Opening This Week
Good Luck Chuck (R) Poor Dane Cook. MySpace turned the Boston comedian into a bona fide stand-up superstar, but a million-plus fans have failed to turn Cook into a box office champ. Word has it that this film, in which he plays the guy who girls date just before meeting Mr. Right, won’t do the trick either. The vacant-eyed but gorgeous Jessica Alba co-stars.
Resident Evil: Extinction (R) Milla Jovovich returns for the third — and hopefully final — outing of the video game-turned-brain-dead-zombie movie series. Instead of the dreadfully named Raccoon City, this one takes place in sandy Las Vegas. Unfortunately, not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Sydney White (PG-13) It’s the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for the High School Musical set in Amanda Bynes’ latest about a pretty tomboy who shacks up with a pack of dorks, romances a prince frat boy and battles an evil sorority sister. Lessons will be learned. Pratfalls will be made. Tweens will be charmed. Adults will be bored.
3:10 to Yuma (R) If James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma can’t generate life into that most moribund of genres, the western film, then it’s probably time to consign the idea of westerns to Boot Hill and be done with it. The film is a remake of a more-or-less assembly-line 1957 film of the same title — and one of the rare occasions where the remake is much better than the original. Deeper and darker than the 1957 original, Mangold’s film still follows the basic outline of a poor rancher (Christian Bale) who agrees to help escort a local badman (a charismatic Russell Crowe) to the titular train that will take him to prison. The problem is that the prisoner’s gang has a different idea. Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is that it’s a revisionist western that manages to feel traditional — up until the ending. Tense, thought-provoking, well-acted, and exciting. —Ken Hanke
Becoming Jane (PG) Even though Becoming Jane is almost entirely invented, it captures both the aching romanticism and the cold, hard practicalities of Austen’s fiction. And in a way, it even does Austen one better: it’s laden with all of the angst and heartbreak and tears we’ve come to expect from a Sense & Sensibility or a Pride & Prejudice, but because it is adhering to the spirit of Austen’s life — she never married, never enjoyed any kind of long-term romantic entanglements that posterity is aware of — it doesn’t indulge in a happy ending. The movie works far better as a “fictional biography” — an enrapturing, spirited one with the foreknowledge of her bittersweet yet independent, unmarried life — than it does as a silly sitcom that hangs on the fulfillment of romantic dreams. —MaryAnn Johanson
The Brave One (R) The always interesting Neil Jordan brings us this dark, complex, deeply disturbing film starring Jodie Foster as an NPR radio host who turns vigilante when her fiance (Naveen Andrews) is killed by a gang of thugs in Central Park. The story is more than a little like Michael Winner’s Death Wish with Foster in the old Charles Bronson role, but the film itself is closer in spirit to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs — and just as uncomfortable. This is no pro-vigilante screed, but a sober, somber look at the darkness of the soul of an otherwise decent person who gives in to vengeance and violence — and in so doing makes us look at ourselves. It’s powerful stuff, but not exactly pleasant. —Ken Hanke
The Brothers Solomon (R) The story of two socially inept brothers — Will Arnett and Will Forte — who attempt to become fathers in order to pull their father out of a coma, The Brothers Solomon is a dire attempt at being quirky and irreverent, which ends up just being a pointless, unfunny attempt at comedy. The movie tries to be of the “lovable loser” variety, the only problem being that these two imbecilic brothers aren’t even what you’d call tolerable, let alone lovable. —Justin Souther
Dragon Wars (PG-13) The Korean-made story of a giant, evil serpent that attacks L.A. in order to eat a woman so that he will be able to evolve into an all-powerful dragon, Dragon Wars is not a good movie by any means, but it is an entertainingly preposterous one. An unmitigated, completely un-ironic cheese-a-thon, the film is a perfect storm of Ed Wood “suspension of disbelief” peculiarity and Michael Bay “I never met an inanimate object I didn’t want to see explode” bombast. It is silly and absurd — and best of all — fun, in a “who thought this was a good idea?” kind of way. What other movie has such edge-of-your-seat action as a car chase involving a giant snake and a Geo Metro? —Justin Souther
