Capsule Reviews 

Capsule reviews of current and ongoing movies

Opening this week

Easy Virtue (PG-13) Set in the 1920s, this Noel Coward adaptation stars Jessica Biel as an independent American woman who marries into a stuffy British family. Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas also star.

Limits of Control (R) See review here.

The Proposal (PG-13) The deportation-quickie marriage comedy is something of a genre all its own, well used by both television and motion picture writers. This time the story revolves around the ever-cutesy Sandra Bullock and the ever-snarky Ryan Reynolds, two actors who can be either charming or annoying. Also stars Craig T. Nelson and Malin Akerman.

Year One (PG-13) Since writer-director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Vacation, Caddyshack) is the man behind this Biblical-era farce starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, it's got to be better than 1980's Wholly Moses!, starring Dudley Moore. Right?

Critical Capsules

The Brothers Bloom (PG-13) The brothers Bloom — Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is the elder, and the younger is called simply Bloom (Adrien Brody) — have been pulling cons since they were in grade school. But they're not about getting rich ... or at least, not only about getting rich. Their cons are opulent narratives woven with such great care that those they're conning never realize they've been conned, and indeed end their association with the brothers believing they've had the adventure of their lives. Their idea of the perfect con is to tell a story so well that it becomes real. And they've been very successful at it. But it's become routine for Bloom: it's no longer unconventional, just tiring, and he wants to quit. So Stephen, the mastermind of their cons, promises that this next one will be the last one, and they'll go out in style. Like every other one-last-con movie we've ever seen, you cannot help but go into it expecting that you, the viewer, are going to be conned, too, that red-herring wool will be pulled over your eyes and that you'll have been tricked in the best way by the end. But there's a wicked cinematic beauty to writer-director Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom: like the brothers' cons themselves, you may well never suspect that you've been conned. —MaryAnn Johanson

Drag Me to Hell (PG-13) The opening sequence of this hard-to-pin-down horror sort-of comedy features a young boy who's been afflicted with a gypsy curse getting actually dragged to the actual hell by soul-lusting demons, presumably to suffer for all eternity for a very minor crime. Business is meant here. There's no fooling around. This is so we know what's in store for director Sam Raimi's heroine, mild-mannered bank loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), now that she has been damned by the same curse. Literally damned, it would appear. The longer I have to think about Hell, the more it haunts me, and now I suspect that not only is Raimi (Spider-Man, Evil Dead II) daring to push the mainstream studio horror movie to a new and uncomfortable place, he may even be daring his longtime fans to come along with him. My great fear is that while Raimi's longtime fans may be pleased, Drag Me to Hell may be too subtle for mainstream audiences, who appear to demand torture porn and more overt moralism than this sly story can offer. —MaryAnn Johanson

The Hangover (R) The Hangover is a mystery tale about three guys following up on the few clues they have about a night of debauchery in Las Vegas. Phil (Bradley Cooper), the suave, handsome one, is wearing a hospital bracelet. Stu (Ed Helms), the dorky dentist, is missing a tooth. Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the borderline-retarded one, is missing his pants. There's a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet. How they retrace their doings of the night before is intriguing in a narrative sense. But this is a comedy — or it's meant to be — and as much as I would have loved for the sense of the sinister inherent in this concept to turn into something deeply, blackly funny. Lucas and Moore and director Todd Phillips go for the easy, cheap laughs, things that will shock a juvenile mind-set — a mother breastfeeding, a fat old man — instead of the things that would have unsettled a more mature one. Some are just plain disturbing without being funny: there are multiple intimations, for some reason that's never clear, that Alan is a pedophile. Why would a doctor examine a patient while three total strangers are in the room? Why is a taser to the testicles "funny"? As if it knows, somewhere deep down, that it's cheating, the movie has Stu insist, "You can't just tase people because you think it's funny," but the movie does it anyway. —MaryAnn Johanson

Imagine That (PG) It's Eddie Murphy in family-friendly mode, which means you pretty much know exactly what to expect in the event that you unwisely decide to wander into a theater showing Imagine That — a film that has difficulty imaginging much of anything. Murphy plays Evan, a hotshot financial planner and the father of a painfully precocious little girl, Olivia (Yara Shahidi), who's having issues dealing with her parents' divorce. Because of this, the only people she'll listen to are her four imaginary friends. Evan, being the workaholic father he is (see also: Murphy in The Haunted Mansion), mostly just pays attention to his job — until the kid's fantasized pals start to give him stock tips. Then he begins to pay attention to his daughter and indulge her childhood fantasies. It's easy to see where this is going, and it quickly turns into a mawkish treatise on the corrupt nature of money, the importance of family, and other obvious life lessons. The bromides are fine and would be a difficult idea to argue with, except that they're being doled out by the man who made a reported $20 million for The Adventures of Pluto Nash. (Money can't buy you happiness, but it might buy it for Murphy so give generously.) The real problem is less its implicit hypocrisy than its explicit lack of laughs and charm. That won't buy you happiness either. —Justin Souther

Land of the Lost (PG-13) I've been puzzling over the existence of the probable target audience for the abomination known as Land of the Lost for several days now. I mean really, Who is the demographic? The movie's too raunchy for younger kids and too stupid for anyone else. The ideal viewer would be, I guess, a five-year-old who still thinks dinosaurs and urine jokes are cool, but realizes they pale in comparison with breasts, gropings and the prospect of hot Will Ferrell-on-ape-man action. Blessedly, this last never quite comes to fruition onscreen (no, that doesn't mean we're going to be spared the obligatory Will Ferrell-takes-off-his-shirt scene). Though based on the cheesy Sid and Marty Krofft kid's show from 1974 — and hawked with kid-appealing images of Will Ferrell being chased by a dinosaur — this really isn't a family-friendly film. At the same time, its story of Ferrell traveling through a time-warp to prove his crackpot theories can hardly be called adult fare. Worse than that, though, is how singularly unfunny most of it is — helped by the sense that Ferrell is even less interested in what's going on than the audience. That — at least for me — marks a considerable lack of interest. —Ken Hanke

