Recent reviews 

Birth
Dir. Jonathan Glazer; writ. Glazer, Milo Addica, Jean-Claude Carriére; feat. Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Anne Heche, Peter Stormare, Ted Levine (R)
Unlike most body-swap tales, Birth isn't played for magical whimsy. Nicole Kidman has just become engaged after an appropriate mourning period for a dead husband. As the news becomes public, she is approached by a young boy who claims to be the dead spouse. It takes quite a while for Kidman and those around her to decide what to think of this claim, and it's certainly not fun and games once a decision is made. Late in the plot, the focus shifts: Glazer is less interested in the supernatural switcheroo than in what this scenario is doing to Kidman's mind. Birth isn't a bad film, it's just not a successful one. It puts pressure on Glazer, who directed the surprisingly good debut Sexy Beast, to prove himself next time around, while giving movie lovers just enough reason to pay attention to the effort. JD

I Huckabees
Dir. David O. Russell; writ. Russell & Jeff Baena; feat. Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Naomi Watts (R)
After I Heart Huckabees, one wonders why philosophy isn't a more common subject for comedy. There are few people more vulnerable to satiric attack than human beings trying to make sense of the universe; there's something endearingly noble about trying to see the big picture, but every attempt is destined for failure. Huckabees is full of competing worldviews, some more coherent than others but all comically flawed. Wandering among them is Albert Markovski, a tree-hugging crusader who writes poetry and organizes anti-sprawl civil disobedience. Intrigued by a series of coincidental meetings with an African immigrant, Albert hires a husband-wife team of "existential detectives" played by Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman. If it flows imperfectly, the movie compensates with brilliant dialogue and a surfeit of on-target ideas. It doesn't take a Ph. D. to find humor in the mysteries of existence, after all. If you can find the right guide, reality is a riot. JD

The Incredibles
Dir. & writ. Brad Bird; feat. (voices) Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Brad Bird, Wallace Shawn, Spencer Fox, Elizabeth Peña, Sarah Vowell (PG)
Mr. I and his wife Elastigirl are superheroes living in a post-hero world with kids who are already exhibiting extraordinary abilities of their own. Some years ago, civilians started filing lawsuits when daring rescues were less than perfect; the government outlawed "supers" and forced them to lead square, anonymous lives. As perceptive moviegoers will guess, the Parr clan gets a reason to don the Spandex once more, although bad guy Syndrome is just a wannabe hero at heart. Meanwhile, writer/director Brad Bird is reveling in the upside down super-world he has created. Once the action and comedy both kick into gear, The Incredibles becomes the Pixar equivalent of the Spy Kids movies: family bonding and empowerment through super-cool adventure. It's just the thing for a country that would dearly love to have old-fashioned, uncomplicated, and pure-hearted heroes to root for again. JD

The Motorcycle Diaries
Dir. Walter Salles; writ. José Rivera, based on the books by Ché Guevara and Alberto Granado; feat. Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mía Maestro, Mercedes Morán, Jean Pierre Noher, Lucas Oro, Marina Glezer, Sofia Bertoletto, Ricardo Díaz Mourelle, Diego Giorzi (R)
In the 35 years since Ernesto Guevara de la Serna's death, his legend continues to grow, fueled by his historical deeds and a romanticism attached to it from afar. Yet, in remembering the Revolutionary Ché, the new man born out of the socialist struggle, we tend to overlook who he was prior to his ride alongside Fidel: a child of the Argentinean elite from upper-middle class origins, the life he most likely would have lived had he not accompanied Alberto Granado, his friend and fellow medical student, on a motorcycle road trip across South America. In the course of their eight-month, 7,200-mile trip Ché awakened to the poverty and inequality endemic to the continent's sister countries, as well as the peoples' strength and determination to survive. The Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles (Central Station), takes us to that point in young Guevara's life, committing to film screenwriter José Rivera's interpretation of Guevara's Notas de Viaje and Granado's Con el Ché por Latinoamerica. AP

