the evil Red Baron (just like Snoopy). The film mixes every war movie cliché together with some state-of-the-art CGI. At least the WWI dogfights look impressive (if you’re into WWI dogfights). Plus, it features copious use of the word “fokker.” (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Gridiron Gang (PG-13, 126 minutes) Wrestlin’ thespian The Rock finally finds a project worth being passionate about with this inspirational sports drama. Rock plays Sean Porter, a real-life counselor at California juvenile detention facility. Tired of seeing the near-perfect recidivism rate, Porter tries an alternative approach, forming a high school football team from among his ragtag gangbangers. The “root for the underdogs” stuff is all standard-issue, but director Phil Joanou (U2: Rattle and Hum) lends some visual polish. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Grudge 2 (PG-13) Director Takashi Shimizu tackles his tale of vengeful ghosts for the sixth time (four films/remakes/sequels in Japan and two in America)! This one kills off the gal from the first American version (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and passes the ghostly curse off on her sister (Amber Tamblyn). As in previous installments, there’s more creepy atmosphere than outright horror, but the story is starting to take noticeable shape…assuming you’re not burned out on stringy black hair and little Japanese kids in pale makeup. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Guardian
(PG-13, 136 minutes) Until now, Hollywood hasn’t given the Coast Guard the same sort of love it has extended to Marines or firemen or cops or Russian hit men. There just aren’t a lot of Coast Guard-based action films. Now, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher are here to rectify the situation. Costner takes over the “gruff older instructor with an emotionally scarred background,” leaving Kutcher to play the “cocky but hunky new recruit with a lesson to learn.” The Guardian does a good job of showing how dangerous the jobs of Coast Guard rescue swimmers actually are, but at 136 minutes, Costner and Kutcher spend a little too much time sitting around and chatting. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Illusionist (PG-13, 110 minutes) Edward Norton stars as a magician who, because of his apparent supernatural powers, becomes a threat to the Hapsburg empire in fin-de-siècle Vienna. The movie’s a love triangle that’s supposed to stir our passions, but it doesn’t quite get the job done, partly because Norton lacks hypnotic appeal and partly because the whole thing seems to be taking place inside a cardboard box. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Jackass Number Two (PG-13, 103 minutes) Sigh… Yes. They made a second one. Teenagers who love to pour hot sauce in their eyes, jump off buildings and kick each other in the nuts are super friggin’ stoked! Everyone else simply continues to mourn the slow, steady death of civilization. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Jet Li’s Fearless (PG-13, 103 minutes) Allegedly Jet Li’s final martial arts film (say it ain’t so, Jet!), this historical kung fu film was a major hit in its native China. Li plays the legendary Chinese martial arts hero Master Huo Yuanjia, the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu sports federation (basically, the first organization to pit fighters agaisnt one another in one-on-one bouts). It ain’t a whole lot different than his other historical fight films (like Once Upon a Time in China) But the occassionally witty fight choreography keeps things punchy. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Little Miss Sunshine (R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Love’s Abiding Joy (PG) Directed by Michael Landon Jr., this depressing Western drama is the first release from the newly minted FoxFaith pictures. It’s based on the Christian book series by Janette Oke, and is basically “Little House on the Prairie,” only preachier. Inexpensive cast includes Stephen Bridgewater, Brianna Brown and Erin Cottrell. (Nope, I’ve never heard of ’em either.) Three previous films (Love Comes Softly, Love’s Enduring Promise, Love’s Long Journey) were shown on the Hallmark Channel. If you loved them…(D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Man of the Year (PG-13) What if Robin Williams were a wacky disc jockey? No, what if Robin Williams were a wacky doctor? No, what if Robin Williams were a wacky politician?… A more pressing question might be, what if Robin Williams were still funny? Here, he plays a comedian on a late-night political talk show who ends up getting elected president. Can you just imagine what it would be like if Patch Adams were giving a White House press conference? I can, and it scares me. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Marine (PG-13) Clearly, with the overabundance of intelligent, highbrow films flooding out of Hollywood these days, what the market really needs is more films produced by Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. Here, we have pro wrestler John Cena (one-time “Dr. of Thugonomics”) as a marine who returns from battle to find his wife ensnared in a kidnapping plot. What’s a musclehead to do but kick lots of villainous ass? Sounds like the perfect thing for people who have worn out their DVD of Commando. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Open Season (PG, 86 minutes) Wow, Ashton Kutcher fans are certainly like pigs rolling in filth this week. Between this and The Guardian, there are two Kutcher films in which to wallow. Frankly, it seems like overkill—not unlike the dogpile of computer-animated animal movies we’ve been subjected to this summer. Here, Kutcher plays a cartoon deer who helps a domesticated grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) to survive in the wild. Only complication: Hunting season starts in three days! (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

School for Scoundrels
(PG-13, 97 minutes) Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Roger, a moveless, grooveless young meter maid who signs up for a class in how to seduce women. There, he meets the devious Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), who helps our dorky hero and his fellow misfits unleash their inner cad. Unfortunately, Roger soon finds himself competing in a battle of wits against the underhanded Dr. P, who has taken a shine to the object of Roger’s affections (Jacinda Barrett from The Last Kiss). From writer/director Todd Phillips, who gave us Road Trip and Old School. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Science of Sleep (R, 105 minutes) Director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) tries his hand at writing a trippy comedy/fantasy/romance. Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También) plays an insecure artist who moves to Paris to reconnect with his widowed mother and ends up falling in love with his charming neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Unable to express himself in his waking life, our hero soon escapes into the wiggy world of his dreams. I think. It’s actually pretty hard to tell what’s going on in this phantasmagoric mess. Whatever’s going on, it sure is a lovely, whimsy-filled head trip presenting Gondry in his most undiluted state. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (R, 84 minutes) Ah, there’s nothing like beating a dead horse. And then stringing its corpse up in a garage and hitting it with a hammer and then cutting it up with a chainsaw and then eating it. The director of the crummy tooth fairy horror flick Darkness Falls attempts to cash in on the relative success of 2003’s TCM remake. In this prequel, a group of teens on a road trip breaks down in the middle of nowhere and is terrorized by an evil sheriff (R. Lee Ermey) and his twisted offspring. At least there’s lots and lots of blood and guts for you gorehounds out there. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Comment Policy

Film reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS
Film reviews

Dr. Feelgood: Billy Bob Thornton dispenses the details of deception in School for Scoundrels.

School for
Scoundrels
PG-13, 100 minutes
Now playing at Carmike
Cinema 6
Stephen Potter was a British humorist who penned a series of mock “self-help” books in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Potter’s books on Gamesmanship, Lifemanship and Oneupmanship purported to teach “ploys” for manipulating one’s associates, making them feel inferior and generally gaining the status of being “one-up” on them. In 1960, a comedy called School for Scoundrels, or How to Win Without Actually Cheating! was film-ed in England with actors Ian Carmichael, Alistair Sim, Terry-Thomas and Janet Scott. It was loosely based on Potter’s roguish philosophies, transferring them—quite logically—to the area of amour.
    Of course, none of this will make the slightest difference for people going to see the newly released School for Scoundrels, who have probably purchased tickets in order to see Napoleon Dynamite get shot in the crotch with a paintball gun.
    School for Scoundrels, written and directed by Old School helmer Todd Phillips, uses the same basic framework as the 1960 film. Jon Heder (yes, Mr. Dynamite himself) plays Roger—a shy, introverted, entirely grooveless dude working as a lowly meter maid in New York City. In addition to his emasculating job, poor fashion sense and total lack of self-esteem, Roger is completely incapable of communicating with the opposite sex. And that goes double when it comes to the cute Australian chick living down the hall from him.
    At the end of his professional, personal and romantic rope, Roger is directed toward a top secret adult education class run by the mysterious “Dr. P” (Billy Bob Thornton). Now, Dr. P doesn’t go in for providing self-esteem or inspiring life lessons for his students. No, he’s here to teach them how to be “lions.” Women are prey, other men are enemies, and the only way to get what you want in life is to take it. Thus begins a series of “tough love” (minus the love) lessons imparted by the callous Dr. Bad Santa. This involves inciting conflict with random strangers, copious amounts of lying and a general “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude.
    Initial scenes, in which the devious Dr. P helps our nerdy hero and his fellow misfits (High Fidelity’s Todd Louisa and “SNL”’s Horatio Sanz among them) unleash their inner cad, are amusing. The laughs aren’t as big or as frequent as they are in Old School, but there are moments. (The aforementioned paintball fight being the most inspired.)
    After spending roughly half its time as a bad-attitude version of Hitch, however, the film suddenly shifts gears, borrowing its second-half inspiration from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Here, the romantically reformed Roger finds himself competing in a battle of wits against the underhanded Dr. P, who has taken a shine to the object of Roger’s affections (Jacinda Barrett from “The Real World”). Lots of lying, cheating and slapstick backstabbing ensue.
    The cast is more or less engaging. As he did in Napoleon Dynamite, The Benchwarmers and even the animated Monster House, Heder plays a dorky loser. There are those who would accuse Heder of typecasting himself—but, honestly, what else is he gonna do? Is he suddenly going to start challenging Brad Pitt for the hunky action hero roles? I think not. Thornton obviously relishes playing a nasty cad, and subsequently treats his role as seriously as a heart attack. As the hole in the middle of this romantic doughnut, Jacinda Barrett is cute enough, but she isn’t given enough of a character for viewers to really concern themselves over who ends up with her.
    Though the cast tries its best to sell the humor, the script’s formulaic romantic comedy aspects end up bogging the film down in the second half. Will our heroine eventually realize she’s being manipulated by a total sleazeball? Will our hero tell his ladylove the Real Honest Truth? Will he make it to the church/talent contest/birthday party/airport before it’s too late? The frantic wrap-up, as contractually required by the RomCom Producers’ Local 101, features a lot of really contrived occurrences culminating in a big, silly public showdown.
    If only Dr. P ran a tough love School for Screenwriters, these Scoundrels might have had a fighting chance. As it is, they end up expending much effort, to very little effect.

Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker (PG, 93 minutes) The hit teen lit (or “avid reader” or whatever they call it these days) series about a teenage James Bond comes to the big screen. Lost Nick Carter sibling Alex Pettyfer stars as a 14-year-old kid who learns that his uncle (Ewan McGregor) has been killed by an evil Russian spy. What’s a British schoolboy to do but join MI6 and go undercover to stop an evil plot to take over the world? (Devin D. O’Leary) Coming Friday; check local listings

All the King’s Men (PG-13, 120 minutes) Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel (filmed once before in 1949 with Broderick Crawford and John Ireland) returns to the big screen with a brand new, all-star cast. Based loosely on the life of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, the film follows the rise and fall of populist political animal Willie Stark (Sean Penn). Though our politician is a self-described “hick,” he isn’t above playing dirty—a tactic that causes much consternation in his right-hand man (played by Jude Law). Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Hopkins round out the credits. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Black Dahlia (R, 119 minutes) James Ellroy’s 1987 novel about the unsolved Black Dahlia murder in 1940s Los Angeles gets the Grand Guignol treatment from director Brian De Palma. The movie’s almost an incoherent mess, and both Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart are miscast as a pair of cops, but there are many moments of pleasure as things spin more and more out of control. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Confetti (R, 100 minutes) This indie mockumentary out of England follows three couples as they battle it out to win the coveted title of “Most Original Wedding of the Year.” Which will it be: the all-singing/all-dancing wedding, the nudist wedding or the tennis-themed nuptials? The improvised dialogue hits some high notes, even as the film finds the dramatic trauma at the heart of the wedding biz. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

The Covenant (PG-13, 97 minutes) Once a Hollywood player (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger), now a bit of a pariah (Cutthroat Island, Mindhunters), Finnish director Renny Harlin tries his hand at cheap teen horror. In this modestly budgeted supernatural thriller, four teens are bestowed with ancient mystical powers by their families. In the process, they accidentally unleash an otherworldly evil force and are charged with hunting it down. It’s basically The Craft, only with hot boys instead of hot girls. Adapted from the graphic novel by Aron Coleite and Tone Rodriguez. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Departed (R, 149 minutes) Martin Scorsese seriously reworks the 2002 Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs, transferring the intense cops-and-robbers action from the Far East to the East Coast. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a fresh recruit from the Boston Police Academy who is put deep undercover in an Irish mob run by flamboyant gangster Jack Nicholson. At the same time, Nicholson has got his own undercover agent (Matt Damon) operating inside the police department. Much bloodshed erupts when our two moles are dispatched to find out each other’s identities. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Employee of the Month (PG-13, 103 minutes) There are people who are rabid Dane Cook fanatics, reveling in his every inside joke and secretive hand gesture. And then there are those of us who think he’s a nice enough young fellow who has yet to actually say anything funny. Here, Cook continues searching for the bridge between standup comedy and acting. He plays a slacker employee at a warehouse store who suddenly gets ambitious after hearing that the hot new girl (Jessica Simpson) will gladly date the employee of the month. As far as Jessica Simpson is concerned, there are people out there who think she’s a talentless bimbo. And then there are… No, wait, that’s pretty much it. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Everyone’s Hero (G, 88 minutes) Weeks after we’ve all suffered CGI toon burnout comes yet another CGI toon. This one’s an adventure comedy about a young boy who goes on a 1,000-mile quest (with a talking baseball, no less) to rescue Babe Ruth’s stolen bat. Brain Dennehy, Whoopi Goldberg, Ed Helms, William H. Macy, Raven Symone and Rob Reiner are among the not-terribly-exciting voice cast. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Facing the Giants (PG, 111 minutes) If only there were someplace that people who want to see an inspirational sports drama in which you root for the underdog football team could go (besides Rudy, Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights, Invincible, Gridiron Gang, etc.). O.K., so this sort of thing has been done once or twice before. The difference? Well, this one was produced by the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. There are more references to Jesus than there are to touchdowns. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Flyboys (PG-13, 139 minutes) This resolutely old-fashioned, airborne action flick takes us back to the days of World War I where we get to watch cute young stud James Franco (Spider-Man) join up with the famed Lafayette Escadrille to fight the evil Red Baron (just like Snoopy). The film mixes every war movie cliché together with some state-of-the-art CGI. At least the WWI dogfights look impressive (if you’re into WWI dogfights). Plus, it features copious use of the word “fokker.” (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Gridiron Gang (PG-13, 126 minutes) Wrestlin’ thespian The Rock finally finds a project worth being passionate about with this inspirational sports drama. Rock plays Sean Porter, a real-life counselor at California juvenile detention facility. Tired of seeing the near-perfect recidivism rate, Porter tries an alternative approach, forming a high school football team from among his ragtag gangbangers. The “root for the underdogs” stuff is all standard-issue, but director Phil Joanou (U2: Rattle and Hum) lends some visual polish. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Guardian (PG-13, 136 minutes) Until now, Hollywood hasn’t given the Coast Guard the same sort of love it has extended to Marines or firemen or cops or Russian hit men. There just aren’t a lot of Coast Guard-based action films. Now, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher are here to rectify the situation. Costner takes over the “gruff older instructor with an emotionally scarred background,” leaving Kutcher to play the “cocky but hunky new recruit with a lesson to learn.” The Guardian does a good job of showing how dangerous the jobs of Coast Guard rescue swimmers actually are, but at 136 minutes, Costner and Kutcher spend a little too much time sitting around and chatting. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Heading South (NR, 105 minutes) Still-hot 60-year-old Charlotte Rampling stars in this naughty Euro version of How Stella Got her Groove Back. Rampling is a tourist who ends up in 1970s Haiti with a couple girlfriends looking for some fun in the sun. They find it amid the handsome native boys who are more than happy to indulge the foreigners’ carnal desires for a few bucks. Trouble sets in, however, when two of our tourists set their sights on one man. Issues of love, sex, loneliness, commerce and post-colonial power abound in this lovely think-piece from French director Laurent Cantet (Time Out, Human Resources). (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

