Capsule film reviews

"Bedtime Stories"

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+

"Bride Wars"

While the pairing of Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway as BFFs torn apart by a scheduling mix-up for their dream weddings isn't entirely contrivance-free, there's some nasty fun in the sabotage that ensues and a little more substance than expected in the compromises each makes along the way. Grade: B

"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

"Defiance"

Edward Zwick's campaign to put a Hollywood spin on bloody episodes of world history continues with the fact-based story of a family of Soviet Jews (including Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber) who started the largest group of Jewish partisans in WWII, in the forests of what's now Belarus. While the filmmaker can make with the stirring battle scene, and Craig and Schreiber bring the right kind of masculinity to rough up his overall treatment, this is still too slick and pat. Grade: B-

"Frost/Nixon"

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+

"Gran Torino"

In Clint Eastwood's latest as director and star, all that separates his bitter, bigoted curmudgeon of a character from several previous roles is love of his mint 1972 Gran Torino and distrust of the Hmong families moving into his Detroit neighborhood. While the surface suggests a movie about immigration, this is actually an introspective look at the notion of family in America. And like all of Eastwood's recent films, it's fascinating and pretty darn good. Grade: A-

"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 and some warm chemistry between co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. Grade: B-

"Milk"

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

"Notorious"

The producer status of Biggie Smalls' mother, Voletta Wallace, may be why this movie about the slain rap star paints such a rosy picture of him and suggests the East Coast-West Coast rap feud was all Tupac Shakur's paranoia. Accuracy aside, it's a pretty straightforward, if bland, biopic that doesn't utilize its best weapon, Angela Bassett as Voletta. Still, any excuse to listen to "Hypnotize" again is a good one. Grade: B-

"Revolutionary Road"

Nearly a decade after American Beauty, Sam Mendes returns to the suburbs for another tale of quiet desperation, this one based on a 1961 novel and featuring the Titanic reunion of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as icy, unfulfilled marrieds. Mendes tears down perfect-couple delusions right out of the gate, but the film belongs to Winslet's hopeless emptiness. Grade: B+

"Slumdog Millionaire"

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

"Valkyrie"

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 Wrestler"

In the latest from Darren Aronofsky, a veteran professional wrestler (Golden Globe winner Mickey Rourke) whose body is nearing breakdown puts up with a lot of grief for a few minutes of faded glory in the ring and considers a new life with a friendly stripper (a fine Marisa Tomei) and the daughter he long-ago abandoned (Evan Rachel Wood). She's an afterthought, but screenwriter Robert Siegel does bring respect and detail to the low-end wrestling world. And Rourke, redeeming years of shady career choices, molds himself to the leading role like spandex. Grade: B+

"Yes Man"

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