My Life in Ruins (PG-13) The latest from Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, My Life in Ruins, is a steaming pile of stereotypes and sit-comery, a pathetic excuse for a comedy, a romance, and a movie. If you chanced to be accursed enough to have caught even a single episode of the TV spinoff from Wedding, the unimaginatively dubbed My Big Fat Greek Life, then you already have a general idea of what Ruins looks like: it's the ruined version of what could have been a simple but charming movie. Ruins is populated by supposed adults who behave as if they are moronic children, it's obvious and banal, its idea of humor is embarrassing, and it's overseen by the tediously typical misogynistic concept that any woman who's dissatisfied with her life must simply need to get laid. Because all other problems disappear if you are getting properly fucked on a regular basis. Know this: director Donald Petrie is sort of a Ghost of Bad Romantic Comedies Past — he is responsible for such reprehensibleness as Miss Congeniality and How to Lost a Guy in 10 Days, which may be the most anti-woman, anti-man, anti-human movie ever made. And he has not redeemed himself here. —MaryAnn Johanson

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG) I'd actually held out some slight hope for this one. Those hopes didn't quite pan out. Others were similarly snookered. Granting that the sub-Thorne Smith whimsy of the premise of the first movie — that the displays in a museum come to life during the night thanks to a magical doodad — was already pretty thin, the sequel just feels desperate in its attempts to stretch it out further. Amy Adams fills out her aviatrix outfit nicely, but she's forced to deliver lines that are all written in faux 1920s jazz baby speak — and it's quickly tiresome. But then everybody gets the one joke treatment — and then gets to repeat that joke endlessly. Hank Azaria as the villain does a credible Boris Karloff impression (ancient Egyptians must sound like Karloff since he was in The Mummy, I guess) and scores a few laughs, but the film mostly confuses shrill and busy with funny. —Ken Hanke

The Taking of Pelham 123 (R) In Pelham 123, Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber, a New York Transit Authority employee who has the bad luck to be on the other end of radio dispatch when a subway train is hijacked. A guy calling himself Ryder (John Travolta), leading a quartet of gunmen, has given the city one hour to deliver 10 million dollars. While fears of a terrorist attack spread, Garber and Ryder play the kind of cat and mouse game that you get in movies of this kind. The original 1974 version of John Godey's novel was no masterpiece, but it was a fascinating time capsule of decaying mid-'70s New York City, as well as being ahead of its time as a kind of straightforward, Law & Order-style procedural where nuances of character were utterly wiped away in favor of brute plot mechanics. In screenwriter Brian Helgeland's version, Garber gets a back-story involving allegations of accepting bribes; Ryder similarly switches from a coldly analytical mercenary to a guy with an axe to grind. More complex characters, better story ... right? Not necessarily. As gifted as Washington may be as an actor, he's almost too charismatic to play the kind of beaten-down bureaucrat demanded by this twist in the character. Ryder becomes an even bigger disaster, because making him a high-strung guy means giving Travolta license to go into hammy-psycho mode. Sometimes, as in something deliriously over-the-top like Face/Off, that persona can work. And then there's the Travolta of Battlefield Earth, who seems to believe that screen villainy involves as much shrieking as possible. Guess which one cavorts through Pelham 123? —Scott Renshaw

Terminator Salvation (PG-13) What is there to be said about McG's Terminator Salvation? That it proves that, yes, it is possible to make a worse movie than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines? This is one of those post-apocalyptic concoctions where the whole world looks like a rave that went wrong taking place in a disused steel foundry. The story has John Connor (Bale) trying to defeat the evil forces of Skynet that are still out to obliterate humankind for reasons that are only as clear as the explanatory title that the machines perceive humankind as a threat. This guarantees a lot of shooting and explosions. There's also a new terminator on the block — a half-human model made from executed murderer Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). Clever writing teams Marcus up with Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who, presumably needs to go back in time in order to father John Connor. There are websites devoted to making this make sense. Does anyone really care? —Ken Hanke

Up (PG) Early in Up — the tenth feature from the cinematic quality machine called Pixar — there is a sequence that distills all of the best that the animation powerhouse brings to filmmaking. After a brief prologue introducing us to a pair of simpatico kids named Carl and Ellie in the 1930s, we watch without a word of dialogue as the childhood friends become sweethearts, then follow them through 50 years of married life. This kind of jaw-dropping, tear-jerking brilliance is what we have come to expect as matter-of-fact, everyday stuff from Pixar. In the present day, Carl (Edward Asner) is now a curmudgeonly septuagenarian, living alone in his house while high-rise development goes on around him. Facing the prospect of life in a retirement home, Carl instead sends a massive cascade of balloons through his chimney, launching the house into the air with a plan to head to the remote South American jungle that was a dream adventure destination for Carl and Ellie. There's also an unexpected hitchhiker: Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young Wilderness Explorer. But nothing matches the magic of that early sequence, and Carl (voiced by Edward Asner) doesn't prove to be nearly as interesting or engaging a protagonist once he actually starts talking. —Scott Renshaw


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