Opening this Week
Black Book (R)
Hostel: Part II (R) While studying art in Rome for the summer, three young American women are lured away to a Slovakian hostel by a model from their class. Soon they will experience the grim reality their weekend getaway has in store.
Ocean’s Thirteen (PG-13) Danny Ocean (George Clooney) circles up the boys for a third heist after casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses one of the original eleven, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould).
Surf’s Up (PG) A behind-the-scenes look at the annual Penguin World Surfing Championship.
28 Weeks Later (R) Chilling, exciting, and pointed — and not for the squeamish — Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s reprise isn’t as fresh as Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and it lacks the personalized climax that raised the original to horror classic status. That aside, 28 Weeks Later is a very good picture that occasionally flirts with greatness, easily the best horror movie in years. It’s splattery horror that has brains as well as flying viscera. Fresnadillo has turned this tale of U.S. troops rebuilding London — hampered by a new outbreak of the rage virus — into a pitch-black political allegory of current events, but one which wisely doesn’t skimp on the zombie thrills. —Ken Hanke
Away from Her (PG-13) At the heart of Sarah Polley’s impressive directorial debut, Away from Her, is that luminous iconic figure of the 1960s Julie Christie. Christie -— who has a face and a look that is as quintessentially a part of that world as the Beatles. That makes Away from Her especially poignant for those of us who remember that era. Watching her character fade and flicker as Alzheimer’s overtakes her is like watching the era itself pass from memory -— with moments of extreme clarity refusing to disappear in the dying light. At bottom, it’s a simple story about a couple — Christie and Gordon Pinsent — coping with Alzheimer’s, but it’s ultimately much more. —Ken Hanke
Blades of Glory (R) Have you seen Anchorman? How about Talladega Nights? Then you’ve seen Blades of Glory. Will Ferrell and Jon Heder star as rival figure skaters who are banned for life from the sport, only to find a loophole which will allow them to compete as a pair. Ferrell does his patented “Hey, look at me, I’m funny” shtick, and Heder seems to be forever trapped in his Napoleon Dynamite persona. There are a handful of amusing gags, but little that will stay with you once you leave the theatre. —Justin Souther
The Condemned (R) Easily the best of the WWE movies to date, though that’s saying astonishingly little. Pro wrestler Steve “Stone Cold” Austin stars in this actioner from World Wrestling Entertainment Films. The film follows a group of convicts forced to fight to the death so their exploits can be broadcast over the internet. No prizes for guessing the outcome, though your jaw may drop when things stop dead for some preaching about the evils of violence — only to dredge up 20 more minutes of that evil as entertainment. Austin doesn’t embarrass himself, but is wisely never called upon to do more than look grim. Brit character actor Vinnie Jones, on the other hand, has charisma to spare, and again proves that he should be making better movies than this. —Justin Souther
Delta Farce (PG-13) For filmgoers who complain about movies where they’re required to think, we have Delta Farce, a movie for which absolutely no thought is necessary. This witless service comedy may be even worse than the last Larry the Cable Guy pooped out by Hollywood, not in the least because Mr. Cable Guy is here joined by the equally execrable Bill Ingvall and DJ Qualls. The trio are army reservists on their way to Iraq, who fall out of a plane and accidentally invade Mexico. (Why a plane flying from Georgia to Iraq is over Mexico in the first place is, ironically, worth thinking about.) It’s merely an excuse for a variety of racist and flatulence jokes, with time out for lots of homophobic panic. It would be offensive if it weren’t so utterly inconsequential. —Ken Hanke
Disturbia (PG-13) If nothing else D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia serves as an object lesson: if you set your goals low enough, you stand a fair chance of reaching them. Assuming that reasonably competent mediocrity was the goal here, Caruso and company have succeeded wildly. There are absolutely no surprises in Disturbia. It is exactly as advertised: a teen-centric variation on Rear Window with a hero under house arrest, a goofy best friend, a girlfriend, a disbelieving mom, unsympathetic cops, and a guy next door who’s a serial killer. It ultimately turns into a Freddy Krueger-lite affair. Fairly efficient at what it does, but nothing exciting. —Ken Hanke
