Tuesday, Dec 27, 2005

Posted on Fri, Nov. 25, 2005

Capsule Movie Reviews

Film capsules are written by Lawrence Toppman. If there are no stars given, he hasn't seen the movie. Grades: 4 stars = excellent, 3 stars = good, 2 stars = fair, 1 star = poor.

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BEE SEASON This flawed but ambitious movie follows a champion speller (Flora Cross) whose mystical father (Richard Gere) believes her language skills may unlock secrets of the Kabbalah, which could heal not only their riven family but perhaps the universe. Juliette Binoche and Max Minghella give the strongest performances as a mentally troubled mom and jealous brother, but you have to believe some extraordinary behavior could go unnoticed for many years in this family. I didn't. 104 minutes.• PG-13: Thematic elements, a scene of sensuality and brief strong language.

THE ICE HARVEST John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton rip off a Wichita, Kan., mob boss and then become embroiled with a comical hit man, a naive cop and a femme fatale who runs a strip club. This dud offers sleepwalking actors, clunky dialogue, errors in continuity and logic, unengaging or annoying characters, irrelevant subplots -- in short, almost everything that makes a picture unwatchable. 88 minutes.

• R: Violence, language and sexuality/nudity.

IN THE MIX A disc jockey saves the life of a mobster's daughter, becomes her bodyguard and falls in love with her. Usher, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Chazz Palminteri star in this comedy-romance, which was not screened for critics. 95 minutes.

• PG-13: Sexual content, violence and language.

JUST FRIENDS A svelte, handsome womanizer who manages rock stars (Ryan Reynolds) finally has a chance to get revenge on the high school crush (Amy Smart) who rejected him 10 years ago when he was fat. Chris Klein plays her other suitor, and Anna Faris plays the womanizer's current client, a horny pop singer. Roger Kumble ("The Sweetest Thing") directed. 96 minutes.

• PG-13: Sexual content including some dialogue.

RENT If you've fallen in love with the big-hearted sentimentality of this Broadway musical, the film will remind you why. If you think Jonathan Larson's musical is ponderous agitprop, the movie won't change your view. Director Chris Columbus embraces melodrama rather than playing it down -- "Rent" (love or hate it) is melodramatic from end to end -- and he's lucky to have most of the original cast, actors who know the roles inside and out. (Of course, "bohemian" artists in their late 30s who insist they should dwell rent-free in New York seem like slackers.) Veterans Idina Menzel and Jesse L. Martin and cast newcomer Rosario Dawson stand out. 135 minutes.

• PG-13: Mature thematic material involving drugs and sexuality, and for some strong language.

YOURS, MINE AND OURS Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid remake the 1968 comedy, playing a widow and a widower who resume their high school crush, marry and try to integrate their 18 children into a joint household. 90 minutes.

• PG: Some mild crude humor.


BEAVERS This 1988 IMAX film is as simple and charming as a chapter from "The Wind in the Willows." Though it's short on science and answers almost no questions, it allows us to see the day-to-day lives of beavers -- both above and below the water line -- as they fell trees, build houses, escape an irritated bear and dance (so it seems) in the moonlight. A worthwhile introduction to the animal that reshapes the world around it more than any species except humans. 31 minutes. • Unrated:

Nothing objectionable.

CHICKEN LITTLE Very little indeed. The plucky fowl proves to the town of Oakey Oaks that the sky really is falling -- they're being invaded by aliens -- while winning back the respect of his dad and the love of intelligent sidekick Abby Mallard. Zach Braff, Garry Marshall and Joan Cusack lead the delightful voice cast, but dull visuals and frantic pacing undermine the project. Director Mark Dindal last did the equally noisy "The Emperor's New Groove," and he thinks there's nothing funnier than having characters smash face-first into things. 77 minutes.

• G

DERAILED Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, who go together like sausages and maple syrup, play Chicago commuters whose one-night stand is interrupted by a mugger (Vincent Cassel) who continues to menace their lives. The movie gives away its big plot twist after 15 minutes and then becomes more unintelligent and obvious than any screenplay has a right to be. Chicago looks good, though. 105 minutes. • R:

Strong disturbing violence, language and some sexuality.

DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY The impeccable Dakota Fanning wants to restore her father's dreams of glory as a horse trainer, but their only racehorse is a mare who broke her leg and may never be a contender again. (Surrrrrrre.) Kurt Russell plays the dad, Freddy Rodriguez a jockey overcoming fear of the saddle, Kris Kristofferson an estranged grandpa. Wall-to-wall cliches make this unwatchable if you need surprises or credibility from a story; if you don't, enjoy. 110 minutes.

• PG: Brief mild language.

GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN' Irish director Jim Sheridan ("In America") helmed this story of an inner-city drug dealer who dreams of becoming a rap musician. The rapper 50 Cent plays the main character, who's based loosely on himself, with all the animation of the catch of the day at Fulton Fish Market; even hearing that his mother was raped before her killer burned her to death inspires no reaction in those dead eyes. Having a supporting cast that includes Terrence Howard as a jittery manager and Bill Duke as a gruff-voiced godfather of crime only makes the star seem that much more comatose. 125 minutes.

• R: Strong violence, pervasive language, drug content, sexuality and nudity.

