Capsule reviews of recently released films 

 

OPENING WEDNESDAY

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (PG-13) See review.

OPENING FRIDAY
IL DIVO (NR) See review.

DULY NOTED
BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (1993) 3 stars (PG) Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) tries to uncover the identity of a murderous vigilante known as The Phantasm who targets Gotham Cityís powerful criminals, including the Joker (Mark Hamill). Up until Batman Begins, this stylist, Art Deco-influenced animated feature was the first film that showed more interest in Batman as a character than his various villains. A big-screen spin-off of ìBatman: The Animated Seriesî from such creators as Bruce Timm. Comic Book Film Fest. Cinefest Film Theatre, Georgia State University, Suite 240 University Center. July 17-23. 404-413-1798. www2.gsu.edu/~wwwcft. — Holman

CONTINUING 
ADORATION 3 stars (R) An orphaned Canadian teenager (Devon Bostick) delivers a personal account of his parents' involvement in an act of attempted terrorism, but nothing is as it seems. The Sweet Hereafter director Atom Egoyan can be enormously effective at presenting an initial enigma and gradually revealing the truth and different layers of meaning, and the nuanced performances from Bostick and Arsinée Khanjian give the film a rich emotional texture. Adoration's themes of online communities, digital imagery and terrorism prove comparable to the work of novelist Don DeLillo, who also explores the lives of contemporary North Americans alienated by the powerful forces of modernity. — Holman

ANGELS & DEMONS 2 stars (PG-13) In Rome, a Harvard symbologist (Tom Hanks) and a young physicist (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer) race the clock during a papal election, a hostage crisis and the countdown until a stolen speck of antimatter could wipe out Vatican City. This follow-up to The Da Vinci Code features a faster pace yet a less compelling historical conspiracy. It’s hard to get the sense that Hanks, director Ron Howard or anyone else involved in the production felt passionately about the material, except maybe for the set designers and art directors. Who would guess that Angels & Demons would have more corpses than Wolverine and more technobabble than Star Trek? — Holman

AWAY WE GO 3 stars (R) "The Office's" John Krasinski and "Saturday Night Live's" Maya Rudolph play an unmarried bohemian couple who travel across the continent to pick out a place where they can raise their unborn child. Written by the husband-and-wife novelist team of Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, the comedy's structure emulates the Ben Stiller comedy Flirting with Disaster as the couple encounter broadly comedic bad parents in other cities, most memorably Maggie Gyllenhaal as a feminist who takes attachment parenting to a kooky new level. Director Sam Mendes takes a change of pace from Revolutionary Road's portrait of a hellish marriage, but the film's scruffy charms barely conceal its lack of substance. — Holman

BIG MAN JAPAN  3 stars (PG-13) This cuckoo-bananas riff on Japan’s giant monster genre offers a mockumentary of Sato (director Hitoshi Matsumoto), a depressed Tokyo resident who we eventually discover is the latest in a line of superpowered national guardians. The film’s deadpan realism gives way to intentionally cheesy fight scenes whenever Sato jolts himself with electricity and fights mind-bogglingly surreal monsters. The film contains intriguing themes of dysfunctional families and superhero satire, although the faux-documentary form unravels and the last 10 minutes take an utterly insane turn seemingly designed to baffle the audience. — Holman

BRUNO 2 stars (R ) Austrian fashion journalist Br¸no (Sacha Baron Cohen) criss-crosses the world in his quest to become famous and ambush unsuspecting straight guys with dildos and discussions of anal bleaching. In his follow-up to his 2006 uber-hit Borat, Cohen presents essentially the same set-up and structure, but comedic lightning fails to strike twice.  Br¸no elicits just enough laughs to be worth seeing, but the characterís not nearly as endearing as Borat, and such hot-button topics as gay marriage, homosexual conversion and ìdonít ask, donít tellî score fewer political points than youíd expect. — Holman

DRAG ME TO HELL (PG-13) Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man trilogy, gets back to his Evil Dead horror roots in this promisingly lurid-looking thriller in which Alison Lohman rejects the mortgage extension of a spooky old woman, only to find herself on the receiving end of a demonic curse. It could be The Omen for an age of home foreclosures

