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Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

"Bedtime Stories"

Adam Sandler's latest, in which parts of the bedtime stories he makes up for his niece and nephew come to life, is an attempt at a kid-friendly movie that won't befriend either kids or their parents. Unless you're the kind of adult that finds the nickname "Sir Buttkiss" amusing. Neither Keri Russell as Sandler's love interest nor the offbeat shtick of Russell Brand can fix the movie's fundamental problems. Grade: D+

"Bride Wars"

While the pairing of Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway as BFFs torn apart by a scheduling mix-up for their dream weddings isn't entirely contrivance-free, there's some nasty fun in the sabotage that ensues and a little more substance than expected in the compromises each makes along the way, plus scene-stealing exposure for supporting player Kristen Johnson. Grade: B

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

With David Fincher's latest, the filmmaker renowned for such hard-edged work as Fight Club asks us to open our minds to cinema's wondrousness, a tall order made taller by screenwriter Eric Roth. His story of an unusual man (Brad Pitt) who ages backwards dips too liberally from a well already tapped by Forrest Gump. But if you don't analyze too closely, there's ample reward in Fincher's extraordinary imagery, a fine cast and a lingering sense of hope. Grade: B


Guiding his own Pulitzer-winning play to the screen, writer-director John Patrick Shanley keeps the staginess of the original, as well as the titular sense of unanswered questions around a reform-minded priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the elder nun (Meryl Streep) who accuses him of inappropriate conduct with an altar boy. The result is a fascinating rumination on prejudice that leads each viewer to an individual conclusion. Grade: B-


Ron Howard's adaptation of Peter Morgan's stage play about the historic interviews between fluffy British journalist David Frost and former President Richard Nixon is hampered by a pointless and confusing faux-documentary framework. Past that, the Hollywood version offers an intense, engrossing match-up between Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, two great actors portraying men with a desperate need for each other. Grade: B+

"Gran Torino"

In Clint Eastwood's latest as director and star, all that separates his bitter, bigoted curmudgeon of a character from several previous roles is love of his mint 1972 Gran Torino and distrust of the Hmong families moving into his Detroit neighborhood. While the surface suggests a movie about immigration, this is actually an introspective look at the notion of family in America. And like all of Eastwood's recent films, it's fascinating and pretty darn good. Grade: A-

"Marley & Me"

David Frankel's adaptation of John Grogan's bestselling memoir about learning adult responsibility from a yellow Lab seems content to give audiences some laughs, some tears and a warm, gooey sensation. As a surprise bonus, you won't feel too cheap afterward, thanks to a smarter-than-average script, some warm chemistry between co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson and an always-enjoyable appearance by Alan Arkin. Grade: B-


In his film about the life of assassination victim Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the U.S., director Gus Van Sant creates a heartfelt tribute to a devoted gay rights leader and an up-close look at the rise of San Francisco's gay subculture. The result feels timely and fresh, even to those familiar with the tragic story, with Sean Penn toning down his usual overacting to play Milk as a joyful, slightly flamboyant and completely charming politician. Grade: A

"The Reader"

Though Kate Winslet nails the elusive eroticism and matter-of-factness of her character in The Reader - an older woman with a dark secret bedding a 15-year-old boy (David Kross as a youth, Ralph Fiennes in adulthood) in post-WWII Germany - she can't traverse the emotional distance set by director Stephen Daldry and writer David Hare. Nor can the actress conceal the fact that this is basically an unlikely, self-serious mash-up of The Summer of '42 and Judgment at Nuremberg. Grade: C

"Seven Pounds"

The reunion between Will Smith and Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino is surprisingly engaging, particularly if you know next to nothing about it. Suffice to say that Smith, as an IRS agent playing karmic Robin Hood, probably won't snare another Oscar nod, but he scores points for the degree of difficulty in generating sympathy for the profession. Grade: B

"Slumdog Millionaire"

Danny Boyle's latest takes the form of questions and seamlessly edited answers, surrounding an uneducated Mumbai slum dweller (Dev Patel) in police custody who's forced to explain how he's gotten one question away from winning the jackpot on the Indian Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? without cheating. The energy and imagery is plenty to get lost in, but what really makes this film so loveable is its clever balance between tragedy, comedy, global pop culture and life-consuming romance. Grade: A

"The Spirit"

Comic fans should be up in arms for what director Frank Miller has done to the groundbreaking superhero creation of comic artist Will Eisner. Focusing almost entirely on a highly stylized look, to the exclusion of narrative coherence, compelling pacing and consistent performances, Miller treats the brainchild of the godfather of graphic novels in a manner that's almost criminal. Grade: C-

"Stranded: I've Come From a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains" NEW!

Because of a notorious dietary choice, the Uruguayan rugby players whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972, and who miraculously survived 72 days before rescue without adequate shelter or supplies, will forever have a vaunted place in air disaster history. Their decision to feed on the bodies of some of the crash victims rather than starve to death has led to sensational headlines, two books and several films.

In the latest documentary on the subject, Stranded, filmmaker Gonzalo Arijon recognizes that no added sensationalism is needed. There's a genuinely gripping and moving story in the basic facts, which are recounted with unusual candor 35 years later by the survivors, while visiting the mountains that nearly killed them.

Combining their first-person recollections with those of the parents who searched for the wreckage, archival news footage, reenactments that are far more impressionistic than gruesome and the near-constant presence of those potentially deadly, snow-capped peaks, Arijon occasionally muddies the timeline, but gives as true a sense of the horror of the ordeal as a documentary can provide.

Beyond the screen, there's only one obvious way to get a better understanding of the tragedy, and none of us want to go there. Grade: A- -Melissa Starker


Bryan Singer's effort to turn the true story of a 1944 assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler into a thrilling suspense film has all the making of a good movie, including a solid writing team and a strong supporting cast (Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp). It's because of these that star Tom Cruise and his stale lead performance doesn't totally torpedo the film, but it's not worth your time regardless. Grade: C-

"Yes Man"

The commercial may suggest more of the talking-out-his-butt Jim Carrey that no one's missed since 1994, but his new movie actually plays more like Liar Liar, a comedy with heart. Despite a trite third act and director Peyton Reed's tendency to get too episodic, Carrey is sharp and pleasant as a depressed bank loan officer forced by a New Age guru (Terence Stamp) to say yes to everything, including the always amazing Zooey Deschanel. Grade: B