OPENING THIS WEEK
Chicken Little (G) Walt Disney’s newest computer animated film puts a twist on the classic fable of a young chicken who causes widespread panic when he mistakes a falling acorn for a piece of the sky. This time, Chicken Little is determined to restore his reputation, but just as things are starting to go his way, a real piece of the sky lands on his head.
Good Night, and Good Luck (PG) Reviewed this week on page 36. (At the Terrace.)
Jarhead (R) Reviewed this week on the facing page.
A History of Violence (R) A History of Violence, as its title implies, is a profound examination of a world divided into “good” and “bad,” where we reflexively cheer on the “right” kind of violence and recoil at the “wrong” kind. David Cronenberg makes a hard break from convention, offering no catharsis or comfort, but a cold hollowness like a spent shell cartridge, which penetrates deep and lasts for hours. The chill, however, and the conversations the movie inspires afterward, are incredibly invigorating. One of the most powerful moviegoing experiences of the year.
Broken Flowers (R) A movie rooted in longing and regret, Broken Flowers is the story of Don Johnston, a single, emotionally disconnected, aging Don Juan whose life gets shaken up when he receives word that he may have a son. He sets off to find his kid by visiting a laundry list of old girlfriends. Filled with long, pregnant pauses and bouts of languishing silence, this is a film driven not by dialogue or happenstance but on the turmoil swirling in Bill Murray’s sad, aging eyes. It’s storytelling in muted tones, characters portrayed with such remote realism that it almost feels like an arm’s-length documentary. Answers are scarce in writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s determined detachment, but there’s powerful drama in Don Johnston’s journey, and Murray’s acclaimed, empathetic performance makes it a must-see. (At the Terrace.) — Josh Tyler
Doom (PG-13) How do you review a movie like Doom? Why even bother? It’s exactly what you think it is — a noisy, gory, silly movie based on a videogame, populated with disposable characters running around corridors shooting guns and/or being chased and eaten by nasty monsters. At its best, it’s an efficient — albeit cheese-encrusted — replication of the first-person shooter style of videogame. Its only claim to creativity is the annoying video-game-point-of-view section toward the end — and, face facts, Uwe Boll already tried that in House of the Dead. When you’re stealing from Uwe Boll, you know you’re in trouble. — KH
Elizabethtown (PG-13) Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown starts with Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) claiming that anyone can fail, but only a special type of person can create a fiasco. If so, then Cameron Crowe is a very special type of person, because this Garden State retread is a fiasco of massive proportions. Long, slow, and disjointed, the movie suffers from a 30-year-old lead who behaves like the teenage protagonist from Crowe’s Almost Famous. A few amusing scenes (and some smart applications of rock music) can’t salvage this one. — KH
Flightplan (PG-13) I don’t know why they didn’t just call this unabashed Hitchcockian rip-off The First-Grader Vanishes, but it’s not just sub-Hitch thriller; it also thinks it’s a kind of Sixth Sense surprise revelation opus. But the only surprise is that a so-so thriller turns into an unintentionally funny riot of preposterousness that neither Jodie Foster’s two-fisted histrionics nor Robert Schwentke’s directorial panache can overcome. — KH
The Fog (PG-13) Another pointless remake of a horror film — in this case, John Carpenter’s The Fog. And, as usual, it’s been dumbed-down, made scrupulously PG-13, and aimed solely at fans of teen-centric TV in the casting of Smallville‘s Tom Welling and Lost‘s Maggie Grace as the leads. It more or less follows Carpenter’s plot, but piles a ridiculous backstory on top, and, worse, has milked the story of most of its scares in favor of notably bloodless “creative deaths” (apparently the malevolent spirits of Antonio Island have been watching old Omen movies). Rarely has the supernatural been this dull. — KH
G (R) A hip-hop reimagining of The Great Gatsby that fails both as an update of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dissection of American aspirations and class barriers and on its own terms. Unable to embrace the world he’s seeking to depict, director Christopher Scott Cherot is left with a movie so preoccupied with being noble that it forgets to be interesting. For anyone to enjoy this starchy, contrived exercise in vanity and product placement, it’s best not to have read the book. In fact, it’s best not to have read any book. — KH
In Her Shoes (PG-13) It’s totally a chick flick: there’s all sorts of stuff about shoes, and there will be some happy tears at the end. But it’s the good kind of chick flick, about real women with real problems that other real women can identify with, not the idiot kind that made the term “chick flick” derogatory in the first place. What elevates In Her Shoes to something profound and wise, what’s so refreshing is its refusal to be broken it down into clichés and stereotypes. Plus, Toni Collette has always been a goddess and always will be. — MJ
