Capsule Reviews of Current Movies 

Opening This Week

Lars and the Real Girl (PG-13) Oh, please. This is one of the guy-meets-girl, guy falls in love with girl, girl falls in love with guy, and they live happily ever after. Well, yes. That's right. If the guy in question is a mentally unstable dude named Lars. And if the girl in question is a life-sized sex doll that Lars bought online. And by the way, she has a name. It's Bianca. And she's training to be a missionary. Ryan Gosling, as Lars, gives one of the quirkiest and most heartwarming performances of the year. A quality date movie for lovers, and for lonely guys in search of that special someone.

Darjeeling Limited (R) Reviewed here

Dan in Real Life (PG-13) Reviewed here

Critical Capsules

30 Days of Night (R) The concept -— vampires descend on an isolated town in the most remote part of Alaska to take advantage of the month-long night of winter -— is slightly intriguing, but the execution is blander than star Josh Hartnett's screen presence. What promised a new deal in vampire movies is really just the same old false shuffle — right down to a Dracula-like vampire king (Danny Huston) and a Renfield style henchman (Ben Foster) -— in a novelty setting. It's clearly positioned so that its purely perfunctory plasma pumping pleasures pass muster as disposable Halloween fare. ­—Ken Hanke

Across the Universe (R) Julie Taymor's Across the Universe is an imperfect film, but it's a terrific imperfect film. The enormity of what it does achieve — combined with the impossibility of what it tries to achieve — makes it an essential film, regardless of its occasional missteps. Her ambitious attempt to present a portrait of the 1960s in terms of Beatles songs — hooked to a slender love story about two young people (Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess) — is both daring and satisfying. The key to the enterprise is that Taymor clearly loves and respects the songs. The new arrangements never trivialize the material even when — as in the case of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" — they reimagine it. —Ken Hanke

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (R) At 160 minutes, Andrew Dominik's revisionist take on the death of Jesse James may slightly outstay its welcome, but it remains a fascinating noirish psychological rendering of a too-often romanticized tale. As the title suggests, the film is as much about Jesse's murderer as it is about the famous outlaw. In fact, it's ultimately the story of Ford's unabashed hero-worship of James that leads to a fatal fixation (yes, there's days of subtext here) that ultimately seals the doom of both men. Brad Pitt gives a strong portrayal of James as an unraveling psychotic, but the real star of the film is Casey Affleck, who makes Ford into a character at once creepy and pitiable. —Ken Hanke

The Comebacks (PG-13) A puerile, idiotic spoof of sports movies in the vein of Date Movie and Epic Movie, The Comebacks is every bit as overwhelmingly horrid as it sounds. David Koechner plays a washed-up coach who takes one last shot at glory by coaching a small-time college football team. It's the usual parade of lame pop culture references and poorly executed slapstick, usually in the form of shots to the groin. Despite claims that it spoofs the "great sports movies," it really does little more than pointlessly reference the most recent examples of the genre with a TV skit mentality. —Justin Souther

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (R) Fie on those who have trashed this entertainingly overheated historical conceit! Yes, it's completely indefensible as history. So what else is new? As someone noted years ago about the much respected Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) in terms of history, the movie got it right that he wore funny hats, was fat, and had eight wives. Not much has changed in 74 years. Here we have Cate Blanchett (in a performance somewhere between Glenda Jackson and a drag queen) as a pretty preposterous Queen Elizabeth I, hopelessly in love with swashbuckling Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen, who looks nothing like the picture on the tobacco can), while battling court intrigue, Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), and the Spanish Armada. The whole thing is over-directed by Shekhar Kapur like a Busby Berkeley musical and is a lot of fun — if not taken seriously. —Ken Hanke

The Game Plan (PG) The story of a hotshot, self-centered football player who suddenly finds out he has a long-lost daughter who turns his life upside-down, The Game Plan is passable family entertainment that suffers from being wholly predictable and about 15 minutes too long. Think along the lines of The Pacifier or Kindergarten Cop, with the majority of the humor revolving around Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson being emasculated. —Justin Souther

Gone Baby Gone (R) Directed by Ben Affleck and starring his younger brother Casey, Gone Baby Gone is, at its base, a neo-noir, but it becomes a film about moral ambiguity and the nature of right and wrong. The younger Affleck suits his role perfectly as a small-time, streetwise private investigator hired to find a missing child, but soon gets in deeper than he expected. Ben, on the other hand, reminds us that -— his overexposed personal life to one side -— he's actually a talented and intelligent man with his assured handling of the film. ­—Justin Souther

The Heartbreak Kid (R) The film is based on a 1972 Elaine May film from a script by Neil Simon — a mildly cynical PG-rated affair that has here been trashed and tarted up into an outpouring of unrestrained sleaze. It's 116 minutes of tedium punctuated with outbursts of tastelessness. The idea was to return the Farrelly Brothers to the edginess of There's Something About Mary, but it turns out to be just so much hateful arrested development garbage. The premise of having Ben Stiller marry a girl (Malin Akerman — a kind of low-rent Cameron Diaz) only to find she's a living nightmare, whereupon he meets his true love (Michelle Monaghan) falls flat owing to the fact that his character is completely detestable. The best thing about it are the Bowie songs on the soundtrack — buy a CD instead. You can keep the songs and avoid the movie. —Ken Hanke

