By ROBERT DENERSTEIN
Scripps Howard News Service
August 08, 2005
BAD NEWS BEARS (C) Billy Bob Thornton earns some laughs in this somewhat shabby remake of the 1976 original, which starred Walter Matthau. Thornton takes the Matthau role of Morris Buttermaker, a reprobate ex-ballplayer who takes over a youth baseball team. This remake - directed without distinction by Richard Linklater - has nothing more to say than the original, but manages to be much more foul-mouthed in saying it. An excess of profanity makes the movie inappropriate for younger children.
Rated: PG-13. Profanity, adult subject matter.
BATMAN BEGINS (B+) This eagerly awaited addition to the long-running franchise tells us how Bruce Wayne became Batman - and does it with real fire in its belly. Credit director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale with bringing fury and welcome seriousness to a series that often has been played for camp value. Although there's no signature villain (a la The Joker), a team of gifted supporting actors creates a web of villainy. With Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson and Katie Holmes. And yes, Bale makes the most interesting Batman yet.
Rated: PG-13: Violence.
THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (B+) This French import reclaims the urgency and breathless enthusiasm of the movies we tended to love during the 1970s. That's not entirely a surprise because director Jacques Audiard has remade James Toback's 1978 "Fingers." Romain Duris plays a young man torn between music and the rough-and-tumble life in a movie that teeters brilliantly between violence and art.
BEST OF YOUTH (A-) Yes, it's really six hours long, and, yes, it's worth it. Director Marco Tullio Giordana's epic story of two brothers (Luigi Lo Cascio and Alessio Boni) covers nearly 40 years and has the involving heft of a novel. Giordana introduces us to a variety of characters, developing each with a sure hand. When the movie - which deals with both public events and intimate developments - concludes, you can talk about these characters as if you actually know them, which won't be far from the truth.
BEWITCHED (C-) A talented cast struggles with a story in which a washed-up movie actor (Will Ferrell) stars in a remake of the popular '60s sitcom. Eager to dominate, Ferrell's character insists that an unknown play the all-important part of the witch. Enter Nicole Kidman, who portrays a character who just happens to be a real witch. Director Nora Ephron, who wrote the screenplay with her sister Delia, manages a neat trick: "Bewitched" is complex (in structure) but generally vapid - and not particularly funny. A strong supporting cast led by Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine is pretty much wasted.
Rated: PG-13: Brief partial nudity.
BROKEN FLOWERS (A-) Director Jim Jarmusch, who always marches to his own strange drumbeat, has come up with his most entertaining movie yet. Bill Murray plays a retired computer whiz who searches for a 19-year-old son he didn't know he had. Along the way, he visits some of the women with whom he had affairs 19 years ago. A great female cast (Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton) keeps things lively as Murray does his typical deadpan. Don't look for high-impact drama here; Jarmusch is one director who doesn't tie up loose ends: He makes whole movies out of them.
Rated: R: Profanity, adult subject matter.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (B) Tim Burton seems ideally suited to bringing author Roald Dahl's 1964 classic to the screen. Burton takes full advantage of the opportunities for visual invention in the story of a boy (a perfectly cast Freddie Highmore) who wins a contest - along with four other kids - that allows him to visit the fabled chocolate factory of the mysterious Willie Wonka (Johnny Depp). Depp's bizarre performance proves something of a distraction and the movie tends to be a bit repetitive, but it's difficult to dismiss Burton's weird and wonderful display of imagination.
CINDERELLA MAN (B+) Director Ron Howard can't entirely avoid sentiment in this predictable but effective look at the career of James Braddock, who won the heavyweight boxing title in 1935. Braddock's victory against Max Baer amounted to one of the greatest upsets in sports history, which may be why Howard uses Braddock's story as an excuse to spin a tale of perseverance during the darkest days of the Depression. Russell Crowe scores again, bringing decency and a sense of quiet pride to the role of Braddock. Renee Zellweger (as his wife) and Paul Giamatti (as his manager) offer able support.
Rated: PG-13. Tough fight scenes and adult subject matter.
THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (D+) This remake of the popular TV show is precisely what you'd expect: a crass and silly fender bender of a movie that focuses on Bo and Luke Duke (Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville), a 1969 Dodge Charger and Jessica Simpson's cleavage. Burt Ryenolds signs on as the greedy Boss Hogg, helping the movie to aim low. "Dukes" occasionally hits its target, but in this case that hardly seems cause for celebration.
Rated: PG-13: Adult material, alcohol and pot consumption and profanity.
