Capsule reviews of films now playing in theaters.
"Battle in Seattle" Actor-turned-director Stuart Townsend presents a dramatized range of perspectives on the chaotic events of the World Trade Organization's 1999 meetings in Seattle, from a group of nonviolent protesters, to the city's under-pressure mayor (Ray Liotta), to a cop trying to keep the peace (Woody Harrelson) and his innocent bystander wife (Townsend's real-life partner Charlize Theron). There's a lot of earnest good intent here and an interesting, talented cast, but the movie never loses the feeling of a politically correct construction. Grade: C+
"Choke" Adapted from the Chuck Palahniuk novel by actor, writer and first-time director Clark Gregg, Choke and its star, Sam Rockwell, spend 90 or so minutes wallowing in sex, dirty talk, self-loathing and an assortment of plot points, some of which don't add up to much. But it's intoxicating despite -- or maybe because of -- its hard angles, and as a sex addict trying to do right by his institutionalized mother (Anjelica Huston) and her doctor (a winning Kelly Macdonald), Rockwell manages yet another fine turn as a lovable reprobate. Grade: B
"Eagle Eye" When Shia LaBeouf is framed and jailed for the possibly traitorous dealings of his twin brother, he's saved by a mysterious voice over the phone tracking his every move, which promises lasting freedom once he and another slave to the voice (Michelle Monaghan) complete a series of increasingly dangerous tasks. The plot may seem as contrived as previous thrill-less thrillers like Enemy of the State, but Disturbia director D.J. Caruso keeps the action taut, plentiful and packed with entertainment value. Grade: B
As the sum of $700 billion gets thrown around by politicians, Irena Salina's documentary Flow asks you to consider an amount that's paltry by comparison but just as important to future welfare.
For $30 billion, Salina reveals, the entire planet could be supplied with clean drinking water, an increasingly rare resource no matter where you live. In developing nations, water supplies are polluted by untreated waste, while in the U.S., a pesticide banned in its country of origin is still in use and seeping into the groundwater, along with pharmaceuticals and industrial runoff.
Combine these facts with immoral corporate raiding of water supplies here and overseas and an amazing lack of FDA oversight on bottled water and you've got one bleak, incredibly scary picture of how a resource necessary for life is being bought up or tainted, plus an assurance that things are bound to get uglier.
One wishes that most of the success stories the film has to share weren't saved for the end credits. But given the essential nature of her subject and her palpable desire to give audiences a hard slap in the priorities, Salina should be forgiven for her relentlessness, even rewarded with a viewing of her film. Grade: B+
"Frozen River" The sense of desperation is almost as palpable as the ice-cold temperatures in this stark, moving tale of two mothers (including Melissa Leo, generating Oscar talk for her wonderfully haunting performance) doing what they believe they need to do to provide for their children. That involves smuggling Asians across the Canadian border, but the movie doesn't go into the moral quandaries of the situation, wisely focusing on the gut reactions of the women involved. Their story will stick with you. Grade: A
"Ghost Town" The Office creator Ricky Gervais has found the right character for his first big-screen starring role in Bertram Pincus, a distant, uptight little man who discovers after an operating room mishap that he can communicate with dead people, but hates all the newfound attention. And the actor does right by the role, evolving believably into a love interest for costar Tea Leoni. The rest of the film -- sort of a comic reworking of cowriter-director David Koepp's Stir of Echoes -- suffers from a strained sense of timing and some obvious scatological gags. Grade: B-
"The Lucky Ones" Cowriter-director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) earns points for trying something different with Iraq War soldiers than another dour drama, but his new approach -- a kind of wacky comedy involving three returning soldiers traveling cross-country in a van -- doesn't work. Costars Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Pena are badly mishandled, like the script, which isn't funny enough or deep enough. What it definitely is, nearly throughout, is contrived. Grade: D+
"Man on Wire" Some stories are so completely thrilling and compellingly told, they pull you to the edge of your seat even if you already know the outcome. Documentary filmmaker James Marsh has such a story in a self-taught French wirewalker who fulfilled his dream of crossing a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, and has a storyteller worthy of the tale in his central subject, Philippe Petit, an impish presence and born conversationalist. Grade: A
"Miracle at St. Anna" Before it even came out, Spike Lee announced that his adaptation of author-screenwriter James McBride's book about the "Buffalo Soldier" companies of World War II would make up for the near total neglect of black soldiers in American movies about the conflict. In that sense, the filmmaker's succeeded, spotlighting the intelligence and heroism within a group of soldiers isolated in a small Italian village.
But Lee and his scripter forgot that just because audiences haven't seen WWII from a black perspective doesn't mean they've never seen a movie about that war.
While cinematographer Matthew Libatique makes beautiful imagery and Terence Blanchard provides an affecting, if heavy-handed score, McBride's script offers stilted, cliched dialogue, one-dimensional characters and a weak bookending device. Then Lee lets it all go on for at least 30 minutes longer than it should. Grade: C
"Nights in Rodanthe" The latest screen adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks tearjerker, a coastal romance between a neurotic divorced mother (Diane Lane) considering a reunion with her ex and a jerk plastic surgeon (Richard Gere) visiting the family of a dead patient, presents a couple whose good looks and hurricane-enforced closeness lead quickly to life-changing love. While the message that your romantic partner should bring out the best in you is nice, it's hard to buy this transformation. Grade: C-
"Righteous Kill" Given the lackluster work we've seen in recent years from Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, it was a little silly to expect great things from their long-awaited onscreen reunion. Still, it's disappointing to see the two greats re-team for a clunky and conventional cop thriller, playing longtime partners on the force investigating a string of murders connected by painfully bad poems left at the crime scene. Pacino has a lot more fun with his role, while De Niro downplays his part so much, it could've been filled by anyone. Grade: C-
Grandview gone, really
Following some confusion surrounding the closing date of the Drexel Grandview Theatre -- first it was Sept. 28, then it appeared to be Oct. 2 at the earliest -- Drexel proprietor Jeff Frank announced on Tuesday, Sept. 30, that the movie house would cease operations after that night's shows.
According to an e-mail from Frank, efforts to negotiate with the property owner to keep the place open for a farewell party were unsuccessful. All films playing at the Grandview at the time of its closing, Man on Wire, Tell No One and Elegy, will be picked up for shows at the Drexel East starting Friday.