Capsule Reviews of Current Reviews 

Opening this week and ongoing

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Opening this Week

1408 (PG-13) Based on the Stephen King short story of the same name. During his latest assignment, Robert Enslin (John Cusack), a best-selling author who specializes in debunking paranormal events, encounters genuine terror after he checks into the Dolphin Hotel’s legendary room 1408.

A Mighty Heart (R)

Evan Almighty (PG)

Capsule reviews

28 Weeks Later (R) Chilling, exciting, and pointed — and not for the squeamish — Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s reprise isn’t as fresh as Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and it lacks the personalized climax that raised the original to horror classic status. That aside, 28 Weeks Later is a very good picture that occasionally flirts with greatness, easily the best horror movie in years. It’s splattery horror that has brains as well as flying viscera. Fresnadillo has turned this tale of U.S. troops rebuilding London — hampered by a new outbreak of the rage virus — into a pitch-black political allegory of current events, but one which wisely doesn’t skimp on the zombie thrills. —Ken Hanke

Black Book (R) Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book is a rousing tale of World War II intrigue with graphic nudity and violence, and surprising depth. But it also has plenty of studio-era Hollywood flourishes, including romantic triangles, chloroform-soaked rags, and noble characters wearing white shirts before firing squads. Verhoeven’s cinematic homecoming doesn’t recapture the subtlety and social passions of his early work in Holland but improves on his often-excessive Hollywood product. He reliably brings such visceral intensity to his projects that he flattens any thoughtful or ironic element. With Black Book’s exciting successes, it’s as if the filmmaker’s mind has wrested control from his glands and given us permission to take Paul Verhoeven seriously again. —Scott Renshaw

Blades of Glory (R) Have you seen Anchorman? How about Talladega Nights? Then you’ve seen Blades of Glory. Will Ferrell and Jon Heder star as rival figure skaters who are banned for life from the sport, only to find a loophole which will allow them to compete as a pair. Ferrell does his patented “Hey, look at me, I’m funny” shtick, and Heder seems to be forever trapped in his Napoleon Dynamite persona. There are a handful of amusing gags, but little that will stay with you once you leave the theatre. —Justin Souther

Disturbia (PG-13) If nothing else D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia serves as an object lesson: if you set your goals low enough, you stand a fair chance of reaching them. Assuming that reasonably competent mediocrity was the goal here, Caruso and company have succeeded wildly. There are absolutely no surprises in Disturbia. It is exactly as advertised: a teen-centric variation on Rear Window with a hero under house arrest, a goofy best friend, a girlfriend, a disbelieving mom, unsympathetic cops, and a guy next door who’s a serial killer. It ultimately turns into a Freddy Krueger-lite affair. Fairly efficient at what it does, but nothing exciting. —Ken Hanke

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (PG-13) The good news about Four part deux is that, unlike the bulk of today’s comic book movies, it doesn’t think it’s Shakespeare and Citizen Kane rolled into one. The bad news is that it still isn’t any good. The fact that the movie realizes it’s a silly comic book movie doesn’t change the fact that it is a silly comic book movie, and this sequel may be even sillier than the first film in its cheesy camp-fest approach. Here we not only have the improbable quartet of superheroes and their mysteriously revived nemesis, Dr. Victor Von Doom, but a new villain — the Silver Surfer, who looks like an improbably BVD-clad 1930s modernist statue of a wrestler, who travels through outer space on a metallic surfboard preparing planets for his master, Galactus, to “eat.” Just to be clear: this is not Shakespeare. —Ken Hanke

Gracie (PG-13) Set in the 1970s, Gracie is based on actress Elisabeth Shue’s teenage years, and directed by her husband, Davis Guggenheim, who also co-wrote the film’s story with Shue’s brother, Andrew, who, in addition, has a supporting role in the film. Being a family affair is all fine and dandy, but it gets bizarre when you find Elisabeth playing her own character’s mother, which then enters the realm of self-congratulatory peculiarity when she, as her mom, praises her onscreen daughter (in reality herself) for how courageous she is. In every other capacity this is just uplifting sports movie 101 — only focused on soccer. You can fill in the rest, and probably already have. —Justin Souther

Hostel: Part II (R) Eli Roth has discovered a great method for saving time with Hostel: Part II. Rather than actually coming up with anything new, he simply remakes the first film — only with female leads. That’s the trick! Get it? Despite ripping off the opening of Friday the 13th Part 2 (this is the best he can steal from?) by having the obnoxious hero from the first film (Jay Hernandez) killed off by the apparently very long arm of the Slovakia Torture and Murder Club, Inc., there’s nothing new here. Unlikeable characters being tortured to death by slightly less likeable jaded rich guys for our “entertainment.” In short — torture porn. Roth’s overbearing ineptitude keeps it from being truly offensive only because it’s too stupid to take seriously. —Ken Hanke

Knocked Up (R) Genuinely brilliant comedy is a rare and precious thing. Such miracles of gut-busting humor come along infrequently enough that you have to ask yourself: When you’re doubled over and gasping for breath at the jokes in a movie like writer/director Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, does it matter that it’s based on a relationship you don’t buy for a second? Apatow isn’t content with sticking his awkwardly mismatched pair together for what they perceive is the good of their unborn child. Instead, he has Ben and Alison turn into an adorably-in-love couple practically from the moment they buy What to Expect When You’re Expecting together. They fall for each other — not just Ben for the obviously hotter-than-he-deserves Alison, but mutually — for no remotely plausible reason other than simply because Apatow’s script says so. But Apatow’s script says so many other things so hilariously that I didn’t really care. —Scott Renshaw