Hollywoodland (R, 126 minutes) This noirish investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of TV-Superman George Reeves (Ben Affleck) explores the price of fame—that long, sad walk down the boulevard of broken dreams. Affleck does a creditable job impersonating the rather flabby Man of Steel, and Diane Lane is equally effective as the studio executive’s wife who took Reeves under her wing, but the movie itself seems less hardboiled than over easy, lacking a true tragic dimension. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Illusionist (PG-13, 110 minutes) Edward Norton stars as a magician who, because of his apparent supernatural powers, becomes a threat to the Hapsburg empire in fin-de-siècle Vienna. The movie’s a love triangle that’s supposed to stir our passions, but it doesn’t quite get the job done, partly because Norton lacks hypnotic appeal and partly because the whole thing seems to be taking place inside a cardboard box. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Jackass Number Two (PG-13, 103 minutes) Sigh… Yes. They made a second one. Teenagers who love to pour hot sauce in their eyes, jump off buildings and kick each other in the nuts are super friggin’ stoked! Everyone else simply continues to mourn the slow, steady death of civilization. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Jet Li’s Fearless (PG-13, 103 minutes) Allegedly Jet Li’s final martial arts film (say it ain’t so, Jet!), this historical kung fu film was a major hit in its native China. Li plays the legendary Chinese martial arts hero Master Huo Yuanjia, the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu sports federation (basically, the first organization to pit fighters agaisnt one another in one-on-one bouts). It ain’t a whole lot different than his other historical fight films (like Once Upon a Time in China) But the occassionally witty fight choreography keeps things punchy. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Last Kiss (R, 104 minutes) TV’s Zach Braff stars in this remake of the 2001 Italian comic drama of the same name. Braff plays a 30-something dude who knocks up his girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett) and can’t decide whether or not to marry her—even with the meddling help of parents and friends. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Little Miss Sunshine (R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Open Season (PG, 86 minutes) Wow, Ashton Kutcher fans are certainly like pigs rolling in filth this week. Between this and The Guardian, there are two Kutcher films in which to wallow. Frankly, it seems like overkill—not unlike the dogpile of computer-animated animal movies we’ve been subjected to this summer. Here, Kutcher plays a cartoon deer who helps a domesticated grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) to survive in the wild. Only complication: Hunting season starts in three days! (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

School for Scoundrels
(PG-13, 97 minutes) Reviewed on page 54. Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
(R, 84 minutes) Ah, there’s nothing like beating a dead horse. And then stringing its corpse up in a garage and hitting it with a hammer and then cutting it up with a chainsaw and then eating it. The director of the crummy tooth fairy horror flick Darkness Falls attempts to cash in on the relative success of 2003’s TCM remake. In this prequel, a group of teens on a road trip breaks down in the middle of nowhere and is terrorized by an evil sheriff (R. Lee Ermey) and his twisted offspring. At least there’s lots and lots of blood and guts for you gorehounds out there. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Comment Policy

Film Reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS
Film Reviews

The Black Dahlia
R, 119 minutes
Now playing at Seminole Square
Cinema 4

Over half a century after she was murdered, Betty Short continues to fascinate us. She’s become a screen upon which we project our hopes and fears about fame and fortune, beauty and lust, art and commerce, and that place where it all comes together, Hollywood. A would-be movie actress, Short didn’t attract the public’s attention until she was found in a vacant lot, her mutilated body drained of blood and severed at the waist, her face slit ear to ear in a hideous grin. Adding insult to injury, the killer had posed her like a pin-up girl, legs spread and one arm raised over her head. And in a sick kind of way, he made her a star. Dominating the headlines, Short was soon dubbed “The Black Dahlia” (the name derived from The Blue Dahlia, a movie that had come out the year before, written by that auteur de film noir, Raymond Chandler). Alas, Betty Short was dead before she could become a femme fatale.
    But we weren’t through with her yet. In the intervening years, at least a dozen books have been written about the still-unsolved case, including two in which the authors pointed the finger at their own fathers. And now here’s The Black Dahlia, Brian De Palma’s lurid movie version of James Ellroy’s 1987 novel, which solved the murder by introducing fictional bad guys (and girls) worthy of such a heinous crime. Known for his muscular prose, Ellroy had lost his own mother in a never-solved case of rape-murder when he was 9 years old. And his novel can be read as a J’accuse to the entire city of Los Angeles, that pungent cesspool of sleaze and corruption. Chandler and the other noir scribes had exposed the seedy underbelly of L.A.’s orange-grove Eden. But Ellroy turned the town upside down—in his L.A., everybody was on the make, everybody was getting screwed. In fact, just living there was murder.
    The novel packs a wallop, featuring a pair of former boxers who’ve wound up in the Los Angeles Police Department, serving and protecting their own interests. But the movie, I’m sorry to say, is a disaster—an enjoyable disaster, often, but a disaster nonetheless. It opens with the infamous Zoot Suit Riots, in which America’s soldiers and sailors, having fought so valiantly in World War II, decided to clear the streets of anyone whose ethnic heritage happened to differ from their own. And De Palma stages it like an MGM musical, with each vicious blow as choreographed as a Gene Kelly ballet. And why not? Ellroy’s novel isn’t exactly kitchen-sink realism. The artifice just keeps coming, though, as if De Palma were winking at us, while only pretending to take the whole thing seriously. The movie isn’t set in the ‘40s, it’s set in “the ‘40s”—that movie-stuffed time capsule buried in some long-abandoned studio backlot.
    Unfortunately, the actors don’t inhabit “the ‘40s” (or even the ‘40s). Josh Hartnett, for reasons understood only by the casting director, plays Bucky Bleichert, L.A.’s version of a good man. (He only lies, cheats and steals when he has to.) But Hartnett, with those sleepy eyes, seems almost incapable of summoning up the moral depravity required by the movie—it’s a classic case of a boy being sent to do a man’s job. And Aaron Eckhart, as Bleichert’s bulldozing partner, Lee Blanchert, is even worse, if only because the role clearly calls for Russell Crowe. Assigned to the Dahlia case, Bleichert and Blanchert seem more concerned with Kay Lake (Scarlett Johannson), a Lana Turner type whom Blanchert has known for a while, and Bleichert would like to know better. Then Hilary Swank shows up as Madeleine Linscott, a poor little rich girl who had a thing for—and perhaps a fling with—Betty Short. Yes it’s the sort of place where mysterious women abound, and all of them drive the men crazy.
    One can easily imagine De Palma (Carrie, Scarface, etc.) going to town on this material—the feverish sex, the mutilated corpse, the mental derangement. And he does pull off a couple of cinematic set-pieces that will take their rightful place in his career-highlights reel. But the movie’s close to an incoherent mess, scriptwriter Josh Friedman having failed to whittle Ellroy’s mound of pulp down to size. (It takes several scenes to sweep up all the plot shavings.) Luckily, there’s plenty to watch as the movie spins more and more out of control, including an over-the-top, around-the-back and through-the-legs performance by Fiona Shaw as a society matron unhinged by all the California sunshine. Shaw’s gothic gargoyle is a total hoot, but it’s at the expense of a movie that might have helped us understand that sprawling hallucination known as the City of Angels. But, by the end, a thick layer of smog has settled over everything.

All the King’s Men (PG-13, 120 minutes) Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel (filmed once before in 1949 with Broderick Crawford and John Ireland) returns to the big screen with a brand new, all-star cast. Based loosely on the life of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, the film follows the rise and fall of populist political animal Willie Stark (Sean Penn). Though our politician is a self-described “hick,” he isn’t above playing dirty—a tactic that causes much consternation in his right-hand man (played by Jude Law). Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Hopkins round out the credits. (Devin D. O’Leary) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Confetti (R, 100 minutes) This indie mockumentary out of England follows three couples as they battle it out to win the coveted title of “Most Original Wedding of the Year.” Which will it be: the all-singing/all-dancing wedding, the nudist wedding or the tennis-themed nuptials? The improvised dialogue hits some high notes, even as the film finds the dramatic trauma at the heart of the wedding biz. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

The Covenant (PG-13, 97 minutes) Once a Hollywood player (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger), now a bit of a pariah (Cutthroat Island, Mindhunters), Finnish director Renny Harlin tries his hand at cheap teen horror. In this modestly budgeted supernatural thriller, four teens are bestowed with ancient mystical powers by their families. In the process, they accidentally unleash an otherworldly evil force and are charged with hunting it down. It’s basically The Craft, only with hot boys instead of hot girls. Adapted from the graphic novel by Aron Coleite and Tone Rodriguez. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Crank (R, 83 minutes) British tough Jason Statham (The Transporter) stars in this action thriller as a hit man who learns he has been injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops below below a certain rate. So basically, it’s Speed on a … well, on foot. Oddball cast includes Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite), Amy Smart (Varsity Blues) and Dwight Yoakam. The action is rough and the film (fortunately) doesn’t take itself too seriously. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Everyone’s Hero (G, 88 minutes) Weeks after we’ve all suffered CGI toon burnout comes yet another CGI toon. This one’s an adventure comedy about a young boy who goes on a 1,000-mile quest (with a talking baseball, no less) to rescue Babe Ruth’s stolen bat. Brain Dennehy, Whoopi Goldberg, Ed Helms, William H. Macy, Raven Symone and Rob Reiner are among the not-terribly-exciting voice cast. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Feast (R, 88 minutes) Director John Gulager’s long-awaited film from season three of “Project Greenlight” finally hits theaters. Sort of. Dimension is doing a late-night-only screening this weekend in anticipation of the film’s upcoming DVD release. This is your only chance to catch this monster movie/reality show project in a theater, so act fast. If you’re into slobbing creatures eating a random assortment of patrons stuck in an isolated desert bar, then this is the horror comedy for you. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Flyboys (PG-13, 139 minutes) This resolutely old-fashioned, airborne action flick takes us back to the days of World War I where we get to watch cute young stud James Franco (Spider-Man) join up with the famed Lafayette Escadrille to fight the evil Red Baron (just like Snoopy). The film mixes every war movie cliché together with some state-of-the-art CGI. At least the WWI dogfights look impressive (if you’re into WWI dogfights). Plus, it features copious use of the word “fokker.” (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Gridiron Gang (PG-13, 126 minutes) Wrestlin’ thespian The Rock finally finds a project worth being passionate about with this inspirational sports drama. Rock plays Sean Porter, a real-life counselor at California juvenile detention facility. Tired of seeing the near-perfect recidivism rate, Porter tries an alternative approach, forming a high school football team from among his ragtag gangbangers. The “root for the underdogs” stuff is all standard-issue, but director Phil Joanou (U2: Rattle and Hum) lends some visual polish. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Guardian (PG-13, 136 minutes) Until now, Hollywood hasn’t given the Coast Guard the same sort of love it has extended to Marines or firemen or cops or Russian hit men. There just aren’t a lot of Coast Guard-based action films. Now, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher are here to rectify the situation. Costner takes over the “gruff older instructor with an emotionally scarred background,” leaving Kutcher to play the “cocky but hunky new recruit with a lesson to learn.” The Guardian does a good job of showing how dangerous the jobs of Coast Guard rescue swimmers actually are, but at 136 minutes, Costner and Kutcher spend a little too much time sitting around and chatting. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings.

