Capsule reviews of current and ongoing movies 

Opening this Week

Bruno (R) See review here.

I Love You, Beth Cooper (PG-13) Heroes' head cheerleader Hayden Panettiere attempts to launch a movie career with this Chris Columbus-directed comedy about a nerd hoping to woo a hottie, the aforementioned pom-pommer.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (PG-13) You have no idea how difficult it is not to tell you who dies in the latest Potter installment. But if you thought the death of Sirius Black was bad, then, oh boy, this one will really smart.

Critical Capsules

Away We Go (R) Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) from a script by literary hotshot Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and wife Vendela Vida, Away We Go taps into a bittersweet dimension to contemporary life: the ability to forge your own path in an America where family is not necessarily required, and the essential loneliness of that proposition. Away We Go is to be applauded on many fronts: from its exceptionally ordinary-looking leads (Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski) who counteract the usual glamorous take on slackerdom, to the integrity of its introspective script centered on a Juno-esque consideration of family, enduring love, and the responsibilities of parenting. The film's downfall, however, is the kind of forced cuteness of such indie endeavors: the comical glimpse of a very pregnant Verona moving at ant-speed toward the camera on a moving airport sidewalk or the fact that she has stapled their travel itinerary inside Burt's jacket. On many, many occasions, Away We Go could have gone for much more subtle, carefully observed comedy. But the writers and director prefer broad, bellowing caricature in order to more clearly enunciate Verona and Bruce's us-against-them mission. Felicia Feaster

The Hangover (R) The Hangover is a mystery tale about three guys following up on the few clues they have about a night of debauchery in Las Vegas. Phil (Bradley Cooper), the suave, handsome one, is wearing a hospital bracelet. Stu (Ed Helms), the dorky dentist, is missing a tooth. Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the borderline-retarded one, is missing his pants. There's a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet. How they retrace their doings of the night before is intriguing in a narrative sense. But this is a comedy or it's meant to be and as much as I would have loved for the sense of the sinister inherent in this concept to turn into something deeply, blackly funny. Lucas and Moore and director Todd Phillips go for the easy, cheap laughs, things that will shock a juvenile mind-set a mother breastfeeding, a fat old man instead of the things that would have unsettled a more mature one. Some are just plain disturbing without being funny: there are multiple intimations, for some reason that's never clear, that Alan is a pedophile. Why would a doctor examine a patient while three total strangers are in the room? Why is a taser to the testicles "funny"? As if it knows, somewhere deep down, that it's cheating, the movie has Stu insist, "You can't just tase people because you think it's funny," but the movie does it anyway. MaryAnn Johanson

Imagine That (PG) It's Eddie Murphy in family-friendly mode, which means you pretty much know exactly what to expect in the event that you unwisely decide to wander into a theater showing Imagine That a film that has difficulty imaginging much of anything. Murphy plays Evan, a hotshot financial planner and the father of a painfully precocious little girl, Olivia (Yara Shahidi), who's having issues dealing with her parents' divorce. Because of this, the only people she'll listen to are her four imaginary friends. Evan, being the workaholic father he is (see also: Murphy in The Haunted Mansion), mostly just pays attention to his job until the kid's fantasized pals start to give him stock tips. Then he begins to pay attention to his daughter and indulge her childhood fantasies. It's easy to see where this is going, and it quickly turns into a mawkish treatise on the corrupt nature of money, the importance of family, and other obvious life lessons. The bromides are fine and would be a difficult idea to argue with, except that they're being doled out by the man who made a reported $20 million for The Adventures of Pluto Nash. (Money can't buy you happiness, but it might buy it for Murphy so give generously.) The real problem is less its implicit hypocrisy than its explicit lack of laughs and charm. That won't buy you happiness either. Justin Souther