Primer
Dir. & writ. Shane Carruth; feat. Carruth, David Sullivan, Carrie Crawford, Ashok Upadhyaya, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhayaya, Brandon Blagg (R)
Carruth has created a low-budget DIY movie about two 30-something engineers who build a low-budget DIY time travel machine that ultimately resides in a rental storage unit. Abe (ably played by Carruth) and Aaron (Sullivan) don't know what to do with their new toy - besides make oodles of money in the stock market, of course - in part because even they can't keep track of the endlessly permutating problems and implications. It's a very dark comedy of the law of unintended consequences, a mesmerizing fusion of Twilight Zone and Kurt Vonnegut. As is often the case with technological advances, the inventor who figures out the science discovers he is a step behind the one who understands how it can be exploited. EW

Red Lights (Feux Rouges)
Dir. Cédric Kahn; writ. Kahn, Laurence Barbosa; feat. Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Carole Bouquet, Vincent Deniard (NR)
As Red Lights opens, Antoine (Darroussin) emails his wife, reminding her to meet him at the bar and proclaiming the giddy love of a first date as they approach vacation and a short road trip to fetch their children from summer camp. Several drinks later, the wife is late and Antoine is a bitter mess. Finally in the car, Antoine baits Helene into bickering æ "You don't treat me like a man," he slurs æ and soon the two are not speaking. As traffic backs up, turns are missed, and visions of neon bar signs dance before Antoine's hallucinating eyes; a Hitchcockian soundtrack builds with the sense of dread. Unfortunately, that suspense is hijacked by interminable driving scenes and Antoine, who is completely unsympathetic as a drunk whiner. Still, the trip almost seems worthwhile when the plot resurfaces and circles back to the redemptive power of love. SDP

Saw
Dir. James Wan; writ. Wan, Leigh Whannel; feat. Whannel, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung (R)
Not unlike the antagonist in Se7en, the serial killer in Saw is a moralist: Each of his victims has somehow fallen into depravity or, worse, apathy. Jigsaw, as the police nickname him, doesn't kill them, he traps them in a grisly puzzle: solving it means choosing life, but that survival instinct may drive them to inadvertently kill themselves or, in some cases, someone else. Adam (Leigh Whannel) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes) wake up chained to pipes in opposite corners of a dank, deserted bathroom. Between them lies a corpse with a gun in one hand, a tape recorder in the other. Their only hope is a couple of hacksaws, and a trail-weary cop (Danny Glover). Saw is an unusual horror film in that it excites more curiosity than heart-pounding screams, which is not to say audiences will be disappointed; this is a suspenseful, well paced psychological thriller, as twisty as it is twisted. SDP

Stage Beauty
Dir. Richard Eyre; writ. Jeffrey Hatcher; feat. Clare Danes, Billy Crudup, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin, Hugh Bonneville, Zoe Tapper (R)
The camera stands backstage as opening credits unroll over a performance of Othello. It is the final scene, and Maria, factotum to the famous Ned Kynaston, watches from the wings, mouthing her master's lines as he performs Desdemona's poignant death. When Ned goes off with genteel groupies, Maria rushes to another theater to perform the role of Desdemona herself. When the King hears of this development, he approves. A variation on A Star Is Born, Stage Beauty portrays Maria's ascendency as the first lady of the English stage through the descent of her mentor, Britain's last great female impersonator. Stage Beauty revels in polymorphous perversity - men playing women playing men playing women, on stage and in bed. But, ultimately, for all its Restoration rakishness, the film is an affirmation of heterosexual normalcy, in which men are men, women are women, and art is limited to showing that. SGK

Films reviewed by:
JD: John DeFore
GG: Gilbert Garcia
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
SDP: Susan Pagani
AP: Alejandro Pérez
LS: Lisa Sorg
EW: Elaine Wolff


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