Heading South (NR, 105 minutes) Still-hot 60-year-old Charlotte Rampling stars in this naughty Euro version of How Stella Got her Groove Back. Rampling is a tourist who ends up in 1970s Haiti with a couple girlfriends looking for some fun in the sun. They find it amid the handsome native boys who are more than happy to indulge the foreigners’ carnal desires for a few bucks. Trouble sets in, however, when two of our tourists set their sights on one man. Issues of love, sex, loneliness, commerce and post-colonial power abound in this lovely think-piece from French director Laurent Cantet (Time Out, Human Resources). (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

Hollywoodland (R, 126 minutes) This noirish investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of TV-Superman George Reeves (Ben Affleck) explores the price of fame—that long, sad walk down the boulevard of broken dreams. Affleck does a creditable job impersonating the rather flabby Man of Steel, and Diane Lane is equally effective as the studio executive’s wife who took Reeves under her wing, but the movie itself seems less hardboiled than over easy, lacking a true tragic dimension. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Illusionist (PG-13, 110 minutes) Edward Norton stars as a magician who, because of his apparent supernatural powers, becomes a threat to the Hapsburg empire in fin-de-siècle Vienna. The movie’s a love triangle that’s supposed to stir our passions, but it doesn’t quite get the job done, partly because Norton lacks hypnotic appeal and partly because the whole thing seems to be taking place inside a cardboard box. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Jackass Number Two (PG-13, 103 minutes) Sigh… Yes. They made a second one. Teenagers who love to pour hot sauce in their eyes, jump off buildings and kick each other in the nuts are super friggin’ stoked! Everyone else simply continues to mourn the slow, steady death of civilization. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Jet Li’s Fearless (PG-13, 103 minutes) Allegedly Jet Li’s final martial arts film (say it ain’t so, Jet!), this historical kung fu film was a major hit in its native China. Li plays the legendary Chinese martial arts hero Master Huo Yuanjia, the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu sports federation (basically, the first organization to pit fighters agaisnt one another in one-on-one bouts). It ain’t a whole lot different than his other historical fight films (like Once Upon a Time in China) But the occassionally witty fight choreography keeps things punchy. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Last Kiss (R, 104 minutes) TV’s Zach Braff stars in this remake of the 2001 Italian comic drama of the same name. Braff plays a 30-something dude who knocks up his girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett) and can’t decide whether or not to marry her—even with the meddling help of parents and friends. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4
Little Miss Sunshine (R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Open Season (PG, 99 minutes) Wow, Ashton Kutcher fans are certainly like pigs rolling in filth this week. Between this and The Guardian, there are two Kutcher films in which to wallow. Frankly, it seems like overkill—not unlike the dogpile of computer-animated animal movies we’ve been subjected to this summer. Here, Kutcher plays a cartoon deer who helps a domesticated grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) to survive in the wild. Only complication: Hunting season starts in three days! (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (PG-13, 150 minutes) Call it a nasty case of sequelitis, but this second installment in the Disney theme-park franchise is bigger, louder and absolutely determined to entertain. The action sequences more or less work, but the smaller, goofier moments come up short, and that includes Johnny Depp’s surprisingly unsurprising performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Protector (R, 109 minutes) Tony Jaa, the martial arts jaw-dropper from Ong-Bak returns in this Thailand-based action flick. Like Ong-Bak, the plot is a mere excuse for tons of bruising Muay Thai fisticuffs. In this one, Jaa plays a young Thai villager who must travel to Australia to retrieve a sacred elephant from some evil kidnappers. A little bit of a retread, but—man-oh-man—can that Tony Jaa kick some ass! In English, Thai, Mandarin and Vietnamese with English subtitles. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

School for Scoundrels (PG-13, 97 minutes) Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Roger, a moveless, grooveless young meter maid who signs up for a class in how to seduce women. There, he meets the devious Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), who helps our dorky hero and his fellow misfits unleash their inner cad. Unfortunately, Roger soon finds himself competing in a battle of wits against the underhanded Dr. P, who has taken a shine to the object of Roger’s affections (Jacinda Barrett from The Last Kiss). From writer/director Todd Phillips, who gave us Road Trip and Old School. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13, 100 minutes) Will Ferrell drags a bunch of pals  (John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Sacha Baron Cohen) along for this goofball riff on NASCAR culture. Ferrell stars as a rebel NASCAR driver who suddenly faces stiff competition from a flamboyant French Formula-1 driver (Cohen from “Da Ali G Show”). There’s a continuing feeling that Farrell and friends are just making this thing up as they go along, but that doesn’t stop it form beeing quite funny on occasion. If you liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, you’ll be in good hands here, becasue it’s largely the same movie. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Wicker Man (PG-13, 106 minutes) Nicolas Cage stars in this remake of the underrated 1973 British chiller. Cage is a cop investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a remote island where mysterious pagan practices still rule. The film updates the original story quite a bit, but piles on even more creepy atmosphere. Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things, Your Friends & Neighbors) writes and directs. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Comment Policy

Film Reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS

Hollywoodland
R, 126 minutes
Regal Downtown Cinema 6

Where were you the day Kennedy was shot?
    For those of us just a little too young to answer that question, there’s a pretty good chance we were in the living room, watching “The Adventures of Superman” on TV. Surely we got shoved out of the way when it came time for JFK Jr. to salute his Commander in Chief, but there was always the next day, when the Man of Steel would once again drop into our homes, dispensing truth, justice and the American way. To us 7-year-old kids, who hadn’t quite gotten around to seeing any Bergman films, George Reeves seemed like the greatest actor of all time—just look how deftly he handles those fascinating quick-changes between Superman and Clark Kent! Only later would we learn that the Superman costume was padded, that Reeves resented the role that brought him his 15 minutes of fame, and that he’d taken his own life when those 15 minutes were up. With a speeding bullet, no less! Say it ain’t so, George.
    Well, it ain’t necessarily so. At least that’s the premise behind Hollywoodland, Allen Coulter’s noirish investigation into the circumstances surrounding Reeves’ death on June 16, 1959. Drawing on the work of Charlottesville’s own Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger—whose 1996 book, Hollywood Kryptonite, left no stone unturned in its determination to dig up a scandal—Hollywoodland presents various scenarios by which Reeves might have wound up in the upstairs bedroom of his Benedict Canyon home, naked and lying in a pool of his own blood. But what the movie is really about is the price of fame—that long, sad walk down the boulevard of broken dreams. Reeves had gone to Hollywood with an eye toward becoming a big-time movie star (a goal that must have seemed tantalizingly close after he landed a small part in Gone With the Wind). Instead, he became a small-time syndicated-TV star, prancing around the set in his underwear, the Lucy Lawless of his time.
    Most of us would have settled—but Reeves wanted Clark Gable’s career. Unfortunately, he didn’t have Gable’s charisma, which is one of the reasons Ben Affleck is the perfect actor to play him. Having endured his own career setbacks, Affleck no longer seems like the freshly scrubbed kid who brought his mom to help him pick up his scriptwriting Oscar for Good Will Hunting. And he’s put on a few pounds, as well, beefing up to convey Reeves’ seam-busting fleshiness. But he also has just enough charm to suggest that, given the right roles, Affleck might be allotted another 15 minutes. As an actor, he still lacks depth, which keeps the movie from building up much dramatic force—but Reeves may have lacked depth, too. And there’s something fascinating about watching a second-rate actor portray a second-rate actor. You never know where being a second-rate actor ends and playing a second-rate actor begins.
    Affleck does manage some first-rate acting in the scenes where Reeves, having escaped the cornfields of Iowa, is just getting started in Hollywood. He was a man on the make, and the movie adopts a screwball-comedy tone as he slides his way up the greasy pole. Along the way, he meets Toni Mannix, a studio executive’s wife given the fading-beauty treatment by Diane Lane, whose own beauty hasn’t dimmed so much as enriched its glow. She and Affleck are surprisingly good at putting over the snappy dialogue, which seems not so much Raymond Chandler as Chandler Bing. And we’d be content to watch these two lovebirds feather their nest, happily ever after (or at least for two hours and six minutes). But theirs wasn’t a conventional relationship, to say the least. Reeves was essentially a kept man, and the whole arrangement was preapproved by Mannix’s husband, Eddie (Bob Hoskins), an MGM Mr. Fix-It with alleged mob connections.
    There’s an amusing only-in-Hollywood scene where Reeves and his mistress go out to dinner with her husband and his mistress. (“That picture made money,” the executive bean-counter says when Gone With the Wind comes up.) And because Reeves’ life apparently wasn’t quite sordid enough, Coulter and scriptwriter Paul Bernbaum have conjured up Louis Simo, a down-on-his-luck private investigator played by The Pianist’s Adrien Brody. Smelling a big score (although what, exactly, would be in it for him?), Simo starts sniffing around Reeves’ alleged suicide, trying to turn smoke into fire. We’re supposed to see him as Reeves without the lucky breaks, a tick clinging to Hollywood’s matted-fur underbelly. But Brody, with his finely chiseled features and slight European air, is perhaps the least scuzzy gumshoe of all time. Is this the kind of guy who would slip a coroner a double sawbuck for a private viewing?
    Even if he were, Hollywoodland might have left us wanting a little more. Coulter has put a lot of effort into recapturing the look and feel of the day Superman died—the cars, the bars, the lime-green/lemon-yellow flavors, everything slightly bleached by the relentless sun. But he has trouble squaring that with the noir atmosphere he’s also trying to create. The movie seems less hardboiled than over-easy, which is why it doesn’t really bear comparison with Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, two movies that succeeded in plumbing the shallow depths of La-La Land. And the possibility—or various possibilities—that Reeves was murdered? The filmmakers, like the authors of Hollywood Kryptonite, seem to believe that, because some people had it in for him, they went ahead and done him in. Sound familiar? Kennedy conspiracy theorists will have no problem with that line of thinking.
    Alas, Reeves was no Kennedy. He was just another good-looking guy with more ambition than talent, not unlike half the waiters in Hollywood. At the time of his death, he was contemplating a career in exhibition wrestling. All he had to do was pass the audition, lose some weight and get back into shape. What more do you need to know?

All the King’s Men (PG-13, 120 minutes) Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel (filmed once before in 1949 with Broderick Crawford and John Ireland) returns to the big screen with a brand new, all-star cast. Based loosely on the life of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, the film follows the rise and fall of populist political animal Willie Stark (Sean Penn). Though our politician is a self-described “hick,” he isn’t above playing dirty—a tactic that causes much consternation in his right-hand man (played by Jude Law). Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Hopkins round out the credits. (Devin D. O’Leary) Coming Friday; check local listings

Bandidas (PG-13, 93 minutes) Penél-ope Cruz and Salma Hayek star in the femme version of Young Guns as written (but not directed by) French action stylist Luc Besson. As a director, Besson has given us a few classics (La Femme Nikita, The Professional, The Fifth Element). As a writer, he sticks to pure B-movie pulp (The Transporter, Unleashed, District B13). This one’s no exception. Sure, it’s great seeing two Latina hotties play wild West bank robbers; but the film is pure cartoonish hokum. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Black Dahlia (R, 121 minutes) Author James Ellroy’s pitch-black examination of Hollywood history focuses on the infamous 1947 murder of wannabe actress Elizabeth Short. Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart play the Los Angeles detectives assigned to the case. Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank are just a couple of the fatal femmes whose paths they cross. Director Brian De Palma (Mission: Impossible, Scarface) keeps things glossy and pulpy, but the cast isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not as good as the last Ellroy adaptation, L.A. Confidential, but a class bit of film noir nonetheless. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Boynton Beach Club (NR, 105 minutes) Joseph Bologna, Dyan Cannon, Sally Kellerman and Brenda Vaccaro (wow, it’s like opening night at Studio 54 in here!) star in this romantic comedy for the over-50 set. Our characters all live in an “active adult” community in Florida. Their lives intersect when they meet at a local bereavement club. Before long, love and romance are sprouting up all over the old age home! (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

