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
More chaste yet almost as erotically minded as previous films like The Piano, writer-director Jane Campion's gorgeous new work presents the three-year relationship between ill-fated poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) as a love of consuming intensity and mutual concessions.
The common period theme of romance thwarted by finance is handled here with welcome restraint. As the picture of a girl in the throes of first love, Cornish, conversely, provides a necessary source of warmth. Unfortunately, it's not a sensation you'll get from Whishaw's internalized Keats, or from Campion, whose work always feels vaguely clinical. Grade: B
"Capitalism: A Love Story"
The latest from Michael Moore argues that something has gotten seriously skewed with the American way of doing business through a collection of truly infuriating facts relating to wage disparities and corporate amorality, examples of individuals abused by the system as it is, a blow-by-blow history of financial deregulation over the past two decades and a look at the way things used to be through his own family history.
For avid readers of progressive news sites, a lot of this won't be new, and Moore's latest isn't always helped by the kind of grandstanding stunts he's perpetrated for years. But the film's tonal progression strengthens his message, as does the personal information Moore shares. The last part also works as an effective retort to some of the worst attacks of his critics. Grade: B
Kevin Tancharoen's remake of Alan Parker's 1980 musical about a New York performing arts high school keeps the four-year timeline of the original and brings in a similar, strategically updated crop of new students.
For the most part, the musical numbers work as well as before, but the sanitization that was expected to make the dark, raunchy original work for a post-High School Musical world goes too far, knocking some of the soul from the piece. Grade: C
"The Hurt Locker"
Kathryn Bigelow's action film about an elite team that defuses roadside bombs in Iraq succeeds where other movies haven't, by putting you in the boots of the personnel on the streets of Baghdad.
Certain story elements are pretty standard, but they suck you into a masterful balance of tight pacing, genuine performances and remarkably intense atmosphere.
If you're just up for action this will more than satisfy, but there are also questions raised about heroes in our culture, should you choose to consider them - once your heart stops pounding. Grade: A
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+
"The Invention of Lying"
As in Ghost Town, British import Ricky Gervais valiantly tries to say something meaningful in a comedy feature, and once again has troubles getting the funny-to-serious mixture right.
With co-writer-director Matthew Robinson, Gervais has created an alternate reality in which only truth exists, until his character Mark Bellison - a short, pudgy, generally unsuccessful screenwriter - discovers how to make things up. They consider some fascinating things within the setup, from the advertising that would result to the effects of a world without flattery, and give Jennifer Garner a delightful showcase as Mark's love interest.
The filmmakers also go deeper and darker with their idea than expected, into the varying nature of lies and liars. But the fascination with the central conceit starts to wane before the story's humor picks back up, and the dead spot that results can be hard to plow through. 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
Drew Barrymore's directorial debut about a shy small-town teen (Ellen Page) who discovers her true calling in women's roller derby is pretty much the movie you'd expect from the Barrymore we've come to know on screen. Like her, it's smart, goofy and likable, chick-centric but friendly to guys as well.
Barrymore's coming-of-age tale/sports movie, adapted by Shauna Cross from her novel, benefits from a cool dynamic among the derby teams generated by a fine ensemble cast (Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis and Zoe Bell, to name a few). And when the action moves to the rink, it's clear the filmmaker has done her homework in the sports genre.
Occasionally things get a little too goofy or manipulative, but nonetheless, this one's big fun. Grade: B+
Zombieland's just too good to resist, a source of new pleasures in a genre so undead that even the parodies were starting to seem stale. After a no-frills setup, the movie introduces characters named for hometowns, including Jesse Eisenberg's narrator Columbus (represent!), Woody Harrelson's zombie slayer Tallahassee and a pair of con artist sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), and together they road-trip their way through the apocalypse.
From the dry wit of the narration to the video game violence and some awesome surprises, this is most likely the most fun you'll have in a movie theater this year. Grade: A-