FILM ‌ Capsule Reviews 

Because I Said So (PG-13) Little more than a Keaton's Greatest Hits package, the kind of flat-footed creation that works on the basis of cobbling together a kind of playlist of "all those things our star does so well." And in this case these mannerisms are slapped onto a character whose only claim to likability is that she's played by Diane Keaton. In every other capacity, the monster mother who tries to play Internet matchmaker for her youngest daughter is anything but likable. Worse, she's reduced to parodying herself and participating in warmed-over Adam Sandler gags. Oh, for the days of Woody Allen! --Ken Hanke

Breach (PG-13) This is one smart thriller: It lets you draw your own conclusions, actually requires that you're connected to current events in order to get the full brunt of the anxiety and dread bubbling under its surface. Screenwriters Adam Mazer, William Rotko, and director Billy Ray (who made the underrated Shattered Glass, also about lies and deception and self-delusion) refuse to speculate about the motives of the real-life Robert Hanssen, who, it is said, was the most damaging traitor in American history. No excuses are offered for Hanssen's extraordinarily destructive behavior, and Cooper's hard performance brooks little sympathy. Rarely has the subtext of a film been so vital to appreciating its power. --MaryAnn Johanson

Bridge To Terabitha (PG) Based on the Katherine Paterson's children's novel of the same name, Bridge to Terabithia follows two preteen outcasts (aren't they all?) as they attempt to escape the realities of growing up by creating their own imaginary fantasy world. More a human drama about loss and guilt than the fantasy epic it's being billed as, it's a rare family film that does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it fairly well. Terabithia manages to be pleasant and well-intentioned without being saccharine -- and also has enough sense to praise creativity and imagination above all else. -- Justin Souther

Daddy's Little Girls (PG-13) Tyler Perry, that master of mediocrity, is back. This time, however, he chooses to stay behind the camera and not play dress-up. That means there's no flatulent, dope-smoking, smart-mouthed Uncle Joe and no pseudo-foul-mouthed, ersatz-outspoken Madea. That also means that he's probably just lost 90 percent of his target audience. But even when Perry doesn't dress like a woman, he's still pretty much of a drag. Subtlety is not a word in this man's lexicon; he directs with the finesse of a runaway steamroller descending the Matterhorn. His latest is a riot of improbable melodrama with villains who might as well be twirling mustaches, with everything else painted in simplistically broad strokes. Gabrielle Union is a likable leading lady, but nothing could save this cheesy father-love drama. --Ken Hanke

Ghost Rider (PG-13) Critics who attack this silly comic book movie for being unbelievable and lacking truly human characters should consider for a moment that it's about a guy who's become Satan's bounty hunter, who turns into a burning skeleton and rides around on a flaming motorcycle. This is just a nonsensical fun ride with Nicolas Cage in a truly weird performance (there are times when he moves and reacts so slowly that he seems to halt time itself) as the world's most unlikely superhero. It's not good, but it's not good in an often hugely entertaining way -- assuming, of course, that you're ready to accept the idea of the main character and the business of Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) squaring off against Mephistopheles Jr. (Wes Bentley). Realism it ain't. --Ken Hanke

Hannibal Rising (R) There are certainly worse things in this world than Peter Webber's Hannibal Rising, but few things more superfluous. Thomas Harris, the creator of Hannibal Lecter, clearly figured he could squeeze one last pint from his cash cow, but was there a commensurate want by the general public to learn the origins of the character? Even if there was, this exercise in pap psychology hardly fills that theoretical want. It may explain why Hannibal became a cannibalistic serial killer, but it hardly explains how the callow Gaspard Ulliel would mature into the witty uber-genius of Hannibal's subsequent adventures. It might have made for good pop trash, but everyone takes it so seriously that no one realizes that lines like, "You ate my sister," are so risible. --Ken Hanke

The Last King of Scotland (R) Everyone's talking about Forest Whitaker's performance in The Last King of Scotland as the African dictator Idi Amin, and that's all right and good: Whitaker is a marvel. If you're the kind of moviegoer who cares about things like craft, and if you revel at seeing an actor at the top of his game, you won't want to miss this film. Based on a novel by Giles Foden, it's the story of a young Scottish doctor, Nick Garrigan (a brilliant James McAvoy), who travels to Uganda in the 1970s, looking for adventure and an opportunity to do some real good, and finds himself swept up in the reign of terror of dictator Idi Amin. Writer Peter Morgan and director Kevin Macdonald have made one of the don't-you-dare-miss-it films of the year. --MaryAnn Johanson