The Covenant (PG-13, 97 minutes) Once a Hollywood player (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger), now a bit of a pariah (Cutthroat Island, Mindhunters), Finnish director Renny Harlin tries his hand at cheap teen horror. In this modestly budgeted supernatural thriller, four teens are bestowed with ancient mystical powers by their families. In the process, they accidentally unleash an otherworldly evil force and are charged with hunting it down. It’s basically The Craft, only with hot boys instead of hot girls. Adapted from the graphic novel by Aron Coleite and Tone Rodriguez. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Crank (R, 83 minutes) British tough Jason Statham (The Transporter) stars in this action thriller as a hit man who learns he has been injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops below below a certain rate. So basically, it’s Speed on a … well, on foot. Oddball cast includes Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite), Amy Smart (Varsity Blues) and Dwight Yoakam. The action is rough and the film (fortunately) doesn’t take itself too seriously. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Crossover (PG-13, 95 minutes) Two pals (one a pre-med student, the other an ex-con) enter a rough-and-tumble, trash-talking streetball tournament in Los Angeles. Think White Men Can’t Jump, but without the white guy. If you play a lot of NBA Ballers on the Xbox, this may be the flick for you. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Everyone’s Hero (G) Weeks after we’ve all suffered CGI toon burnout comes yet another CGI toon. This one’s an adventure comedy about a young boy who goes on a 1,000-mile quest (with a talking baseball, no less) to rescue Babe Ruth’s stolen bat. Brain Dennehy, Whoopi Goldberg, Ed Helms, William H. Macy, Raven Symone and Rob Reiner are among the not-terribly-exciting voice cast. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Flyboys (PG-13) This resolutely old- fashioned, airborne action flick takes us back to the days of World War I where we get to watch cute young stud James Franco (Spider-Man) join up with the famed Lafayette Escadrille to fight the evil Red Baron (just like Snoopy). The film mixes every war movie cliché together with some state-of-the-art CGI. At least the WWI dogfights look impressive (if you’re into WWI dogfights). Plus, it features copious use of the word “fokker.” (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Gridiron Gang (PG-13) Wrestlin’ thespian The Rock finally finds a project worth being passionate about with this inspirational sports drama. Rock plays Sean Porter, a real-life counselor at California juvenile detention facility. Tired of seeing the near-perfect recidivism rate, Porter tries an alternative approach, forming a high school football team from among his ragtag gangbangers. The “root for the underdogs” stuff is all standard-issue, but director Phil Joanou (U2: Rattle and Hum) lends some visual polish. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Illusionist (PG-13, 110 minutes) Edward Norton stars as a magician who, because of his apparent supernatural powers, becomes a threat to the Hapsburg empire in fin-de-siècle Vienna. The movie’s a love triangle that’s supposed to stir our passions, but it doesn’t quite get the job done, partly because Norton lacks hypnotic appeal and partly because the whole thing seems to be taking place inside a cardboard box. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Invincible (PG, 104 minutes) Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) was a down-on-his-luck bartender who, back in 1976, at the not-so-tender age of 30, got added to the Philadelphia Eagles roster without having played college football. Director Ericson Core lays it on pretty thick at times, but the movie has some times-was-bad grit, and Wahlberg’s performance is admirably restrained. (K.W.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Jackass Number Two (PG-13, 103 minutes) Sigh… Yes. They made a second one. Teenagers who love to pour hot sauce in their eyes, jump off buildings and kick each other in the nuts are super friggin’ stoked! Everyone else simply continues to mourn the slow, steady death of civilization. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Jet Li’s Fearless (PG-13, 103 minutes) Allegedly Jet Li’s final martial arts film (say it ain’t so, Jet!), this historical kung fu film was a major hit in its native China. Li plays the legendary Chinese martial arts hero Master Huo Yuanjia, the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu sports federation (basically, the first organization to pit fighters agaisnt one another in one-on-one bouts). It ain’t a whole lot different than his other historical fight films (like Once Upon a Time in China) But the occassionally witty fight choreography keeps things punchy. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Last Kiss (R) TV’s Zach Braff stars in this remake of the 2001 Italian comic drama of the same name. Braff plays a 30-something dude who knocks up his girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett) and can’t decide whether or not to marry her—even with the meddling help of parents and friends. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Little Miss Sunshine (R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (PG-13, 150 minutes) Call it a nasty case of sequelitis, but this second installment in the Disney theme-park franchise is bigger, louder and absolutely determined to entertain. The action sequences more or less work, but the smaller, goofier moments come up short, and that includes Johnny Depp’s surprisingly unsurprising performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Protector (R, 109 minutes) Tony Jaa, the martial arts jaw-dropper from Ong-Bak returns in this Thailand-based action flick. Like Ong-Bak, the plot is a mere excuse for tons of bruising Muay Thai fisticuffs. In this one, Jaa plays a young Thai villager who must travel to Australia to retrieve a sacred elephant from some evil kidnappers. A little bit of a retread, but—man-oh-man—can that Tony Jaa kick some ass! In English, Thai, Mandarin and Vietnamese with English subtitles. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13, 100 minutes) Will Ferrell drags a bunch of pals  (John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Sacha Baron Cohen) along for this goofball riff on NASCAR culture. Ferrell stars as a rebel NASCAR driver who suddenly faces stiff competition from a flamboyant French Formula-1 driver (Cohen from “Da Ali G Show”). There’s a continuing feeling that Farrell and friends are just making this thing up as they go along, but that doesn’t stop it form beeing quite funny on occasion. If you liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, you’ll be in good hands here, becasue it’s largely the same movie. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Trust the Man (R, 103 minutes) Two middle-aged cads (David Duchovny and Billy Crudup) fight to save their respective relationships after years of lying, cheating and trial separations. Director Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints) recruits a lot of celebrity pals (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ellen Barkin, Eva Mendes, Garry Shandling, wife Julianne Moore) for a minor but affable variation on the typical romantic comedy formula. The serio-comic plot is as predictable as any, but the actors are top-shelf and the script genrates a decent amount of sympathy for its characters. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Wicker Man (PG-13, 106 minutes) Nicolas Cage stars in this remake of the underrated 1973 British chiller. Cage is a cop investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a remote island where mysterious pagan practices still rule. The film updates the original story quite a bit, but piles on even more creepy atmosphere. Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things, Your Friends & Neighbors) writes and directs. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Comment Policy

Film Reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS
Film Reviews


The Illusionist
PG-13, 110 minutes
Now playing at Regal Downtown
Cinema 6

Just as video killed the radio stars, movies dealt a blow to magicians, causing audiences to wonder where sleight of hand ended and camera tricks began. And now, a hundred or so years later, a movie is paying tribute to the good old days, when a man all alone on a stage, with nothing up his sleeve (well, nothing much) could mesmerize an audience, if not bring down an empire. The Illusionist, which Neil Burger wrote and directed based on a short story by Steven Millhauser, is set in fin-de-siècle Vienna, when the Hapsburg dynasty was in its let-them-eat-strudel phase. And Edward Norton—with his hair swept back, his eyes aflame, and an overall Mephistophelian glow emanating from him at all times—plays the guy who told the monarchy where to stuff it.
    His name is Eisenheim, and he is a cabinet-maker’s son who, while still in training as a prestidigitator, had a forbidden romance with a young aristocrat, the lovely Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel). Fifteen years later, Eisenheim is taking Vienna by storm with his magical powers, including visitations—basically holograms before the concept existed (avant la lettre, as the French say)—from beyond the grave. Spiritualism is in the air, casting a dark shadow over the Enlightenment, an age supposedly defined by scientific rationalism and Darwinian evolution. And Eisenheim, in the movie’s rather skewed logic, represents progress, personifying the march of democracy. When Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), the villain of the piece, shows up for a performance, Eisenheim borrows his sword, places it tip-down on the floor, and dares anybody to remove it.
    Sometimes, a sword is just a sword, as Sigmund Freud (another magician plying his trade in fin-de-siècle Vienna) might have said. But having to wait until Eisenheim gives him permission to play the King Arthur role sends the prince into a frenzy. And it certainly doesn’t help that his fiancée, sent by the Hungarians to shore up the Austro-Hungarian alliance, is one Sophie von Teschen.
    Its allegorical underpinnings aside, The Illusionist is a love triangle meant to stir our passions—not to mention our loins. But Burger doesn’t quite get the job done. Norton, so effective in the right role, is in the wrong role here; he lacks the hypnotic appeal that was the spiritualist’s stock in trade. Biel, though gorgeous, is weak as well. And what’s with those accents?
    Paul Giamatti, as the police inspector torn between his duty to the prince and his admiration for Eisenheim’s abilities, obviously showed up ready to play—but even he seems hampered by the movie’s hermetically sealed atmosphere, the sense that it’s all taking place inside a cardboard box. The cinematographer, Dick Pope, has come up with some lovely images, although they’re a little too steeped in sepia. The effect is like looking at old, old photographs, or a very early silent movie, complete with irises between scenes. It’s certainly a distinctive look, but it also distances us from the action, makes it harder for us to suspend our disbelief.
    And if we’re unable to suspend our disbelief, we’re unable to transport ourselves to a time and place where, it seems, everybody was more than ready to suspend theirs.

Beerfest (R, 110 minutes) From the Broken Lizard comedy team (makers of Super Troopers and…The Dukes of Hazzard, but we’ll ignore that for now) comes this raucous laugher about a team of determined drinkers that travels to Oktoberfest in Germany. There, they uncover a centuries-old secret competition, the Olympics of beer guzzling. And these boys aren’t leaving until the crown rests in American hands. Boobies and substance abuse—how can you go wrong? (Devin D. O’Leary) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Black Dahlia (R, 121 minutes) Author James Ellroy’s pitch-black examination of Hollywood history focusses on the infamous 1947 murder of wannabe actress Elizabeth Short. Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart play the Los Angeles detectives assigned to the case. Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank are just a couple of the fatal femmes whose paths they cross. Director Brian De Palma (Mission: Impossible, Scarface) keeps things glossy and pulpy, but the cast isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not as good as the last Ellroy adaptation, L.A. Confidential, but a classs bit of film noir nonetheless. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Crank (R, 83 minutes) British tough Jason Statham (The Transporter) stars in this action thriller as a hit man who learns he has been injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops below below a certain rate. So basically, it’s Speed on a … well, on foot. Oddball cast includes Efran Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite), Amy Smart (Varsity Blues) and Dwight Yoakam. The action is rough and the film (fortunately) doesn’t take itself too seriously. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Crossover (PG-13, 95 minutes) Two pals (one a pre-med student, the other an ex-con) enter a rough-and-tumble, trash-talking streetball tournament in Los Angeles. Think White Men Can’t Jump, but without the white guy. If you play a lot of NBA Ballers on the Xbox, this may be the flick for you. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Everyone’s Hero (G) Weeks after we’ve all suffered CGI toon burnout comes yet another CGI toon. This one’s an adventure comedy about a young boy who goes on a 1,000-mile quest (with a talking baseball, no less) to rescue Babe Ruth’s stolen bat. Brain Dennehy, Whoopi Goldberg, Ed Helms, William H. Macy, Raven Symone and Rob Reiner are among the not-terribly-exciting voice cast. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Gridiron Gang (PG-13) Wrestlin’ thespian The Rock finally finds a project worth being passionate about with this inspirational sports drama. Rock plays Sean Porter, a real-life counselor at California juvenile detention facility. Tired of seeing the near-perfect recidivism rate, Porter tries an alternative approach, forming a high school football team from among his ragtag gangbangers. The “root for the underdogs” stuff is all standard-issue, but director Phil Joanou (U2: Rattle and Hum) lends some visual polish. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

How to Eat Fried Worms (PG, 98 minutes) More than a few generations of elementary school kids have grown up reading Thomas Rockwell’s gross-out classic How To Eat Fried Worms (first published in 1973). Now it comes to life on the big screen. Luke Benward (Because of Winn-Dixie) stars as Billy, an ordinary fifth-grader who accepts an ugly challenge from the school bully: eat 15 worms in 15 days. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Idlewild (R, 90 minutes) This Prohibition-era musical is set in the American South where Outkast members André 3000 and Big Boi star as a speakeasy performer and a club manager who run afoul of some gangsters who want to take over their juke joint. The music is hot and the look is slick, but the film has been sitting on the shelf for nearly two years. An oddball mixture of music, dancing, animation and singing morticians (don’t ask), make this a curious offering, if nothing else. (D.O.) PLaying at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Invincible (PG, 104 minutes) Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) was a down-on-his-luck bartender who, back in 1976, at the not-so-tender age of 30, got added to the Philadelphia Eagles roster without having played college football. Director Ericson Core lays it on pretty thick at times, but the movie has some times-was-bad grit, and Wahlberg’s performance is admirably restrained. (Kent Williams) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Last Kiss (R) TV’s Zach Braff stars in this remake of the 2001 Italian comic drama of the same name. Braff plays a 30-something dude who knocks up his girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett) and can’t decide whether or not to marry her—even with the meddling help of parents and friends. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Little Miss Sunshine (R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (NR, 108 minutes) Dame Joan Plowright stars as the titular lead, an elderly widow who checks into an old-fashioned London hotel looking for independence from her overbearing daughter. There, she meets the usual retinue of colorful residents. Embarassed by an absentee family, Mrs. Palfrey hooks up with an impossibly kindly young writer (Rupert Friend, Pride and Prejudice) who agrees to stand in as her grandson at the occasional dinner. This fairy tale for the geriatric set is all nicely genteel with a couple of tiny surprises and a life lesson or two. Plowright is, not so surpisingly, the highlight here. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (PG-13, 150 minutes) Call it a nasty case of sequelitis, but this second installment in the Disney theme-park franchise is bigger, louder and absolutely determined to entertain. The action sequences more or less work, but the smaller, goofier moments come up short, and that includes Johnny Depp’s surprisingly unsurprising performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Protector (R, 109 minutes) Tony Jaa, the martial arts jaw-dropper from Ong-Bak returns in this Thailand-based action flick. Like Ong-Bak, the plot is a mere excuse for tons of bruising Muay Thai fisticuffs. In this one, Jaa plays a young Thai villager who must travel to Australia to retrieve a sacred elephant from some evil kidnappers. A little bit of a retread, but—man-oh-man—can that Tony Jaa kick some ass! In English, Thai, Mandarin and Vietnamese with English subtitles. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Snakes on a Plane (R, 106 minutes) Really, what could I possibly add? It’s motherf&#$@ing snakes on a motherf&#$@ing plane! Get yourself to a motherf&#$@ing theater! (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Step Up (PG-13, 98 minutes) You know that film where the uptight, classically trained dancer chick hooks up with the street-smart bad boy to wow the establishment with their radical mixture of ballet and hip-hop while falling in love with one another? Well, this is one of those. If you paid good money for Save the Last Dance, you’ll probably do the same here. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13, 100 minutes) Will Ferrell drags a bunch of pals  (John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Sacha Baron Cohen) along for this goofball riff on NASCAR culture. Ferrell stars as a rebel NASCAR driver who suddenly faces stiff competition from a flamboyant French Formula-1 driver (Cohen from “Da Ali G Show”). There’s a continuing feeling that Farrell and friends are just making this thing up as they go along, but that doesn’t stop it form beeing quite funny on occasion. If you liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, you’ll be in good hands here, becasue it’s largely the same movie. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Wicker Man (PG-13, 106 minutes) Nicolas Cage stars in this remake of the underrated 1973 British chiller. Cage is a cop investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a remote island where mysterious pagan practices still rule. The film updates the original story quite a bit, but piles on even more creepy atmosphere. Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things, Your Friends & Neighbors) writes and directs. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

World Trade Center (PG-13, 125 minutes) Oliver Stone strips away even the slightest hint of politics to tell the true story of two New York Port Authority policemen trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center collapse. At its heart an inspirational disaster film, the simple narrative concentrates on the officers (Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena) and their terrified wives (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello). This moving and deeply personal tale takes us back to 9/11 not to recall the trauma of that day, but to remind us that it was originally a human story and not a tale of governments, occupying forces and insurgents. There are a lot of Oscar nominations in this one. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Comment Policy