ENLIGHTEN UP!  2 stars (NR) Filmmaker Kate Churchill explores the multibillion dollar yoga industry by sending 29-year-old ex-journalist Nick Rosen on an extensive immersion in various yoga disciplines from Manhattan to India. The film begins as a tongue-in-cheek exposé along the lines of a Morgan Spurlock film, but takes a more reverent turn as Nick connects to sensible "gurus." Intriguing tension develops between the filmmaker and subject when Nick fails to experience a spiritual transformation, but the film goals seem misguided from the outset. — Holman

EVERY LITTLE STEP 3 stars (PG-13) This behind-the-scenes documentary about Broadway's recent revival of A Chorus Line captures the spirit of the hit musical far better than Sir Richard Attenborough's misguided 1985 film version. Life imitates art when would-be Broadway stars dance their hearts out in rehearsal rooms and sing A Chorus Line's signature tunes. The film traces A Chorus Line's origins from a late-night marathon conversation involving choreographer Michael Bennett and other dancers, while generating "American Idol"-type suspense as we wait to see who gets cast. — Holman

FADOS 3 stars Focuses on fado, a type of music that can be traced back to 1820s Portugal. Through a series of musical vignettes, we journey through the history of fado, studying its various styles and permutations as it absorbs Brazilian and African influences.

FOOD, INC. 4 stars (PG-13) Director Robert Kenner serves a harrowing sampler’s platter of themes from such recent culinary exposes as Super Size Me, King Corn and the docudrama Fast Food Nation. The film offers a devastating portrait of how the admirable goal of cheap, plentiful foodstuffs has had unintended consequences that can harm the health and employability of the American work force, while forcing small farmers out of business. Despite icky food revelations and grim tales of corporate bullying, Food, Inc. includes enough positive examples to hold out hope for the future. — Holman

THE HANGOVER 3 stars (R) The morning after a raucous Vegas bachelor party, the hungover groomsmen (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) woozily retrace their steps to find the mysteriously missing groom. From Old School director Todd Phillips, The Hangover overstays its welcome by about 10 minutes and doesn't quite live up to its own trailer, which gives away some of the best gags. It still offers laughs most of the way through, and while Cooper gets top billing and Galifianakis plays the craziest character, former Atlantan Helms owns the movie as he captures the crumbling composure of a preppie dentist. — Holman

HARVARD BEATS YALE, 29-29 (NR) An extraordinary retelling of one of the most famous college football games in history, filmmaker Kevin Rafferty's (The Atomic Café) documentary combines rare footage of the wildly unpredictable 1968 game with unguarded, politically charged recollections from the original players. The two squads, both of which entered the contest undefeated, included a Vietnam vet as well as members of both paramilitary and antiwar groups; at Harvard, the team also included actor Tommy Lee Jones (who reminisces about his roommate Al Gore), while Yale's star quarterback Brian Dowling became the inspiration for B.D., the jock character in Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" comic strip.

 
THE HURT LOCKER
5 stars (R) In 2004 Baghdad, a two U.S. ìbomb techsî (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) hope to finish their tour without getting killed by the confident, reckless Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner in a star-making performance). Director Kathryn Bigelow presents the most original and gripping war film since Saving Private Ryan by crafting bomb disposal set pieces that draw the audienceís attention as taut as a tripwire. Compared to other Iraq War films, The Hurt Locker keeps its politics close to the chest, while exploring the psychological impact war can have on our soldiersí psyches. — Holman

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS (PG) In the third, 3-D entry in the Ice Age franchise, the wisecracking prehistoric mammals discover a subterranean realm populated by dinosaurs. Simon Pegg joins the vocal team of Ray Romano, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, et. al.

IMAGINE THAT (PG) Eddie Murphy eschews latex makeup for this family comedy in which he plays a workaholic finance executive who discovers that his daughters' imaginary friends may be able to advance his career. It sounds kind of like Adam Sandler's Bedtime Stories, with fewer special effects.

