Capsule Reviews of Current Movies 

Opening This Week

Across the Universe (R) In what promises to be the trippiest movie of the fall, Julie Taymor (Frida) helms this Beatles-centric musical about two kooky kids in love.

The Brave One (R) Jodie Foster takes a spin as a Death Wish-style vigilante haunted by the brutal death of her beau. Hustle and Flow's Terrence Howard plays the cop hot on her trail.

Eagle vs. Shark (R) This New Zealand import aims for Napoleon Dynamite stupid-cool chuckles, but reviews so far have been decidedly mixed.

Mr. Woodcock (PG-13) After sitting on the shelf for over well over a year, this Billy Bob Thorton comedy about a writer who seeks revenge on the high school gym coach who tormented him finally makes it to theaters.

Critical Capsules

3:10 to Yuma (R) If James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma can't generate life into that most moribund of genres, the western film, then it's probably time to consign the idea of westerns to Boot Hill and be done with it. The film is a remake of a more-or-less assembly-line 1957 film of the same title — and one of the rare occasions where the remake is much better than the original. Deeper and darker than the 1957 original, Mangold's film still follows the basic outline of a poor rancher (Christian Bale) who agrees to help escort a local badman (a charismatic Russell Crowe) to the titular train that will take him to prison. The problem is that the prisoner's gang has a different idea. Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is that it's a revisionist western that manages to feel traditional — up until the ending. Tense, thought-provoking, well-acted, and exciting. — Ken Hanke

Becoming Jane (PG) Even though Becoming Jane is almost entirely invented, it captures both the aching romanticism and the cold, hard practicalities of Austen's fiction. And in a way, it even does Austen one better: it's laden with all of the angst and heartbreak and tears we've come to expect from a Sense & Sensibility or a Pride & Prejudice, but because it is adhering to the spirit of Austen's life — she never married, never enjoyed any kind of long-term romantic entanglements that posterity is aware of — it doesn't indulge in a happy ending. How can it? Spoiler alert! Anne Hathaway's charming and independent Jane does not end up happily ever after with James McAvoy's handsome and roguish lawyer Tom Lefroy. The movie works far better as a "fictional biography" — an enrapturing, spirited one with the foreknowledge of her bittersweet yet independent, unmarried life — than it does as a silly sitcom that hangs on the fulfillment of romantic dreams. — Maryann Johanson

The Brothers Solomon (R) The story of two socially inept brothers — Will Arnett and Will Forte — who attempt to become fathers in order to pull their father out of a coma, The Brothers Solomon is a dire attempt at being quirky and irreverent, which ends up just being a pointless, unfunny attempt at comedy. The movie tries to be of the "lovable loser" variety, the only problem being that these two imbecilic brothers aren't even what you'd call tolerable, let alone lovable. It feels like some long lost Farelly Brothers project, and if it is, you can't blame them for misplacing it. As brother acts go, these boys fall way short of the Karamazov, Marx, Smothers or even Dr. Joyce Brothers. — Justin Souther

The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13) Bourne is back for a third and (supposedly) final adventure and nothing has changed in terms of quality, but nothing else is the same. Once again Greengrass and Damon deliver on a movie packed with more "holy shit!" moments than you can shake an Uzi at. Greengrass hasn't just topped the previous Bourne movies in every way, he's raised the bar for the spy and action genres for years to come, and he's done it in a movie with surpassingly little dialogue. If you're like me, your nails will be firmly buried in the arm of your chair throughout the film's 111 minutes. — Joshua Tyler

Hot Rod (PG-13) The story of an amateur stuntman (SNL's Andy Samberg) who must raise $50,000 to pay for his father's heart operation, thus getting the chance to beat him at hand-to-hand combat and gain his respect, Hot Rod is an idiotic comedy that mix and matches the stylings of Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Napoleon Dynamite into one punishingly unfunny comedy. There's never any attempt at actually crafting an honest-to-goodness joke. Instead we get a lot of bogus, worn-out '80s nostalgia and phony random gags. It's not even a movie; it's a series of one-liners for high school kids to quote once classes start back up. — Justin Souther

The Invasion (R) German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) was supposed to have his big English language debut with this fourth version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But Warner Bros. didn't like what he gave them, so they had the Wachowski Brothers tart it up, after which they had Wachowski protegé James MacTeigue (V for Vendetta) monkey with it some more. The result is a thoughtful film that used the basic premise — aliens from outer space replacing people with emotionless copies — to examine the high cost of being human with some pretty preposterous action sequences grafted on to it. It's a mess — often fascinating, but still a mess. Nicole Kidman is good; Daniel Craig, on the other hand, is as wasted as the opportunity. — Ken Hanke

The Last Legion (PG-13) This fair dose of campy entertainment is made all the more entertaining by virtue of the fact that no one involved seems to realize just how silly it all is. Its bubble-headed attempt to rewrite the origins of King Arthur in terms of ancient Rome and the "last ode to the Caesars," who in this case is a boy (Thomas Sangster, whom we've already seen in one of these dithering ancient world operas, Tristan + Isolde). He has to be protected by a noble Roman warrior (Colin Firth looking perplexed to find himself wearing leather and window curtains), a Turkish fighting woman (Aishwarya Rai), and a quasi magician (Ben Kingsley slicing the ham thickly). It's filled with unitentionally funny dialogue and smelly-looking gents in crepe beards clanging swords and saying, "Arrgh." — Ken Hanke

Mr. Bean's Holiday (G) Let's face it, Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean character is an acquired taste, and if it's a taste you've acquired you're very likely going to love Mr. Bean's Holiday. The plot such as it is follows Mr. Bean and the havoc he causes as he makes his way to a vacation in Cannes. Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but there's no denying the gags are cleverly constructed. — Ken Hanke

