Opening this week
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (R) See review here.
88 Minutes (R) Al Pacino plays a forensic psychologist who must figure out the identity of his intended killer — yes, in less than 88 minutes! Also stars Alicia Witt.
The Forbidden Kingdom (PG-13) All you have to know about this movie is that Jet Li fights Jackie Chan. There’s also a story in there somewhere between fight scenes.
Pathology (R) Milo Ventimiglia plays a doctor studying the many ways people die from sickness, etc. Now he’s trapped in a murder scheme. Jinkys!
Note by Note: The Making of the Steinway (NA) Documentary filmmaker Ben Niles follows the making of the classic Steinway piano from tree to key. Pre-show includes live piano music at the Terrace Theatre.
Shine a Light (PG-13) See review here.
21 (PG-13) Alternately rather dull and very silly, Robert Luketic’s 21 is the latest in the seemingly endless procession of fact-based movies where facts aren’t allowed to get in the way of the Hollywoodization of the story. This one’s about some M.I.T. students who took Vegas for a ride by counting cards to win at blackjack. The fact that the source book changed the main character from the Asian Jeffrey Ma into the Anglicized Kevin Lewis perhaps excuses his further transformation from Kevin Lewis into Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess). Whether that also excuses the film’s efforts to increase sympathy by turning him into a poor boy trying to get money to go to Harvard Medical School is another matter. Regardless, the story is barely serviceable and the direction merely adequate. —Ken Hanke
The Bank Job (R) Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job is two-thirds (the first and the last) of a great movie marred by a middling middle third. The big problem is that the film’s mid-section is the heist itself, which is never more than adequate. Even with Jason Statham as a perfect working-class hero, Donaldson can’t keep the requisite atmosphere going. —Ken Hanke
Drillbit Taylor (PG-13) This latest offering from the Judd Apatow factory is nothing but a PG-13 knock-off of Superbad with three high school freshmen desperate for a bodyguard to protect them from a psychotic bully instead of three high school seniors desperate to get laid before school’s over. The other major difference is that a star — Owen Wilson — has been added to the mix. If the gears are showing in the overrated Apatow approach, so is the auto-pilot coming through loud and clear in Wilson’s performance. —Ken Hanke
Horton Hears a Who (G) This latest outburst of Seussian cinema is a reasonably faithful version of the book about an elephant, Horton (Jim Carrey), finding himself the savior of a speck of dust that just happens to contain the miscroscopic world of Whoville. The problem is that it’s too slight for a feature and the padding required to flesh it out is rarely inspired and all too often leans on snarky post-modern pop culture references. —Ken Hanke
In Bruges (R) Imagine if Laurel and Hardy were Irish hitmen caught in a web of existential angst. That’s what In Bruges is: intellectual slapstick, a ticklish combination of comic torment, a brutal grasping of life’s fickleness, and sheer bloody violence that’s like a shout in the dark. It makes you laugh, however shallowly, because what else can you do? It makes no goddamn sense at all. This is not an uplifting movie. Just so’s you know. Don’t expect kittens and balloons. —MaryAnn Johanson
Leatherheads (PG-13) While not 100 percent successful, George Clooney’s attempt at recreating the world of the screwball comedies of the 1930s and ’40s is a constantly amusing and pleasant two hours of entertainment that occasionally erupts into genuine hilarity. Clooney stars as Dodge Connelly, a 45-year-old pro-football player in 1925. When his rag-tag team runs out of teams to play and the money to play with, he hits on the idea of recruiting the hottest college player in the country, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski). Not only is Rutherford the biggest name in college football, but he’s a war hero in the bargain. There’s only one catch — ace Chicago reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) has been sent by her paper to dig up the dirt on Rutherford’s heroism and discredit him. It all neatly follows the formula of the screwball comedy, even if it sometimes misses the manic intensity it aims for. —Ken Hanke
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (PG-13) Miss Pettigrew is played by the goddess-like Frances McDormand, who refuses to make the at-first frumpy, seemingly stodgy Pettigrew into a caricature, as tempting as that may have been, and even as funny as that may have been. The same goes for Amy Adams, who plays a performer on the London stage in 1939. She’s supremely confident in a way that’s not overburdened with the weight of other people’s expectations. It’s a breezy kind of poise the likes of which is far more reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 1930s and ’40s than it is of any depiction of women in popular films now. For all the roller coaster emotions — I was in tears by the end, and they were tears of both happiness and sadness — Miss Pettigrew does not hit a single wrong note. This could not be a more perfect movie. —MaryAnn Johanson
Never Back Down (PG-13) The story of the new kid at school (Sean Faris) who finds himself in the world of underground martial arts and must learn to fight for what he believes in. Aimed squarely at the most undemanding of teen audiences, this film is a cheesy, melodramatic look at rich kids and martial arts. It’s that perfect mix of accidental ineptitude and all-around stupidity that makes it somewhat engaging on a “What were they thinking?” level. —Justin Souther
