Barbershop quartet singing is the latest competitive subculture to go under the documentarian's microscope in Aengus James' chronicle of several quartets angling for a national championship.
Several of the singers are incredibly nice, but for a documentary genre that feeds on passion, they're a little too nice. Between James' downplaying the interpersonal drama and his choice not to put the subject in much historical context, this can be a tough watch for the uninitiated. Grade: B-"Angels and Demons"
Da Vinci Code director Ron Howard seems to have learned the error of his dull ways on his second adaptation of a Dan Brown bestseller. Angels and Demons is rarely boring, but it's not much fun either, and its story of the Vatican hierarchy being threatened by the return of the Illuminati is outlandishly preposterous. Grade: C"The Brothers Bloom"
Rian Johnson's follow-up to Brick uses the one-last-grift scenario as a setup for the filmmaker's clever, almost musical dialogue and a heartfelt rumination on how life stories are what we spin them into.
It creates an air of enchantment with its intricacy, its world-traveler locations, its quirky costumes - its overall movie-ness. And though stars Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo take the title, Johnson gives to Rinko Kikuchi a great comic supporting role and allows Rachel Weisz to steal the movie as a rich, reclusive mark. Grade: B+"Drag Me to Hell"
Sam Raimi's latest is leaner and meaner than the lumbering Spider-Man 3, and an entertaining reminder of the Evil Dead director's areas of expertise.
His return to horror, with good-girl loan officer Alison Lohman facing a deadly gypsy curse after turning down the wrong customer, has a near-perfect mix of comedy and shock via gobs of bodily fluids and some terrific sound effects. Basically, for most of the film, if you're not laughing you're feeling good and scared. Grade: A-"Goodbye Solo"
A movie about two people who don't understand each other at all, Ramin Bahrani's low-key drama follows the relationship that develops between Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane), an unflappably cheerful Senegalese taxi driver, and William (Red West), a grizzled old man who offers $1,000 for a trip that Solo knows will end with William's suicide.
It'd be easy to say William and Solo develop an improbable friendship, but what they become is more complicated and fascinating than just friends. It's hard to be sure what they mean to each other, even when you reach the film's flawless final scenes. Grade: A"The Hangover"
Todd Phillips' latest mines the comedic possibilities of being blackout drunk, marking a return to form for the Frat Pack director and the closest he's come to recapturing the silly magic of Old School. It helps that he's assembled an ideal cast - Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis - to play the three groomsmen who take a buddy to Vegas for a bachelor party they'll never remember.
It's unapologetically lowbrow and lacks a ton of gut-busting gags. But there are plenty of snicker-worthy moments, which tend to come from Galifianakis, and they'll stick with you for days. Grade: B"Is Anybody There?"
Its tale of life lessons passed from the elderly to the young is predictable. But this quiet British import about an unlikely friendship between a death-obsessed boy (Bill Milner) and an aging magician (Michael Caine) manages to be endearing, thanks to engaging performances from a surly Caine and the precocious Milner. Grade: B"Land of the Lost" NEW!
Director Brad Silberling shows a controlled, professional hand with the technical aspects of turning Sid and Marty Krofft's 1970s kids show from camp TV into would-be summer blockbuster, and he's adept at handling the irreverent tone set by writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas.
But like most filmmakers, he basically gives star Will Ferrell free rein.
The actor's a good fit for this pompous, selectively clueless version of Dr. Rick Marshall, who realizes his dream of traveling to an alternate, dinosaur-populated dimension with encouragement from a British grad student/groupie (Pushing Daisies' Anna Friel). Yet his tendency to go off on improvised comic tangents saps the forward momentum needed for the adventure side of the story.
To be fair, a sense of random meandering is true to the source material, but not every nugget of humor Ferrell unearths is gold, and some are surprisingly bawdy for a movie being marketed to families.
A funnier, more centered performance comes from co-star Danny McBride. And he gets stiff competition for scene-stealing from Matt Lauer in a cameo. Grade: C+ -Melissa Starker"My Life in Ruins"
A predictable romp through some gorgeous locales, the new vehicle for My Big Fat Greek Wedding star Nia Vardalos casts her as an ancient history professor slumming it as a budget tour guide who gets off her high horse long enough to realize that her collection of tourist-from-hell stereotypes really aren't that bad and that underneath a Grizzly Adams beard, the Greek driver is godlike and really into her.
Co-star Richard Dreyfuss transcends his part as a sentimental oldster and Vardalos, for her part, looks great. But in order to find her mojo, her character has to start the movie without it, which is an almost hateful state. Grade: C"Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"
Like its predecessor, the Night at the Museum sequel is all concept and no heart, but at least there's a little more fun involved this time.Cast highlights include Hank Azaria as Egyptian prince Kahmunrah and Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart, along with the delights of a Jeff Koons balloon dog and "American Gothic" coming to life. But for these treats, you have to sit through some odious pop-culture pandering. Grade: C+"Star Trek"
From its explosive start on the day of James T. Kirk's birth, J.J. Abrams' prequel to the evergreen sci-fi franchise is fine, absorbing entertainment. Within its smart script, tight pacing and strong emotional center is a respect for what's kept Star Trek fans devoted for so long. Grade: A-"Terminator Salvation"
McG's entry into the Terminator canon brings its time-traveling storyline full circle, with Christian Bale's John Connor fulfilling his destiny as head of the resistance against Skynet's human extinction plans. And while the director handles special effects with finesse, it's almost as if he used up his sense of humor in the Charlie's Angels movies. This one evokes the gloomy nature of The Dark Knight, but has none of that film's thoughtfulness. Grade: C"Up"
The latest from Pixar tells of an elderly widower (voiced by Ed Asner) who uproots his home with a massive bunch of balloons and heads for South America with a young scout as an unwelcome traveling companion. It's an odd, mature and sometimes dark adventure, but it's a memorable one, filled with genuine heart as well as great gags, bright balloons and aerial feats of derring-do to delight all ages. Grade: A"X-Men Origins: Wolverine"
This superhero movie has plenty of talent behind it, including stars Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber. Yet it doesn't get your blood pumping much faster than the lackluster X-Men: The Last Stand. Blame too much convoluted exposition and too few scenes of Wolverine going berserker. Grade: C