Opening This Week

Bride Wars (PG) Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway are two brides-to-be who discover their weddings were mistakenly scheduled for the same day, time, and place. Where’s Rachel when you need her? Also stars Candice Bergen.

The Unborn (PG-13) Odette Yustman runs scared from a twin brother she never had. Get your head around that one. Also stars Gary Oldman and some creatures-of-the-night with serious spinal cord problems.

Not Easily Broken (PG-13) Morris Chestnut and Taraji P. Henson are husband and wife whose marriage is already fragile — i.e., eyes are straying ­— when a car accident nearly throws them over the brink. Written by T.D. Jakes, the best-selling author and spiritual leader.

Critical Capsules

Bedtime Stories (G) I wish I could’ve worked up the same enthusiasm for Adam Shankman’s Bedtime Stories that the eight-year-old boy sitting by himself a few seats down from me had. Not only was he wound up enough to give a running commentary throughout the film — often punctuated with cackling laughter and proclamations of “She’s hot!” whenever supporting actress Teresa Palmer would make her way onscreen. I still wish I could develop that kind of excitement that accompanied my treks to the movies as a kid. In those days, it wasn’t the movie that mattered, but the simple fact that I was at the movies. My mind wandered back to those more whimsical times, only to be yanked back into reality once I remembered that I was sitting through a damned Adam Sandler movie. And despite its “family friendly” pose and a better than usual supporting cast, this is every inch an Adam Sandler movie, complete with all the usual hanger-on suspects (yes, Rob Schneider shows up — wearing Nicole Kidman’s old Virginia Woolf nose). Rarely funny (unless you’re 8) and not as fanciful as it thinks, it’s ultimately not much of anything. —Justin Souther

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (PG-13) While I would recommend David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as worth seeing, I simply cannot work up any great love for it. More curious than the case of Benjamin Button is the detached feeling of the movie. It’s well made — if at least 30 minutes too long — and the story is interesting. And I’m impressed that the premise of a main character who ages backwards works at all, but it’s emotionally distant, in part because it centers around the most passive main character since Forrest Gump. (It’s probably not coincidental that Eric Roth wrote both movies.) Fincher’s direction doesn’t help. Who thought that the guy who made Seven and Zodiac should tackle this kind of Tim Burtonish whimsical romance? He approaches the material like he’s determined to incorporate things he’s seen in other fantasies, but has no idea how to integrate them. —Ken Hanke

Doubt (PG-13) Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by John Patrick Shanley — who also directs — Doubt comes to the screen with a welcome restraint, relying as much on what is unsaid as on what is said and the kind of stylish visual juxtapositions of those suppers. One of the most illustrative of the film’s devices is setting: a bleak inner-city Bronx in midwinter. As cold and stoic as any Ingmar Bergman film, the iciness casts a pall on the characters who seem unable to find comfort in the world around them. Meryl Streep is spectacular playing Sister Aloysius, who often repels our affection. Her worries seem trite: She is disturbed by the sorry state of penmanship and secular Christmas hymns, and has a profound dislike of the morally corruptive power of sugar. In the early 1960s, she seems to represent a grotesque fear of change and a frightening inflexibility. She is at first glance a far less appealing, judgmental, and stern figure than the likable, progressive Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who wants to take his students on camping trips and offers dating advice over lemonade during informal chat sessions with his male students. But her outer brittleness occasionally cracks to reveal something more complicated. She embraces tradition, but is also trapped within it. She visibly blanches during a meeting with Father Flynn when he takes her chair behind her desk and expects to be waited on with tea and sugar by the sisters. The question arises: Is her suspicion of Flynn grounded in fact or in resentment over the privileges he holds over her head? —Felicia Feaster

Marley & Me (PG) Marley & Me is a movie made purely for people who like to “ooh” and “ahh” at the mere sight of a puppy. I am not among that group, but even if I were, I doubt that I could find much to recommend here. Based on John Grogan’s bestselling memoir, the movie tells the story Grogan (Owen Wilson, who looks absolutely nothing like the real life Grogan, but bears some resemblance to the dog perhaps), his wife (Jennifer Aniston), and their out-of-control yellow Labrador named Marley. Since the movie goes from Grogan’s beginnings as a Florida journalist to his writing a column consisting mostly of stories about Marley, it covers approximately 15 years (and unchanging haircuts), attempting to show all the trials, tribulations, and life lessons of family, career, and growing old — with a dog. None of it’s very interesting and little has anything to do thematically with the dog, which is mostly there for outbursts of doggie property destruction and such broad comedy as when it tries to “marry” Kathleen Turner. —Justin Souther

Milk (R) Its subject certainly is a compelling figure: Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), who emerged from a life-long closet in his early 40s after moving to San Francisco’s Castro district in 1972 with his boyfriend Scott (James Franco). Initially desiring nothing more than to run his camera shop and be left alone, he’s inspired to political action by open hostility from other local merchants. After rallying the Castro’s growing gay population to boycotts of “gay-unfriendly” businesses, he begins efforts to be elected to the San Francisco City Council, ultimately succeeding in 1977 as the state’s first openly gay elected official. There’s the impact of watching the gay community exult in a political power it had never known before, even as that same community refuses to remain silent in defeat 30 years later. Milk is a perfectly decent biographical drama on its own terms, but it exists today, right now, in a place beyond those terms. In December 2008, it means something. In 2009? I’ll concern myself with it then. —Scott Renshaw

