300 (R) Yes, 300 is great to look at (though its burnished golds and CGI’d settings begin to feel like watching a series of production sketches long before the movie ends). But there’s not a hint of humanity in the evil Persians, as the demonized enemy. It’s also alarmingly homophobic, which is a pretty strange approach for a movie that’s non-stop beefcake. And, for that matter, it’s neither terribly exciting, nor involving, since it never gives us a single character to care about, and as soon as it’s set up the action, it’s merely repetitive. It is loud, however. —Ken Hanke
Amazing Grace (PG) What looks like a must-avoid enterprise on the surface turns out to be one of the better films to hit screens this year thanks to the craftsmanship of director Michael Apted and a mind-blowing cast of Brit thespians. Amazing Grace may not be quite amazing, but it’s one of the nobler “based on true events” efforts I’ve seen in some time. A necessarily simplified (and somewhat sanitized) biopic on William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffud), who fought to abolish the slave trade in Britain in the 18th century, the film works on its own merits and a splendid — and often quite witty — script by Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things). A very pleasant, if somewhat old-fashioned, surprise. —Ken Hanke
Bridge To Terabitha (PG) Based on the Katherine Paterson children’s novel of the same name, Bridge to Terabithia follows two preteen outcasts (aren’t they all?) as they attempt to escape the realities of growing up by creating their own imaginary fantasy world. More a human drama about loss and guilt than the fantasy epic it’s being billed as, it’s a rare family film that does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it fairly well. Terabithia manages to be pleasant and well-intentioned without being saccharine — and also has enough sense to praise creativity and imagination above all else. — Justin Souther
Dead Silence (R) It’s refreshing to see the boys who helped create the current vogue for repellent sadistic horror with Saw — director James Wan and co-scenarist Leigh Whannell — do a complete about face with an almost old-fashioned supernatural horror flick. While it’s at least few corpses shy of the cemetery in terms of horror classics, it’s a game try, and parts of the film are very good indeed. The story about the wrathful specter of ventriloquist Mary Shaw (played with the kind of malevolence you’d expect from Judith Roberts, who played the Whore of Babylon in 1979’s religioso exploitation non-classic The Late Great Planet Earth) and her 101 dolls (so much creepier than Dalmatians) is pretty solid, and even when it doesn’t quite work, it’s rarely less than fun. —Ken Hanke
The Hills Have Eyes II (R) In trying to find something positive to say about The Hills Have Eyes II, all I can come up with is that it’s relatively brief (89 minutes), it doesn’t bother with much in the way of character development, and it’s occasionally pretty funny. That last wasn’t intended, of course. It’s a stupid, sadistic, by-the-numbers exercise in lowest-common-denominator slasher “horror.” All it amounts to is a preposterous array of gore effects while an inept unit of the National Guard are hacked, bludgeoned, mutilated and/or raped by mutant inbred hillbillies. You’ve seen it all before and you’ve seen it done better. —Ken Hanke
I Think I Love My Wife (R) Chris Rock directs, co-writes, and stars in a remake of Eric Rohmer’s 1972 film Chloe in the Afternoon. As in the original, Rock plays a husband who’s bored with his marriage, and puts his fidelity to the test when an old flame re-enters his life. It’s an uneven comedy that gets points simply for being a film that’s actually made for adults. Other than an out-of-place gag Viagra gag, the material is handled in a mature and on occasion, extremely frank, fashion (don’t go into this movie expecting a cute romantic comedy), though it has a tendency to meander. Still, it strongly hints that Rock has a great film in him — but he hasn’t quite found it yet. —Justin Souther
The Last Mimzy (PG) This film adaptation of Lewis Padgett’s 1943 short story “All Mimsy Were the Borogroves” (the title’s taken from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”) is so insubstantial it threatens to evaporate right off the screen. I don’t reject the idea of New Age sci-fi — in fact, a sequel called Mimzy Vs. Ramtha might work — but it doesn’t really work here, largely because it’s never clear how serious these elements are. What’s left is a sci-fi flick about saving the future via some advanced teaching toys. Strictly for the grade-school set. —Ken Hanke