The Nanny Diaries (PG13) No, it's not in the same league as Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's last film, American Splendor, but it seems unlikely this pleasant, but largely unremarkable, romantic comedy ever had such lofty goals. The story of Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) taking a job as a nanny for a snobbish Upper East Side Couple, Mr. and Mrs. X (Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti), isn't a lot more than a light-weight variant on The Devil Wears Prada. Directorially, it's a little more stylish, but it's also a good deal less funny. It's never more than a fairly pleasant entertainment, but neither is it ever anything less. — Ken Hanke

No End in Sight (Not rated) With the calm, measured approach of a legal document, director Charles Ferguson makes his case for the war's mishandling. A comprehensive group of elite talking heads, including former members of the State and Defense departments, recount the unforgivably bad decisions made on the road to war. Included in the film, which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, are not only people such as Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance Director Jay Garner, but journalists and soldiers on the ground who saw the trickle-down of bad judgment at the highest levels. Despite that orderly procession of talking heads, Ferguson's documentary is a frightening picture of how an American administration allowed startling mismanagement, poor planning, and inexperience to bungle the war and rebuilding efforts from the start. — Felicia Feaster

Resurrecting the Champ (PG13) Rod Lurie's Resurrecting the Champ is a so-so movie with a frequently less than so-so screenplay that somehow comes off as better than it is thanks to a stunning performance from Samuel L. Jackson. Otherwise, this fact-based drama plays like a mawkish version of the old Carole Lombard-Fredric March comedy Nothing Sacred. The ever-bland Josh Hartnett plays a sportswriter who happens to rescue a homeless man from some frat boys, only to be told by the man that he's former heavyweight contender Bob Satterfield. Hartnett swallows this hook, line, and sinker, only to find out the truth is different — but not until he's published an article and turned them both into celebrities. It's ultimately preposterous and speechy, but nothing ever quite dispells the power of Jackson's performance. — Ken Hanke

Shoot 'Em Up (R) In Shoot 'em Up, a dour gentleman named Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) sits on a bench eating a carrot when a pregnant woman being chased by a man flashes past. When Smith sees her pursuer take out a gun, he grudgingly decides to take a hand. Very soon he has disposed of the would-be killer, ended up in a full-scale gun battle, delivered the baby, and attempted to get mother and son to safety. He fails as concerns the mother and finds himself saddled with a hungry infant and a clearly psychotic hitman (Paul Giamatti) and his seemingly endless supply of henchmen in pursuit. This is the first five minutes — and writer-diector Michael Davis manages to keep things at that speed for most of the movie. It's preposterous, violent, bloody, and it recognizes the existence of no societal taboo. It is perhaps the most refreshingly creative explosion of pure bad taste to come our way in far too long. — Ken Hanke

The Simpsons Movie (PG-13) Judging by its first weekend box office take, it was worth the 20 years it took The Simpsons Movie to make it to the big screen, and if you're a fan of the show, you'll probably agree. If you're not, this film version isn't likely to convert you. It's essentially little more than a 30-minute episode extended to 90 minutes, a concept that both sells it to the fans and undermines itself. The first third is good, moving at lightning speed and not afraid to be random while setting up the plot about Homer accidentally turning Springfield into a toxic waste blight. Unfortunately, the film's remainder becomes mired in the mechanics of that plot at the expense of the gags. For die-hard Simpsons addicts only. — Ken Hanke

Stardust (PG-13) In a prologue narrated by Ian McKellen in his most resonant Gandalf-ian tones, we learn of a magical world called Stormhold that exists in the middle of England, separated from our reality only by a stone wall. One young man managed to sneak through for a small adventure 150 years ago, only to have the infant result of that small adventure dropped on his doorstep nine months later. Flash forward 18 years, and Tristan (Charlie Cox) — that baby all grown up — is a restless lad pining for a seemingly inaccessible girl (Sienna Miller). Tristan's search for his family history and accompanying romantic rendezvous are familiar enough stuff, but director Matthew Vaughn's choices make everything feel even more like a mash-up of other movies, stories, and even amusement park rides. Like Frankenstein's monster, it's something sewn together from spare parts — but without that spark of lightning that would bring it to life. — Scott Renshaw

Superbad (R) There is a thin line between smart juvenilia and stuff that's just plain silly — and Superbad keeps weaving back and forth across that line like Lindsay Lohan at a traffic stop. Produced by Judd Apatow (of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up fame), it marks the first script by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up star) and Evan Goldberg (Rogen's childhood friend from Vancouver). So it's not hard to see a bit of autobiography — or at least wish-fulfillment — in the story of high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development's Michael Cera). Soon to be attending separate colleges, the two best friends are looking for one last hurrah by supplying alcohol to an end-of-year party hosted by one of their school's cool girls. Thus begins an odyssey that plays like a cross-breeding of all-night travelogue, end-of-school reminiscence, and cherry-popping quest. — Scott Renshaw

War (R) Following an FBI agent (Jason Statham) who's attempting to take revenge on the mysterious assassin (Jet Li) who killed his partner, War is a convoluted action flick that suffers by taking itself way too seriously. Instead of realizing the shortcomings of its utterly ridiculous storyline or focusing on the action, the filmmakers take the exact opposite approach and skimp on the action, while overloading the movie with tons of silly plot. By the time you've slogged your way to the film's jaw-droppingly unbelievable conclusion, the best you can do is wonder how anyone past the age of eight thought this would work. War is just plain dull, the action is sparse, and when it does occur, uninspired. — Justin Souther


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