Short subjectives 

Capsule reviews of films by CL critics

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THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (R) Wes Anderson compounds his investment in self-contained snow-globe worlds and obnoxious fathers who begrudgingly nurture wistful boys in this outrageously fanciful story. A Jacques Cousteau-type ocean explorer (Bill Murray) tracks the deadly "jaguar shark," even as his illegitimate son (Owen Wilson) attempts to corner the wily adventurer. Story plays second fiddle to oddball bits of business and Anderson's meticulously stage-managed film world. Despite a scattershot story line, Anderson's unique, always emotionally rich world view gives his films their charming integrity. -- FF

MEET THE FOCKERS (PG-13) Meet the Parents' Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) introduces his prospective in-laws, including Robert De Niro's control freak, to his touchy-feely parents (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand). Streisand and Hoffman take palpable pleasure at teasing De Niro and provide broad but rich comic turns that, alas, can't redeem Fockers' forced humor of Stiller's humiliation. Plus, with so many jokes about breast milk, procreation and parenting, it's like a commercial to get out there and breed. -- CH

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (R) The man who would grow up to be a violent revolutionary and the star of every counterculture's T-shirt, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, receives some emotional backstory in Brazilian director Walter Salles's earnest but lightweight film. Before he took up firearms, Che traveled with best friend through South America, and discovered the kind of poverty and injustice his bourgeois Argentinean upbringing denied. Bernal and the scenery are beautiful but this bio-picture lacks the fire in the belly its radical subject deserves. -- FF

OCEAN'S TWELVE (PG-13) Director Steven Soderbergh's nostalgia for the slick European heist flicks of earlier decades gives the Ocean's Eleven sequel just enough fizz to make it worthwhile. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the rest return for a convoluted series of robberies and double-crosses that feel a little too much like the stars' own European press tour. Jokes about co-star Julia Roberts' own celebrity would feel overly self-conscious if they weren't genuinely funny. -- CH

ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) (NR) Though Marlon Brando's "I could have been a contender" speech has lapsed into screen cliché, director Elia Kazan's film remains as true and vital today as it was upon its release in 1954. Brando is one of the longshoremen contentedly laboring on Hoboken's wiseguy-controlled docks, whose sense of justice is awakened by good girl Eva Marie Saint, whose brother has been murdered by the mob. Boris Kaufman's cinematography imprints the film with an inescapable, sullied working class atmosphere. But On the Waterfront will forever belong to Brando, who crafted a tragic hero out of a no-account palooka who life has been so successfully degraded, he's nearly lost his soul in the process. -- FF

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (PG-13) A crazed musical genius (Gerard Butler) bedevils a 19th century French opera house, especially a lovely ingenue (Emmy Rossum). Fans of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical will lap up director Joel Schumacher's faithful film adaptation: The baroque, lavish production design serves the excesses of the musical score, and gives you the feeling of being immersed in an elephantine Broadway show. -- CH

THE POLAR EXPRESS (G) On Christmas Eve, a boy losing faith in Santa Claus rides a magical train to the North Pole. The groundbreaking "performance capture" computer animation captures the expressions of live actors (including Tom Hanks in five roles) with impressive subtlety, but more often the characters look stiff and glassy-eyed. The script feels like a series of false crises, so when the train becomes a roller coaster or when Santa's elves bungee-jump to avert disaster, Express leaves an aftertaste like tainted egg nog. -- CH

RAY (PG-13) Director Taylor Hackford presents a refreshingly candid and earthy biopic of blind pianist Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx), whose womanizing and drug addiction emerge, the film suggests, from a kind of competitiveness with sighted musicians. Roof-rocking tunes like "Hit the Road, Jack" and "What'd I Say" capture the excitement of live performances, while the script and Foxx's justly-praised performance persistently look beneath Charles' cheerful, avuncular persona to find the fiercely determined artist underneath. -- CH

SIDEWAYS (R) A failed novelist (Paul Giamatti) takes his oldest friend, a has-been actor (Thomas Haden Church) for a pre-wedding trip through California wine country in the latest examination of American mediocrity from About Schmidt director Alexander Payne. The film expounds a surprisingly sincere belief in wine as a metaphor for life, and for a while unfolds as a mellow, impeccably acted idyll (with terrific supporting turns from Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh). Payne eventually sheds his merciless insights on his self-absorbed male characters, but like a fine wine, his harsh sensibilities have mellowed with age. -- CH

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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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