FANTASTIC FOUR (D+) Of all the recent movies derived from comic books, "Fantastic Four" is among the weakest, a juvenile effort that lacks any kind of animating vision. This thoroughly undistinguished blend of "special powers," action and humor focuses on four space travelers (Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans and Jessica Alba) who acquire supernatural powers during a cosmic storm.
GEORGE ROMERO'S LAND OF THE DEAD (B-) George Romero, whose "Night of the Living Dead" sent shock waves through an entire genre in 1968, returns to the screen with another zombie jamboree. We've had a ton of zombie movies, but this is the master speaking and, at 65, Romero seems too eager to regain some blood-soaked terrain. To do so, he brings state-of-the-art gore to a vision rife with class warfare, deep-rooted cynicism and dystopian rot. The zombies rise up and try to storm what's left of society. An ensemble movie with Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo.
Rated: R: Profanity, gore and violence.
GUNNER PALACE (B) This documentary about American GIs in the early days of the Iraq invasion has some of the same ragtag feeling as Robert Altman's great satire "M*A*S*H." Director Michael Tucker follows members of the Army's 2/3 Field Artillery who have been stationed at one of Uday Hussein's palaces. "Gunner Palace" makes for a casual (though frequently intense) film that brings us into the middle of a war zone. Tucker never gets too far away from the GIs, who are functioning more as cops than warriors. A ground-zero report from the chaotic and very dangerous streets of Baghdad.
Rated: PG-13, violence, profanity.
HERBIE: FULLY LOADED (B-) Here's a combination for the ages: teen heartthrob Lindsay Lohan, a feisty '63 VW bug and the world of NASCAR. Put them all together and you've either got a formula for a major headache or "Herbie: Fully Loaded," the latest entry in the family-movie sweepstakes. Actually, the movie isn't as painful as it sounds, with Lohan playing an aspiring racer who saves poor Herbie from the scrapheap and leads him toward a big race with a NASCAR champ (Matt Dillon). Michael Keaton portrays her dad.
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (B-) The great Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away," "Princess Mononoke") offers beautiful and inspired work in a somewhat muddled adaptation of British author Diana Wynne Jones. Released through Disney with English-speaking actors providing the voice work, "Moving Castle" takes place in a universe that seems unbounded by rules, so much so that whole stretches of the movie don't make sense. The story focuses on Sophie, a hatter who's turned into an old woman who becomes a housekeeper for Howl, a wizard.
HUSTLE & FLOW (A-) Although this Memphis-based movie follows a standard "let's-put-on-a-play" arc, it manages to come off as entirely fresh. Credit a terrific performance by Terrence Howard, as a pimp who hopes to resolve his mid-life crisis by becoming a rap star. The rest of the performances are dedicated to reinforcing the movie's theme, a statement about the importance of each character finding a voice of his or her own. Director Craig Brewer captures Memphis at its grittiest, and the movie ultimately shows the kind of heart that beats as loudly as the bass line on one of DJay's tracks.
Rated: R. Sexual material, profanity.
THE ISLAND (C+) This sci-fi movie set in the near future suggests that director Michael Bay is warring with himself. The director of movies such as "Armageddon" and "Bad Boys II" can't seem to resolve a severe case of seasonal schizophrenia. On the one hand, "The Island" tries to be a smart thriller about the perils of human cloning, something we might see in the fall. On the other hand, it's a well-executed but noisy action movie that has summer written all over it. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Joohansson are on the run, escapees from a high-tech facility where they've been told they're part of a small group that survived a major incidence of global contamination.
Rated: PG-13. Violence.
KING OF THE CORNER (B-) This adaptation of "Bad Jews and Other Stories" was scripted by actor Peter Riegert and the book's author, Gerald Shapiro. The stories don't all hang together in Riegert's directorial debut, but he gives a wry and worldly performance as a marketing man dealing with a mid-life crisis and the impending death of his father (Eli Wallach). A late-picture funeral scene is a mini-classic of humor and honesty.
Rated: R. Profanity, adult situations.
LAST DAYS (B) Director Gus Van Sant continues to eschew interpretation in this slow-moving movie about the last days of an iconic rock star modeled on the late Kurt Cobain. Michael Pitt plays the star in an adventurous performance. Pitt holds Van Sant's latest bit of anti-cinema together. The good news: Gone are fatuous explanations, pop psychology and talk-show blather: Van Sant ("Elephant") takes us inside the experience of this rocker's isolated demise. It's courageous filmmaking, but the subject doesn't prove as rewarding as we might hope.
Rated: R: Profanity, nudity, brief gay sex.
MAD HOT BALLROOM (B) This documentary is bound to charm you off your feet as it introduces a variety of New York City school kids learning to ballroom dance in preparation for a citywide competition. Director Marilyn Agrelo concentrates on three schools. We find ourselves rooting for these 10-year-olds - not just to win a dance contest, but to achieve happiness and fulfillment.
MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (B) This documentary about the emperor penguins of Antarctica offers some of the most amazing nature footage ever shot as it chronicles a year in the life of the emperor penguins who march to their mating grounds to give birth to a new generation. Anthropomorphism and some labored sections don't detract much from the overall fascination. Morgan Freeman narrates.
ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (A-) Performance artist Miranda July debuts with a fresh and enchanting feature that deals with a group of suburban characters whose lives intermingle. July, who plays a performance artist in the picture, has come up with a film that's best described in terms of its apparently incompatible qualities: It is gentle, slightly perverse, whimsical, smart, silly and touching, a sometimes confounding and often-intoxicating mixture of characters who catch us entirely off guard. In what may be taken as the central story, a shoe salesman (John Hawkes) and July's character meet. Romance looms.
Rated: R. Profanity, adult subject matter.
MR. & MRS. SMITH (C+) This action-oriented fantasy teams Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a married couple working as assassins. Director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") tries to mix action and romantic comedy. If you can get past the curiosity factor (are Brad and Angelina really an item?) you'll find a movie that's sometimes diverting but ultimately hollow. Pitt and Jolie create some scorching chemistry as they wind up at each other's throats, but the movie offers enough exaggerated violence to drop a herd of elephants.
Rated: PG-13. Violence, profanity and adult situations.
MURDERBALL (B+) The sport of wheelchair rugby, a/k/a "murderball," is not for the faint of heart and neither is this absorbing documentary about the men who play it. Directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dan Adam Shapiro reveal the jock mentality with stunning clarity and also inform us about the lives of the quadriplegics who play this ferociously competitive sport.
Rated: R: Profanity.
MUST LOVE DOGS (C) Here's a romantic comedy that treats originality as if it were a disease. John Cusack and Diane Lane are stuck in a formulaic summer entertainment that refuses to step out of a fantasy world in which love is something painted by sitcom numbers.
Rated: PG-13: Adult material, profanity.
MYSTERIOUS SKIN (B) Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a terrific performance as a boy who's molested by his Little League coach. Gordon-Levitt's character becomes a gay hustler, and his very disturbing story runs parallel to that of another boy (Brady Corbet) who's affected by abuse in a much different way. The movie isn't easy to watch, but reflects a grim, unrelenting intelligence.
Rated: R. Profanity, sexual material.
MY SUMMER OF LOVE (B) The languid rhythms of summer make a perfect backdrop for director Pawel Pawlikowski's strangely absorbing look at two very different girls (Natalie Press and Emily Blunt) who have a summer love affair in the British countryside. Paddy Considine plays Press's brother, a former convict who has turned to religion. A slow-moving but intriguing tale of love and betrayal.
Rated: R: Sexual material, profanity, adult subject matter.
THE NINTH DAY (B) German director Volker Schlondorff builds his movie around a mesmerizing performance by Ulrich Matthes as a priest who's released from a concentration camp in hopes that he'll help persuade Luxembourg's Catholic hierarchy to appear more sympathetic to the Nazis. Schlondorff, best know for such '70s movies as "The Lost Honor of Katarina Blum" and "The Tin Drum," works with a sure hand a deep understanding of a world in which coercion constantly compromises morality.
RIZE (B) Fashion photographer David LaChapelle takes us into the world of "clowning" and "krumping," street dancing born amid the gangs and diminished opportunities of South Central Los Angeles. A captivating look at young people who have found a form of expression that's wholly their own.
Rated: PG-13. Profanity.
ROCK SCHOOL (B) This lively, instructive documentary about kids learning to play rock 'n' roll at a Philadelphia school has been given an "R" rating. It's not for the language of the students but of their teacher, Paul Green, who sometimes bombards his charges with the "F" word. Dan Argott shows us the range of kids who are attracted to the school in a picture that really makes you think (yes, that's a good thing) about what teaching methods work best.
Rated: R. Profanity.
SAINT RALPH (C+) Nearly everything about "Saint Ralph" suggests that the movie wants to be special: funny, endearing and ultimately inspiring. The movie succeeds in flashes, but its mixture of humor and inspirational fluff never quite meshes. Adam Butcher plays a 14-year-old who wants to win the Boston Marathon. He thinks that a victory would provide just the miracle that's needed to revive his mother from what the doctors believe is an irreversible coma. Campbell Scott does nice work as the priest who coaches Ralph, but the movie ultimately surrenders to formula.
Rated: PG-13: Sexual material and profanity.