The Reader (R) Admirers of the last collaboration between director Stephen Daldry and writer David Hare, The Hours, should find much to please them in The Reader. Like their previous film, The Reader is heavy stuff. And it’s haunting and deeply disturbing — perhaps even more so than The Hours. It’s clear why this material would appeal to them, but The Hours was very much in the “women’s picture” mode. It could be — in many ways was — taken as an art-house soap opera. The Reader comes from a darker place altogether. It concerns an affair that begins in 1958 between a woman (Kate Winslet) in her 30s and a 15-year-old boy (David Kross), but that’s not the crux off the film, which deals with their later lives, her guilt as a guard at Auschwitz, his own mirrored guilt in not speaking up when he should have, and the price both ultimately pay. Beautifully made, splendidly acted, and of greater substance than most movies, The Reader poses some very difficult questions. Which means it’s a somewhat uncomfortable film. It’s smart enough, however, to know it need not answer them, and so leaves it up to the viewer. Demanding? Yes. But that’s also why it’s such a worthwhile accomplishment. —Ken Hanke

Seven Pounds (PG-13) You’ll likely spend most of this idiotically contrived Will Smith weeper thinking that the plot can’t possibly go where it seems it will, only to learn that, yes, it will — and more. Smith plays a guilt-plagued IRS agent trying to expiate some un-named sin (don’t worry, it gets named — after you’ve figured it out) by trying to help seven people he uses IRS information to find. These include Woody Harrelson as a blind vegan telemarketer for a meat company and Rosario Dawson (giving the film its only weighty performance) as a woman with a $56,000 IRS debt, who needs a heart transplant and has a rare blood type. What happens? Nothing remotely believable, but you’ll never be able to look at a jellyfish the same way again. —Ken Hanke

Slumdog Millionaire (R) Director Danny Boyle’s Slumdog is set against a schizophrenic backdrop of sparkling modernity and centuries-old poverty. Despite some outwardly grim circumstances, Slumdog Millionaire remains surprisingly ebullient. It’s filled with movement and candy colors, and Boyle is able to see the wonder of slums through the eyes of children who race through this vibrant universe. This is a feel-good coming-of-age story that offers a transcendent tale of a mistreated waif. And this story is buoyed along by its simple love story. Jamal strives to reunite with Latika, who has grown into a gorgeous young woman and whose beauty has become a liability. The improbabilities tend to stack up as the film sails along. There are atmospheric, romantic reunions at train stations that seem too perfectly-timed to be true. And some of the slumdog children have supernatural memories, able to recognize former buddies by the sound of their voices. To truly enjoy Slumdog Millionaire, you have to give yourself over to a film smartly released at a very opportune cultural moment. —Felicia Feaster

The Spirit (PG-13) I’m a little surprised by the scorn and derision that’s been heaped on Frank Miller’s film by both fans and critics. I’ve read many of the criticisms and many — maybe most — of the very things they’re railing against are precisely the elements that I found entertaining about The Spirit. It’s possible I’m somehow more in tune with Miller’s mindset here than they are. It’s also possible that they do indeed “get it,” but they don’t want it. Perhaps they don’t want it for the simple reason that The Spirit is a film that takes the piss out of the comic book movie. As such, it’s out of joint with the mood of the moment, the moment when The Dark Knight is being seen as the full maturation of the comic book film. It’s a loopy affair — make no mistake. It makes sport of both comic books and hard-boiled detective fiction, yet it does so by utilizing and adhering to the conventions of each. If you’re willing to go with this approach, you’re likely to have fun with the film, which is a lot shrewder and cleverly developed than its detractors are willing to admit. —Ken Hanke

Valkyrie (PG-13)
I went into Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie expecting the worst. The very notion of Tom Cruise as a Nazi officer gets no further than an eye-roll and an “oh, brother” from me. And while Cruise isn’t especially good in the film, he’s not embarrassingly bad (“Long live sacred Germany!” aside), just terminally miscast. The film itself is an awkward mix of plodding history and general adequacy with occasional flourishes of visual panache that seem to be from some other, more stylish movie. Having Cruise affect no accent doesn’t really work, but it’s probably less funny than having him do a Conrad Veidt impression while Nazi-lipping cigarettes would have been. Strong support from Bill Nighy and Terence Stamp helps the film, but the whole thing suffers from that lack of suspense that comes from a story where you know the outcome the minute you sit down. It’s not a disaster, but it’s not exactly special. —Ken Hanke

Yes Man (PG-13) That Yes Man is less irritating than most Jim Carrey films is the sense that maybe it wasn’t initially written as a Jim Carrey showcase. Sure, the movie is of the high-concept variety, but it’s not tailor-made for the patented Carrey screen-mugging. This doesn’t keep his usual hamming from creeping in from time to time, but it’s kept to a minimum. In reality, it’s likely a movie that would’ve been helped by casting a younger, lesser known actor as its lead, someone who doesn’t have a screen persona to live up to. Regardless, Carrey never embarrasses himself and is smart enough not to over-indulge himself too much. In this regard, it’s less a movie built around Carrey’s “talents” — as it’s been marketed — as it is one that just happens to star the actor. Carrey plays a man who tends to say “no” to everything until he encounters a self-help guru (Terence Stamp) who convinces him to say “yes” to any and every thing for a year. Not surprisingly, this changes his life — in both positive and comedic ways. Great? No, but pleasant enough and surprisingly restrained and well-acted. —Justin Souther