Capsule Reviews of Current Movies 

Opening This Week

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (PG-13) See review here.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (PG) Brendan Fraser is the Everyman Adventureman once again in this remake of the Jules Verne classic. Also stars Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem.

Critical Capsules

Before the Rains (PG-13) In Santosh Sivan's Before the Rains, British planter Henry Moores (Linus Roache) is introduced, smacking his lips over a bounty of cinnamon and tea in 1937 Kerala, India. Accompanied by his faithful, obsequious manservant T.K. (Rahul Bose), Moores schemes to cut a spice road through the unexploited jungle. But the lands belong to his lovely housemaid Sajani (Nadita Das). In the kind of painful symbolism that circles the film's neck like a concrete noose, Moores and Sajani sneak away to the local "forbidden place" for their lovemaking. The illicit love affair thus threatens the centuries-old social mores of the village. Add brewing anti-Brit sentiment in the village and the chances are high for a potential derailing of Moores' plot to carve a road through the land. And did we mention the monsoons are coming? —Felicia Feaster

The Fall (R) Indian director Singh's second film is an undeniable visual spectacle that begins in black and white, but quickly shifts a la The Wizard of Oz to color. It's color that could only be described as hallucinatory: ruby reds, golds, and saffron yellows to rival any vintage Technicolor production. The Fall's adventuresome Dorothy is a five-year-old Romanian girl, Alexandria, (Catinca Untaru) who is in a 1915 California hospital recuperating a broken arm. Like Singh's omnivorous camera, Alexandria roams the hospital. She begins to visit with a silent movie stunt-man Roy (Lee Pace) doubly burdened by a broken heart and confined to his bed after a disastrous fall. Roy strikes a disturbing bargain with the girl that in a less fantastical plot line would feel unbearably creepy: If she'll pilfer some morphine from the hospital pharmacy to put him out of his misery, he'll reward her with a violence-filled story to keep her on the edge of his bed. —Felicia Feaster

Hancock (PG-13) If it were possible for a movie to be tone-deaf, Peter Berg's Hancock would be that movie. Berg and screenwriters Vy Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan have taken a surefire concept and turned into a damp squib — and since star Will Smith is also a producer, it seems likely he had a hand in this, too. The idea of a drunken, foul-mouthed, shabbily-dressed superhero with an attitude problem being reshaped for public consumption by a publicist is pretty fresh and irreverent (maybe it owes something to Robert Altman's spinach-hating Popeye). Unfortunately, the movie seems to be in a race to see which it can kill off first, the freshness or the irreverence. No one seems to have settled on where to take the idea, so it goes off in several directions, becoming increasingly unfunny in the bargain. Throw in the lamest villain ever and an attempt at completely unearned pathos and you're left with a movie only a Will Smith completist could love. —Ken Hanke

The Incredible Hulk (PG-13) The climactic showdown between the Abomination and the Hulk in the streets of Harlem is a truly punishing, visceral battle, full of thunderous punches and pavement-crunching falls. So if you're coming to The Incredible Hulk primarily to see the jade giant make with the mayhem, you may very well walk away happy. While plenty of recent superhero movies, including Iron Man, have provided compelling storytelling between the showpiece battles, The Incredible Hulk just kind of sits there for long stretches until the editors check their watches and realize it's time for a transformation. —Scott Renshaw

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (PG-13) There's little point speculating what kind of response Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might have inspired were it not carrying the expectations of a beloved franchise. It's a contraption built almost entirely out of its own legacy, even more pointedly self-referential than Last Crusade. Action sequences clip along at a familiar pace — their preposterousness pushed to the edge of a cliff both figuratively and literally — and we get the requisite sequence involving massive quantities of some kind of creepy-crawly critter. But while the fight choreography occasionally rises to the occasion, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull too rarely pops with genuine energy. —Scott Renshaw

Iron Man (PG-13) The first big blockbuster film of the year is upon us, and it's pretty darn good — for what it is. Let's face facts, comic books aren't Faulkner in four-color-process. Here we're talking about a guy who dresses up in a flying metal suit to blast, bomb, and bludgeon his way through a variety of terrorists and a traditional super bad guy in an even bigger flying metal suit. There's precious little wiggle-room for subtlety in a framework like that. But the beauty of Iron Man lies in the fact that the film realizes this and behaves accordingly. The secret weapon is Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role as a wisecracking, womanizing hedonist who's made a fortune as an arms manufacturer. He sees the error of his ways, yes, but he never gets morbid about it: He continues to make smart remarks, and he actually enjoys his superhero status. Good chemistry between Downey and leading lady Gwyneth Paltrow helps to make the film a refreshing change. —Ken Hanke