Letters from Iwo Jima (R) Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers is considerably better than its counterpart, but that's not saying much by itself. Telling part of the same story (minus the aftermath deconstruction) from the Japanese point of view is a fascinating idea --- and one that enhances the earlier film in many ways. It's also a daunting undertaking and Eastwood only partially brings it off. The idea of putting faces on the men who, in Hollywood's hands, have rarely been more than faceless fanatics is certainly sound. And the revelation that the Japanese were ill-prepared, often disorganized, and cognizant of their own impending doom is strikingly developed. The actors here, especially Ken Watanabe and Tsuyoshi Ihara, are remarkable. But once the film states its case, it tends to be repetitive. A worthwhile, possibly even noble, film, but not a truly great one. --Ken Hanke

Music and Lyrics (PG-13) The best Hugh Grant straightforward romantic comedy he's made in some time is witty, playful, charming, and satisfying, an unpretentious confection that's just right and a little bit more. From the moment the movie begins -- with an ersatz music video from the 1980s of Alex Fletcher (Grant) and his old pop group Pop performing their hit "Pop Goes My Heart" -- it's on the right track, and it only gets better. The songs are good enough to believe as hit-making material, and Grant is perfect as a has-been who's comfortable with that status but ready to make a comeback. Gently satirical material blends with a pleasantly quirky romance -- thanks to the chemistry of Grant and Drew Barrymore -- to produce truly enjoyable light entertainment. --Ken Hanke

Norbit (R) Norbit isn't your ordinary shitty movie. This is a shitty movie for the ages -- the sort of crap that makes the legendary Pootie Tang look like the work of a genius auteur. In terms of production values, Norbit actually resembles Pootie Tang, which is to say that it looks like it cost a good $1.95 to make. Everything about the film is cheap beyond words -- including the whole concept. In fact, there's nothing to the film but concept: the concept that Eddie Murphy as a Jerry Lewis-like nerd is funny, that Murphy made up as a racist Chinese man is a laff riot, that Murphy in fat suit drag as his own monstrous wife is the pinnacle of comedy. Sadly, none of it is funny, while all of it is mean-spirited and offensive. --Ken Hanke

Notes on a Scandal (R) Notes on a Scandal is a huge lark of a movie, an enormous pleasure of smart, intricate performances, twisty plotting, and sinful sensationalism. Imagine Single White Female as mounted by the Royal Shakespeare Company. To see Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, two of the finest actresses working today, wrestle to the metaphoric ground roaringly stereotyped characters plucked straight from real-life supermarket tabloids or golden-age Hollywood melodrama is a hoot. The clever script is by Patrick Marber (Closer), based on a Booker Prize-shortlisted novel by Zoe Heller; the excellent direction is by Richard Eyre, who made the little-seen but similarly compelling Stage Beauty. The result is an incisive exploration of what happens when two women who have different ways of coping with life's little prices collide. --MaryAnn Johanson

The Painted Veil (PG-13) Is marriage a plague? That's probably not what W. Somerset Maugham was trying to say with his novel The Painted Veil, part battle with infidelity and part battle with an epidemic in the Chinese back country. But it's a relief to sit through this new adaptation and still be able to think of it that way. One of the movie's strengths is that it doesn't seem concerned with what you think. If the story lacks weight, if it's a bit predictable, a bit melodramatic, one can take comfort that this is the third time Maugham's book has been made into a movie, and this time was ripe for an over-making, turning a simple story of infidelity and betrayal into a grand treatise on life: In other words, it could have been turned into something that would have died right in our arms. --Wayne Melton

Pan's Labyrinth (R) I'm not convinced Guillermo del Toro really has anything compelling to say about a juxtaposition between fascist Spain and his intricate fantasy landscape, and that fans aren't simply hunting for an excuse to claim it's more than just a style piece. But so what? You've still gotta groove to the universe he creates for his pre-teen protagonist Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who moves with her widowed, pregnant mother in 1944 to live with her new stepfather, an army captain (Sergi López), while also discovering a strange underworld of which she may be the long-lost princess. Someone else can tie himself in knots finding political subtext or coming-of-age rebellion metaphors. The wicked cool creatures -- nasty little insectoid fairies; a beastly fellow with eyes in his palms -- and the squirming-est self-suturing scene since First Blood provide plenty of purely superficial reasons to have a blast. --Scott Renshaw

The Queen (PG-13) In an early scene, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) stares regally at the camera as she poses for a portrait. Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan aim to take Her Royal Majesty down from the wall, but in a surprisingly sympathetic way. Exploring the days following the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the filmmakers observe Elizabeth and new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) responding to the public grief, both of them struggling to understand the role of the monarchy in the modern world. An extended hunters-equals-paparazzi metaphor extends a touch too far, but the impressive performances -- Sheen is nearly as terrific as the already much-lauded Mirren -- contribute to a compelling, compassionate character study. --Scott Renshaw


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