Nim’s Island (PG) It’s the story of a young girl who asks her favorite adventure novel character to come help her save the island she lives on, not realizing she’s actually asking the reclusive creator for aid. Nim’s Island is a poorly paced, anti-climactic family film full of shoddy direction and loose ends. It will be fine for the younger set, but it’s lacking for adults. With a screenplay by a whopping four screenwriters (and then directed by two of them) with credits like Wimbledon and one episode of Growing Pains, the movie is a case of not just too many fingers in the pie, but too many fingers that belong to people who really have no reason making a pie in the first place. —Justin Souther
Prom Night (PG-13) They say it’s not a remake of the 1980 opus. Well, it has a psychotic killer offing meat-on-the-hoof teens at a high school prom, but the storyline is different — like that matters to its teen demographic. They’re primarily there for the splatter of bright red Karo syrup blood — and the off-chance of airborn viscera. But since this is PG-13, the aerodynamic properties of intestines are not explored and there’s very little blood. The results are about on par with having sex through a blanket. It’s just a lot of low-wattage slashing, silly scripting (kids do the darndest things to get themselves killed) and police ineptitude as mad killer Johnathon Schaech pursues the object of his obsession, Brittany Snow, to a predictable conclusion. —Ken Hanke
The Ruins (R) If you don’t know the book on which this horror flick is based, you likely won’t know from the film’s trailer (which downplays the nature of the movie’s monster) that what we have here is a king-size man-eating vine. That’s right, folks, it’s the return of the giant vegetable fear film. It’s Little House of Horrors minus catchy tunes. Well, in all fairness the flowers on this kudzu of Satan do vibrate and make noises various and sundry that often sound a lot like the little singing Japanese girls in the Mothra movies in need of a lyricist. This nonsense involving hapless tourists being held captive by Mexican Indians atop a Mayan temple until Lucifer’s wisteria eats them might have been campy fun. Unfortunately, The Ruins takes itself very seriously, an attitude that manifests itself by loading the movie down with images — amputations, operations, self-mutilations — that aren’t so much scary as merely unpleasant. —Ken Hanke
Shutter (PG-13) It’s the standard Hollywood bout of turning an Asian horror picture into a PG-13 spook-fest for teenagers — and, as usual, filling it with blandly uninteresting refugees from teen-centric TV shows in search of a movie career. In this round, we have yet another vengeance-driven ghost making herself a pain in the neck (literally, in fact) to those concerned. The spirit in question announces her presence via her penchant for ruining photographic emulsion (think of it as ghost grafitti), which is more annoying than scary. The same is true of the film — even if it is the only movie I can think of with a ghost that goes around on piggy-back. —Ken Hanke
Smart People (R) Read a full-length review here | Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is an archetypal movie academic, a middle-aged sadsack in a corduroy blazer with a soft, sagging middle who harbors a profound disdain for the students he teaches. His meetings with fellow academics resemble a quorum of undertakers more than anything: a group of pasty, joyless scolds who rail about “the subjugation of women” and seethe with professional jealousy. But there is no spark of life to these scenes in the Academy; nothing to suggest these are real people with real problems. Intelligence is a liability in Smart People, because it keeps these people locked in their heads unable to experience joy. Screenwriter Mark Poirier overcooks his story with a tendency to throw in every plot twist and bit of slapstick he can get his hands on, turning the proceedings into a gooey mess. —Felicia Feaster
Street Kings (R) Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is bad news; we know this in the first minute of Street Kings, because he wakes up and grabs his gun before he even takes a piss. Ludlow hates himself; we know this in the second minute, because he stares at his own haggard face forlornly in the bathroom mirror. Ludlow is a drunk; we know this in the third minute, because he promptly hurls into the toilet and sits down at a desk adorned with enough empty beer bottles to make a full chess set. Give Street Kings just a few minutes more, and you’ll know pretty much everything else there is to know about rule-breaking Los Angeles vice detective Tom Ludlow — because this is a movie that assumes everyone who’s watching is a complete moron. —Scott Renshaw
Stop-Loss (R) If Vietnam has taught us anything, it’s to respect the men and women who fight, even if wars grow unpopular. But art is rarely crafted from caution. Stop-Loss doesn’t join the ranks of films like Full Metal Jacket or The Best Years of Our Lives made by directors less chastened by ugly red-and-blue divides. Instead, it’s a film of conciliation that strives to unite its audience in the unquestionable mission of supporting our troops. In that sense, it reflects fairly accurately the neurosis of our times. A kind of Coming Home for the YouTube set, Stop-Loss is defined by the technology-obsessed generation fighting in Iraq. It’s war filtered through Toby Keith songs and crafted into home movies full of explosions and tributes to fallen soldiers. Director Kimberly Peirce even pays homage several times throughout the film to the kind of videos shot on portable movie cameras and remixed on laptops that show war through the soldiers’ eyes. She emphasizes a point of view from the beginning that feels suspiciously like a court-the-middle agenda different from more divisive Iraq War films like Lions for Lambs or Redacted. —Felicia Feaster