Opening This Week
Adventureland (R) Nostalgia reigns in this film by Greg Mottola (Superbad). Set in the summer of 1987, Adventureland follows a recent college grad (Jesse Eisenberg) worried about a bleak future working at a local amusement park who realizes his education in life has just begun. Also stars Kristen Stewart (Twilight) and Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live). Opens Friday at the Terrace Theater.
Fast & Furious (PG-13) Vin Diesel growls and scowls while driving real fast with Paul Walker in tow. Again. The major difference in this reboot? No souped up Hondas — always a contradiction in terms. This time it’s real muscle cars.
12 Rounds (PG-13) Once upon a time, a young Renny Harlin made Die Hard 2, which, in the end, just turned out to be a simple re-hash of John McTiernan’s Die Hard. After that, McTiernan returned to the franchise with 1995’s Die Hard: With a Vengeance. And now, 14 years later, Harlin has finally gotten the chance to rip off that movie with 12 Rounds. OK, so the movies aren’t exactly the same, but the plots — centering around a master European terrorist leading a cop through a series of dangerous challenges in a bid for revenge — are uncannily similar. But in this case, there’s no Bruce Willis. Instead, we get pro wrestler John Cena, a man with a neck bigger than his head, and the kind of range that makes Willis look like Laurence Olivier. Seriously, the guy walks through the movie with the pained look of someone trying really hard to do long division in their head. It all revolves around a master criminal getting revenge on Cena by kidnapping his fiancée and making our hero pass 12 challenges (all involving much property damage) to save her. You’ve seen it before — and better. —Justin Souther
Duplicity (PG-13) With its fractured narrative and its myriad convolutions, Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity still isn’t as clever and sophisticated as it’s obviously meant to be, but I’m not sure it matters very much. It’s a stylish, entertaining movie with pretty people in pretty clothes (or in very few clothes, which is OK as long it’s pretty people) in pretty locations saying witty things. At this point in the moviegoing year, it’s probably foolish to ask for more. This is a movie for movie people — with a bottle of Dom Perignon at the end. Stylish direction, a script that “thinks,” Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, and champagne. It’s late March and that ain’t bad. The story is basically a reworking of a Cold War spy flick with rival corporations rather than superpowers, and Owen and Roberts as former secret agents out to use their skills to con and defraud the corporations in question for personal gain. Gilroy, however, isn’t content with that alone and has created a “golden age”-style, battle-of-the-sexes romance for his stars, making them unable to trust each other and having that be part and parcel of the very reason they find each other irresistable. It’s the kind of film bona fide movie stars were made for. —Ken Hanke
The Haunting in Connecticut (PG-13) Peter Cornwell’s The Haunting in Conneticut is the latest in a long line of “based on a true story” haunted house films in the style of The Amityville Horror (1979). What this generally means is that any old yahoo who thinks the ghost of grandma is running around flushing toilets and flipping the porch light on and off can get a movie deal. Couple that with the fact that this is the haunting in Connecticut, it would appear that this is the definitive tale of spookiness in the Nutmeg State. Be sure to thank Mr. Cornwell the next time you see him. Regardless, what we get is a family, whose oldest son Matt (TV actor Kyle Gallner) is suffering from some unnamed form of movie cancer. They ill-advisedly move into a house with a “history.” In this case, the house used to be a mortuary, and Matt begins to see spooky goings on. This mostly consists of murky figures popping up in mirrors or the reflections television monitors, but quickly graduates into broken dishes, bloody mops, charmingly animated crabs, and a column on their porch filled with what appears to be maggot-infested beef stew. It’s downhill from there with the climactic “true evil” of the house being a fridge full of moldy food and a killer shower curtain. Evil has never been so banal. —Justin Souther
I Love You, Man (R) I Love You, Man is only the latest in a long line of movies called the “bro-mantic comedy” or perhaps the “dick flick.” And it may have much to teach us about ourselves, my brothers — as we are, as we wish we could be, and as we want to make it excruciatingly clear to everyone that we’re not. It’s kind of depressing watching I Love You, Man look so insecure when attempting to prove its protagonists’ heterosexuality. On the surface, it seems very gay-friendly to have Peter’s (Paul Rudd) out-and-proud brother serving as one of his mentors in wooing male companionship. But one of the big early guffaw moments involves a misunderstanding on one of Peter’s “man-dates,” ending with a vigorous tongue-kissing. Neither director John Hamburg nor Rudd overplays the panic of the moment, but it becomes clear that the gay characters here exist primarily to prove by contrast what Peter and Sydney are not. It’s a shame, really, that I Love You, Man isn’t funnier, and that it feels as uncomfortable in its own skin as its hero. We’re getting closer to learning something interesting about what guys need from other guys, but the sociologists won’t be gleaning more from this effort than a few chuckles. There’s more bro-vado here than bro-mance. —Scott Renshaw
Knowing (PG-13) Alex Proyas’ Knowing stands a very good chance of being in the running for best bad movie ever made. From a purely visual standpoint, it’s almost impeccable. The first third to one-half of the film is remarkably atmospheric and assured most of the time — even with Nicolas Cage’s patented flat performance. The effects work tends to be very good. Even when it’s not wholly believable, it’s so visually striking that it hardly matters. And there’s a very good Marco Beltrami score to top it off. The problem is that the direction, the effects, and the music are at the service of a screenplay that gets sillier and sillier as it moves from provocative horror thriller into the realm of religious allegory science-fiction. The premise of the movie — that a series of seemingly random numbers put in a time capsule in 1959 by a strange little girl (Lara Robinson) who hears voices whispering to her actually predict disasters for the next 50 years — is OK. The problem is that the more we learn about where the movie is going, the more preposterous it becomes and the less sense it makes — unless you’re willing to accept the notion (never really explained) of what might be called “Freewill Aliens.” Worth a look, but it’s apt to produce about an equal number of thrills and groans. —Ken Hanke
