Capsule Reviews of current and ongoing movies 

Opening This Week

I Love You, Man (R)

Knowing (PG-13) Nicholas Cage continues his quest to discover the worst hairstyle in the world with a film about the cost of knowing too much too soon. Also stars Chandler Canterbury and Rose Byrne.

Duplicity (PG-13) Julia Roberts stars opposite Clive Owen in a film about spies that's apparently gotten a vote of no confidence from its handlers. It won't screen for critics, tip No. 1 that it's a stinker. Also stars Tom Wilkinson.

Critical Capsules

Confessions of a Shopaholic (PG) Forget the bad reviews — especially the outraged ones that are aghast that a movie with a credit-crazed heroine would dare to show its face at this unfortunate time in history. P.J. Hogan's Confessions of a Shopaholic is a triumph of style over lack of substance — one made human by Isla Fisher and made romantic by the pairing of Fisher and Hugh Dancy. Fisher plays Rebecca Bloomwood, a wanna-be fashion writer working for a dying gardening magazine, and buried under a mountain of credit card debt. When she accidentally gets a job writing a column for Dancy's financial magazine, things change for her, since her financial advice — delivered in shopping terms — is immensely popular. The film is essentially a stock romantic comedy, but it's done with such stylish direction that it feels fresher than it is. And there's Isla Fisher — the type of comedienne we haven't really seen since the great screwball comedies of the 1930s, a performer who can remain sexy and appealing even while taking a pratfall. Even if the movie weren't as pleasant a diversion as it is, she'd make it worth seeing. —Ken Hanke

Coraline (PG) In contemporary Hollywood, there's only one paradigm for selling any kind of feature animation, and that's selling it to families. But this grim fairy tale — based on an award-winning book by Neil Gaiman (Sandman) — is far more disturbing than it is charming, funny, or otherwise kid-friendly. The textures of its stop-motion world make it feel even more physically threatening, especially in 3-D. It may be fair to say that this — far more so than director Henry Selick's breakthrough feature, The Nightmare Before Christmas — is the first true horror film that will play to theaters full of grade-schoolers. Perhaps that should scare away impressionable youngsters, but it shouldn't scare away anyone who would revel in pure creative wonder. Gaiman's story follows young Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) as she and her parents move into an old house-turned-apartment building. Mom (Teri Hatcher) and Dad (John Hodgman) are busy writing their gardening books, leaving Coraline to explore her new residence and discover a mysterious small door. A passage inside leads to an alternate world identical to her own — except that her parents are more attentive and accommodating to her every desire. And if Other Mother and Other Father happen to have buttons for eyes ... well, nobody's perfect. What potential viewers will need to wrap their heads around is that while Coraline may be about childhood, it isn't really for children. —Scott Renshaw

He's Just Not That Into You (PG-13) By the 20-minute mark of Ken Kwapis' interminable He's Just Not That Into You, I realized I wasn't that into the movie or anything about it. It's messy, cliché-ridden, filled with characters so inane that you marvel they made it to adulthood, predictable, and dull, dull, dull. I didn't expect much, but I got even less than that. What you get for the investment of a whopping 129 minutes are several clumsily interconnected stories following the trials and tribulations of an oversized cast of characters who comport themselves with such calculated stupidity that it's hard to care about them. Full of recognizable but hardly big box office names like Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, and lesser names like Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin, Bradley Cooper, and Kevin Connolly, the film is overstuffed to say the least. And all for what? To parade a bunch of not very likable 30-somethings and their relationship angsts, while playing out every rom-com trope to the max and beyond. It plays and feels like a TV-movie knock-off of a Woody Allen picture with all the wit surgically removed. —Ken Hanke

The International (R) Surprisingly old-fashioned in its adherence to solid, unpretentious suspense, The International is perfectly exhilarating for its craftsmanship and low-key style, too. We join Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, as a New York City district attorney, as they try to nail the ominously monikered International Bank of Business and Credit for some very bad things that could, arguably, be deemed crimes against humanity. Owen's agent is twitchy in his hindered authority: He's ex-Scotland Yard, eager to do some real police work to bring down these banking bastards (he's crossed swords with them before, of course), and doesn't want to be limited to Interpol's information-gathering mandate. Watts is his unruffled counterpart, sleekly professional and calmly competent. (Refreshingly, their investigation is not complicated by romance, though the two actors sizzle with creative chemistry together onscreen.) At one point, during the Guggenheim sequence, everything I thought I knew about what was going on took a 180 turn ... and then moments later took another 180 turn that, were normal physics involved here, should have taken us back to where we started, but instead takes us into a whole new realm. It's awe-inspiring not just in a storytelling sense — how wonderful to be genuinely startled by a movie! — but also in an artistic one. So there really are still filmmakers out there who aren't content merely to do work that is good enough, but better than we ever might have expected. —MaryAnn Johanson

Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience (G) Those who had the misfortune of sitting through last year's Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour in 3-D know what's in store with this already failed attempt to do the same thing with yet another Disney Channel pre-fab tweener "rock" act. What you get here is pretty much the same thing — 76 minutes of squeaky clean processed cheese food product interspersed with spurious "documentary" footage, all aimed at pubescent girls and parents who are anxious about "wholesomeness" in entertainment. The only difference is that this brazen appeal to early sexuality is actually worse. The songs are even more generic and undistinguished, and the Jonas Brothers — especially tween heart-throb Joe (the one with the straightened hair) — lack even the illusion of not being very impressed with themselves. The attempt to present them as some kind of Beatles-like group by stealing ideas from A Hard Day's Night is just pathetic. The Beatles? Please. —Ken Hanke