LAND OF THE LOST (PG-13) This big-budget version of the Sid and Marty Krofft cult kid's series from the 1970s stars Will Ferrell, Anna Friel of "Pushing Daisies" and Danny R. McBride (who's in everything these days) as a threesome who hit a time warp and encounter prehistoric monsters and reptilian Sleestaks.

LITTLE ASHES 2 stars (R) This period piece captures three of Spain's most renowned artists in their embryonic state, chronicling the tempestuous relationships of young painter Salvador Dalí (Twilight's Robert Pattinson), budding filmmaker Luis Buñuel (Matthew McNulty) and poet/playwright Federico García Lorca (Javier Beltrán). Little Ashes succeeds better as an art history lesson than a character study, although Dalí and Lorca (who may have been more than friends) offer contrasting examples of artistic political engagement. Pattinson plays Dalí's antics with self-conscious awkwardness, and it's hard to tell whether he's deliberately trying to convey that the artist's outbursts were a pose, or if the actor simply cannot convey the spark of inspiration. — Holman

 
I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER
2 star (PG-13) During his graduation speech, geeky valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust, who's in his late 20s and looks it) professes his true feelings to head cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere of Heroes), and they subsequently spend one of those "one crazy nights" typical of high school comedies. The painful slapstick and mean-spirited jokes border on contempt for the characters, and director Chris Columbus lost the flair he showed for the genre with Adventures in Babysitting. The script only glances at the idea that Denis's speech shook up high school clique roles. You can find more teen insight in the "Stick to the Status Quo" song from High School Musical. —Holman

MOON 4 stars (R) The sole human operator of a lunar mining operation (Sam Rockwell) begins to question his identity near the end of his three-year contract. Director Duncan Jones (incidentally, the son of David Bowie) pays loving homage to the dark, character-driven science fiction of the 2001: A Space Odyssey era, including an ominously dispassionate computer (voiced by – who else? – Kevin Spacey). The twisty but satisfying tale features some of Rockwell's best work as a blue-collar astronaut with a fracturing personality. — Holman

MY LIFE IN RUINS (PG-13) Star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding reconnects with her native Greece in an effort to recapture her kefi (Greek for "mojo"). In hopes of finding some direction in life, Georgia (Nia Vardalos) works as a travel guide while waiting for her dream job.

MY SISTER’S KEEPER (PG) A young girl (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin), brought into the world as a genetic match for her ailing older sister, sues her parents for medical emancipation. Cameron Diaz plays the no-doubt conflicted mom and Alec Baldwin plays as the younger sister’s lawyer. It’s hard to imagine any summer movie being a bigger, more overt tear-jerker than this one.

O’HORTEN 2 stars (PG-13) Odd Horten (Baard Owe), a 67-year-old Norwegian train engineer, finds himself discombobulated upon reaching mandatory retirement age. This comedy from Factotum director Bent Hamer frequently puts Horten in nearly dialogue-free comedic situations worthy of Jacques Tati or Mr. Bean, as well as other scenes that cause him to contemplate death, decline and the prospect of his own wasted life. The film features a charming central performance and several witty set pieces, but builds to little but a facile resolution. — Holman

THE PROPOSAL (PG-13) Sandra Bullock plays a Canadian-born New York book editor who pretends to be engaged to her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to avoid deportation. It sounds like Green Card gives way to Meet the Parents when they fly to Alaska to meet his family.

PUBLIC ENEMIES In 1933, celebrity outlaw John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) robs banks and eludes the pursuit of the FBI’s Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), who grows disenchanted with the investigative techniques championed by an oily J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). The first hour or so comes on like, well, gangbusters as Heat director Michael Mann sets up compelling scenes of bank theft and manhunt procedures. The film feints at overarching themes, like the idea that neither Dillinger nor Purvis have a place among “modern” mobsters or feds, but the script leaves both men underdeveloped as characters. Public Enemies almost literally starts with a bang and ends with a whimper. — Holman


SPIKE & MIKE’S SICK AND TWISTED ANIMATION (NR) Spike & Mike have brought their famous collection of joyfully rude animated short subjects to digital home video, which includes plenty of sex, violence, foul language, gross humor, and everything else that makes modern entertainment worthwhile.

