Capsule Reviews of current and ongoing movies 

Opening this Week

Drag Me to Hell (R) Sam Raimi returns to the horror genre. See review here.

Sugar (R) A Dominican ballplayer tries to make it in the minor leagues. This one is getting a lot of positive press.

Up (PG) Pixar's latest high-flying adventure and the first in 3-D.

Valentino: The Last Emperor (NR) Italian fashion designer Valentino gets the documentary treatment.

Veer (NR) Cyclists in Portland get the documentary treatment.

Critical Capsules

Angels & Demons (PG-13) Tom Hanks — sans his greasy Da Vinci mullet — is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, summoned by Vatican officials to help deal with a potential crisis. In the wake of the death of the Pope, the four cardinals who are the primary candidates to replace him have been kidnapped. Evidence suggests the involvement of the Illuminati — the ancient society of scholars and artists whose pro-science views antagonized the Renaissance-era Catholic Church. And if Langdon can't follow the clues to the lair of the Illuminati, the Vatican itself could be destroyed by a cylinder of stolen anti-matter. Langdon has the potential to be a really entertaining character — a true, non-Indiana Jones academic thrust into life-threatening situations — but nobody involved appears the slightest bit interested in exploring that character. Hanks is once again stripped of his likability, furrowing his brow and scowling as though he's embarrassed to be a part of the thing even as he's filming it. And they manage to find an even less interesting female counterpart in Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a physicist whose personality begins and ends with her ability to spout all the necessary tech-babble about the threat posed by the anti-matter. As was true in Da Vinci, Howard simply allows Langdon's puzzle-solving to carry us from one place to the next, like some life-or-death scavenger hunt. —Scott Renshaw

Dance Flick (PG-13) The only saving grace for Dance Flick is that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer — the, um, gentleman behind the recent glut of Movie movie send-ups — are nowhere to be had. This is only a vague silver lining, however, since comparing the quality of Dance Flick with, say, Epic Movie is akin to debating which Wayans Brother is supposed to be the funny one. For anyone up for such an undertaking, this movie is the place to start. With, by my count, a whopping 11 credited Wayans kinfolk (I guess Zeppo Wayans was busy or we could've had an even dozen), Wayans brothers, sisters and second cousins twice removed all come rolling out like oranges from the film's first frame. And the sole purpose is of this cavalcade of Wayans is to send-up the overabundance of dance movies that have flooded theaters over the past few years. It's actually a sub-genre that's ripe for satire, but what we get is simply tired parody of the sort that randomly assembles a string of pop culture references and grafts on a bit of slapstick. The results are less insulting than those from Friedberg-Seltzer (the Wayans actually believe you'll get the references), but not appreciably funnier. —Justin Souther

Is Anybody There (PG-13) The bittersweet British film Is Anybody There? manages to be both heartwarming and irritating in equal measure. The story hinges on one of those Harold and Maude, generationally-mismatched odd couples who should have little in common, but after a difficult period of mutual disdain, end up having quite a bit. Clarence (Michael Caine) is a lonely, curmudgeonly magician who tours the British countryside in his garishly-painted camper. Clarence's nemesis is the precocious, death obsessed 10-year-old Edward (Bill Milner, star of Son of Rambow). Edward lives with his parents in the house they have turned into an old folk's home, Lark Hall. Surrounded by death, young Edward is naturally obsessed with it. As Edward, Bill Milner does an impressive job playing an underage ghoul. Michael Caine is the film's saving grace; his ever-present sense of menace (he at one point suggests Edward join him for a cigarette) and W.C. Fields-style wise-cracking put distance between Clarence and the film's writer and director can't resist. The British actor, at age 76, taps into that peculiar pathos that occurs when we witness a formerly vibrant, sexually dynamic actor aging on-screen. We see our own mortality reflected in Caine's altered body and, in this movie at least, his faded mind. —Felicia Feaster

Monsters vs. Aliens (PG) The basic idea of making a spoof of 1950s science fiction movies using the quintessential 1950s gimmick of 3-D is in itself inspired. The idea of filling it with cross-references to 1950s-'60s sci-fi movies from the well-known — The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Fly — to the culty — Attack of the 50 Foot Woman — to the esoteric awful — The Amazing Colossal Man — is a nice nod to film and SF nerds. There's even something sweetly nostalgic about the idea that the government has had all these out-of-date monsters locked away for about 50 years. The voice casting is surprisingly good, especially Rainn Wilson as the evil Gallaxhar. The results of all this, though, are rarely more than pleasant. The individual components suggest it should be better. It's less a case of anything being actually wrong than it simply being no more than OK. The idea basically finds the earth invaded by aliens and calls on their stash of homegrown monsters to save the day. Apart from the personal stories used to flesh this out, that's the plot and it works fine for what it is. At bottom, I liked it well enough. I found it consistently clever and that it maintained a pleasantly giddy sense of fun. In a year, I'll have only the vaguest sense of ever having seen it. —Ken Hanke