The Last House on the Left (R) The concensus on the Rotten Tomatoes website is that this remake of Wes Craven's 1972 filmmaking debut "lacks the intellectual punch" of its model. The intellectual punch? Has anyone looked at Craven's film recently? It's a vile, dreary, depressing, amateurish work where the big question is whether the film's instructional film-looking scenes of normal family life or its torture/humiliation/rape/revenge scenes are more appalling. So here comes the Craven-produced remake from Greek director Dennis Iliadis. What exactly can be said about it? Well, it's less embarassingly made and ... well, it's less embarassingly made. Beyond that, there's little to be said in its favor. It's still a dreary story about a family revenging themselves of the people responsible for raping and (in this case) nearly murdering their daughter. This round we get more backstory to the characters, which only results in making the film both unpleasant and tedious. OK, so it does offer us someone getting his head put in a microwave oven, but you have to sit through the whole movie to get to it, and it's really not worth the bother. —Ken Hanke

Madea Goes to Jail (PG-13) Tyler Perry is a cultural icon, regardless of how you feel about his work. Similarly, Mr. Perry's admirers could not conceivably care less what I have to say about the man or his work or his latest film. They know what they're getting. They know that Perry is going to do his Madea drag act and that it will be in support of some worthy message. The bad guys will be very bad. The comedy will be extremely broad. Virtue will be rewarded, and God will be name-dropped. If that's what you're looking for, Madea Goes to Jail will not disappoint. What we have is a ridiculous melodrama about an assistant district attorney (Derek Luke), who's all set to marry another assistant district attorney (Ion Overman), until he runs into an old friend (Keshia Knight Pulliam in an ill-fitting red wig) who's been arrested for prostitution. The meeting provokes a crise de conscience on his part (there's much talk about "what happened that night") that causes him to want to help her — much to the distaste of his upscale (and patently no good) fiancée. True feelings emerge and duplicity ensues. While all this is going on, there's an unrelated plot involving Madea, her dope-smoking brother Joe (Perry in the usual high school drama department old-age make-up), the Browns (David and Tamela J. Mann), and lawyer Brian (Perry), who tries to keep Madea from a well-deserved stint in the big house. After more than an hour of this, we finally get to Madea — and, of course, the wrongfully railroaded prostitute — in jail. Predictability follows. —Ken Hanke

Miss March (R) Millions of brain cells committed suicide when they were exposed to Miss March, a "film" that has the distinction of being both less funny and more tasteless than The Last House on the Left. Miss March is the creation of two guys from a TV show called The Whitest Kids U Know — and it looks it. The pair responsible are Trevor Moore and Zach Cregger. They wrote this mess. They directed this mess. They star in this mess. Never has the term "triple-threat" had such resonance. Their idea of humor is predicated on screaming a lot, while bombarding the viewer with a notion of sex that would embarass a backward 14-year-old boy, and topping it off with a variety of gags centered on faulty bowel control. The "plot" centers around one of them coming out of a coma after four years and learning that his girlfriend is now a centerfold. Naturally, they go across country to the Playboy mansion to find her. Hijinks and encounters with rappers, psychotic firemen, and Russian lesbians follow — as does Hugh Hefner, offering life-lesson advice. —Ken Hanke

Race to Witch Mountain (PG) If someone forced me to come up with a single adjective to describe Andy Fickman's Race to Witch Mountain, the first to pop into my mind would be "superfluous." This isn't because the movie's a remake of 1975's Escape to Witch Mountain. The movie is just pointless and unnecessary. Since the film carries the Disney banner, its existence as a moneymaker is already established. But that's no excuse for the lack of effort. The whole ordeal feels shoddy and cheap. The sets are unconvincing, the action lackluster, the CGI corny bottom-of-the-barrel, and the plot's riddled with contrivances. It's all about a taxi driver (Dwayne Johnson) helping a couple of kids (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) get back to their spaceship (they're really aliens, you see) in order to prevent an invasion of Earth by their planet. Kids may care. Chances are you won't. —Justin Souther

Watchmen (R) Stripped of its gory, blood-soaked, sexed-up R-rated approach and its plodding 163-minute running time, Zack Snyder's Watchmen isn't much more than another entry in the dysfunctional "superhero" subgenre. Partly, it's simply the result of the fact that what was fresh — the deconstruction of the superhero — 20-plus years ago just isn't so fresh today. The main problem, though, is that Snyder hasn't so much made a film of the comic as he's taxidermied it. The deeper aspects of the book are subverted in favor of the "bad ass" qualities. The storyline — about a possible conspiracy to murder costumed heroes in an alternative 1985 America where Nixon is still president and nuclear war looms — is retained while the film almost slavishly copies the look of the comic, but characterization and motivation are sketchy to non-existent. Overall, it's going to please some fans, anger others and probably leave the uninitiated wondering what all the fuss is about. —Ken Hanke


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