Movie review capsules
The feature-length version of Shane Acker's award-winning animated short is a faithful expansion of the original, bringing both its qualities and flaws to the longer running time.
Like the short, the feature looks great as it tells the story of a group of sentient, burlap-covered mechanical figures trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. But Acker's detailed, hypnotic imagery serves a flimsy story that's not helped by the addition of some spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Grade: C
"All About Steve"
Following The Proposal, Sandra Bullock finds a new low in the story of a crossword puzzle constructor with zero social skills who follows the news cameraman she met on a blind date (Bradley Cooper) across four states and assorted tragic news events.
The film aims for romantic comedy, then for inspirational drama, and misses both. Its efforts are worsened by strained, uncomfortable performances by the co-stars. Grade: F
"(500) Days of Summer"
If director Marc Webb's snapshot view of the tumultuous romance between greeting card writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt and co-worker Zooey Deschanel isn't high art, it's at least a perfectly crafted pop song that'll have you humming with the chorus the second time through.
It's warm without being cutesy, familiar without being formulaic and hilarious without being gag-driven. Grade: A-
A few key differences set South African director Neill Blomkamp's feature debut apart from its blockbuster peers. Backed by executive producer Peter Jackson, Blomkamp works cheap and smart, giving the old story of Earthlings messing up their first encounter with aliens a thoughtful, contemporary spin.
Using an effectively intense documentary format, he serves up some ultra-violence, but also unique detail from creature design to satirical sound bites, and one of the most unlikely action heroes of the season. Grade: B+
Once again, Rob Zombie's promise of a "visionary re-imagining" of a John Carpenter original is overblown, but the filmmaker does at least break away from totally disposable characters and those cheap gotcha scares that dissipate so quickly.
Though at times, the story Zombie concocts for his remake of the 1981 Halloween sequel seems little more than an excuse for wife Sheri Moon Zombie to roam around in goth makeup and white satin, it does give Scout Taylor-Compton's Laurie Strode the opportunity to do more than scream and bleed. And ultimately, this one's more effectively unsettling than the original Halloween follow-up. Grade: C+
A movie for those who thought The Insider needed some offbeat comedy, Steven Soderbergh's latest tells the ridiculous but truth-based tale of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon under 30 pounds of extra weight and an awesome mustache), an Archer Daniels Midland exec who turns corporate whistleblower with nerdy James Bond glee.
Damon's performance is a sight to behold, and the film will probably find an audience that loves it, but it suffers a bit from Soderbergh's self-indulgence and sometimes feels as bipolar as its subject. Grade: B-
Quentin Tarantino turns his keen eye to the pulpiest genre he hadn't yet explored - the war movie - and creates a WWII revenge epic that drips with tension, blood and humor.
It's both wonderful and messy, with five chapters, two intersecting story arcs and some Nazi scalping run through the wash with vintage QT dialogue. There's a less central role for Brad Pitt than trailers have led you to believe, and ultimately the movie may be too talky for action fans and too campy for the art-house crowd, but those who like a bit of both - namely, Tarantino's base - will find it just right. Grade: B+
A vocal fan of horror movies, screenwriter Diablo Cody has set her follow-up to Juno in their world, but she covers ground that's all too familiar. Co-stars Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried are given some sharp dialogue as Fox's hot girl on campus goes all demonic and maneating, and the story has some uniquely fun plot developments, but there's just nothing here that's particularly surprising or scary. Grade: C
"Julie and Julia"
Writer-director Nora Ephron both fails and succeeds with a movie divided between two true stories of women and food.
On one side is ever-reliable Amy Adams as a frustrated government worker who devotes a year to blogging her way through Julia Child's French cookbook. But her tale can be cutesy and contrived, and it can't hold a candle to a more interesting story: Child's. Meryl Streep is an absolute delight as the groundbreaking chef, and her scenes with co-star Stanley Tucci are just delicious. Grade: B
This B horror movie looked like so-bad-it's-good slasher fun. Instead, the story of a sorority prank gone awry is just so-bad-it's-awful. With a cast including Bruce Willis' daughter and the dumb chick from The Hills, that's probably not much of a revelation. But there was potential for some great Heathers-style black comedy, and it was wasted. Grade: D+
This week, find reviews of "Fame" and "Paranormal Activity" on the Bad and the Beautiful blog.