Page 2 of 5
BEOWULF 4 stars (PG-13) The Anglo-Saxon epic poem of strapping Beowulf (voiced by Ray Winstone) and his monstrous adversaries gets brought into the 21st century with director Robert Zemeckis' "performance-capture" animation techniques (a form that's still a work in progress, but has improved significantly since The Polar Express). For all the CGI monsters, including misshapen ogre Grendel, the real attraction is the revisionist screenplay, which reimagines the heroic tale into a tragedy about the corruption of power. Definitely see it in digital 3-D, which makes up for the rubbery quality of some of the human characters. -- Holman
CASSANDRA'S DREAM 2 stars (PG-13) In London, two desperate brothers (Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor) contemplate murder when they're strapped for cash. While writer/director Woody Allen made an impressive comeback with the psychological drama Match Point, also set in London, Cassandra's Dream proves stilted and predictable while covering nearly identical ground. Allen strives to craft a modern-day tragedy but merely condescends to his audience in heavy-handed fashion. -- Holman
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR 4 stars (R) In the early 1980s, a playboy congressman (Tom Hanks) resolves to fund the Afghan rebels against the Soviet invaders, and finds allies including a former Texas beauty queen (Julia Roberts) and a grumpy CIA operations guy (Philip Seymour Hoffman). If you miss "The West Wing," writer Aaron Sorkin's script will provide you with a bracing cocktail of screwball comedy and policy-wonk detail. The film's American point of view keeps it at arm's length from some of the third-act drama, but its witty, wise perspective on foreign policy shows how good intentions can reap short-term triumphs and subsequent disasters. -- Holman
CLOVERFIELD 4 stars (PG-13) A Manhattan yuppie's going-away party gets an inconvenient interruption when a giant monster lays waste to New York City. Once the bad stuff starts going down, no one in the theater takes a breath for an hour, and Cloverfield easily lives up to months of online hype and even offers a fairly touching story of callow Manhattanites who find love and meaning in the teeth of disaster. The single-camera POV gimmick works brilliantly at generating terror and immediacy, but if you're prone to motion sickness, sit in the back row. -- Holman
THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY 3 stars (PG-13) Mathieu Amalric stars in painter-turned-auteur Julian Schnabel's third feature. Amalric is the cosmopolitan, lusty editor of French Elle Jean-Dominique Bauby, who at age 43 suffered a stroke that left him utterly paralyzed save for the use of his left eyelid. Bauby managed to wink out his memoir through a complicated dictation system. Schnabel's account of Bauby's real-life struggles begins impressively as Schnabel uses an array of camera and point-of-view tricks to convey Bauby's "locked-in" syndrome. Over time, the film tends to settle into a great-man-triumphs-over-adversity storyline and Schnabel's depiction of both the superbabes who cared for Bauby and the splendor of the French health-care system may invite both jealousy and disbelief. -- Feaster
ENCHANTED 2 stars (PG) The certifiably adorable Amy Adams is cartoon princess Giselle who is plunged into the ugly reality of New York City and ends up with a prince. There are some great comic moments, like the swarm of roaches and pigeons that help Giselle clean up an untidy apartment a la Disney's Snow White, but for the most part the film isn't smart enough to deserve the knowing, meta-Disney approach it cops. -- Feaster
THE EYE (PG-13) In this adaptation from a Japanese supernatural thriller, Sydney (Jessica Alba) is a blind violinist who undergoes a double corneal transplant to restore her sight. The surgery opens her eyes to a world of bone-chilling, haunting images depicting death taking his victims, and Sydney searches to discover whose eyes she has been given. David Moreau and Xavier Palud (Them) direct.
FIRST SUNDAY (PG-13) Ice Cube, Katt Williams and Tracy Morgan star in this caper story about two petty criminals who rob their local church. David E. Talber (Love on Layaway) directs.
THE GOLDEN COMPASS 2 stars (PG-13) On a parallel Earth where human souls manifest as animal companions, plucky young Lyra (terrific newcomer Dakota Blue Richards) uses a magic artifact to guide her to the frozen north and thwart conspiratorial child-snatchers, led by Nicole Kidman. About a Boy director Chris Weitz presents a well-cast, well-intentioned botch of the first book of Philip Pullman's superb fantasy series. Crafty, heroic Lyra and her appealing armored bear bodyguard (voiced by Ian McKellan) can't rescue the film from rushed plotting, fakey special effects and a confusing cosmology. -- Holman