Capsule Reviews of Current Movies 

Opening This Week

Awake (R) A super-rich dude (Hayden Christensen of Star Wars) has an operation and experiences what's called "anesthetic awareness." That is, even though he's been given anesthesia, he can still hear everything around him — the lights buzzing, the surgical tools clinking and the doctors talking about how they're going to kill him. Yep. Life's hard out here for non-pimps, too. A psychological thriller sure to promise mucho twists and turns, Awake stars the fetching Jessica Alba (Fantastic Four, Sin City) as the rich dude's newlywed wife and Terrance Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow) as the would-be Dr. Death. —John Stoehr

I'm Not There (R) Yet another biopic of a legendary singer, but this time with a twist. Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, and Cate Blanchett each take a turn in portraying different parts of the legendary life of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Also starring Colin Farrell, Julianne Moore, and Adrien Brody. Opens Sunday at the Terrace. —John Stoehr

Capsule Reviews

American Gangster (R) The world is not good and decent, perhaps, but sometimes people are, and sometimes only accidentally. In Ridley Scott's American Gangster, Russell Crowe is Richie Roberts, a New Jersey cop, a rough-edged working-class guy who's trying to better himself by studying law in night school. He's a cocky bastard who hangs out with a childhood friend who's now a mafioso. Oh, and he's kinda mean to his ex-wife and kinda ignores his kid. When he stumbles onto Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and his criminal endeavors, Richie latches onto the case like a bulldog. Lucas was a driver and general dogsbody to the godfather of Harlem, until the godfather died and Frank, looking to better himself, took over the operation. Before long, he's selling junk twice as good as anything on the street at half the price. Oh, and Frank is utterly ruthless and won't hesitate to put a bullet in the brain of anyone who steps on his toes, but he believes himself a gentleman, and he is, in his own perverse way. He's even good to his mother. —MaryAnn Johanson

Bee Movie (PG) Jerry Seinfeld provides the voice of Barry Benson, a bee just graduated from college in Hive City. Taking a chance on a trip outside the hive before committing to a lifetime of drudgery, Barry encounters humans for the first time, including a kindly florist named Vanessa (Reneé Zellweger). Bee Movie feels like it should have been the animated equivalent of a Seinfeld episode: no plot per se, just a bunch of funny situations spinning out of Seinfeld's imagination. Every attempt the story makes at an overarching narrative winds up jumbled. The result is a movie about ... well, about nothing. —Scott Renshaw

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (R) A kind of sly, nasty casualness takes Before the Devil Knows You're Dead into a realm of mopey genius. Director Sidney Lumet brings a gritty, indolent cool reminiscent of his films of the 1970s (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico) but without the manic density. Crime isn't urgent here. It's a chore for the lazy and the dumb who in this case decide to rob the strip-mall jewelry store run by their own parents. You need some dough? Sigh. Guess we'll have to steal from Mom and Dad. Plainly naturalistic and not bothering with fancy flourishes, Devil doesn't overexplain itself as it gives us the heist from multiple angles, as if to show how many different ways a couple of idiots can screw up a job. Andy's perspective lets us see the always riveting Philip Seymour Hoffman anew: Here's a man, his Andy, a deep-in-debt broker, who's both smart and stupid at the same time, and a man for whom, it seems, getting out of bed in the morning must be a trial. Hank's perspective gives us a sneaky, shifty Ethan Hawke twitching his way through a role that's as meaty for an actor as it is meager for the character: Hank is a shell of a person sleepwalking through life, and Hawke is pretty darn funny with it. —MaryAnn Johanson

Beowulf (PG-13) The legendary epic poem about the heroic Beowulf fighting the monster Grendel comes to the big screen courtesy of director Robert Zemeckis. It's mostly an excuse for another Old World epic — one of those movies where everyone screams their lines while staggering around gloomy settings. Done in the same performance-capture process Zemeckis used on The Polar Express, all the characters look like the Wayans Brothers in White Chicks, which is creepy, but not in the right way. The only exception is the monstrous Grendel, who appears to have been formed from moldy pizza. He also has no genitals, which might account for his irritable nature. There's much screaming and mayhem — and naked animated Angelina Jolie (with stiletto heels) as Grendel's mama doing her Countess Dracula voice from Alexander. But who really cares what happens to these people? —Ken Hanke

Fred Claus (PG) Vince Vaughn stars as Fred Claus, the surly, bitter, ne'er-do-well brother of Santa Claus. However clever the film thinks it is by deconstructing the myth behind St. Nick, it's still a wholly predictable Christmas flick — one in a long line of many. It's so clichéd they even manage to squeeze in an orphan. The only thing close to a surprise is the absence of Tim Allen — a blessing of sorts. In his stead you get Vince Vaughn at his most Vince Vaughn-ish, while name actors like Paul Giamatti, Miranda Richardson, Kevin Spacey, Rachel Weisz, and Kathy Bates are on hand to be nothing more than that: name actors. At 116 minutes, it's just too bloated to be simple disposable entertainment. —Ken Hanke

