Opening This Week
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (R) See review here.
Imagine That (PG) Eddie Murphy plays a father whose career is skidding downhill fast until he learns of his daughter’s imaginary world where dreams, even greedy ones like his, can come true. Also stars Thomas Haden Church.
Angels & Demons (PG-13) Tom Hanks — sans his greasy Da Vinci mullet — is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, summoned by Vatican officials to help deal with a potential crisis. In the wake of the death of the Pope, the four cardinals who are the primary candidates to replace him have been kidnapped. Evidence suggests the involvement of the Illuminati — the ancient society of scholars and artists whose pro-science views antagonized the Renaissance-era Catholic Church. And if Langdon can’t follow the clues to the lair of the Illuminati, the Vatican itself could be destroyed by a cylinder of stolen anti-matter. As was true in Da Vinci, Howard simply allows Langdon’s puzzle-solving to carry us from one place to the next, like some life-or-death scavenger hunt. —Scott Renshaw
The Brothers Bloom (PG-13) The brothers Bloom — Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is the elder, and the younger is called simply Bloom (Adrien Brody) — have been pulling cons since they were in grade school. But they’re not about getting rich … or at least, not only about getting rich. Their cons are opulent narratives woven with such great care that those they’re conning never realize they’ve been conned, and indeed end their association with the brothers believing they’ve had the adventure of their lives. Their idea of the perfect con is to tell a story so well that it becomes real. And they’ve been very successful at it. But it’s become routine for Bloom: it’s no longer unconventional, just tiring, and he wants to quit. So Stephen, the mastermind of their cons, promises that this next one will be the last one, and they’ll go out in style. Like every other one-last-con movie we’ve ever seen, you cannot help but go into it expecting that you, the viewer, are going to be conned, too, that red-herring wool will be pulled over your eyes and that you’ll have been tricked in the best way by the end. But there’s a wicked cinematic beauty to writer-director Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom: like the brothers’ cons themselves, you may well never suspect that you’ve been conned. —MaryAnn Johanson
Drag Me to Hell (PG-13) The opening sequence of this hard-to-pin-down horror sort-of comedy features a young boy who’s been afflicted with a gypsy curse getting actually dragged to the actual hell by soul-lusting demons, presumably to suffer for all eternity for a very minor crime. Business is meant here. There’s no fooling around. This is so we know what’s in store for director Sam Raimi’s heroine, mild-mannered bank loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), now that she has been damned by the same curse. Literally damned, it would appear. The longer I have to think about Hell, the more it haunts me, and now I suspect that not only is Raimi (Spider-Man, Evil Dead II) daring to push the mainstream studio horror movie to a new and uncomfortable place, he may even be daring his longtime fans to come along with him. My great fear is that while Raimi’s longtime fans may be pleased, Drag Me to Hell may be too subtle for mainstream audiences, who appear to demand torture porn and more overt moralism than this sly story can offer. —MaryAnn Johanson
Hangover (R) The Hangover is a mystery tale about three guys following up on the few clues they have about a night of debauchery in Las Vegas. Phil (Bradley Cooper), the suave, handsome one, is wearing a hospital bracelet. Stu (Ed Helms), the dorky dentist, is missing a tooth. Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the borderline-retarded one, is missing his pants. There’s a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet. How they retrace their doings of the night before is intriguing in a narrative sense. But this is a comedy — or it’s meant to be — and as much as I would have loved for the sense of the sinister inherent in this concept to turn into something deeply, blackly funny, director Todd Phillips goes for the easy, cheap laughs, things that would shock the juvenile mind-set — a mother breastfeeding, a fat old man — instead of the things that would have unsettled a more mature one. Some are just plain disturbing without being funny: there are multiple intimations, for some reason that’s never clear, that Alan is a pedophile. Why would a doctor examine a patient while three total strangers are in the room? Why is a taser to the testicles “funny”? As if it knows, somewhere deep down, that it’s cheating, the movie has Stu insist, “You can’t just tase people because you think it’s funny,” but the movie does it anyway. —MaryAnn Johanson
Land of the Lost (PG-13) I’ve been puzzling over the existence of the probable target audience for the abomination known as Land of the Lost for several days now. I mean really, who is the demographic? The movie’s too raunchy for younger kids and too stupid for anyone else. The ideal viewer would be, I guess, a five-year-old who still thinks dinosaurs and urine jokes are cool, but realizes they pale in comparison with breasts, gropings, and the prospect of hot Will Ferrell-on-ape-man action. Blessedly, this last never quite comes to fruition onscreen (no, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be spared the obligatory Will-Ferrell-takes-off-his-shirt scene). Though based on the cheesy Sid and Marty Krofft kid’s show from 1974 — and hawked with kid-appealing images of Will Ferrell being chased by a dinosaur — this really isn’t a family-friendly film. At the same time, its story of Ferrell traveling through a time-warp to prove his crackpot theories can hardly be called adult fare. Worse than that, though, is how singularly unfunny most of it is — helped by the sense that Ferrell is even less interested in what’s going on than the audience. That — at least for me — marks a considerable lack of interest. —Ken Hanke