Fracture (PG-13) Essentially a cat and mouse game a la Silence of the Lambs between stars Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. Wealthy Ted Crawford (Hopkins) has discovered that wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) is unfaithful. So he shoots her (though only enough to put her in a coma), hands over the weapon, confesses to the crime -— and then proceeds to prove how he couldn’t have done it, making a monkey out of hotshot assistant D.A. Willy Beachum (Gosling). It’s entertaining, but it’s also just Hopkins in one of his super intellect roles pitting his giant brain against a seemingly lesser adversary. Gosling even sports a Clarice Starling accent. —Ken Hanke
Georgia Rule (R) Georgia Rule isn’t a bad movie. It’s several bad movies with a good movie trying to get out. There are three good performances from stars Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, and Felicity Huffman, and solid direction from uber-professional Garry Marshall. But then there’s this truly weird script from Mark Andrus, who starts with a simple Lifetime movie premise -— rebellious teen (Lohan) sent by distraught mom (Huffman) to spend the summer with no-nonsense grandma (Fonda) in hopes of straightening her out -— and then complicates it with child molestation, alcoholism, parenting issues, and a bad case of fetishistic small-town worship. What could have been agreeable soap sinks under the weight of the attempts at importance. —Ken Hanke
Gracie (PG-13) Set in the 1970s, Gracie is based on actress Elisabeth Shue’s teenage years, and directed by her husband, Davis Guggenheim, who also co-wrote the film’s story with Shue’s brother, Andrew, who, in addition, has a supporting role in the film. Being a family affair is all fine and dandy, but it gets bizarre when you find Elisabeth playing her own character’s mother, which then enters the realm of self-congratulatory peculiarity when she, as her mom, praises her onscreen daughter (in reality herself) for how courageous she is. In every other capacity this is just uplifting sports movie 101 — only focused on soccer. You can fill in the rest, and probably already have. —Justin Souther
The Host (R) What’s most impressive about Bong Joon-ho’s terrific Korean import The Host is how effectively Bong both subverts expectations and plays right into them. The creature’s early appearance tells us that it’s not all about parceling out thrills until we finally get a big confrontation. Yet Bong is also earnestly deliberate about setting up character flaws that must ultimately be overcome. You simply don’t often find movies that manipulate the audience so well, and in so many different ways. The Host isn’t just smart, it isn’t just satirical, it isn’t just emotional, and it isn’t just funny. It’s all of that, plus the bitchin’-cool vision of a giant mutant tadpole stampeding through screaming picnickers.
Hot Fuzz (R) From the wildly witty guys who wrote 2004’s Shaun of the Dead — writer-star Simon Pegg and writer-director Edgar Wright — comes Hott Fuzz, and not a moment too soon. There was a palpable sense with Shaun that Pegg and Wright had, in their first feature film, instantly established a signature style, and Fuzz confirms that. It’s its own unique creature — a sendup of buddy cop movies, with no supernatural elements whatsoever — but it’s just as visually lively, just as crammed full of clever and literate wordplay, just as screamingly hilarious as Shaun of the Dead was. —MaryAnn Johanson
In the Land of Women (PG-13) Another Kasdan kid tries his hand at filmmaking. This time it’s Jonathan, with a fairly serious comedy-drama that wants to be Garden State and In Her Shoes, too — and a bit like dad’s Big Chill while it’s at it. (A sub-Big Chill soundtrack doesn’t help it.) Unfortunately, this story of a young man (Adam Brody) nursing a broken heart by going to Michigan to care for his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) isn’t any of those films, and its Lifetime-style drama about his involvement with the dysfunctional family across the street doesn’t change that. Nice to look at, and stars Brody, Dukakis, Kristen Stewart, and Meg Ryan handle it well, but it’d play better on cable. —Ken Hanke
Knocked Up (R) Genuinely brilliant comedy is a rare and precious thing. Such miracles of gut-busting humor come along infrequently enough that you have to ask yourself: When you’re doubled over and gasping for breath at the jokes in a movie like writer/director Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, does it matter that it’s based on a relationship you don’t buy for a second? Apatow isn’t content with sticking his awkwardly mismatched pair together for what they perceive is the good of their unborn child. Instead, he has Ben and Alison turn into an adorably-in-love couple practically from the moment they buy What to Expect When You’re Expecting together. They fall for each other — not just Ben for the obviously hotter-than-he-deserves Alison, but mutually — for no remotely plausible reason other than simply because Apatow’s script says so. But Apatow’s script says so many other things so hilariously that I didn’t really care. —Scott Renshaw