Film Reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS
Film Reviews


The Protector

R, 109 minutes
Opens Friday, September 8,
at Carmike Cinema 6

In 1985, Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan starred in a movie called The Protector, his second attempt at cashing in on the American film market. It didn’t work—partially because the film sucked, and partially because Chan found himself teamed up with Danny Aiello. (Not to worry: Chan’s next American outing, paired with Chris Tucker in 1998’s Rush Hour, proved a bit more profitable.) Now comes another martial arts action film titled The Protector. This one stars Thai jaw-dropper Tony Jaa (Ong-bak). And no, it has absolutely nothing to do with Chan’s film. (Although alert viewers might spot a historic passing-of-the-torch moment involving Jaa and what looks like a certain big-nosed kung fu fighter.)
    The Protector is actually a re-title of Jaa’s 2005 hit Tom Yum Goong (which, rather uninterestingly, refers to a popular Thai soup that’s never actually featured in the film). The new appellation, bestowed by the film’s American releasing company, is a none-too-subtle hint that Jaa is the martial arts world’s most promising up-and-comer. Ong-bak established Jaa, with his stunning Muay Thai skills, as the newest link in the Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan/Jet Li chain of succession. Many have tried to join that exalted line—and many have failed. Throughout the years, we’ve had British kickboxer Gary Daniels, American aikido master Stephen Segal and countless Hollywood actors with well-paid trainers. (Wesley Snipes, I’m looking at you!) But few of those would-be martial arts stars have had the skills, the charisma, and the ability to resist becoming fat and Buddhist. But it looks as though Jaa might be able to avoid that ignominious fate: If Ong-bak cemented the man’s reputation, then The Protector plates it in gold.
    Storywise, the film doesn’t stray very far from the mythology laid out in Ong-bak. This time, instead of a playing a humble country boy from Thailand hunting down evil foreigners who have stolen his village’s sacred statue, Jaa plays a humble country boy from Thailand hunting down evil foreigners who have stolen his village’s sacred elephant. Seems that Jaa’s character, Kham, has spent his entire life growing up around elephants. For centuries, his family has served as bodyguards to the king of Thailand’s personal elephants. (Trust me, in Thailand, that’s a very big deal.) One day, however, some evil poachers show up and steal Kham’s lifelong pachyderm companion, BoBo.
    Admittedly, on the list of marital arts film motivations, “You stole my elephant!” ranks somewhere below “You killed my sister!” and “You insulted my school!” Still, after our hero touches down in Australia in pursuit of the elephant-nappers, the villainous scheme grows proportionally larger—eventually involving corrupt cops, evil businesswomen, white slavery and other unspeakable acts. Believe me, by the end, you’ll want to see all of their evil asses thoroughly kicked.
    It takes a little while for Jaa to unleash his punishing brand of Muay Thai martial arts. Obviously proud of their country’s culture and heritage, Jaa and director Prachya Pinkaew spend a decent amount of time setting up the film’s backstory. The beautiful imagery of rural Thailand, and the well-shot nature footage of the Thai people’s close connection with elephants, make for a lovely opening travelogue. Of course, when the fisticuffs finally do arrive, they’re well worth the wait. If you’ve never witnessed Muay Thai, it’s pretty stunning stuff—mercilessly designed to snap limbs, bust heads and otherwise completely incapacitate opponents. Jaa is an incredible athlete, and his on-screen bouts look amazingly brutal. It’s hard to watch this film without screaming “Ouch!” every few minutes.
    Logically speaking, the story doesn’t always gel. Bad guys sprout from the woodwork with all the clockwork regularity of videogame characters, and the villains’ main scheme is a bit hard to follow. Nonetheless, I guarantee it’s something you’ve never seen before. The film’s originality extends into the fight sequences, which are cleverly choreographed. and not simply cribbed from old Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan films. One bravura sequence—a nonstop, single-camera, no-cut, five-minute bruise-a-thon through a five-storey building—deserves to be enshrined in the martial arts hall of fame.
    Only time will tell if Tony Jaa truly assumes the crown left behind by aging asskicker Jackie Chan. In 10 years’ time, Jaa could very well be in Hollywood making wacky action comedies with David Spade. Personally, I hope he stays in Thailand and gives us more amazing marital arts mayhem like The Protector. —Devin D. O’Leary

Invincible
PG, 105 minutes
Now playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Thirty years after Rocky Balboa went the distance against Apollo Creed, another working-class hero has risen from the streets of South Philly. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for Vince Papale (“the real-life Rocky”) who, back in 1976, at the not-so-tender age of 30, got added to the Philadelphia Eagles roster without having played college football. In his three seasons with the Iggles, Papale made some special-teams tackles and caught exactly one pass. But that isn’t the point. The point is that one year Papale was sitting in the stands, and the next year he was running down the field. Cinderella’s got nothing on this guy. And now, just as Sylvester Stallone is taping up his knuckles for another cinematic jab at America’s solar plexus, Papale’s got his own movie, Invincible, which stars Mark Wahlberg as the NFL’s only 5’8" wide receiver.
    But hey, height doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that Wahlberg seems younger than his teammates, not older, because the kid’s got heart, which is what Papale (who was considered short at 6’2") had. A part-time schoolteacher who was moonlighting as a bartender, Papale participated in an open tryout that the Eagles’ new coach, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear, in what I hope, for his sake, is a wig), cooked up as a way of generating enthusiasm for a team that hadn’t been generating much on its own. And, although Wahlberg’s size makes it seem as if Papale’s addition to the team is little more than a glorified publicity stunt, the actor delivers a nicely restrained performance that won’t have anybody thinking Rudy. His Papale is a guy who expects to be cut from the team at any moment but—and this is key—still gives 110 percent.
    And thus does he win over a city that has problems of its own. Director Ericson Core, who served as his own cinematographer, lays it on a little thick at times. The movie’s palette—all browns and grays—makes the place seem both burnished and tarnished, resplendently grimy. But Philadelphia, during the American Bicentennial, had clearly seen better days, and Core shows us a city that’s reeling from cutbacks and layoffs, labor strikes and season-opening losses to the Dallas Cowboys. You almost expect Bruce Springsteen to emerge from the shadows, crooning a dirge to the Spirit of ’76. Instead, Core goes with a Greatest Hits of the ‘70s compilation, starting with Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name.” And the movie does a good job of saying ‘70s without shouting ‘70s, from Papale’s beat-up Chevy Nova to his ever-so-slightly puffy-sleeved shirt.
    Down at the corner bar, where everybody knows your name, Core gets a nice vibe going. These guys live and breathe “Where Eagles Dare,” and you start to see how a touchdown back in 1948 could get someone through the next three decades of his sorry life. But adding Elizabeth Banks to the mix as a bartender who’s every guy’s vision of the perfect football-season girlfriend—she’s smart, funny, sexy and knows her way around a gridiron, although she’s a Giants fan—is pushing things a bit. Yes, it gives Papale somewhere to go when his wife dumps him, but it’s also clearly a sop to the female audience Invincible hopes to attract. (Good luck with that.) Luckily, Papale has more important things on his mind, like cracking a team on which his fellow teammates—vets and rookies alike—resent him for presuming to play at their level.
    Core doesn’t milk the moment when Papale holds a genuine Eagles helmet and jersey—his helmet and jersey—in his hands for the first time. In fact, Core doesn’t milk any of the moments, to his credit. But there’s milk nevertheless—Invincible may be set in blue-collar Philadelphia, but it’s also set in the Wonderful World of Disney, home of Miracle and The Rookie (and don’t forget Remember the Titans). And Papale’s story, as inspiring as it already was, has been imagineered into a fairy tale. No, the real Papale hadn’t played college football, but he had played semipro football—a platform from which soaring with the Eagles doesn’t seem like such an impossible dream. Then again, the ex-bartender still holds the record as the oldest rookie ever to play in the NFL. And however dubious that honor may be, it’s still something that all of us over 30 can totally get behind.—Kent Williams

Accepted (PG-13, 90 minutes) Unable to get into college, an enterprising young man (Justin Long from those Mac computer commercials) invents his own fake college in order to fool his overzealous parents. In time, other slacker students flock to him, forcing the opening of a “real” fake school. This one basically throws Ferris Bueller, Animal House and Old School into a cocktail shaker and mixes generously. Earns a few laughs and a barely passing grade. (Devin D. O’Leary) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Beerfest (R, 110 minutes) From the Broken Lizard comedy team (makers of Super Troopers and…The Dukes of Hazzard, but we’ll ignore that for now) comes this raucous laugher about a team of determined drinkers that travels to Oktoberfest in Germany. There, they uncover a centuries-old secret competition, the Olympics of beer guzzling. And these boys aren’t leaving until the crown rests in American hands. Boobies and substance abuse—how can you go wrong? (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Covenant (PG-13) Once a Hollywood player (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger), now a bit of a pariah (Cutthroat Island, Mindhunters), Finnish director Renny Harlin tries his hand at cheap teen horror. In this modestly budgeted supernatural thriller, four teens are bestowed with ancient mystical powers by their families. In the process, they accidentally unleash an otherworldly evil force and are charged with hunting it down. It’s basically “The Craft,” only with hot boys instead of hot girls. Adapted from the graphic novel by Aron Coleite and Tone Rodriguez. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Crank (R, 83 minutes) British tough Jason Statham (The Transporter) stars in this action thriller as a hit man who learns he has been injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops below below a certain rate. So basically, it’s Speed on a … well, on foot. Oddball cast includes Efran Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite), Amy Smart (Varsity Blues) and Dwight Yoakam. The action is rough and the film (fortunately) doesn’t take itself too seriously. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Crossover (PG-13, 95 minutes) Two pals (one a pre-med student, the other an ex-con) enter a rough-and-tumble, trash-talking streetball tournament in Los Angeles. Think White Men Can’t Jump, but without the white guy. If you play a lot of NBA Ballers on the Xbox, this may be the flick for you. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Hollywoodland (R, 126 minutes) Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck and Bob Hoskins star in this historical mystery. The film speculates on the 1959 death of actor George Reeves, TV’s Superman. Did Reeves commit suicide, or was he murdered by a jealous studio executive? The film’s framing device, about a detective (Brody) investigating the circumstances of Reeves’ demise, actually manages to detract from what could have been a perfectly poignant tale of a Hollywood has-been (played by Affleck). The period recreation is tight, but the script tries too hard to be Citizen Kane or something. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

How to Eat Fried Worms (PG, 98 minutes) More than a few generations of elementary school kids have grown up reading Thomas Rockwell’s gross-out classic How To Eat Fried Worms (first published in 1973). Now it comes to life on the big screen. Luke Benward (Because of Winn-Dixie) stars as Billy, an ordinary fifth-grader who accepts an ugly challenge from the school bully: eat 15 worms in 15 days. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Idlewild (R, 90 minutes) This Prohibition-era musical is set in the American South where Outkast members André 3000 and Big Boi star as a speakeasy performer and a club manager who run afoul of some gangsters who want to take over their juke joint. The music is hot and the look is slick, but the film has been sitting on the shelf for nearly two years. An oddball mixture of music, dancing, animation and singing morticians (don’t ask), make this a curious offering, if nothing else. (D.O.) PLaying at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Illusionist (PG-13, 110 minutes) Edward Norton stars in this turn-of-the-century fantasy romance about a magician who falls in love with a woman of high social standing (Jessica Biel). When she becomes engaged to a Viennese prince, our magical lover uses his powers to win her back and bring down the royal house. Paul Giamatti is the Chief Inspector stuck with the unenviable task of finding out if our illusionist is a charlatan or a conjurer of extraordinary power. The film has an opulent, old-fashioned and deeply mysterious feel to it. A bit rarified for general audiences, but just the thing for art house crowds looking for pulpy fun. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Little Miss Sunshine (R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (xx, 108 minutes) Dame Joan Plowright stars as the titular lead, an elderly widow who checks into an old-fashioned London hotel looking for independence from her overbearing daughter. There, she meets the usual retinue of colorful residents. Embarassed by an absentee family, Mrs. Palfrey hooks up with an impossibly kindly young writer (Rupert Friend, Pride and Prejudice) who agrees to stand in as her grandson at the occasional dinner. This fairy tale for the geriatric set is all nicely genteel with a couple of tiny surprises and a life lesson or two. Plowright is, not so surpisingly, the highlight here. (D.O.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (PG-13, 150 minutes) Call it a nasty case of sequelitis, but this second installment in the Disney theme-park franchise is bigger, louder and absolutely determined to entertain. The action sequences more or less work, but the smaller, goofier moments come up short, and that includes Johnny Depp’s surprisingly unsurprising performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Quiet (R, 91 minutes) Family secrets get revealed after a suburban couple played by Edie Falco and Martin Donovan adopt a recently orphaned deaf girl. Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Snakes on a Plane (R, 106 minutes) Really, what could I possibly add? It’s mother*&#$@ing snakes on a mother*&#$@ing plane! Get yourself to a mother*&#$@ing theater! (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Step Up (PG-13, 98 minutes) You know that film where the uptight, classically trained dancer chick hooks up with the street-smart bad boy to wow the establishment with their radical mixture of ballet and hip-hop while falling in love with one another? Well, this is one of those. If you paid good money for Save the Last Dance, you’ll probably do the same here. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13, 100 minutes) Will Ferrell drags a bunch of pals  (John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Sacha Baron Cohen) along for this goofball riff on NASCAR culture. Ferrell stars as a rebel NASCAR driver who suddenly faces stiff competition from a flamboyant French Formula-1 driver (Cohen from “Da Ali G Show”). There’s a continuing feeling that Farrell and friends are just making this thing up as they go along, but that doesn’t stop it form beeing quite funny on occasion. If you liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, you’ll be in good hands here, becasue it’s largely the same movie. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Wicker Man (PG-13, 106 minutes) Nicolas Cage stars in this remake of the underrated 1973 British chiller. Cage is a cop investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a remote island where mysterious pagan practices still rule. The film updates the original story quite a bit, but piles on even more creepy atmosphere. Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things, Your Friends & Neighbors) writes and directs. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