Eastern Promises (R) Movies about gangsters: You expect a lot of noise. Shouting and screaming. Barrages of gunfire. Not here. Here we have somber reflection, the lurking gray peril of an urban underbelly, shifting shifty glances and unspoken threats. Eastern Promises is almost silent — even its title sounds like a shush. Terror swells inexorably and unavoidably, like the ebb and flow of the Thames River along the banks of which much of this story, with its tidal unease, takes place. And the slow creeping gloom of it lingers like a chill you can’t shake. Viggo Mortensen’s second pairing with director David Cronenberg is even more powerfully, magnificently disturbing than their first joint effort, 2005’s A History of Violence. His performance and the gradations of uncertainty that he gives to Nikolai are part of what makes this one of the best movies ever about life in the mafia. —MaryAnn Johanson
Mr. Woodcock (R) Mr. Woodcock is a film in which the laughs never stop only because they never started in the first place. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I laughed so little. Aimed squarely at viewers likely to emit a Beavis and Butthead chortle upon reading the title, this pits nasty gym teacher Billy Bob Thornton against a former terrorized student (Seann William Scott), who reasonably objects to Billy Bob marrying his mother (Susan Sarandon). The concept is that much humor can be mined from watching a grown man humiliate, browbeat, belittle, and even physically abuse the adolescents under his care. If the prospect of an asthmatic kid being made to run laps as punishment for wheezing strikes you as comedy at its finest, you’ll adore this movie. —Ken Hanke
The Nanny Diaries (PG-13) No, it’s not in the same league as Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s last film, American Splendor, but it seems unlikely this pleasant, but largely unremarkable, romantic comedy ever had such lofty goals. The story of Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) taking a job as a nanny for a snobbish Upper East Side couple, Mr. and Mrs. X (Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti), isn’t a lot more than a light-weight variant on The Devil Wears Prada. Directorially, it’s a little more stylish, but it’s also a good deal less funny. It’s never more than a fairly pleasant entertainment, but neither is it ever anything less. —Ken Hanke
Shoot ‘Em Up (R) In Shoot ’em Up, a dour gentleman named Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) sits on a bench eating a carrot when a pregnant woman being chased by a man flashes past. When Smith sees her pursuer take out a gun, he grudgingly decides to take a hand. Very soon he has disposed of the would-be killer, ended up in a full-scale gun battle, delivered the baby, and attempted to get mother and son to safety. He fails as far as the mother is concerned and finds himself saddled with a hungry infant and a clearly psychotic hitman (Paul Giamatti) and his seemingly endless supply of henchmen in pursuit. This is the first five minutes — and writer-diector Michael Davis manages to keep things at that speed for most of the movie. It’s preposterous, violent, bloody, and it recognizes the existence of no societal taboo. It is perhaps the most refreshingly creative explosion of pure bad taste to come our way in far too long. —Ken Hanke
Stardust (PG-13) In a prologue narrated by Ian McKellen in his most resonant Gandalf-ian tones, we learn of a magical world called Stormhold that exists in the middle of England, separated from our reality only by a stone wall. One young man managed to sneak through for a small adventure 150 years ago, only to have the infant result of that small adventure dropped on his doorstep nine months later. Flash forward 18 years, and Tristan (Charlie Cox) — that baby all grown up — is a restless lad pining for a seemingly inaccessible girl (Sienna Miller). Tristan’s search for his family history and accompanying romantic rendezvous are familiar enough stuff, but director Matthew Vaughn’s choices make everything feel even more like a mash-up of other movies, stories, and even amusement park rides. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it’s something sewn together from spare parts — but without that spark of lightning that would bring it to life. —Scott Renshaw
Superbad (R) There is a thin line between smart juvenilia and stuff that’s just plain silly — and Superbad keeps weaving back and forth across that line like Lindsay Lohan at a traffic stop. Produced by Judd Apatow (of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up fame), it marks the first script by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up star) and Evan Goldberg (Rogen’s childhood friend from Vancouver). So it’s not hard to see a bit of autobiography — or at least wish-fulfillment — in the story of high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development‘s Michael Cera). Soon to be attending separate colleges, the two best friends are looking for one last hurrah by supplying alcohol to an end-of-year party hosted by one of their school’s cool girls. Thus begins an odyssey that plays like a cross-breeding of all-night travelogue, end-of-school reminiscence, and cherry-popping quest. —Scott Renshaw