My Life in Ruins (PG-13) The latest from Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, My Life in Ruins, is a steaming pile of stereotypes and sit-comery, a pathetic excuse for a comedy, a romance, and a movie. If you chanced to be accursed enough to have caught even a single episode of the TV spinoff from Wedding, the unimaginatively dubbed My Big Fat Greek Life, then you already have a general idea of what Ruins looks like: it’s the ruined version of what could have been a simple but charming movie. Ruins is populated by supposed adults who behave as if they are moronic children, it’s obvious and banal, its idea of humor is embarrassing, and it’s overseen by the tediously typical misogynistic concept that any woman who’s dissatisfied with her life simply needs to get laid. Because all other problems disappear if you are getting properly fucked on a regular basis. Know this: director Donald Petrie is sort of a Ghost of Bad Romantic Comedies Past — he is responsible for such reprehensibleness as Miss Congeniality and How to Lost a Guy in 10 Days, which may be the most anti-woman, anti-man, anti-human movie ever made. And he has not redeemed himself here. —MaryAnn Johanson
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG) I’d actually held out some slight hope for this one. Those hopes didn’t quite pan out. Others were similarly snookered. Friends of mine attended the screening and lasted up through the point that the movie inflicted CGI cherub versions of the Jonas Brothers singing “More Than a Woman” on us. While I’m sure they felt as edified as I to learn (based on the onscreen evidence) what had previously only been the suspicion that the Jonases are bereft of genitalia, this afforded them sufficient provocation for departing the theater. I envied them. Granting that the sub-Thorne Smith whimsy of the premise of the first movie — that the displays in a museum come to life during the night thanks to a magical doodad — was already pretty thin, the sequel just feels desperate in its attempts to stretch it out further. Amy Adams fills out her aviatrix outfit nicely, but she’s forced to deliver lines that are all written in faux 1920s jazz baby speak — and it’s quickly tiresome. But then everybody gets the one joke treatment — and then gets to repeat that joke endlessly. Hank Azaria as the villain does a credible Boris Karloff impression (ancient Egyptians must sound like Karloff since he was in The Mummy, I guess) and scores a few laughs, but the film mostly confuses shrill and busy with funny. —Ken Hanke
Star Trek (PG-13) J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek has arrived on the scene to stake its claim as the big movie of the summer. It just might win that accolade, too, because it’s a surprisingly pleasing work that doesn’t require being a certified Trekkie (or Trekker, if you must) to enjoy. Of course, it helps that Star Trek is such a part of collective pop culture consciousness that nearly everyone knows the main characters and basic set-up of the original 1960s TV series. The film works because it takes itself seriously without taking itself too seriously. It’s not slated to become one of the “great movies.” It has some significant flaws and missteps, but on its own merits it’s entertaining. The whole origins story idea comes with a set of built-in pitfalls and Star Trek stumbles into a few of them. There’s an inescapable sense of watching kids playing dress-up to the whole thing — a kind of Muppet Babies aura. It’s hard not to imagine these young Trekkers arguing over who gets to play whom, which is echoed by the musical chairs business of who gets to command the ship at various points in the narrative. The business of jamming all the characters into Starfleet Academy at the same time is simply awkward. But it scores most of the time — and shows true genius in bringing Leonard Nimoy in to play Spock — or Spock Prime. Nimoy has just the right gravity to lend the film authenticity and an emotional resonance it would otherwise lack. —Ken Hanke
Terminator Salvation (PG-13) This is one of those post-apocalyptic concoctions where the whole world looks like a rave that went wrong taking place in a disused steel foundry. The color scheme is muddy gray-brown to a point where you wonder why everyone isn’t so eaten up with malaise that they don’t just sit down and forget about the whole thing. This is the movie where Christian Bale was so immersed in his character that he went bananas on a member of the crew? Had he gone after his agent or McG, I could understand that. The story has John Connor (Bale) trying to defeat the evil forces of Skynet that are still out to obliterate humankind for reasons that are only as clear as the explanatory title that the machines perceive humankind as a threat. This guarantees a lot of shooting and explosions. There’s also a new terminator on the block — a half-human model made from executed murderer Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). Clever writing teams Marcus up with Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who, presumably needs to go back in time in order to father John Connor. There are websites devoted to making this make sense. Does anyone really care? —Ken Hanke
Up (PG) Early in Up — the tenth feature from the cinematic quality machine called Pixar — there is a sequence that distills all of the best that the animation powerhouse brings to filmmaking. After a brief prologue introducing us to a pair of simpatico kids named Carl and Ellie in the 1930s, we watch without a word of dialogue as the childhood friends become sweethearts, then follow them through 50 years of married life. This kind of jaw-dropping, tear-jerking brilliance is what we have come to expect as matter-of-fact, everyday stuff from Pixar. In the present day, Carl (Edward Asner) is now a curmudgeonly septuagenarian, living alone in his house while high-rise development goes on around him. Facing the prospect of life in a retirement home, Carl instead sends a massive cascade of balloons through his chimney, launching the house into the air with a plan to head to the remote South American jungle that was a dream adventure destination for Carl and Ellie. There’s also an unexpected hitchhiker: Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young Wilderness Explorer. But nothing matches the magic of that early sequence, and Carl (voiced by Edward Asner) doesn’t prove to be nearly as interesting or engaging a protagonist once he actually starts talking. Even the visuals are satisfying without really offering a wow factor. Director Pete Docter plays the best material he has at the outset, and as a result he faces the blessing — and curse — of being part of the Pixar legacy: He crafts an enjoyable and at times lovely piece of family-friendly filmmaking, and it still ends up feeling a bit disappointing. —Scott Renshaw