Capsule movie reviews

"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 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, plus scene-stealing exposure for supporting player Kristen Johnson. Grade: B


For his latest feature, based on a book by Neil Gaiman, Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) melds traditional puppet animation with CGI and 3D (not in all theaters, but worth looking for), and he makes it an extraordinary union. Yet this lovely style subsumes the dramatic weight in Gaimain's tale of a little girl who finds behind a tiny door a more enticing but more menacing version of her parents. Selick doesn't create momentum, just more beautiful effects, a wonder that doesn't penetrates past the eyes. 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


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-


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

"New in Town"

We really hope the world of Renee Zellweger's latest isn't paralleled off screen, because its inhabitants are far too stupid to exist. Playing a high-powered but amazingly ignorant career woman sent from Miami to a Minnesota dairy farm, she's soon up to her neck in snow, the Fargo accents and socially backward ways of the locals and love interest Harry Connick Jr. The humor is based mostly on a void of common sense or common courtesy, and everything comes off flat and condescending. Except Zellweger's accessories - they look fabulous. Grade: D

"The Pink Panther 2"

There's actually talent involved in this unnecessary remake, between star Steve Martin and supporting players like John Cleese, Andy Garcia and Lily Tomlin. But the story of Inspector Jacques Clouseau being tapped to head an international detective dream team still only manages sporadic laughs. Aiming to please both adult and kid audiences, director Harald Zwart probably won't quite please either. 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 are 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


Its story is totally preposterous and its action scenes beg for Dramamine, yet the latest by producer-co-writer Luc Besson and director Pierre Morel (District 13) has an unlikely advantage in the casting of Liam Neeson as a retired government agent who uses his years of training to hunt down the Albanian sex traffickers that kidnapped his daughter (Columbus' own Maggie Grace).

The dignified actor who played Oskar Shindler and Qui-Gon Jinn becomes a one-man rampage of hand-to-hand combat and shots fired with other men's guns - sometimes with the other men still attached. While it isn't recommended behavior for Americans traveling overseas, it's good fun on screen. Grade: B

"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+