SARABAND (B+) Director Ingmar Bergman's made-for-TV drama features Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson as a former husband and wife who meet in their twilight years. When Ullmann's character visits Josephson's Johan, the drama exposes the relationship between Johan and his recently widowed son Henrick (Borje Ahlstedt). Bergman seems more scalding than ever, as he quietly offers us the sad, ruinous spectacle of lives drained of hope.
Rated: Profanity, sexual material, brief nudity.
SAVING FACE (B) Director Alice Wu loads her plate to deal with a variety of issues: mother-daughter conflicts, gay-straight tensions and the comforts and oppressive qualities of tradition. Michelle Krusiec plays a gay doctor who winds up living with her mom (Joan Chen), who has become pregnant at age 48. The movie loses some nerve at the end, but Wu proves herself a supple entertainer who's interested in finding ways to incorporate her own experience and observations into a movie that wisely wants to draw us closer to its characters rather than push us away.
Rated: R: Profanity, adult subject matter.
SIN CITY (B) Director Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids") wanders streets that are dark, cruel and brimming with corruption in this lurid adaptation of a series of graphic novels by Frank Miller, who receives a co-directing credit. Rodriguez and Miller approach the material with grotesque exaggeration, pushing its pulp noir tendencies to muscular extremes. A triumphant black-and-white look turns the movie into an amazing hybrid, neither graphic novel nor movie. Mickey Rourke (under a ton of make-up) is brilliant as a brute who tries to avenge a murder. Bruce Willis and Clive Owen take featured roles. The violence is stylized but heavy.
Rated: R. Profanity, violence and sexual material.
SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS (B) A touching and exceptionally well-done adaptation of Ann Brashares' novel about four teenage girls who are linked by lifelong friendship and a pair of pants that magically fits them all. Don't let the contrivance fool you. "Sisterhood," which stars Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera and Blake Lively, deals with real issues and is driven by fine performances by its four young actresses.
SKY HIGH (B) The effects are on the low-rent side, but this story of kids who attend a high school for budding superheroes offers good-spirited fun with a family tilt. Michael Angarano stars as a son who must try to live up to the legacy of two superhero parents (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston). Russell seems to be having a great time playing a square-jawed hero with enough vanity to match his exploits.
STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH (B) When it comes to pure action, the finale of George Lucas' six-picture space opera doesn't disappoint. Moreover, the movie - which chronicles Anakin Skywalker's long-awaited flip to the dark side of The Force - ends with resonance. Lucas creates the feeling that a cycle of good and evil will repeat many times over as republics and empires rise and fall in mythic journeys of ascendancy and collapse. But this edition, like its recent predecessors, is burdened by dull spots, poor acting and dialogue that might not pass muster at a good film school. Still, if you've seen the others, there's no turning back now.
Rated: PG-13. Violence, gore.
STEALTH (C-) Three Navy pilots (Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel and Josh Lucas) fight terrorists and a fully automated plane with a mind of its own in what may well be the most preposterous hunk of big-screen action to come out of Hollywood in some time. Rob Cohen ("The Fast and the Furious") piles on the special effects, but this one so skims the surface you wonder if its makers didn't watch "Top Gun" and decide it was just too deep.
Rated: PG-13: Violence.
WAR OF THE WORLDS (C+) Steven Spielberg provides some eerie sights in this updated adaptation of H.G. Wells' 1898 sci-fi classic about an alien invasion of Earth. The movie begins with the expected intensity, but in telling the bare-bones story of a single father (Tom Cruise) who tries to save his two children (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin), Spielberg doesn't allow for much emotional connection with his characters. The result: A spectacle-heavy orgy of destruction that becomes increasingly less involving as it moves toward its improbable half-smile of an ending. But, hey, Cruise's character does manage to mature over the course of the movie.
Rated: PG-13. Violence.
WEDDING CRASHERS (B-) Not the knock-out that the trailer promises but Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn work well together in this comedy about two guys who pride themselves on being able to pick up women at the weddings they crash. Some laughs, but the movie tends to run short on inspiration and novelty when our heroes find themselves spending a weekend at the home of the U.S. Treasury Secretary (Christopher Walken) after the wedding of his daughter. As it happens, the Secretary has two more daughters (Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher).
Rated: R. Profanity, off-color humor and sexual material.
YES (B) Director Sally Potter pulls off a near miracle with this erotically charged, cross cultural romance. The movie's dialogue is all in verse, yet two extremely capable actors (Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian) manage to downplay the poetry and capture the rhythms of ordinary speech. At the same time, the poetry creates an atmosphere of heightened stakes as Potter explores the ways in which desire initially obliterates differences that eventually must be dealt with.
Rated: R. Sexual material, profanity.
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