Into the Wild (R) With one foot in the 1960s and another in our own cautious time, Into the Wild captures the recklessness, the passion, and also the cruelty of youth. Flashing back from Chris' last stand in an abandoned bus in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, Sean Penn's film begins in a chaotic, mildly hallucinatory blur. The world seems to rush at Chris (Emile Hirsch) with teeth bared. He sees nothing but ruin in the inevitable transformation of his idealism into the complacency of his parents (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden). On the road, Chris encounters a rich patchwork of Americans: dropouts and hippies, folk artists and vacationing Euros, a lonely retiree and a rowdy, life-embracing farmer. Into the Wild seems not only aimed at but infused with the values of a college-aged audience, with Chris offered as a messianic hero for those who reject the world's false values for a higher moral purpose. —Felicia Feaster

The Kingdom (R) An FBI team — Jennifer Garner's forensics examiner, the intelligence analyst played by Jason Bateman, Chris Cooper's explosives expert, and the team leader played by Jamie Foxx — loses one of their own at the Riyadh housing complex of an American oil company. But when the U.S. government refuses to allow the FBI to travel to Saudi Arabia to investigate, the crew sneaks off to the Middle East, where they encounter more politicking from local princes and from their own ambassador (Jeremy Piven, in fine weaselly form). It's a law-enforcement clusterfuck, with the agents thwarted at every turn. And it's entirely frustrating — the desire to kick some ass just to get things moving seems like an understandable response. The Kingdom is a hard-edged story about a criminal investigation — think CSI: Riyadh — and it features an intense final act jammed with enough action for three movies. —MaryAnn Johanson

Michael Clayton (R) High-powered legal drama that once again proves that George Clooney is the movie star of our age. Playing the title role, Clooney stars as the "fixer" of a powerful New York law firm (headed by Sydney Pollack). He's the guy they call in to clean up other people's messes, and he's handed a beauty when the firm's top litigator (Tom Wilkinson) — a brilliant, but unbalanced man — goes off his medication and proceeds to scuttle a multi-billion dollar class action suit in a fit of conscience. It's not entirely believable, but the dialogue is so literate and the performances from Clooney, Pollack, Wilkinson, and Tilda Swinton are so good that the film's occasional improbabilities hardly make a dent. Those in search of a satisfying, adult thriller aren't likely to do better. —Ken Hanke

Rendition (R) Isabella Fields El-Ibrahimi (Reese Witherspoon) can't find her husband, Anwar (Omar Metwally), an immigrant from Egypt who has lived, legally, in the U.S. since he was a teenager. He seems to have disappeared without a trace while en route from South Africa, where he was attending a professional conference, to their home in Chicago. She's distraught, of course, and fortunately she has a contact in the office of a U.S. senator, her old college friend Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard), so she pretty rapidly learns what has probably happened to her husband. I like how the film doesn't fetishize the suicide bombing that sets the plot in motion, doesn't ignore the truth and doesn't overplay the villainy of even the villains, like Meryl Streep's CIA honcho. I like how it highlights the endless cycles of injustice and retribution that fuel so much of the violence we live with. —MaryAnn Johanson

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (PG) No, The Seeker has nothing to do with the Who song, nor does it appear on the soundtrack, which is perhaps a pity, since it might have enlivened this low-rent outburst of ersatz Harry Pottering around. It's underwritten and over-directed, and the young lead, Alexander Ludwig, isn't charismatic in the least. The storyline is a basic good-vs.-evil affair that plays altogether too much like Harry Potter squaring off against Voldemort — on a severely hampered expense account. —Ken Hanke

Things We Lost in the Fire (R) Director Susanne Bier has created a dour soaper about the mutual redemption of a young widow (Halle Berry) and her late husband's heroin-addicted best friend (Benicio Del Toro), whom she improbably brings to live with her and her two children. The performances are good and Del Toro more than just good, but they're at the service of a mawkish and frequently preposterous story. ­—Ken Hanke

Tyler Perry's Why I Didn't Get Married (PG-13) Having learned — after the box office flop of Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls — that his films fare better with his fan base if he actually appears in them (even if not in drag as the popular Madea character), writer-director Tyler Perry is back with another critic-proof serving of pseudo-high-minded drama with lashings of religiosity. This round he focuses on four couples and their various marital strifes. It all plays like a bad Lifetime TV movie and a catalogue of every marriage problem you could hope for. Platitudes, homililes and bromides abound — all feeling like they were cribbed off bumper stickers. Perry's fan-base will flock to it. Everyone else should be very wary indeed. —Ken Hanke

We Own the Night (R) A competently made film that unfortunately suffers from being too emotionless and too unaffecting, We Own the Night tells the story of a nightclub manager with ties to the mob must help his brother and father, both cops, survive threats from the Russian mafia. The familial aspect never feels genuine, and the performances are either a waste (Mark Wahlberg) or too detached or glum (Joaquin Phoenix) so that the movie lacks any likable characters. It ends up feeling like a missed opportunity and is ultimately forgettable, despite the talent involved. If you want a real thriller, Eastern Promises is probably still playing somewhere. —Justin Souther


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