World Trade Center (PG-13, 125 minutes) Oliver Stone strips away even the slightest hint of politics to tell the true story of two New York Port Authority policemen trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center collapse. At its heart an inspirational disaster film, the simple narrative concentrates on the officers (Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena) and their terrified wives (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello). This moving and deeply personal tale takes us back to 9/11 not to recall the trauma of that day, but to remind us that it was originally a human story and not a tale of governments, occupying forces and insurgents. There are a lot of Oscar nominations in this one. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Comment Policy

Film Reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS

Accepted (PG-13) Unable to get into college, an enterprising young man (Justin Long from those Mac computer commercials) invents his own fake college in order to fool his overzealous parents. In time, other slacker students flock to him, forcing the opening of a “real” fake school. This one basically throws Ferris Bueller, Animal House and Old School into a cocktail shaker and mixes generously. Earns a few laughs and a barely passing grade. (Devin O’Leary) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Barnyard (PG, 90 minutes) The summer of CGI toons continues. Here, writer/director Steve Oedekerk (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist) spins a tale of what happens in the barnyard when the farmer’s away. At first it’s all fun and games, but eventually a carefree cow named Otis (Kevin James) has to accept some responsibility and start running the farm. Voice cast includes Courteney Cox, Sam Elliot, Danny Glover, Andie MacDowell and the suddenly ubiquitous Wanda Sykes (who kicked of the summer with the CGI toon Over the Hedge). The film is harmless enough, but a lot of people are kinda freaked out by the fact that Otis has udders. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Beerfest (R, 110 minutes) From the Broken Lizard comedy team (makers of Super Troopers and…The Dukes of Hazzard, but we’ll ignore that for now) comes this raucous laugher about a team of determined drinkers that travels to Oktoberfest in Germany. There, they uncover a centuries-old secret competition, the Olympics of beer guzzling. And these boys aren’t leaving until the crown rests in American hands. Boobies and substance abuse—how can you go wrong? (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

The Descent (R, 99 minutes) A caving expedition goes horribly wrong when a group of women become trapped underground. Things get a tad worse, however, when they discover they are being pursued by a strange breed of sub-human predators. Brit writer/director Neil Marshall (who gave us the classy Dog Soldiers) keeps the scares flying fast and furious, proving that a tight budget and a lack of stars is no impediment to creating a memorable horror flick. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Devil Wears Prada (PG-13) This fashion-industry comedy stars Anne Hathaway as an aspiring journalist who winds up as a gopher for Meryl Streep’s boss-from-hell, but the two of them aren’t allowed to get much going, Streep’s ice-cold performance getting stranded on the runway. The movie could have been an enjoyable romp; instead, it’s as earnest as Wall Street, only with frocks instead of stocks. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

How to Eat Fried Worms (PG, 98 minutes) More than a few generations of elementary school kids have grown up reading Thomas Rockwell’s gross-out classic How To Eat Fried Worms (first published in 1973). Now it comes to life on the big screen. Luke Benward (Because of Winn-Dixie) stars as Billy, an ordinary fifth-grader who accepts an ugly challenge from the school bully: eat 15 worms in 15 days. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Idlewild (R, 90 minutes) This Prohibition-era musical is set in the American South where Outkast members André 3000 and Big Boi star as a speakeasy performer and a club manager who run afoul of some gangsters who want to take over their juke joint. The music is hot and the look is slick, but the film has been sitting on the shelf for nearly two years. An oddball mixture of music, dancing, animation and singing morticians (don’t ask), make this a curious offering, if nothing else. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Invincible (PG) Remember Rock Star, the inspired-by-a-true-story in which Mark Wahlberg played an ordinary dude who got to try out for his favorite rock band? Well, here we have an inspired-by-a-true-story in which Mark Wahlberg plays an ordinary dude who gets to try out for his favorite football team. Terribly inspirational if you’re the type to be inspired by the usual underdog sports movie. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

John Tucker Must Die (PG-13, 87 minutes) Three vindictive ex-girlfriends of a serial cheater (Jesse Metcalf from “Desperate Housewives”) come up with a plan for revenge. They’ll set him up to fall in love with the new girl in town, just so they can watch his heart get broken. Your basic teen-aimed romantic comedy filled with as much PG-13 sexual innuendo as director Betty Thomas (Private Parts, Doctor Dolittle, I Spy) could cram between the credits. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Little Miss Sunshine (R, 100 minutes) This pitch-black comedy features a strong cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette,  Steve Carell) in the story of a downwardly mobile Albuquerque family that can’t win for losing. Although the filmmakers sometimes press too hard on their theme about the hollowness of the American Dream, the movie often achieves a light, farcical tone that’s touchingly at odds with the mood everybody’s in. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Material Girls (PG, 98 minutes) Hilary and Hayley Duff star in this minor variation on the Hilton sisters myth. The sisters play heiresses to a family cosmetics fortune who are given a wake-up call when a scandal and ensuing investigation strip them of their wealth. Suddenly, our celebutantes are living “The Simple Life.” I’m sure they both learn a valuable lesson. If you’re not a 12-year-old girl, you shouldn’t even be reading this capsule. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Miami Vice (R, 146 minutes) Writer/director Michael Mann turns his mega-popular ‘80s TV series into a two-hour-plus movie. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx take over as Crockett and Tubbs, the two most conspicuous detectives in the history of undercover police work. It doesn’t look or feel much like the original series (no ice cream suits or visits from Phil Collins, sadly), but what’s on screen comes close to the best of Mann’s crime film output (Heat, Collateral). A preponderance of guns, sex and seedy atmosphere (not to mention a tough-to-follow storyline) make this a decidedly “adult” popcorn film. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Monster House (PG, 91 minutes) This film uses motion-capture software to turn live-action performances into children’s-storybook animation, and the result is charming, albeit scary. Armed with Super Soakers, a trio of suburban kids launches an assault on a house that gobbles up anybody who crosses over the property line. (K.W.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Night Listener (R, 91 minutes) Robin Williams and Toni Collette star in this adaptation of the Armistead Maupin novel about a radio show host (Williams) who starts getting phone calls from his biggest fan, a young boy who is dying from a terminal illness. In time, however, questions of the young boy’s identity begin to plague the mistrustful talk show host. The story tries to be mysterious, but throws a few too many red herrings into the mix, making this feel like a stretched-out short story. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (PG-13, 150 minutes) Call it a nasty case of sequelitis, but this second installment in the Disney theme-park franchise is bigger, louder and absolutely determined to entertain. The action sequences more or less work, but the smaller, goofier moments come up short, and that includes Johnny Depp’s surprisingly unsurprising performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. (K.W.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Protector (NR, 109 minutes) Tony Jaa, the martial arts jaw-dropper from Ong-Bak returns in this Thailand-based action flick. Like Ong-Bak, the plot is a mere excuse for tons of bruising Muay Thai fisticuffs. In this one, Jaa plays a young Thai villager who must travel to Australia to retrieve a sacred elephant from some evil kidnappers. A little bit of a retread, but—man-oh-man—can that Tony Jaa kick some ass! In English, Thai, Mandarin and Vietnamese with English subtitles. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Pulse (R, 87 minutes) This nearly shot-for-shot remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s haunting 2001 film Kairo replaces the original Asian cast with the usual group of teen TV stars (Kristen Bell from “Veronica Mars,” Ian Somerhalder from “Lost”) and tries a little harder to explain what the hell’s going on. It all has something to do with a suicide, a computer virus and a whole hell of a lot of ghosts. Despite a consistantly creepy mood, the slow-going film can’t quite match the original’s surreal freakiness. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Scoop (PG-13, 96 minutes) The newly revitalized Woody Allen continues to pump out the films. His new muse, Scarlett Johannson, stars as an American journalism student who falls in love with a handsome aristocrat (Hugh Jackman), who just happens to be the prime suspect in a string of serial killings. It’s a little scary to see Allen stepping back in front of the camera (he plays a bumbling magician helping our gal reporter in her investigation), but at least he hasn’t cast himself as the romantic lead. Considerably funnier than Match Point, but not quite as brilliant. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Snakes on a Plane (R, 106 minutes) Really, what could I possibly add? It’s mother*&#$@ing snakes on a mother*&#$@ing plane! Get yourself to a mother*&#$@ing theater! (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Step Up (PG-13, 98 minutes) You know that film where the uptight, classically trained dancer chick hooks up with the street-smart bad boy to wow the establishment with their radical mixture of ballet and hip-hop while falling in love with one another? Well, this is one of those. If you paid good money for Save the Last Dance, you’ll probably do the same here. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13, 100 minutes) Will Ferrell drags a bunch of pals  (John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Sacha Baron Cohen) along for this goofball riff on NASCAR culture. Ferrell stars as a rebel NASCAR driver who suddenly faces stiff competition from a flamboyant French Formula-1 driver (Cohen from “Da Ali G Show”). There’s a continuing feeling that Farrell and friends are just making this thing up as they go along, but that doesn’t stop it form beeing quite funny on occasion. If you liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, you’ll be in good hands here, becasue it’s largely the same movie. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Wordplay (PG, 90 minutes) This easygoing documentary looks at crossword puzzles and the people who love them. It takes us to the 28th Annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where pencil-pushing speed demons compete for fun and prizes, also interviewing celebrity logophiliacs like Jon Stewart. (K.W.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

World Trade Center (PG-13, 125 minutes) Oliver Stone strips away even the slightest hint of politics to tell the true story of two New York Port Authority policemen trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center collapse. At its heart an inspirational disaster film, the simple narrative concentrates on the officers (Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena) and their terrified wives (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello). This moving and deeply personal tale takes us back to 9/11 not to recall the trauma of that day, but to remind us that it was originally a human story and not a tale of governments, occupying forces and insurgents. There are a lot of Oscar nominations in this one. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Zoom (PG, 83 minutes) Tim Allen stars in this Happy Meal-sized mix of Spy Kids and The X-Men. In it, a washed-up superhero (Allen) is called out of retirement to transform a rag-tag group of super-powered kiddies into crimefighting machines at a private academy. It’s all pretty familiar ground at this point, but if you thought the Fantastic Four weren’t cutesy enough, this one might fit the bill. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Comment Policy

Film Reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS
Film Reviews


Little Miss Sunshine
[theaters & times]
R, 102 minutes
Opens Friday, August 18, nationwide

The “road picture” is, in many ways, the kiddie pool of the American filmmaking industry. Countless neophyte filmmakers have tested the waters of Hollywood with a cheap-and-easy road movie. The simple, anything-goes formula of a road picture makes it easy for just about anyone to attempt. Pick a character or two, put them in a car and have them drive across America, encountering as many random pit stops as they possibly can between point A and point B. End the picture when point B is reached.
    That isn’t to say that all road pictures are simplistic or bad—many are classics. From Hope and Crosby in The Road to Singapore to Sarandon and Davis in Thelma & Louise, from Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story to Anthony Hopkins in The World’s Fastest Indian, road films have been a backbone of the movie industry. Now, in the proud tradition of Easy Rider, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and … um, Road Trip, comes Little Miss Sunshine, the debut feature from longtime music-video directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
    Made without studio help, the indie effort was snapped up for a pretty penny at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and rushed into theaters based largely on the strength of its fortuitous casting. Nestled amid an already impressive cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin) is comedian Steve Carell. Having rocked last summer’s box office with his sleeper hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Carell is suddenly a hot Hollywood property. But fans looking for more of Carell’s wacky Virginal hijinks will, at least initially, be disappointed by his turn here.
    Carell plays Frank, a suicidal, gay college professor. (“America’s No. 1 Proust scholar,” as he frequently puts it.) Taken out of the hospital after a wrist-slashing episode fails to produce the desired results, Frank is trucked back to his sister’s house in suburban Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, Frank finds himself surrounded by his none-too-helpful family, including unhappy housewife Sheryl (Collette), failed motivational speaker Richard (Kinnear), sullen, Nietzsche-reading teen Dwayne (Paul Dano), heroin-snorting, porn-addicted Grandpa (Arkin) and four-eyed, 7-year-old cutie Olive (Abigail Breslin).
    Yes, it’s your typical, hyper-dysfunctional indie-movie family (which, come to think of it, gives the film two tried-and-true genres to fall back on). And when Olive wins a spot (by default) in the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant in California, the entire warped clan is prevailed upon to pile into a claptrap Volkswagen van and motor their way across the American Southwest on a misguided journey of self-discovery.
    Despite its overused set-up, Little Miss Sunshine gets considerable mileage out of its professional cast and its low-key direction. The cast members work like a finely tuned machine. Dano (L.I.E.) manages to build quite an impression, even though his character has taken a vow of silence and communicates only in terse handwritten notes. (“I hate everyone” being a favorite.) Carell, given little opportunity to cut loose with his trademark goofball antics, proves himself a surprising dramatic actor. No doubt this will increase both his Hollywood stock-in-trade and the variety of his roles. However, the film’s loudest kudos are reserved for tiny Abigail Breslin (who first came on the scene in Signs). Pretty much the entire film hinges on her character’s innocence, vulnerability and sensitivity. Breslin’s round cherub face is able to convey an amazing variety of subtle emotions, making Olive the soulful heart of this nutty brood.
    After the usual episodic roadside encounters (in which our family, predictably, learns that it’s their respective dysfunctions that unite them), Little Miss Sunshine arrives at the climactic kiddie beauty pageant. The expected swipes at prepubescent hoochie mamas are in full force, but the film’s script maintains enough dignity to pull it off. Olive’s family isn’t made out to be your typical overbearing stage parents. Instead, they’re a hopelessly naive bunch so distracted by their own self-loathing that they actually have no clue about the exploitative nature of beauty pageants. And it’s this naivete that transforms what could have been a too-crude finale into a gleeful tribute to individuality.
    Though it is a comedy, Little Miss Sunshine maintains a surprisingly glum vibe for most of its runtime. Toward the end, the dry black humor is dumped in favor of some over-the-top antics that are fun, but not terribly realistic. Ultimately, the film has a hard time maintaining its structural integrity. It vacillates between darkly dramatic and ridiculously satirical. Is it a dysfunctional family drama? A madcap road movie? A vicious satire of the “win at all costs” nature of beauty pageants? Actually, it’s all three rolled up in one. Even so, most audiences will happily ride the film’s breakneck shifts in tone, enjoying the fine cast, clever punchlines, and ultimately loving tribute to American losers.