Lions for Lambs (R) Robert Redford's new offering is Hollywood's latest and perhaps bravest attempt at critiquing the war in Iraq, the current administration, and public apathy (or ennui or malaise). Bravery, alas, did not translate into a good movie. Nor will it overcome the same public apathy (or ennui or malaise) that sunk In the Valley of Elah or Rendition at the box office. Though cleverly structured as three interconnected stories — told in more or less real time — and boasting three major stars (Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise), the film falls apart because of a clunky script. The scenes between Streep as a zealous reporter and Cruise as a slick neo-con senator are the only ones that really come to life. The rest is too obvious and preachy. —Ken Hanke

Love in the Time of Cholera (R) Visually, it's luscious. Cartageña, Colombia, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is ripe with urban urgency. Alfonso Beato's cinematography is warm and spicy and almost a character in itself. The music, by Antonio Pinto, is ardent and expressive. There's more: Star Javier Bardem is luminous and beautiful and heartfelt as a man whose heart, broken in adolescence, never mends. His co-star, Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno as the forever out-of-reach object of his desire, is magnificent as a woman who denies her desire her whole life and channels it down a path it was not meant to tread. And, of course, director Mike Newell is working from the universally acclaimed novel from the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez. With so many pieces of the puzzle seemingly so perfect, how could anything go wrong? Yet it does, at least for me, because first and foremost I feel a movie, and it seems to me that particularly in this case — in the case of a story about unfathomable heartache and love denied and happiness put off and all that emotional turmoil — you need to feel it. If you don't feel it, what's the point? I don't feel it. I tried. I really did. —MaryAnn Johanson

Martian Child (PG) This is a classic case of "If you've seen the trailer, you've seen the movie." Every faux quirky, pseudo-heartwarming aspect of this cinematic blancmange is telegraphed in two and a half minutes of trailer. Watching the movie only adds 105 minutes of utter predictability. John Cusack — at his most Cusackian — stars as David Gordon, a successful sci-fi writer (he appears to live quite nicely off the proceeds of a single book) and widower, who opts to adopt a troubled lad named Dennis (Bobby Coleman), who thinks he's from Mars. The results are predictable, dull, and saccharine. —Ken Hanke

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (G) Were it not for an altogether too abrupt and not completely satisfying ending, Zach Helm's Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium might have found its way onto my best-of-the-year list. As it stands, it's a film of sufficient charm and largeness of heart that I don't hesitate to recommend. Dustin Hoffman's approach to the 243-year-old Magorium takes a little getting used to, but finally seems dead-on, while Natalie Portman and Jason Bateman are perfect from the onset. The offhand acceptance of the magic in the film is what makes it work. The big effects take a back seat to little touches like the sock monkey that wants to be Henry's friend and the Slinky that's afraid to walk down to steps. At almost every turn, simple charm and human interaction outweigh any sense of spectacle — at least 'til the badly judged ending, which is easy to forgive in light of what's gone before. —Ken Hanke

No Country for Old Men (R) Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is Evil itself. Meanwhile, a simple man — Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) in the West Texas desert — stumbles upon the scene of heroin deal-turned-bloodbath with $2 million in cash still close at hand. Moss grabs the money and runs, and thereby immediately becomes the target of Chigurh, brought in by the dealers to track down the money (though he eventually decides he'd rather be a free agent). Back and forth between Texas and Mexico, Moss tries to stay a step ahead of Chigurh — while local sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) manages always to be a step behind Chigurh's latest victim. Bardem performs with such casual mastery that it feels as though he has originated the concept of a sociopathic killer. It's hard to convey the precision with which he repeats the same question three times during his pursuit of Moss — not with the faintest hint of annoyance, but with a matter-of-fact monotone that suggests refusing to answer can't possibly change the ultimate outcome. In a film full of exceptional performances, Bardem stands out not because his role is flashy, but because he makes it precisely the opposite of flashy. He is the bad thing that happens indiscriminately to the sinner or to the saint, its own logic oblivious to constructed human morality. —Scott Renshaw

Saw IV (R) I can only suppose that Generic Torture Porn Halloween Release is too awkward a title for theater marquees, but it's so much more descriptive of the film at hand than Saw IV. The ad campaign's tag line — "It's a trap!" — is much more honest, since the film clearly is a trap to get the unwary viewer to break loose with some cold hard cash for more warmed-over trash. It's exactly the same as the last two entries with a lot of dull backstory flashbacks thrown in to fill us in on the unhappy life that created the murderous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). Since most folks are strictly interested in the mayhem, I doubt this will thrill audiences. —Ken Hanke


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