Mr. Brooks (R) Bruce A. Evans’ Mr. Brooks is about one half of something close to a great film that spirals out of control to become a wildly enjoyable compendium of the utterly preposterous, topped off with a rancid maraschino cherry’s worth of unsatisfying, sub-De Palma shock coda. The premise is terrific and terrifically developed with Kevin Costner as the upright Mr. Brooks and William Hurt as his imaginary friend/alter ego Marshall — the guy who inconveniently eggs Brooks on to be a serial killer. All this and more is done with chilling precision and a wicked sense of humor. Then the movie starts tripping itself up on increasingly preposterous complications. It remains entertaining throughout, but it becomes too silly to take seriously. —Ken Hanke

Nancy Drew (PG) There’s something magnificently old-fashioned about Nancy Drew, the new adaptation of the beloved children’s books, and about Nancy Drew herself here. But there is, just as in the original 1930s books, also plenty that’s charmingly subversive. Nancy’s on to the biggest case of her tender career: the mysterious death of ’70s starlet Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring in flashbacks), in whose former mansion the Drews just happen to be staying while in Hollywood. The plot is simplistic, if appealing, and will truly thrill only middle-schoolers; even this devoted Nancy fan from childhood acknowledges that there is little here to attract adult audiences. But it’s dandy for young girls, particularly any who need a reminder that resisting peer pressure and being your own person can be really cool. —MaryAnn Johanson

Ocean’s Thirteen (PG-13) In a summer where every intended blockbuster has so far been the third in a series, it’s a relief to note that the fourth third to come along, Ocean’s Thirteen, is surprisingly the best of the new lot. No, it’s not up to Ocean’s Eleven, but it rights nearly everything that was wrong with the maddeningly meandering Ocean’s Twelve. Even without a comparison, though, this entry is simply terrific, star-studded fun of a kind that’s not to be sneered at. The set-up — delivered in an agreeably jumbled manner that foreshadows the film’s deliberate 1960s sensibility — finds Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) double-crossed by gambler-hotelier Willie Bank (Al Pacino), so naturally Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his pals have to set things to rights — in the most entertainingly convoluted manner possible. —Ken Hanke

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (PG-13) Nearly 45 minutes into Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) still hasn’t shown his face on screen. But because screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and director Gore Verbinski can basically do whatever they want with the franchise at this point, they attempt to make up for this inexplicable oversight in a way that ultimately summarizes everything that’s wrong with the movie: They populate the scene in which Sparrow finally does appear with approximately two dozen hallucinatory duplicates of him. Because if one Capt. Jack Sparrow is good, then a score of him must be 20 times better, right? None of the previous films could exactly be called textbook examples of streamlined storytelling, but at least they were buoyed by an understanding of where the focus needed to be. At World’s End back-loads all the action into a climactic sea battle between the Black Pearl and Davy Jones’ Flying Dutchman on the rim of a swirling vortex, and by that point the film seems so desperate to leave viewers energized that it practically pummels them insensible. No one seemed able to tell Verbinski and company when to stop puffing the film full of grandeur — or that 20 Johnny Depps in one scene isn’t the same as one Johnny Depp used correctly. —Scott Renshaw

Shrek the Third (PG) Just as Sam Raimi’s genius with his first two Spidey outings ruined us for Spider-Man 3, Shrek and Shrek 2 ruined us for Shrek the Third. We’re primed, now, for the tweaking of fairy tales and the post-ironic spin on myths and mythmaking. We’ve seen it. We’ve been around the park twice, bought the T-shirt and the Shrek ears, sent a postcard home. Now we’re bored. What else ya got? More of the same? Yawn. The first two Shrek iterations breathed so naturally on so many levels, and Third exists on only one. Unlike its predecessors, it’s never anything more than a passing fancy. —MaryAnn Johanson

Spider-Man 3 (PG-13) Had Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 not raised the bar so high, it’s likely that Sam Raimi’s third effort might have felt like something … more. Unfortunately, it makes the sequel mistakes the second installment refused to make, and ends up straying from the stuff that made its predecessors soar. The plot’s overloaded with conflicts and villains and bloated with action where the earlier films wisely focused on Peter Parker’s heart and soul as much as Spidey’s superpowers. The problems of two people may not amount to a hill of beans, but they’re what made us fall in love with Peter and Mary Jane — not CGI wizardry that creates a guy who breaks apart into chunks. In the wake of two near-masterpieces in their genre, mere satisfying summer entertainment somehow seems like a huge disappointment. —Scott Renshaw

Surf’s Up (PG) A mildly diverting, mildly entertaining, mildly accomplished little movie — something mildly superior to the general run of the “computer animated movie of the week” that has been flooding theaters for some time now. This attempt to cash in on the mania for penguins begun by March of the Penguins and carried on by Happy Feet is perhaps just one flightless waddler too many. In its favor, this tale of a penguin who was “born to surf” is told in a manner that makes sport of all those “surfing as a metaphor for life” documentaries, which — along with a terrific voice characterization by Jeff Bridges — gives the film an identity of its own. Not great, but it won’t kill you if you have to take the kids. —Ken Hanke

Waitress (PG-13) A comedy about professionally unethical behavior, spousal abuse, adultery, and stalking that is warmly bittersweet, genuinely funny, and sincerely heartfelt. For all that Waitress is indie-quirky and whipsmart droll, there’s nothing glib about it. It has a feeling of ... I don’t want to say secret insight about the experience of being a woman, but there we are again: the experience of half the human race is so often seemingly shrouded in the cryptic and the arcane because it is so often simply not within the purview of the male-type people who make the vast majority of movies. I don’t know how director Adrienne Shelly got around that, but it’s what makes Waitress so refreshingly different. If Waitress is a feminist film — and it is; oh, it is — it’s not because it is loud but because it is quiet, because it is about the suffering silently and not about the breaking free. Until, of course, the moment that is about breaking free. —Maryann Johanson


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