STAR TREK 4 stars (PG-13) In the 23rd century, young James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the Enterprise crew come together to stop a time-traveling Romulan (Eric Bana). Director J.J. Abrams takes an approach similar to his treatment of Mission: Impossible III, offering a Trek that's bigger, louder, younger and above all, faster than any previous model of the Enterprise. If conspicuously low on the humanism that originated with Gene Roddenberry and informed the rest of the films, the new, odd-numbered Star Trek provides superb escapist entertainment and will enlist the next generation of fans. — Holman

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 2 stars (PG-13) A subway dispatcher under an ethics investigation (Denzel Washington) becomes an unexpected hostage negotiator when four heavily-armed jerks (led by John Travolta) hijack an NYC subway car. Ultra-stylish director Tony Scott would seem to be perfect for this material, but instead he weakens the ticking-clock suspense with breakneck editing and the overused, fake-slomo effect called speed ramping. Washington's immense talent shines through, but Travolta's ham-tastic overemoting goes completely off the rails. — Holman

TERMINATOR SALVATION 4 stars (PG-13) In 2018, rising resistance soldier John Connor (Christian Bale) questions the motives of an ass-kicking, well-intentioned stranger (Sam Worthington) who seems oddly ill-informed about all the killer robots trying to wipe out humanity. Salvation offers thin characterizations but does justice to the post-apocalyptic mythos that James Cameron hinted at in the first Terminator movies. Charlie's Angels director McG helms awesome action scenes that are like having metal stuff thrown at your head — in a good way. — Holman 

 
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (PG-13) The Autobots, those heroic space robots, must protect Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) from the evil Decepticons when the teen journeys from college campus to Egyptian desert to find an Earth-shaking artifact called the Matrix of Leadership. Bay’s original Transformers was hardly an exercise in subtlety, but at least it offered a sense of discovery and built some genuine suspense. At once sillier and more pompous, the sequel makes a chaotic hash of things from practically the first scene and draws out for two and a half deafening hours. If only it could transform into a movie that doesn’t suck. — Holman

UP 5 stars (PG) An elderly widower (voiced by Ed Asner) uses zillions of balloons to take his house on airborne adventure, unwittingly bringing a pesky boy scout (Jordan Nagai) along for the ride. Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter helms Pixarís latest masterpiece, which begins with an achingly lovely montage of a marriage and builds to a rousing adventure story that combines Jules Verne, Indiana Jones and some of the most hilarious dog jokes every put on film. Plus, the instantly-iconic image of the floating house accumulates considerable richness as a metaphor for life and memory. — Holman

WHATEVER WORKS (PG-13) In the latest film from writer/director Woody Allen, Larry David plays a curmudgeonly ex-physics professor and self-professed genius who shelters a young Southern runaway (Evan Rachel Wood) and marries her, despite their sharp personal differences. Dusting off a 30-year-old script written for the late Zero Mostel, Allen covers familiar territory while showing breathtaking condescension to women and Southerners. David has fun with some Groucho Marx-like put-downs, but his acting lacks the subtlety to flesh out the character. As a Southern matron transformed by New York, Patricia Clarkson steals the film, but it’s not really much of a theft. — Holman

YEAR ONE 3 stars (PG-13) This cavecore buddy comedy from director Harold Ramis and producer Judd Apatow pits hunter Zed (Jack Black) and gatherer Oh (Michael Cera) against the ancient world. After Zed tastes the fruit of the tree of knowledge (and inadvertently sets fire to his primitive village), the pair embarks on a quest to find the meaning of life, and rescue a couple of bangin' cave chicks. The film's replete with Old Testament references, from Cain and Abel (played by David Cross and Paul Rudd, respectively) to Sodom and Gomorrah, not to mention penis jokes and elaborate hair and wardrobe changes.

 

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  • Re: Fresh air

    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

    • on June 29, 2016
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