Mr. Brooks (R) Bruce A. Evans’ Mr. Brooks is about one half of something close to a great film that spirals out of control to become a wildly enjoyable compendium of the utterly preposterous, topped off with a rancid maraschino cherry’s worth of unsatisfying, sub-De Palma shock coda. The premise is terrific and terrifically developed with Kevin Costner as the upright Mr. Brooks and William Hurt as his imaginary friend/alter ego Marshall — the guy who inconveniently eggs Brooks on to be a serial killer. All this and more is done with chilling precision and a wicked sense of humor. Then the movie starts tripping itself up on increasingly preposterous complications. It remains entertaining throughout, but it becomes too silly to take seriously. —Ken Hanke
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (PG-13) Nearly 45 minutes into Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) still hasn’t shown his face on screen. But because screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and director Gore Verbinski can basically do whatever they want with the franchise at this point, they attempt to make up for this inexplicable oversight in a way that ultimately summarizes everything that’s wrong with the movie: They populate the scene in which Sparrow finally does appear with approximately two dozen hallucinatory duplicates of him. Because if one Capt. Jack Sparrow is good, then a score of him must be 20 times better, right? None of the previous films could exactly be called textbook examples of streamlined storytelling, but at least they were buoyed by an understanding of where the focus needed to be. At World’s End back-loads all the action into a climactic sea battle between the Black Pearl and Davy Jones’ Flying Dutchman on the rim of a swirling vortex, and by that point the film seems so desperate to leave viewers energized that it practically pummels them insensible. No one seemed able to tell Verbinski and company when to stop puffing the film full of grandeur — or that 20 Johnny Depps in one scene isn’t the same as one Johnny Depp used correctly. —Scott Renshaw
Shrek the Third (PG) Just as Sam Raimi’s genius with his first two Spidey outings ruined us for Spider-Man 3, Shrek and Shrek 2 ruined us for Shrek the Third. We’re primed, now, for the tweaking of fairy tales and the post-ironic spin on myths and mythmaking. We’ve seen it. We’ve been around the park twice, bought the T-shirt and the Shrek ears, sent a postcard home. Now we’re bored. What else ya got? More of the same? Yawn. The first two Shrek iterations breathed so naturally on so many levels, and Third exists on only one. Unlike its predecessors, it’s never anything more than a passing fancy. —MaryAnn Johanson
Spider-Man 3 (PG-13) Had Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 not raised the bar so high, it’s likely that Sam Raimi’s third effort might have felt like something … more. Unfortunately, it makes the sequel mistakes the second installment refused to make, and ends up straying from the stuff that made its predecessors soar. The plot’s overloaded with conflicts and villains and bloated with action where the earlier films wisely focused on Peter Parker’s heart and soul as much as Spidey’s superpowers. The problems of two people may not amount to a hill of beans, but they’re what made us fall in love with Peter and Mary Jane — not CGI wizardry that creates a guy who breaks apart into chunks. In the wake of two near-masterpieces in their genre, mere satisfying summer entertainment somehow seems like a huge disappointment. —Scott Renshaw
Vacancy (PG-13) To hell with marriage counseling. According to director Nimrod Antal and screenwriter Mark L. Smith, nothing will fix a failed marriage faster than trapping the battling couple in a Roach Motel (“couples check in but they don’t check out”) where they’re slated to star in a snuff movie. Apart from paying for otherwise decent actors Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, the costs here had to be virtually nonexistent. Less gory and, thankfully, less inclined toward torture porn than so much modern “horror,” Vacancy is fairly effective at what it does. The problem is it doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before. —Ken Hanke
Waitress (PG-13) A comedy about professionally unethical behavior, spousal abuse, adultery, and stalking that is warmly bittersweet, genuinely funny, and sincerely heartfelt. For all that Waitress is indie-quirky and whipsmart droll, there’s nothing glib about it. It has a feeling of … I don’t want to say secret insight about the experience of being a woman, but there we are again: the experience of half the human race is so often seemingly shrouded in the cryptic and the arcane because it is so often simply not within the purview of the male-type people who make the vast majority of movies. I don’t know how director Adrienne Shelly got around that, but it’s what makes Waitress so refreshingly different. If Waitress is a feminist film — and it is; oh, it is — it’s not because it is loud but because it is quiet, because it is about the suffering silently and not about the breaking free. Until, of course, the moment that is about breaking free. —Maryann Johanson