The Lives of Others (R) The Lives of Others — which just won a very well deserved Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film — has one of the greatest final lines of dialogue that I’ve ever heard in a movie. Written with a compelling wisdom and directed like it’s a classic ’70s noir by German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Lives continues to untangle long after that last line, revealing more secret complications and unanticipated significance the more you turn it over in your mind. The year is 1984, East Berlin. The subject: a secret love triangle among a playwright, his lead actress and lover, and a Stasi surveillance agent. This is an amazing film. —MaryAnn Johanson
Pride (PG) Jim Ellis (a brilliant Terrence Howard) is a swim coach in the ’70s whose ragtag gang of street kids begins competing against rich white schools in the water. As you’d expect in a movie like this, they’re winning. Along the way to success, Jim encounters a lot of the usual stumbling blocks. The difference here is that they’re half-hearted obstacles. With a story incapable of creating legitimate dramatic tension, Pride is left relying on sports action alone to carry it. But this is a swimming movie, and let’s face it: there’s just nothing exciting about watching the backstroke. The film’s only salvation is great performances from Howard and co-star Bernie Mac. —Joshua Tyler
Reign Over Me (R) In Reign Over Me, Sandler plays a New Yorker whose wife and three daughters died in one of the hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001. In a movie with a tragically serious undercurrent, Sandler’s like an eight-year-old playing emotional dress-up in clothes that are way too big for him. In a sense, that makes him the perfect leading man for writer/director Mike Binder, whose movies are often amusing, but it makes this one an incredibly awkward viewing experience — because, in case I hadn’t already mentioned it, he’s using a national tragedy as the backdrop for his punch lines. The overriding sensibility that permeates Reign Over Me (apart from Don Cheadle’s charming performance) is lack of control over the material. —Scott Renshaw
Shooter (R) A solid performance from Mark Wahlberg and stylish direction from Antoine Fuqua can’t disguise the fact that Shooter is just an acceptable actioner laboring under the delusion that it’s something altogether more important — which perhaps explains why it’s 20 minutes too long and ends at least three times. Wahlberg plays an embittered ex-Marine sharpshooter who’s tricked into being the fall-guy for a presidential assassination attempt (whoops!), which sends him on the lam and off to prove his innocence, even if that requires blowing up half of America. This odd attempt to create a liberal-minded revenge fantasy never really jells, but it’s not unwatchable. —Ken Hanke
TMNT (PG) Early ’90s pop culture icons the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make their return to the big screen, this time entirely digitized. While it does a good job of capturing the spirit of the whole deal, the movie quickly turns into a generic retread. It’s the same excruciatingly lame one-liners, the same action sequences, the same inter-Turtle relationships, even the same catch phrases — except this time with 18 years of age added on. If you’re a still a fan, you’re likely to find this film entertaining and faithful to its predecessors. If you never gave a damn in the first place, this newest incarnation is unlikely to make you a believer. —Justin Souther
Zodiac (R) Maybe if you’ve never seen any recent (by that I mean in the past 30 years) horror films, you’ll be shocked and horrified by the very limited carnage presented in the early scenes of David Fincher’s preposterously overlong (154 minutes) Zodiac. And maybe if you go in realizing that this isn’t so much a movie about the infamous Zodiac killer who terrorized San Francisco in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and it isn’t so much about trying to catch the killer as it is about the obsession of San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmark (Jake Gyllenhaal) with the Zodiac, you’ll find the film more pleasing than I did. It’s well made and certainly well acted (especially by Robert Downey, Jr., whose absence from the final 30 minutes of the proceedings is keenly felt). It’s occasionally creepy, for that matter, but it doesn’t make for very compelling drama. —Ken Hanke
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