The Ant Bully (PG, 88 minutes) The summer of CGI toons continues. In this family fantasy, a young boy is magically reduced to micro-size after flooding an ant colony with his squirt gun. Our wee protagonist is then dragged into the ant colony and sentenced to hard labor for his trangressions. Eventually, of course, he learns a valuable lesson. Nicolas Cage, Paul Giamatti, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Bruce Campbell are among the impressive voice cast. Based on the kids book by John Nickle. (Devin O’Leary) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Barnyard [theaters & times] (PG, 90 minutes) The summer of CGI toons continues. Here, writer/director Steve Oedekerk (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist) spins a tale of what happens in the barnyard when the farmer’s away. At first it’s all fun and games, but eventually a carefree cow named Otis (Kevin James) has to accept some responsibility and start running the farm. Voice cast includes Courteney Cox, Sam Elliot, Danny Glover, Andie MacDowell and the suddenly ubiquitous Wanda Sykes (who kicked of the summer with the CGI toon Over the Hedge). The film is harmless enough, but a lot of people are kinda freaked out by the fact that Otis has udders. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Descent [theaters & times] (R, 99 minutes) A caving expedition goes horribly wrong when a group of women become trapped underground. Things get a tad worse, however, when they discover they are being pursued by a strange breed of sub-human predators. Brit writer/director Neil Marshall (who gave us the classy Dog Soldiers) keeps the scares flying fast and furious, proving that a tight budget and a lack of stars is no impediment to creating a memorable horror flick. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Illusionist (PG-13, 110 minutes) Edward Norton stars in this turn-of-the-century fantasy romance about a magician who falls in love with a woman of high social standing (Jessica Biel). When she becomes engaged to a Viennese prince, our magical lover uses his powers to win her back and bring down the royal house. Paul Giamatti is the Chief Inspector stuck with the unenviable task of finding out if our illusionist is a charlatan or a conjurer of extraordinary power. The film has an opulent, old-fashioned and deeply mysterious feel to it. A bit rarified for general audiences, but just the thing for art house crowds looking for pulpy fun. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

An Inconvenient Truth [theaters & times] (PG) Al Gore, now exuding a self-deprecating folksiness, makes the case for global warming in a documentary that may be the most alarming dog-and-pony show of all time. Using charts and graphs and even the occasional “Simpsons”-like cartoon, Gore lays out his argument, and the result is a sneak preview of “a nature hike through the Book of Revelations.” (Kent Williams) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

John Tucker Must Die (PG-13, 87 minutes) Three vindictive ex-girlfriends of a serial cheater (Jesse Metcalf from “Desperate Housewives”) come up with a plan for revenge. They’ll set him up to fall in love with the new girl in town, just so they can watch his heart get broken. Your basic teen-aimed romantic comedy filled with as much PG-13 sexual innuendo as director Betty Thomas (Private Parts, Doctor Dolittle, I Spy) could cram between the credits. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Lady in the Water (PG-13, 110 minutes) In M. Night Shyamalan’s emphatically metaphysical thriller, an apartment complex receives a visit from a sea nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) who wants to warn us that we’re in big trouble but everything’s going to be O.K. Paul Giamatti does his best as the building supervisor, but the movie never squares its highfalutin spiritual pretensions with the down-and-dirty need to entertain. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Material Girls (PG) Hilary and Hayley Duff star in this minor variation on the Hilton sisters myth. The sisters play heiresses to a family cosmetics fortune who are given a wake-up call when a scandal and ensuing investigation strip them of their wealth. Suddenly, our celebutantes are living “The Simple Life.” I’m sure they both learn a valuable lesson. If you’re not a 12-year-old girl, you shouldn’t even be reading this capsule. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Miami Vice (R, 146 minutes) Writer/director Michael Mann turns his mega-popular ‘80s TV series into a two-hour-plus movie. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx take over as Crockett and Tubbs, the two most conspicuous detectives in the history of undercover police work. It doesn’t look or feel much like the original series (no ice cream suits or visits from Phil Collins, sadly), but what’s on screen comes close to the best of Mann’s crime film output (Heat, Collateral). A preponderance of guns, sex and seedy atmosphere (not to mention a tough-to-follow storyline) make this a decidedly “adult” popcorn film. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Monster House (PG, 91 minutes) This film uses motion-capture software to turn live-action performances into children’s-storybook animation, and the result is charming, albeit scary. Armed with Super Soakers, a trio of suburban kids launches an assault on a house that gobbles up anybody who crosses over the property line. (K.W.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

The Night Listener (R, 91 minutes) Robin Williams and Toni Collette star in this adaptation of the Armistead Maupin novel about a radio show host (Williams) who starts getting phone calls from his biggest fan, a young boy who is dying from a terminal illness. In time, however, questions of the young boy’s identity begin to plague the mistrustful talk show host. The story tries to be mysterious, but throws a few too many red herrings into the mix, making this feel like a stretched-out short story. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (PG-13, 150 minutes) Call it a nasty case of sequelitis, but this second installment in the Disney theme-park franchise is bigger, louder and absolutely determined to entertain. The action sequences more or less work, but the smaller, goofier moments come up short, and that includes Johnny Depp’s surprisingly unsurprising performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. (K.W.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Pulse (R, 87 minutes) This nearly shot-for-shot remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s haunting 2001 film Kairo replaces the original Asian cast with the usual group of teen TV stars (Kristen Bell from “Veronica Mars,” Ian Somerhalder from “Lost”) and tries a little harder to explain what the hell’s going on. It all has something to do with a suicide, a computer virus and a whole hell of a lot of ghosts. Despite a consistantly creepy mood, the slow-going film can’t quite match the original’s surreal freakiness. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4 and Regal Downtown Mall 6

Scoop (PG-13, 96 minutes) The newly revitalized Woody Allen continues to pump out the films. His new muse, Scarlett Johannson, stars as an American journalism student who falls in love with a handsome aristocrat (Hugh Jackman), who just happens to be the prime suspect in a string of serial killings. It’s a little scary to see Allen stepping back in front of the camera (he plays a bumbling magician helping our gal reporter in her investigation), but at least he hasn’t cast himself as the romantic lead. Considerably funnier than Match Point, but not quite as brilliant. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Snakes on a Plane (R, 106 minutes) Really, what could I possibly add? It’s mother *&#$@ing snakes on a mother*&#$@ing plane! Get yourself to a mother*&#$@ing theater! (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Step Up (PG-13, 98 minutes) You know that film where the uptight, classically trained dancer chick hooks up with the street-smart bad boy to wow the establishment with their radical mixture of ballet and hip-hop while falling in love with one another? Well, this is one of those. If you paid good money for Save the Last Dance, you’ll probably do the same here. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13, 100 minutes) Will Ferrell drags a bunch of pals  (John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Sacha Baron Cohen) along for this goofball riff on NASCAR culture. Ferrell stars as a rebel NASCAR driver who suddenly faces stiff competition from a flamboyant French Formula-1 driver (Cohen from “Da Ali G Show”). There’s a continuing feeling that Farrell and friends are just making this thing up as they go along, but that doesn’t stop it form beeing quite funny on occasion. If you liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, you’ll be in good hands here, becasue it’s largely the same movie. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Trust the Man (R, 103 minutes) Two middle-aged cads (David Duchovny and Billy Crudup) fight to save their respective relationships after years of lying, cheating and trial separations. Director Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints) recruits a lot of celebrity pals (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ellen Barkin, Eva Mendes, Garry Shandling, wife Julianne Moore) for a minor but affable variation on the typical romantic comedy formula. The serio-comic plot is as predictable as any, but the actors are top-shelf and the script genrates a decent amount of sympathy for its characters. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

World Trade Center (PG-13, 125 minutes) Oliver Stone strips away even the slightest hint of politics to tell the true story of two New York Port Authority policemen trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center collapse. At its heart an inspirational disaster film, the simple narrative concentrates on the officers (Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena) and their terrified wives (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello). This moving and deeply personal tale takes us back to 9/11 not to recall the trauma of that day, but to remind us that it was originally a human story and not a tale of governments, occupying forces and insurgents. There are a lot of Oscar nominations in this one. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

You, Me and Dupree (PG-13, 108 minutes) Owen Wilson (still hot off Wedding Crashers) stars as a down-and-out best man who moves in on two newlyweds (Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson). Since he got fired from his job for attending their wedding, they feel guilty and are happy to have him stay over for a day…or two …or three …or… Eventually, of course, Dupree’s seemingly endless couch-surfing ways cause friction with the new couple. A fine cast jokes it up in the same vein as Wedding Crashers. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Zoom (PG, 83 minutes) Tim Allen stars in this Happy Meal-sized mix of Spy Kids and The X-Men. In it, a washed-up superhero (Allen) is called out of retirement to transform a rag-tag group of super-powered kiddies into crimefighting machines at a private academy. It’s all pretty familiar ground at this point, but if you thought the Fantastic Four weren’t cutesy enough, this one might fit the bill. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Comment Policy

Film Reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS
Film Reviews


World Trade Center

PG-13, 125 minutes
Opens Wednesday, August 9,
at Seminole Square Cinema 4

When Paul Greengrass’ 9/11-inspired film United 93 hit theaters earlier this year, many moviegoers asked the question, “Are we ready for this?” People wondered if, as a nation, we were ready to confront that tragic day head-on. Given the relatively positive response the film received, the answer seems to be, “Maybe.” But now comes Oliver Stone’s high-profile tackling of that delicate day, World Trade Center. And, again, the question is being raised: “Are we ready for this?” Having seen and digested the film, I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that’s the wrong question to be asking.
    With our government having declared war on seemingly half the world as a result of that day, I think we can handle a little movie. What people should, instead, be concerned about is this: “Why tell this story?” We all know what happened that day. We saw it repeated endlessly (and numbingly) on the evening news for days, months, years. What can a movie impart that reality did not? It’s a sharp and valid question, and one for which Mr. Stone has provided an elegantly disarming answer.
    When Oliver “King of Conspiracy Theories” Stone (JKF, Nixon, The Doors) announced plans to shoot a movie about 9/11, detractors assumed that he would dig into the radical tales of government corruption and cover-up that continue to shadow that day. Bill O’Reilly and his ilk were undoubtedly sharpening their knives for a vitriolic attack on the obviously anti-American filmmaker. I dare say, however, that Mr. Stone will surprise a lot of people with his even-handed, polemic-free, mom-and-apple-pie-approved final product.
    Developed in close conjunction with the very people who were there that day, the film concentrates on two New York City Port Authority police officers—Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena from Crash). As word comes out that a fire of some sort is raging at the World Trade Center, McLoughlin, Jimeno and their fellow officers rush to the scene. It is chaos. Rumors swirl. Did a plane really crash into the tower? Has Israel been nuked? Ignoring the whys and wherefores, these first-responders rush into the concourse of the twin towers, looking to affect a rescue of those trapped in the upper stories. Almost immediately the building collapses, trapping McLoughlin and Jimeno under several hundred tons of rubble.
    The rest of this grim, tension-filled flick spends most of its time stuck in the claustrophobic, terrifyingly realistic confines of Ground Zero. McLoughlin and Jimeno have no idea what has happened. They know nothing about terrorists or news reports, and have no idea that one of the world’s landmark buildings has just collapsed on top of them. All they know is that they’re trapped and wounded. Outside of this dusty hellscape, we see not the swarming reporters, not the shocked masses of Americans, not the slow-but-resolute response of our president. We see, instead, the faces of the wives whose husbands have failed to emerge from the World Trade Center. Donna McLoughlin (Mario Bello) and Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) must endure a physical and emotional trial at times greater that the one their husbands are struggling to survive.
    What becomes apparent in this immediately riveting narrative is that Oliver Stone has stripped away even the slightest hint of politics. Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative: None of those terms meant anything on that day. Stone has, somewhat surprisingly, chosen to tell this tale not because it denigrates the war, or because it supports the president, or for any other selfish, dogmatic reason. This moving and deeply personal tale takes us back to 9/11 not only to recall the trauma of that day, but to remind us that it was originally a human story, not a tale of governments, occupying forces and insurgents. Stone has found the metaphor in this mass of absolute truth. World Trade Center could have been about any disaster, and it would still have been a damnably effective drama. But, once this nail-biting film has come to its heart-swelling conclusion, we are left with the knowledge that it was not just any disaster: It was our disaster.
    What was so hard to grasp on that September day five years ago was the scale of it all. It was enormous. It was, in fact, the defining moment in many Americans’ lives. With the number of deaths, the amount of destruction, and the still-snowballing violence and political division that day has caused, it’s always been hard to put a face on 9/11. World Trade Center gives us several.
    It would be easy (and probably accurate) to say that World Trade Center will win a ton of Academy Awards. The acting, the directing and the storytelling are all impeccable. But such accolades seem almost almost crass in light of the film’s true mission. I suspect it’s the inspirational humanity of this simple tale about monumental destruction, incalculable death and unstoppable hope that will linger most in the memory of its viewers.