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (G) Shameless in its sentimentality, pokey in terms of propulsion, and about as surprising as finding vegetables in a bowl of vegetable soup, Patricia Rozema's Kit Kittredge: An American Girl still comes as a little oasis of thoughtfulness in a summer largely devoted to property damage and rampant explosions. There's actual substance here. And acting. And characters. And directing rather than mere refereeing. In short, it's a movie, not a 90-minute plug for a line of pricey dolls. Abigail Breslin is fine in the role of a young wanna-be reporter in 1934 Cincinnati, and the film's story about life during the Great Depression — with a very slight mystery added — not only feels authentic, but seems unnervingly relevant. It's really aimed at children, but in a good way — and it's handled in a manner that doesn't insult the adults in the audience. —Ken Hanke

Kung Fu Panda (PG) It's the story of Po (Jack Black), a portly panda who works in his dad's (James Hong) noodle shop in China. Po dreams (literally, and hilariously) about being a great martial arts hero like his idols the Furious Five, but doesn't think there's any way his lumbering body can become a feared weapon of awesomeness. That's before he stumbles into a tournament at the legendary Jade Palace to determine the great Dragon Warrior and finds the old master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) giving Po that high honor. Predictable complications ensue. A vicious villain looms on the horizon, and there's no way this fuzzy, cuddly lump of a would-be Dragon Warrior could ever rise to the challenge. Right? Wrong. It's the journey toward that perhaps-inevitable resolution that provides so much simple satisfaction. —Scott Renshaw

Mongol (R) It's from Russian director Sergei Bodrov, co-writing with Arif Aliyev, and it's a beauty. As world-conqueror biopics go, Mongol is sort of the anti-Alexander. It's consistently dignified in the way that Oliver Stone's picture was consistently risible, and it's justified by its enthusiasm alone in a way the latter certainly wasn't. At once sweeping and intimately confidential, with durably magnetic performances by Japan's Asano Tadanobu as the adored warlord and China's Honglei Sun as Jamukha, his blood brother and eventual enemy, Mongol, a 2007 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee, has to be by far the best action epic of 12th- and 13th-century Asian nomads you'll see this month. And besides, really, how else will you get to know the founder of the Mongol Empire? It's no use holding out hope for the definitive written record of his early life, so an honorably dramatized, handsomely photographed motion picture record will have to do. —Jonathan Kiefer

Sex and the City (R) Sex and the City: The Movie is all about Carrie, and whether she will marry Big (Chris Noth), and all the wedding porn that surrounds that. Not marriage porn: It's not about fantasizing about being married to some particular man that you're crazy about. It's about the wedding, the fairy-tale event that every woman is supposed to want, never mind whom a gal is marrying. And, to be fair, Sex and the City: The Movie doesn't ignore that irony, either. In getting there, it seems to miss the point that a women who is 40 years old might have realized this at some point sooner. Maybe it's a blow for gender equality that women are now allowed to extend adolescence into the years once considered "middle-aged." Carrie's cell phone is covered in pink glitter, after all. —MaryAnn Johanson

WALL-E (G) For 700 years, WALL-E — a Waste Allocation Load Lifter robot, Earth-class — has been doing the job he was programmed to do. Left behind on an Earth no longer inhabitable by humans, the solar-powered WALL-E gathers and compacts garbage, stacking the cubes in skyscraper-sized towers, over and over, all day long. Because writer/director Andrew Stanton and his Pixar cohorts are such extraordinary storytellers, there has been plenty of metaphorical content strewn throughout the computer-animation pioneers' consistently delightful features: a critique of radical egalitarianism in The Incredibles, Cars' paean to the roadkill left on the superhighway to "progress." In WALL-E, Stanton recognizes his little robot has developed a soul because of what he does that's not part of his mundane routine. Being human, he reminds us, is about the ability to recognize beauty — the kind of beauty you find in a work of art like this breathtaking little miracle of a movie. —Scott Renshaw

Wanted (R) Timur Bekmambetov's Wanted is a film that would be something like a masterpiece if it was even a third as cool as it thinks it is. That's not to say that this visually stylish exercise in comic book violence isn't without a degree of cool, it's just that it tries too hard. The story of the film — based on a comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones — is at bottom a rethinking of The Matrix with a liberal sprinkling of angst-driven echoes of Fight Club. If that makes it sound like there's not much original about Wanted, the truth is that there isn't. James McAvoy stars as a much put-upon office drudge who finds empowerment when he's recruited by a society of assassins headed up by Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. As a wild adrenalin rush, it's hard to fault. The action set-pieces are truly amazing and the effects work is first-rate, but the film is so relentlessly — even lovingly — violent that it's finally more off-putting than fun. —Ken Hanke


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