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG) I'd actually held out some slight hope for this one. Those hopes didn't quite pan out. Others were similarly snookered. Friends of mine attended the screening and lasted up through the point that the movie inflicted CGI cherub versions of the Jonas Brothers singing "More Than a Woman" on us. While I'm sure they felt as edified as I to learn (based on the onscreen evidence) what had previously only been the suspicion that the Jonases are bereft of genitalia, this afforded them sufficient provocation for departing the theater. I envied them. Granting that the sub-Thorne Smith whimsy of the premise of the first movie — that the displays in a museum come to life during the night thanks to a magical doodad — was already pretty thin, the sequel just feels desperate in its attempts to stretch it out further. Amy Adams fills out her aviatrix outfit nicely, but she's forced to deliver lines that are all written in faux 1920s jazz baby speak — and it's quickly tiresome. But then everybody gets the one joke treatment — and then gets to repeat that joke endlessly. Hank Azaria as the villain does a credible Boris Karloff impression (ancient Egyptians must sound like Karloff since he was in The Mummy, I guess) and scores a few laughs, but the film mostly confuses shrill and busy with funny. —Ken Hanke

Star Trek (PG-13) J.J. Abrams' Star Trek has arrived on the scene to stake its claim as the big movie of the summer. It just might win that accolade, too, because it's a surprisingly pleasing work that doesn't require being a certified Trekkie (or Trekker, if you must) to enjoy. Of course, it helps that Star Trek is such a part of collective pop culture consciousness that nearly everyone knows the main characters and basic set-up of the original 1960s TV series. The film works because it takes itself seriously without taking itself too seriously. It's not slated to become one of the "great movies." It has some significant flaws and missteps, but on its own merits it's entertaining. The whole origins story idea comes with a set of built-in pitfalls and Star Trek stumbles into a few of them. There's an inescapable sense of watching kids playing dress-up to the whole thing — a kind of Muppet Babies aura. It's hard not to imagine these young Trekkers arguing over who gets to play whom, which is echoed by the musical chairs business of who gets to command the ship at various points in the narrative. The business of jamming all the characters into Starfleet Academy at the same time is simply awkward. But it scores most of the time — and shows true genius in bringing Leonard Nimoy in to play Spock — or Spock Prime. Nimoy has just the right gravity to lend the film authenticity and an emotional resonance it would otherwise lack. —Ken Hanke

Terminator Salvation (PG-13) What is there to be said about McG's Terminator Salvation? That it proves that, yes, it is possible to make a worse movie than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines? This is one of those post-apocalyptic concoctions where the whole world looks like a rave that went wrong taking place in a disused steel foundry. The color scheme is muddy gray-brown to a point where you wonder why everyone isn't so eaten up with malaise that they don't just sit down and forget about the whole thing. This is the movie where Christian Bale was so immersed in his character that he went bananas on a member of the crew? Had he gone after his agent or McG, I could understand that. The story has John Connor (Bale) trying to defeat the evil forces of Skynet that are still out to obliterate humankind for reasons that are only as clear as the explanatory title that the machines perceive humankind as a threat. This guarantees a lot of shooting and explosions. There's also a new terminator on the block — a half-human model made from executed murderer Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). Clever writing teams Marcus up with Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who, presumably needs to go back in time in order to father John Connor. There are websites devoted to making this make sense. Does anyone really care? —Ken Hanke

Up (PG) Early in Up — the tenth feature from the cinematic quality machine called Pixar — there is a sequence that distills all of the best that the animation powerhouse brings to filmmaking. After a brief prologue introducing us to a pair of simpatico kids named Carl and Ellie in the 1930s, we watch without a word of dialogue as the childhood friends become sweethearts, then follow them through 50 years of married life. This kind of jaw-dropping, tear-jerking brilliance is what we have come to expect as matter-of-fact, everyday stuff from Pixar. In the present day, Carl (Edward Asner) is now a curmudgeonly septuagenarian, living alone in his house while high-rise development goes on around him. Facing the prospect of life in a retirement home, Carl instead sends a massive cascade of balloons through his chimney, launching the house into the air with a plan to head to the remote South American jungle that was a dream adventure destination for Carl and Ellie. There's also an unexpected hitchhiker: Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young Wilderness Explorer. But nothing matches the magic of that early sequence, and Carl (voiced by Edward Asner) doesn't prove to be nearly as interesting or engaging a protagonist once he actually starts talking. Even the visuals are satisfying without really offering a wow factor. Director Pete Docter plays the best material he has at the outset, and as a result he faces the blessing — and curse — of being part of the Pixar legacy: He crafts an enjoyable and at times lovely piece of family-friendly filmmaking, and it still ends up feeling a bit disappointing. —Scott Renshaw

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13) It appears I'm supposed to have hated this movie, but I have to say I didn't. It's not a great movie, and I doubt I'll ever feel compelled to see it again, but I enjoyed it well enough while it was onscreen. Is it profound? No. It doesn't pretend to be weighty, which means that it isn't pompous like Watchmen or The Dark Knight. To me, that's a plus. I find it interesting and more than a little disheartening that the idea of quality in a comic book movie has become synonymous with "depressing." The charge that the story isn't realistic strikes me as peculiar to say the least. Uh, guys, we're talking about a main character who, for all intents and purposes, is indestructible and who sprouts blades out of his hands. If the film then wants me to believe that he and his half-brother, Victor, stop aging at the time of the Civil War, and that that happens to coincide with the current ages of stars Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber, I'm cool with it. It seems an easy enough leap to make. It has the basic problem of all origins stories — namely that you know where it's going — but it strikes a nice balance between a respect for the character and not taking itself too seriously. —Ken Hanke


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