Accepted (PG-13 Unable to get into college, an enterprising young man (Justin Long from those Mac computer commercials) invents his own fake college in order to fool his overzealous parents. In time, other slacker students flock to him, forcing the opening of a “real” fake school. This one basically throws Ferris Bueller, Animal House and Old School into a cocktail shaker and mixes generously. Earns a few laughs and a barely passing grade. Coming Friday; check local listings

The Ant Bully (PG, 88 minutes) The summer of CGI toons continues. In this family fantasy, a young boy is magically reduced to micro-size after flooding an ant colony with his squirt gun. Our wee protagonist is then dragged into the ant colony and sentenced to hard labor for his trangressions. Eventually, of course, he learns a valuable lesson. Nicolas Cage, Paul Giamatti, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Bruce Campbell are among the impressive voice cast. Based on the kids book by John Nickle. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Barnyard (PG, 90 minutes) The summer of CGI toons continues. Here, writer/director Steve Oedekerk (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist) spins a tale of what happens in the barnyard when the farmer’s away. At first it’s all fun and games, but eventually a carefree cow named Otis (Kevin James) has to accept some responsibility and start running the farm. Voice cast includes Courteney Cox, Sam Elliot, Danny Glover, Andie MacDowell and the suddenly ubiquitous Wanda Sykes (who kicked of the summer with the CGI toon Over the Hedge). The film is harmless enough, but a lot of people are kinda freaked out by the fact that Otis has udders. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Cars (G, 116 minutes) Pixar blows us away yet again with an animated story of a NASCAR hotrod (voiced by Owen Wilson) who needs to take the “I” out of “TEAM.” Only by the amazingly high standards set by Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles does the movie come up a little short. (Kent Williams) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Clerks II (R, 97 minutes) After a brief, fruitless foray into mainstream romantic comedy (Jersey Girl), Kevin Smith returns to his roots: shooting a foul-mouthed low-budget comedy with a few of his friends. It’s been a few years since we last saw Dante and Randall. Their older now, but not necessarily wiser, having landed jobs at the local fast-food establishment. Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Ethan Suplee, Jason Lee and other longtime Smith compatriots return for more ensemble fun. There’s actually a bit of story this time around, but the emphasis is on blistering pop culture humor. (It’s Lord of the Rings versus Star Wars now.) (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

The Descent (R, 99 minutes) A caving expedition goes horribly wrong when a group of women become trapped underground. Things get a tad worse, however, when they discover they are being pursued by a strange breed of sub-human predators. Brit writer/director Neil Marshall (who gave us the classy Dog Soldiers) keeps the scares flying fast and furious, proving that a tight budget and a lack of stars is no impediment to creating a memorable horror flick. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Devil Wears Prada (PG-13, 106 minutes) This fashion-industry comedy stars Anne Hathaway as an aspiring journalist who winds up as a gopher for Meryl Streep’s boss-from-hell, but the two of them aren’t allowed to get much going, Streep’s ice-cold performance getting stranded on the runway. The movie could have been an enjoyable romp; instead, it’s as earnest as Wall Street, only with frocks instead of stocks. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

An Inconvenient Truth (PG) Al Gore, now exuding a self-deprecating folksiness, makes the case for global warming in a documentary that may be the most alarming dog-and-pony show of all time. Using charts and graphs and even the occasional “Simpsons”-like cartoon, Gore lays out his argument, and the result is a sneak preview of “a nature hike through the Book of Revelations.” (K.W.) Playing at Vinegar Hill Theatre

John Tucker Must Die (PG-13, 87 minutes) Three vindictive ex-girlfriends of a serial cheater (Jesse Metcalf from “Desperate Housewives”) come up with a plan for revenge. They’ll set him up to fall in love with the new girl in town, just so they can watch his heart get broken. Your basic teen-aimed romantic comedy filled with as much PG-13 sexual innuendo as director Betty Thomas (Private Parts, Doctor Dolittle, I Spy) could cram between the credits. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Lady in the Water (PG-13, 110 minutes) In M. Night Shyamalan’s emphatically metaphysical thriller, an apartment complex receives a visit from a sea nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) who wants to warn us that we’re in big trouble but everything’s going to be O.K. Paul Giamatti does his best as the building supervisor, but the movie never squares its highfalutin spiritual pretensions with the down-and-dirty need to entertain. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

Little Man (PG-13, 90 minutes) God help us, the Wayanses are back in town! Keenan Ivory Wayans directs brother Shawn Wayans as a wannabe dad who mistakes a vertically challenged, cigar-chomping criminal (Marlon Wayans) as his newly adopted son. While the sight of a digitally reduced Marlon Wayans is arguably scarier than the sight of Marlon Wayans dressed as a white chick, what’s most disturbing about this film is how it so blatantly rips off the old Warner Brothers cartoon “Baby Buggy Bunny” starring midget criminal Baby Face Finster. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Miami Vice (R, 146 minutes) Writer/director Michael Mann turns his mega-popular ’80s TV series into a two-hour-plus movie. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx take over as Crockett and Tubbs, the two most conspicuous detectives in the history of undercover police work. It doesn’t look or feel much like the original series (no ice cream suits or visits from Phil Collins, sadly), but what’s on screen comes close to the best of Mann’s crime film output (Heat, Collateral). A preponderance of guns, sex and seedy atmosphere (not to mention a tough-to-follow storyline) make this a decidedly “adult” popcorn film. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Monster House (PG, 91 minutes) This film uses motion-capture software to turn live-action performances into children’s-storybook animation, and the result is charming, albeit scary. Armed with Super Soakers, a trio of suburban kids launches an assault on a house that gobbles up anybody who crosses over the property line. (K.W.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

My Super Ex-Girlfriend (PG-13, 95 minutes) Luke Wilson stars as an ordinary dude who breaks up with his plain-Jane girlfriend (Uma Thurman) because of her neediness. Big mistake. Turns out that she’s actually the alter-ego of G-Girl, the city’s most powerful superheroine, and she proceeds to make his life a living hell. From director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters). (D.O.) Playing at Regal Seminole Square Cinema 4

The Night Listener (R, 91 minutes) Robin Williams and Toni Collette star in this adaptation of the Armistead Maupin novel about a radio show host (Williams) who starts getting phone calls from his biggest fan, a young boy who is dying from a terminal illness. In time, however, questions of the young boy’s identity begin to plague the mistrustful talk show host. The story tries to be mysterious, but throws a few too many red herrings into the mix, making this feel like a stretched-out short story. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (PG-13, 150 minutes) Call it a nasty case of sequelitis, but this second installment in the Disney theme-park franchise is bigger, louder and absolutely determined to entertain. The action sequences more or less work, but the smaller, goofier moments come up short, and that includes Johnny Depp’s surprisingly unsurprising performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. (K.W.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

Pulse (R) This nearly shot-for-shot remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s haunting 2001 film Kairo replaces the original Asian cast with the usual group of teen TV stars (Kristen Bell from “Veronica Mars,” Ian Somerhalder from “Lost”) and tries a little harder to explain what the hell’s going on. It all has something to do with a suicide, a computer virus and a whole hell of a lot of ghosts. Despite a consistantly creepy mood, the slow-going film can’t quite match the original’s surreal freakiness. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Scoop (PG-13, 96 minutes) The newly revitalized Woody Allen continues to pump out the films. His new muse, Scarlett Johannson, stars as an American journalism student who falls in love with a handsome aristocrat (Hugh Jackman), who just happens to be the prime suspect in a string of serial killings. It’s a little scary to see Allen stepping back in front of the camera (he plays a bumbling magician helping our gal reporter in her investigation), but at least he hasn’t cast himself as the romantic lead. Considerably funnier than Match Point, but not quite as brilliant. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Step Up (PG-13) You know that film where the uptight, classically trained dancer chick hooks up with the street-smart bad boy to wow the establishment with their radical mixture of ballet and hip-hop while falling in love with one another? Well, this is one of those. If you paid good money for Save the Last Dance, you’ll probably do the same here. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Superman Returns (PG-13, 157 minutes) America’s favorite Boy Scout is back, and the most enjoyable moments in this $363-million behemoth are when Brandon Routh’s Superman flies through the air with the greatest of ease. Despite Routh’s lackluster performance and Kevin Spacey’s refusal to ham up Lex Luthor, the movie often soars, but it never comes up with a sufficient reason why the Man of Steel is still relevant in post-industrial America. (K.W.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (PG-13, 100 minutes) Will Ferrell drags a bunch of pals  (John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole, Sacha Baron Cohen) along for this goofball riff on NASCAR culture. Ferrell stars as a rebel NASCAR driver who suddenly faces stiff competition from a flamboyant French Formula-1 driver (Cohen from “Da Ali G Show”). There’s a continuing feeling that Farrell and friends are just making this thing up as they go along, but that doesn’t stop it form beeing quite funny on occasion. If you liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, you’ll be in good hands here, becasue it’s largely the same movie. (D.O.) Playing at Carmike Cinema 6

You, Me and Dupree (PG-13, 108 minutes) Owen Wilson (still hot off Wedding Crashers) stars as a down-and-out best man who moves in on two newlyweds (Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson). Since he got fired from his job for attending their wedding, they feel guilty and are happy to have him stay over for a day…or two …or three …or… Eventually, of course, Dupree’s seemingly endless couch-surfing ways cause friction with the new couple. A fine cast jokes it up in the same vein as Wedding Crashers. (D.O.) Playing at Regal Downtown Mall 6

Zoom (NR) Tim Allen stars in this Happy Meal-sized mix of Spy Kids and The X-Men. In it, a washed-up superhero (Allen) is called out of retirement to transform a rag-tag group of super-powered kiddies into crimefighting machines at a private academy. It’s all pretty familiar ground at this point, but if you thought the Fantastic Four weren’t cutesy enough, this one might fit the bill. (D.O.) Coming Friday; check local listings

Comment Policy

Film Reviews

  • 0 COMMENTS

A Prairie Home Companion

PG-13, 105 minutes
Opens Friday at Vinegar Hill Theatre

    Minnesotans don’t like to draw attention to themselves, and the man who’s been pointing that out for over 30 years—drawing oodles of attention to both him and them in the process—plays the emcee in A Prairie Home Companion, Robert Altman’s cockeyed salute to a radio program that seems like it’s been around as long as radio itself. In a role he was born to play (literally), Garrison Keillor lumbers on and off the stage of the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, launching into one shaggy-dog story after another, whether he’s on the air or not. And it isn’t entirely clear how we’re supposed to take him. As a sage? A windbag? Both? The conceit is that it’s the show’s last night (the theater having been bought by a Texas conglomerate that intends to turn it into a parking lot). Keillor and his guests, played by such luminaries as Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin, are ghosts. They just don’t know it.
    Improvising to beat the band, just as they did at this year’s Oscar telecast before handing Altman a Lifetime Achievement Award, Streep and Tomlin are the Johnson Sisters, Yolanda and Rhonda—all that’s left of what used to be a quartet. They still perform, but something’s clearly missing. Yolanda seems sad and tired, and Rhonda seems bitter. And like everybody else in the movie, they’re stuck in the past, swapping stories they’ve swapped so many times before that even they don’t remember who actually told them first. Alas, the stories don’t add up to much. We assume we’re being led somewhere, but we’re not. Altman’s always worked by indirection, finding his way to a theme and allowing us to find our own way—but he seems to have lost his sense of direction here. Although it’s based (loosely, one assumes) on a script by Keillor, the movie never gels. It feels like a first draft.
    And yet, as with any first draft, there are things worth keeping.  Duded up to look like they’d be perfectly at home on the range, Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly give faces to those longtime “Prairie Home” companions, Dusty and Lefty. And unlike Streep and Tomlin, these two could actually pass as a singing act: Their crusty voices conjure the very essence of popping open a can of beans while sitting around the campfire. But they’re given even less of a storyline than the sisters—although they still manage to break out with a bad-joke routine that turns out to be something of a showstopper. Also nice to have around (although he perhaps belongs in a different movie) is Kevin Kline as Guy Noir, the private eye who’s read too many Mickey Spillane novels. Now in charge of security, Kline’s Guy combines The Thin Man’s Nick Charles and The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau—a bumbling fool with a certain debonair air. He, more than most, actually justifies Keillor having given flesh to what has heretofore been a figment of his imagination.
    Don’t expect any news from Lake Wobegon, though; Keillor is content to play a minor role in his own show (although there’s something in there about him and Yolanda having once kept the firelights burning, if you know what I mean). One wishes that Keillor and Altman had taken all these hints and turned them into something. The movie might well have been a worthy follow-up to Altman’s Nashville, which it resembles in certain ways. But Nashville, set during the American bicentennial, cast its net across the entire country, capturing the sense of doom that followed in the wake of all those political assassinations. A Prairie Home Companion, by comparison, seems stuck— hermetically sealed—in that old Fitzgerald Theater (and in the past).
    It’s about a show that was old-fashioned even when newly fashioned —“on the air since Jesus was in third grade,” as Keillor likes to say. And, for better or for worse, it goes out the same way it came in: not with a bang but with a whimper.

The Break-Up

PG-13, 106 minutes
Now playing at Regal Downtown
Cinema 6

    The Break-Up is billing itself as an “anti-romantic comedy,” so it shouldn’t surprise us when Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston spend the entire movie trying to make each other’s life a living hell.
    Think War of the Roses, only with a couple that just got together five minutes ago. Vaughn’s a guy’s guy, the kind that would like to put a pool table in the living room. Aniston is… Well, she’s basically Rachel again—sweet, spunky, skin the color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow Rachel. But here, to fit the movie’s contrived conceit, she has a preference for ballet over Nine Ball. Because, you know, opposites attract, right? Of course, before we know it, matrimony has given way to acrimony, but (what’re the chances?) neither party is willing to move out of their fabulous Chicago condo. Mayhem predictably ensues—as in War of the Roses, possession is apparently nine-tenths of the brawl.
    Directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On), The Break-Up is being hammered by critics. But it’s often funny (albeit sometimes uncomfortably so).
    And there’s something so… refreshing about how far it’s willing to go to make us both laugh and cringe. Call it a date movie for those who, unbeknownst to their partner, have been planning a break-up of their own.

Comment Policy