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK Broadcaster Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) takes on Sen. Joseph McCarthy (seen in news footage) in 1954, as the search for Communist spies tarnishes America's reputation for free speech. The film isn't a history lesson; it's a timely piece about a government that wants news organizations to suppress unflattering information, timid media outlets, and a public too stupefied by mindless entertainment to process outrageous news. George Clooney co-stars as a CBS producer and directs with efficiency and flair. 93 minutes.

• PG: Mild thematic elements and brief language.

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE J.K. Rowling's fourth book was twice the length of its predecessors, exploring Harry's adolescent angst and romantic longings and adding a raft of supporting characters. Writer Steve Kloves and Mike Newell did their best to cram information into a reasonable space, though the story feels abbreviated in spots. (Ron Weasley, tired of sidekick status, gradually turns a cold shoulder to Harry in the book; in the movie, he rebels suddenly and inexplicably.) The Tri-Wizard tournament is exciting, with its fiery dragons and creepy mer-people, and Daniel Radcliffe does his most mature work as the titular hero, but Ralph Fiennes is an underwhelming villain as Voldemort. 157 minutes.

• PG-13: Sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images.

JARHEAD A unique movie about Marines training for the Gulf War and the pressures they undergo, waiting to fight but never finding an outlet for their skills or energy. It's based on a memoir by Anthony Swofford, and Jake Gyllenhaal plays the main character as a raucous, unsettled but decent guy who questions his own readiness and the loyalty of his girl back home. The movie hasn't many political axes to grind; characters include a resourceful career sergeant (Jamie Foxx), a level-headed corporal who keeps personal problems in check (Peter Sarsgaard) and a skeptic who thinks U.S. forces are in Iraq to protect oil companies' interests (Lucas Black). Beautifully shot, too, especially in hallucinogenic night scenes where oil wells are ablaze. 123 minutes.

• R: Pervasive language, some violent images and strong sexual content.

KISS KISS BANG BANG Shane Black, a writer of hack action movies, makes a delightful debut in a film noir spoof. Robert Downey Jr. is Harry, a small-time crook mistaken for an actor and hired to play a detective; Val Kilmer is the real-life gay sleuth assigned to coach him for the part. Within a few hours they're embroiled in murder, partly because Harry's boyhood sweetheart (Michelle Monaghan) has come to L.A. and, in the best noir tradition, sucked him into family problems. The mystery's too easy to unravel, but the dialogue is snappy and the big chase ends up with Harry being saved over and over by a corpse! 102 minutes.

• R: Language, violence and sexuality/nudity.

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones return in this over-the-top sequel, which has them thwarting a French count who wants to destroy America and establish a quasi-religious terrorist organization in power. The ridiculous plot involves the Confederate States of America -- in 1850! -- but it's easy to enjoy the derring-do, which comes at you for a solid 130 minutes without letting up. The innocent outlook is aimed as much at kids as adults. 130 minutes.

• PG: Sequences of violence/peril, language, some suggestive moments.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE A perfectly adequate, handsomely presented and wholly unnecessary adaptation of Jane Austen's most-filmed novel. This time Keira Knightley is the forthright second daughter of the Bennet family, the one who captures the heart of supercilious Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen); her elder sister (Rosamund Pike) pairs off with Darcy's less rich, less deep friend (Simon Woods). There's no reason to avoid this if you're excited by the 10th version of "P&P," but no reason to attend if you aren't. 127 minutes.

• PG: Mild thematic elements.

SAW II Serial killer Jigsaw locks people in a booby-trapped shelter in this sequel; they must find a way out before they inhale too much of a lethal nerve gas and die.

• R: Grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content.

VOLCANOES OF THE DEEP SEA Montreal-based director Stephen Low took his cameras to unprecedented depths of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, nearly 2 1/2 miles below the surface, to chronicle a world incomprehensible to us landlubbers. The film discusses the birth of our planet and microbes on the sea floor that may have been the building blocks that led eventually to life on land. Tubeworms writhe happily in waters hot enough to boil a lump of lead; chemicals that would kill a human don't seem to bother life forms that thrive in these areas, which are connected directly to the planet's molten core. 45 minutes.

• Unrated: Nothing objectionable.

WALK THE LINE This should have been called "Ring of Fire," because it focuses on two people united by destiny in spite of failed marriages, drug addiction and a decade of unconsummated desire. Joaquin Phoenix, who gets all the emotions right but has a softness Johnny Cash didn't possess, plays the country singer from about 20 to 36. The conventional story kicks into high gear when Cash meets June Carter, who buoyed him onstage and off (Reese Witherspoon, liberated from "Legally Blonde" silliness). The two do their own singing, and the movie captures the exhilaration of the anything-goes music scene of the 1950s. 136 minutes.

• PG-13: Some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency.

ZATHURA Two brothers (Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson) play a magical board game and find their house pulled into outer space; there they fight lizard-like invaders and rescue an astronaut (Dax Shepard) who's been stuck in the game for 15 years. The story comes from a picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, who wrote the similar "Jumanji," and Jon Favreau ("Elf") directed with real understanding of the feelings children have as they seek equality with siblings and independence from parents. The last third aims for a lower common denominator with its many explosions and fires, but it's still a good ride. 113 minutes.

• PG: Fantasy action and peril, and some language.