The Last House on the Left (R) So here comes the Wes Craven-produced remake from Greek director Dennis Iliadis. What exactly can be said about it? Well, it’s less embarassingly made and … well, it’s less embarassingly made. Beyond that, there’s little to be said in its favor. It’s still a dreary story about a family revenging themselves of the people responsible for raping and (in this case) nearly murdering their daughter. This round we get more backstory to the characters, which only results in making the film both unpleasant and tedious. OK, so it does offer us someone getting his head put in a microwave oven, but you have to sit through the whole movie to get to it, and it’s really not worth the bother. —Ken Hanke
Monsters vs. Aliens (PG) The basic idea of making a spoof of 1950s science fiction movies using the quintessential 1950s gimmick of 3-D is in itself inspired. The idea of filling it with cross-references to 1950s-’60s sci-fi movies from the well-known — The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Fly — to the culty — Attack of the 50 Foot Woman — to the esoteric awful — The Amazing Colossal Man — is a nice nod to film and SF nerds. There’s even something sweetly nostalgic about the idea that the government has had all these out-of-date monsters locked away for about 50 years. The voice casting is surprisingly good, especially Rainn Wilson as the evil Gallaxhar. The results of all this, though, are rarely more than pleasant. The individual components suggest it should be better. It’s less a case of anything being actually wrong than it simply being no more than OK. The idea basically finds the earth invaded by aliens and calls on their stash of homegrown monsters to save the day. Apart from the personal stories used to flesh this out, that’s the plot and it works fine for what it is. At bottom, I liked it well enough. I found it consistently clever and that it maintained a pleasantly giddy sense of fun. In a year, I’ll have only the vaguest sense of ever having seen it. —Ken Hanke
Race to Witch Mountain (PG) If someone forced me to come up with a single adjective to describe Andy Fickman’s Race to Witch Mountain, the first to pop into my mind might be “superfluous.” This isn’t because the movie’s a remake of 1975’s Escape to Witch Mountain. The movie is just pointless and unnecessary. Since the film carries the Disney banner, its existence as a moneymaker is already established. But that’s no excuse for the lack of effort. The whole ordeal feels shoddy and cheap. The sets are unconvincing, the action lackluster, the CGI corny bottom-of-the-barrel, and the plot’s riddled with contrivances. It’s all about a taxi driver (Dwayne Johnson) helping a couple of kids (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) get back to their spaceship (they’re really aliens, you see) in order to prevent an invasion of Earth by their planet. Kids may care. Chances are you won’t. —Justin Souther
Two Lovers (R) Joaquin Phoenix is the exceedingly vulnerable and heavily medicated Leonard Kraditor, living in his traditional, Jewish parents’ apartment and still recovering from a past heartbreak. Leonard must make his a choice between the right woman and the not-right one. the true beauty of Two Lovers is the tightly constructed plot and accurately conceived emotions of this engaging ensemble piece. There is a level of desperation to the film that persuasively conveys life for these ordinary people: economic desperation, a desperate desire for love, and the slow-to-reveal desperation of a mother to protect her son from further heartache. Especially good is the relationship between the concerned, in-his-business mother (Isabella Rossellini) and the secretive Leonard. Rossellini is restrained, pulling back from a take on Leonard’s mother that could easily descend into smothering Jewish mother cliché to show her own heartbreak at watching her son scramble for love, and her fear that he will hurt himself again. But the film is Phoenix’s: another articulation of that mix of lust and vulnerability first glimpsed in his blue-collar teen seduced by a perfect suburban ice queen in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Any suggestion that Phoenix is honestly considering retirement is made doubly tragic on the evidence of James Gray’s mesmerizing family drama. —Felicia Feaster
Watchmen (R) Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is at once better than I feared it would be and a lot less than it might have been. If it’s never quite a trainwreck; neither is it much more than just OK. The problem with that is that OK is far removed from the delusions of grandeur and pop intellectualism that surround this film version of the highly-regarded 1986-87 comic book/graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Stripped of its gory, blood-soaked, sexed-up R-rated approach and its plodding 163-minute running time, the film isn’t much more than another entry in the dysfunctional “superhero” subgenre. Partly, it’s simply the result of the fact that what was fresh — the deconstruction of the superhero — 20-plus years ago just isn’t so fresh today. The main problem, though, is that Snyder hasn’t so much made a film of the comic as he’s taxidermied it. The deeper aspects of the book are subverted in favor of the “bad ass” qualities. The storyline — about a possible conspiracy to murder costumed heroes in an alternative 1985 America where Nixon is still president and nuclear war looms — is retained while the film almost slavishly copies the look of the comic, but characterization and motivation are sketchy to non-existent. Overall, it’s going to please some fans, anger others, and probably leave the uninitiated wondering what all the fuss is about. —Ken Hanke