Capsule movie reviews
Adam Sandler's latest, in which parts of the bedtime stories he makes up for his niece and nephew come to life, is an attempt at a kid-friendly movie that won't befriend either kids or their parents. Unless you're the kind of adult that finds the nickname "Sir Buttkiss" amusing. Neither Keri Russell as Sandler's love interest nor the offbeat shtick of Russell Brand can fix the movie's fundamental problems. Grade: D+
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
With David Fincher's latest, the filmmaker renowned for such hard-edged work as Fight Club asks us to open our minds to cinema's wondrousness, a tall order made taller by screenwriter Eric Roth. His story of an unusual man (Brad Pitt) who ages backwards dips too liberally from a well already tapped by Forrest Gump. But if you don't analyze too closely, there's ample reward in Fincher's extraordinary imagery, a fine cast and a lingering sense of hope. Grade: B
Guiding his own Pulitzer-winning play to the screen, writer-director John Patrick Shanley keeps the staginess of the original, as well as the titular sense of unanswered questions around a reform-minded priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the elder nun (Meryl Streep) who accuses him of inappropriate conduct with an altar boy. The result is a fascinating rumination on prejudice that leads each viewer to an individual conclusion. Grade: B-
Ron Howard's adaptation of Peter Morgan's stage play about the historic interviews between fluffy British journalist David Frost and former President Richard Nixon is hampered by a pointless and confusing faux-documentary framework. Past that, the Hollywood version offers an intense, engrossing match-up between Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, two great actors portraying men with a desperate need for each other. Grade: B+
"Marley & Me"
David Frankel's adaptation of John Grogan's bestselling memoir about learning adult responsibility from a yellow Lab seems content to give audiences some laughs, some tears and a warm, gooey sensation. As a surprise bonus, you won't feel too cheap afterward, thanks to a smarter-than-average script, some warm chemistry between co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson and an always-enjoyable appearance by Alan Arkin. Grade: B-
In his film about the life of assassination victim Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the U.S., director Gus Van Sant creates a heartfelt tribute to a devoted gay rights leader and an up-close look at the rise of San Francisco's gay subculture. The result feels timely and fresh, even to those familiar with the tragic story, with Sean Penn toning down his usual overacting to play Milk as a joyful, slightly flamboyant and completely charming politician. Grade: A
"The Reader" NEW!
If Kate Winslet's got any Oscar hopes for this year, she'd better pin them on the upcoming Revolutionary Road.
Though she nails the elusive eroticism and matter-of-factness of her character in The Reader - an older woman with a dark secret bedding a 15-year-old boy (David Kross as a youth, Ralph Fiennes in adulthood) in post-WWII Germany - she can't traverse the emotional distance set by director Stephen Daldry and writer David Hare. (The director and writer were last seen leaving audiences cold together on The Hours.)
Nor can Winslet conceal the fact that this is basically an unlikely, self-serious mash-up of The Summer of '42 and Judgment at Nuremberg. Grade: C
The reunion between Will Smith and Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino is surprisingly engaging, particularly if you know next to nothing about it. Suffice to say that Smith, as an IRS agent playing karmic Robin Hood, probably won't snare another Oscar nod, but he scores points for the degree of difficulty in generating sympathy for the profession. Grade: B
Danny Boyle's latest takes the form of questions and seamlessly edited answers, surrounding an uneducated Mumbai slum dweller (Dev Patel) in police custody who's forced to explain how he's gotten one question away from winning the jackpot on the Indian Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? without cheating. The energy and imagery is plenty to get lost in, but what really makes this film so loveable is its clever balance between tragedy, comedy, global pop culture and life-consuming romance. Grade: A
Comic fans should be up in arms for what director Frank Miller has done to the groundbreaking superhero creation of comic artist Will Eisner. Focusing almost entirely on a highly stylized look, to the exclusion of narrative coherence, compelling pacing and consistent performances, Miller treats the brainchild of the godfather of graphic novels in a manner that's almost criminal. Grade: C-
"The Tale of Despereaux"
A little more spice is needed in this animated saga of soup love, rodents and fighting back fear for honor, based on Kate DiCamillo's Newberry-winning children's book. Its Old Masters-influenced style is gorgeous and its voice cast - Matthew Broderick, Sigourney Weaver, Dustin Hoffman and more - is stellar. But after an hour or so in the movie's fairy tale world, both adults and children will be looking for the exit. Grade: C
Bryan Singer's effort to turn the true story of a 1944 assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler into a thrilling suspense film has all the making of a good movie, including a solid writing team and a strong supporting cast (Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp). It's because of these that star Tom Cruise and his stale lead performance doesn't totally torpedo the film, but it's not worth your time regardless. Grade: C-
The commercial may suggest more of the talking-out-his-butt Jim Carrey that no one's missed since 1994, but his new movie actually plays more like Liar Liar, a comedy with heart. Despite a trite third act and director Peyton Reed's tendency to get too episodic, Carrey is sharp and pleasant as a depressed bank loan officer forced by a New Age guru (Terence Stamp) to say yes to everything, including the always amazing Zooey Deschanel. Grade: B
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