The Legend of Zorro (PG) The Legend of Zorro takes place ten years after the events in Mask of Zorro. This time, a ready-to-retire Zorro (Antonio Banderas) must stop a complicated plot to blow up the people of California. It’s not the masterful movie that its predecessor was, but it’s still a fun, exciting, gorgeous piece of swashbuckling adventure. Unfortunately, director Martin Campbell waters down the violence to get a more kid-friendly PG-rating. No one is ever stabbed, no one is ever cut, and the movie goes out of its way to find new methods of bonking people on the head. Note to Zorro: Your sword has a pointy tip. Use it. — KH
North Country (R) The very fact that there’s nothing wrong with North Country may be what’s wrong with it. It’s so efficient at being exactly what it sets out to be that it could become the classic text for a filmmaking class called “Crafting the Message Picture 101” — as well as a supplementary item for such other courses as “Writing the Perfect Oscar-Bait Speech.” It’s well-intentioned and very sincere and its story is an important one, but it’s also stupefyingly predictable as it treads its well-worn path to its crowd-pleaser ending. — KH
Prime (PG-13) Uma Thurman is a 37-year-old divorcee. Bryan Greenberg is a 23-year-old wannabe artist. They have lots of sex, the details of which Uma reveals to her therapist, Meryl Streep. Then Uma learns that her therapist is her lover’s mother. Oops. Don’t get hoodwinked into thinking this is a romantic comedy. It’s witless, pointless, puerile, unsexy, and boring. — Marci Miller
Proof (PG-13) With so much cinematic drek flooding cinemas, it’s a relief to encounter a movie like Proof that actually dares to deal with ideas and complex, complicated characters. More ambitious than the previous John Madden-Gwyneth Paltrow collaboration (Shakespeare in Love), this story of a daughter who may or may not have inherited her father’s (Anthony Hopkins on auto-pilot) genius — and his madness — sometimes betrays its talky origins as a stage play, but it still makes for compelling viewing. — KH
Saw 2 (R) It’s better than the original on almost every level. This does not mean it’s any good. Saw 2 is admirable for the efficiency with which is accomplishes its chief purpose: parting horror fans with a few bucks. The problem is that it’s an utterly sadistic horror picture that exists for no other reason and has no discernible point or value. But on that level — limited and possibly loathsome as it is — it’s hard to deny that Saw II does what it sets out to do. — KH
Separate Lies (R) Julian Fellowes is two for two: The English actor’s first big screenwriting credit, Gosford Park, netted him an Oscar, and with this directorial debut, he again demonstrates a mastery of British uppercrust dramas. Like the best UK drawing room dilemmas, Separate Lies is more tart than bitter, with Fellowes, the Cambridge-educated son of a diplomat, acquitting himself grandly of cinematic boorishness. — Raoul Hernandez
Two for the Money (R) Perhaps the most seriously deranged movie of the season — possibly of several seasons. And that’s also what makes it fascinating. The story about a former college football star (Matthew McConaughey) who’s a whiz at picking game winners and his relationship with his mentor (Al Pacino) makes almost no sense (how do they actually make money?) and the characterizations make even less (the film more than flirts with the idea that Pacino has a crush on his protégé, which works, but then drops the idea, which doesn’t). As always, it’s fun to watch Pacino chew up the scenery, but the movie’s a mess. — KH
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (G) This animated film detailing the adventures of the none-too-bright inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his much smarter dog companion, Gromit, as they struggle to humanely prevent a plague of rabbits from destroying their village’s annual vegetable growing competition is brilliantly simple — accessible to the youngest in the audience but providing room to playfully insert all manner of outrageous gags to keep the proceedings interesting for older folks. As a result, they’ve ended up with a kids’ flick that also works on a number of levels for adult viewers. — KH
The Weather Man (R) It’s not a crowd pleaser and it’ll never achieve the box-office success of Gore Verbinski’s last two films, The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean. Even so, The Weather Man is a rich and frequently wonderful film anchored by terrific performances from Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, and newcomer Gemmenne de la Pena. Sometimes darkly funny, but not really the comedy the trailer suggests, it’s an atmospheric work about coming to terms with our own limitations and the expectations imposed on us by others that deserves a broader audience than it’s likely to get. — KH
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