"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-
Director Stephan Elliott blasts some fresh air into British period pieces with his adaptation of a Noel Coward comedy about the post-World War I battle between a recently married, very modern American woman (Jessica Biel) and her British mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas), who's hell-bent on getting the new addition to the family away from her son. Though the witty barbs don't come in a barrage, they consistently hit the mark, and every moment is made better by a fabulous ensemble cast. Grade: B+
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
"Land of the Lost"
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, but like most filmmakers, he basically gives star Will Ferrell free rein. The actor's a good fit for his pompous character, yet his tendency to go off on improvised comic tangents saps the forward momentum needed for the adventure side of the story. A funnier, more centered performance comes from co-star Danny McBride. Grade: C+
"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
It may be new, but you've already seen this romantic comedy before. Basically, two people who start the film hating each other - here Sandra Bullock's bitchy, Canadian book editor and tortured assistant Ryan Reynolds, who she blackmails into marrying her for U.S. citizenship - are thrown together under unusual circumstances and love and hijinks ensue.
Betty White and The Office's Oscar Nunez make the most of supporting roles, and Reynolds knows just what to do with a few surprisingly funny lines. But this is tired stuff, and in dramatic scenes, Reynolds is no more convincing than the chemistry-free romance at the center. Grade: C
Writer-director Gotz Spielmann's Oscar-nominated Austrian drama appears at first to be made almost entirely of hard edges. It's the tale of a convicted criminal (Johannes Krisch), the brothel where he works, his Ukrainian prostitute girlfriend (Irina Potapenko) and her pimp, who's using all kinds of coercion to get her away from the brothel's safety in numbers and into an apartment where she'll service mysterious VIPs.
But the couple's true love creates a soft center that's more important to the film than location or profession. And there's also the rural police officer (Andreas Lust) and his wife (Ursula Strauss), who seem to be a normal, well-adjusted couple that have nothing to do with the other couple, yet Spielmann returns to them regularly.
It's not surprising that their stories converge, but the thrill is in how it's done. Though the movie has its instances of forced coincidence, they're far outnumbered by clever twists with resonating emotional impact. Grade: B+
"The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3"
Director Tony Scott lets John Travolta off his leash again, encouraging the star to run wild in full-on Face/Off mode as a domestic terrorist who hijacks a New York City subway car full of passengers for a $10 million ransom.
All around the tense conversation that ensues between Travolta and subway dispatcher Denzel Washington, Scott's camera almost never stops moving as he goes to ridiculous lengths to craft a blood-pumping extravaganza. Despite Travolta's loose-cannon energy, this is too slick to hold onto for long. Grade: C
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
Harold Ramis' episodic look at passages from the Bible and the history of the Roman Empire through the eyes of two slackers (Jack Black and Michael Cera) leans heavily on the kind of humor Black parodied in the Meet the Fatties clips in Tropic Thunder.
Cera occasionally rises above all the gas, urine and bowel movements, but his pairing with Black is a reminder that every comedian with a particular shtick will wear thin eventually. In supporting roles, Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria are more reliably funny. David Cross, on the other hand, seems to need more motivation. Maybe Ramis should've taped his paycheck to the camera. Grade: C-