Ed Harris' latest film as director, cowriter and costar is at once new and old, a fresh Western standoff between law and disorder that throws straight back to its predecessors. Generally, the direct approach works, creating a sturdy, two-hour diversion. But it doesn't serve Harris' stoic gunfighter especially well, or his manipulative love interest, a gratingly artificial Renee Zellweger. Only Viggo Mortensen as Harris' sidekick connects with viewers, owning every scene he's in. Grade: B-
"Body of Lies"
Behind the explosions and the bankable names of Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio lies an intricate film about the U.S. intelligence community's work against terrorism in the Middle East. It can be highly frustrating to watch as Crowe's physically and emotionally removed CIA veteran subverts the work of DiCaprio's morally troubled man on the ground, but the helpless feeling of watching our boys screw up is actually what sets this film apart. Grade: B
"City of Ember"
Director Gil Kenan (Monster House) and screenwriter Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) apply steampunk production design and a little hipster casting to their adaptation of Jeanne Duprau's cautionary tale, in which two young friends search for a way out and up from the underground city holding humanity's survivors before its power generator dies. Timely lessons come through among mightily impressive sets and gadgets; some are applied with a heavy hand, others barely register an impact, but there's almost always something interesting on screen. Grade: B
Falling between the confectionary delights of Marie Antoinette and the overcooked melodrama of The Other Boleyn Girl is this latest historical tale of a woman under the gun to produce a male heir. Portraying one of Princess Di's real-life, 18th-century ancestors - Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley) - the film evokes the powerlessness of women in arranged marriages, while Georgiana's real-life fashion-plate status provides an opportunity for a capital "C" costume drama. Although Knightley holds up well under her towering wigs, it's Ralph Fiennes who really gets under your skin with his slimy, all-too-human portrayal of the Duke of Devonshire. Grade: B
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
The weak-side safety of football movies, Gary Fleder's truth-inspired tale of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), the first African-American player to win the Heisman Trophy, feels less like a series of passionate civil rights challenges than a parade of all the necessary points to hit in an inspirational biopic. Despite Dennis Quaid's pleasurable performance as Davis' coach, there's not much to make a person rise and cheer. Grade: B-
Quentin Tarantino teams with Robert Rodriguez for a double feature that takes a loving look at exploitation cinema from the 1970s. Between the two - plus a couple of guest directors who made previews of never-coming attractions - they pack in virtually all the essential elements of the genre, from blood to beasts.
While Tarantino gives too much of his half, Death Proof, over to girl talk before a very big payoff, Rodriguez's Planet Terror gets the exercise right in body and spirit.
Landmark's Gateway hosts late-night and matinee shows this weekend. Grade: B+
"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"
Despite the title, this feels less like an eternal journey and more like a better-than-average, but still lacking, teen comedy about a dumped and mopey bass player (Michael Cera), a pseudo friend of his ex (Kat Dennings) and the wacky misadventures they have together in New York City. There's a nod to Juno in some of the forced banter, and though the promising Dennings isn't quite up to Ellen Page's level yet, the film does eventually find its own entertaining footing. Grade: B-
"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-
The Wexner Center gets into the swing of election season with a five-program series that disseminates political thought through several cinematic formats.
Thursday, Oct. 23, brings Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, an experimental portrait of America as seen from the gravesites of activists throughout history. On Sunday the 26th, the Wex offers a free screening of Swing State, an insider's view of the 2006 Ohio gubernatorial race by Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher's son Jason Fisher, featuring interviews with Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright.
The series continues through Nov. 6. Click to WexArts.org for info. -Melissa Starker
Anyone who suffered motion sickness through Cloverfield won't get relief from the latest cameraman's-eye view of horrific happenings, which follows a TV news crew on a drive-along with firemen that ends in an old apartment house where tenants come down with a cross between rabies and the rage virus from 28 Days Later. Trapped with the quarantined, the audience is exposed to some stereotypically stupid behavior from those in peril, and a mishandling of the climax by director-cowriter John Erick Dowdle. Nonetheless, portions of the movie have an undeniable visceral power. Grade: C
Steered by Borat director Larry Charles, comedian and devout skeptic Bill Maher travels the world speaking to scholars, church leaders and everyday followers, questioning the wisdom of organized religion. Unfortunately, Maher can't cast the first stone in the area of passing judgment, and he blows an opportunity to discuss why so many different cultures develop similar systems of belief. But for fellow skeptics, there's some very funny stuff here, especially Charles' insidious use of film clips and a chat with a real riot of a Vatican official. Grade: B
"The Secret Life of Bees"
On the heels of Lakeview Terrace and The Express comes Gina Prince-Bythewood's adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's bestselling novel about race relations in the civil rights-era South, in which Dakota Fanning's neglected 14-year-old finds a home among the cultured, independent Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo). The powerhouse cast finds a nice balance in performances easier than the filmmaker finds the right mix of sweetness without cloying, but flaws are outweighed by a wealth of unique, enjoyable women characters. Grade: B-
This teen comedy following a high-school grad on a long road trip to meet an online crush suggests that today's viewers want a star-crossed journey of love to involve things like public urination and Amish keg parties. In other words, something that makes Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle seem as noble as The Odyssey, which isn't a bad thing here, given the likeable cast and rather hilarious screenwriting. Grade: B
Oliver Stone's biopic of our current president isn't controversial; it's sometimes funny and often boring instead. Bouncing between George W. Bush's (Josh Brolin) years at Yale and his hawkish decision to invade Iraq in the White House, stopping to cover his stint of heavy drinking and his troubled relationship with his father (James Cromwell), Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser consistently tread middle ground: too subjective to claim accuracy, too tame to spark interest. Grade: C