Land of the Lost (PG-13) I've been puzzling over the existence of the probable target audience for the abomination known as Land of the Lost for several days now. I mean really, Who is the demographic? The movie's too raunchy for younger kids and too stupid for anyone else. The ideal viewer would be, I guess, a five-year-old who still thinks dinosaurs and urine jokes are cool, but realizes they pale in comparison with breasts, gropings and the prospect of hot Will Ferrell-on-ape-man action. Blessedly, this last never quite comes to fruition onscreen (no, that doesn't mean we're going to be spared the obligatory Will Ferrell-takes-off-his-shirt scene). Though based on the cheesy Sid and Marty Krofft kid's show from 1974 and hawked with kid-appealing images of Will Ferrell being chased by a dinosaur this really isn't a family-friendly film. At the same time, its story of Ferrell traveling through a time-warp to prove his crackpot theories can hardly be called adult fare. Worse than that, though, is how singularly unfunny most of it is helped by the sense that Ferrell is even less interested in what's going on than the audience. That at least for me marks a considerable lack of interest. Ken Hanke

My Sister's Keeper (PG-13) I'm as big a sucker as anyone for multiple-handkerchief weepers when they're done right. At the same time, I tackled Nick Cassevetes' My Sister's Keeper with no little trepidation, based in part on how much I had disliked his film of The Notebook another assault on the tear ducts. And then there was the premise a little girl (Abigail Breslin) genetically engineered to be the perfect biological match for her leukemia-stricken older sister (Sofia Vassileva), who sues her parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) for the rights to her own body. In one sense, this is powerful stuff the moral dilemma of breeding a child for use as a sort of human parts car but in another, it's a stacked deck set-up for melodrama of the treacly kind. Those things and the Hallmark Card trailer made me wary. The image of Cameron Diaz shaving her head to show her solidarity with her ailing daughter was just too much. And the movie itself is just too much while simultaneously not being enough. What might have been a pretty heady work quickly gives way to shameless manipulation and a screenplay that's both sloppy and contrived. Instead of being a thoughtful look at a complicated issue, the movie turns into mush and melodrama of the Lifetime Network "Disease of the Week" variety. 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

The Proposal (PG-13) The first thing I noticed about The Proposal was that it wasn't nearly as funny as Sandra Bullock's last film, the thriller Premonition. The next thing I noticed was that the set-up for the movie a movie which by definition is already predictable was the quintessence of tedium. This occurred to me when I saw that less than an hour had passed when I reached the "Surely, this must be nearly over" mark and checked my phone for the time. Fortunately, about the same point that maximum tedium had been reached the combination of Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds actually started to work for me. I can't say the movie actually got better in any significant way. It was still plodding and predictable, utterly by-the-numbers and lacking in anything even marginally resembling style. But as soon as Bullock's and Reynolds' characters started thawing toward each other, both they and the film transformed from being painful and false to being pleasantly human. The high-concept premise nasty book editor Bullock blackmails assistant Reynolds into marrying her so she doesn't get deported to her native Canada is OK, but the development leaves something to be desired like laughs. The saving grace comes down to Bullock and Reynolds. Do they make it worthwhile? No, not really. What they make it is tolerable. At least that means the film probably won't do you a permanent injury should you come into contact with it. Ken Hanke

Public Enemies (R) I'm wildly intrigued by Public Enemies even though I readily concede that character development is all but nonexistent, and that it leaves me wanting to know who notorious bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) was more so than I did before I went into the film. Backstory? Forget it. Motivations? Never mind. This is a movie that exists completely in its own moment not in the past, not in the future. (And maybe that says the most important thing there is to say about Dillinger.) Very much like Michael Mann's previous film, 2006's Miami Vice, Public Enemies drops us right into the middle of one of the key moments of American law and disorder ... and it leaves us to float, if we can, without anything to hang on to except for the flotsam and jetsam we find around us. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. But it is an intellectual thing, which means it's not the kind of thing that American audiences tend to want from a movie. This isn't a "let's go have a good time at the multiplex and forget our woes" kind of movie. It's a "I really want to think about what I'm watching" kind of movie. Which probably means it's doomed, from a box-office perspective. Public Enemies is intimate in an animal sense, getting us on top of Depp's Dillinger and Christian Bale's proto FBI agent Melvin Purvis without letting us get to know them. It's like having sex with a total stranger: it's thrilling and scary and maybe not something you'd actually do in real life. But as an experience ... whoa. MaryAnn Johanson

The Taking of Pelham 123 (R) In Pelham 123, Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber, a New York Transit Authority employee who has the bad luck to be on the other end of radio dispatch when a subway train is hijacked. A guy calling himself Ryder (John Travolta), leading a quartet of gunmen, has given the city one hour to deliver 10 million dollars. While fears of a terrorist attack spread, Garber and Ryder play the kind of cat and mouse game that you get in movies of this kind. The original 1974 version of John Godey's novel was no masterpiece, but it was a fascinating time capsule of decaying mid-'70s New York City, as well as being ahead of its time as a kind of straightforward, Law & Order-style procedural where nuances of character were utterly wiped away in favor of brute plot mechanics. In screenwriter Brian Helgeland's version, Garber gets a back-story involving allegations of accepting bribes; Ryder similarly switches from a coldly analytical mercenary to a guy with an axe to grind. More complex characters, better story ... right? Not necessarily. As gifted as Washington may be as an actor, he's almost too charismatic to play the kind of beaten-down bureaucrat demanded by this twist in the character. Ryder becomes an even bigger disaster, because making him a high-strung guy means giving Travolta license to go into hammy-psycho mode. Sometimes, as in something deliriously over-the-top like Face/Off, that persona can work. And then there's the Travolta of Battlefield Earth, who seems to believe that screen villainy involves as much shrieking as possible. Guess which one cavorts through Pelham 123? Scott Renshaw

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (PG-13) Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen may not be the worst movie ever made, but with its 150-minute running time, it very likely is the most obnoxious. And what do you get for frittering away two-and-a-half hours of your life on it? Well, let's see you get a giant robot with testicles ("I'm right beneath the enemy's scrotum"), a robot with an erection, a robot that farts flames, gay dog sex, no less than three arbitrary slo-mo boob-bounce shots of Megan Fox running, John Turturro's naked butt, a small horny robot that tries to marry Megan Fox's leg, endless cheesecake shots of Megan Fox with her backside in the air, and a pair of illiterate jive-talking ghettobots (one with a gold tooth). And it's all wrapped in Spielbergian dysfunctional suburban family humor, while Shia LaBeouf continues to demonstrate that he's a few acting lessons Shia drama degree. The movie's supposed raison d'etre lies in watching giant robots beating the crap out of each other. Oh, sure, there's something that vaguely passes for a largely incoherent plot about the Decepticons (those are the bad robots) turning on some device that will eat our sun, but it doesn't matter much. The real draw is robots fighting and causing property damage. Fine. But Bay and company can't even get that right. The action scenes are a jumbled mess of incomprehensible "stuff happening" that we're supposed to accept as exciting for no reason other than the fact that stuff is happening. You can rarely tell exactly what stuff is happening because it's all shot in close with Bay's peripatetic-cam and chopped into small pieces. An utter waste of time and money and in John Turturro's case, talent. 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

Year One (PG-13) Harold Ramis' Year One probably sounded like a good idea when pitched to the studio. The only problem is that no one bothered questioning how flimsy a concept parading Jack Black and Michael Cera as cavemen through the Book of Genesis actually was. Not only this, but its Black at his most obnoxious and brash and Cera at his most awkwardly nebbish-ish and painfully twee (in other words, the same character he's always played). Most of this would seem to be the fault of Ramis. As director, he allowed these two to simply sleepwalk through the movie, pawning off the worst aspects of their screen personas on the audience. As co-writer, he also thought the humor surrounding Black and Cera an odds-and-ends collection of gross-out gags, sex jokes, gay jokes, and post modern cleverness that never find the right pitch was funny enough to be fed to the general public. In some ways he was correct, since Black eating bear dung and Cera urinating on himself both got huge laughs at the screening I attended (who says comedy is dead?). But beyond being a compilation of overbearing juvenilia, Year One is pretty worthless. Justin Souther


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