Recent reviews 

After the Sunset
Dir. Brett Ratner; writ. Paul Zbyszewski, Craig Rosenberg; feat. Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Don Cheadle, Obbar Babatundé (R)
After the Sunset's cast ought to guarantee something, but the film's story is about as fresh as they come from Hollywood these days Brosnan's reluctant criminal is trying to get out of the "business" when he takes on one last job that will make him feel complete, aided by his accomplice girlfriend (Hayak), and chased by an agent (Harrelson) that has never been able to catch him. The humor is unevolved and forced and the timing is even worse. The dramatic scenes are continuously walloped over the head by the comedic scenes and visa-versa with no discernable segues in between, making the film feel very disjointed at its core. JMO

Alfie
Dir. Charles Shyer; writ. Shyer, Elaine Pope; feat. Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Susan Sarandon, Omar Epps (R)
So, Alfie, what is it all about? Given the number of times that Burt Bacharach-penned question has been repeated since 1966 (as the title song to the original Alfie), you might think filmmakers Charles Shyer and Elaine Pope would feel obliged to answer it in this remake. They don't. But the more disappointing news is that they don't make the question itself interesting. That is to say, who really cares about the day-late, dollar-short soul searching of a cad whose life revolves around Gucci suits and casual sex? In keeping with its swell-looking star, the movie is photographed beautifully, but sadly it shares another characteristic with its protagonist: Though it looks great and sounds smooth, it is mostly soulless. JD

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

Enduring Love
Dir. Roger Michell; writ. Joe Penhall, based on the novel by Ian McEwan; feat. Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans (R)
Enduring Love begins with beguiling images of a glorious day in the country. In a vast, verdant meadow, Joe (Craig) and Claire (Morton) spread a picnic blanket, but their romantic idyll is shattered by the abrupt appearance of a hot-air balloon racing out of control carrying a young passenger with it. Joe rushes to save him, as do several others who happen to be nearby. One eventually plummets to his death, though the boy all had tried to save manages to float down to safety. Joe is haunted by the possibility that, by letting go of the rope and enabling the balloon to ascend higher, he was responsible for another's death. He is also pursued by one of the other failed rescuers, a religious fanatic named Jed. Enduring Love is an interrogation not only of whether love endures but even of whether it exists as anything but a biological urge. SGK

I Am David
Dir. & writ. Paul Feig, based on a novel by Anne Holm; feat. Ben Tibber, Joan Plowright, Jim Caviezel (PG)
A boy needs more than a compass, a pocket knife, a bar of soap, and a loaf of bread to make it alone on foot from Bulgaria to Denmark, but 12-year-old David has luck and pluck and very little choice. He has lived most of his life in a forced labor camp, and escape is the only alternative to probable death. "I don't even know who I am," says David at the outset of his journey. In his final words, "I am David," lie the wisdom of self-discovery. He never truly escapes from Belene until he learns to accept the virtues in himself and others. The film creates considerable tension at every stage along the way but the viewer is never required to share the boy's fundamental uncertainties. What marks this as "young adult" material is its facile dichotomy of "good" and "bad" and its compulsion to reassure vulnerable viewers that everything in its dreadful universe ultimately works out for the best. SGK

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

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

Sideways
Dir. Alexander Payne; writ. Payne, Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett; feat. Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht (R)
There are road movies and buddy movies, and buddy-road movies, and midlife crisis road-buddy movies - and then there are movies that cover all this familiar ground but rise above it. Sideways is one, and it's easily one of the year's finest releases, as delicate yet robust as the wines its characters obsess over. Giamatti and Church play old college buddies who take a week off before the latter's wedding. Their idea is to tour wineries and play some golf, but the men wind up indulging their worst tendencies and endangering the blessed event that occasions their vacation. Payne surrounds the pair with the breezy colors and the sounds of a middlebrow Northern California. The light is diffuse and overbright, the jazz soundtrack is blandly Brubeckish. It's not serious or even necessarily pleasing, but it fits, setting the mood for a week-long trip that lets some emotions run their course, invites new ones to bubble up, and leaves everyone a little wiser than they were earlier in the month. JD

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
Dir. Sherm Cohen, Stephen Hillenburg; writ. Hillenburg, et al; feat. Tom Kenny, Bill Bagerbakke, Jeffrey Tambor, Rodger Bumpass, Alec Baldwin, Scarlett Johansson, David Hasselhoff (PG)
"Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?" The innocently goofy star of Nickelodeon's popular cartoon has his own movie and the giddiness makes the transition without breaking a sweat. Little S.B. has his heart set on being made manager of a new diner, but he isn't; an evil little piece of Plankton frames the owner of said diner for a crime, getting him in deep trouble with King Neptune; SpongeBob and Patrick Star have to go on a dangerous mission to retrieve Neptune's crown, or else Plankton will rule the fast-food world and even (cue Lord of the Rings music) enslave the poor citizens of Bikini Bottom. The series' anarchic spirit survives, allowing our heroes to poke fun at the kind of stale morals kids' entertainment likes to spew. Only a Knucklehead McSpazatron wouldn't get a kick out of that. JD

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

Undertow
Dir. David Gordon Green; writ. Green, Joe Conway; feat. Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Devon Alan, Dermot Mulroney (R)
If Quentin Tarantino produced a TV show, he'd love for it to look like this. We're introduced to two brothers, Chris and Tim Munn, who live in isolation with their father. The boys are forced to flee their home when a long-lost relation turns out to be a menace. There are a pirate's gold coins to keep safe, dark woods to be navigated, and weird characters in the wild who provide unexpected help - the accumulation of which makes this movie something of a fairy tale. Bullets and buried treasure can't keep a good filmmaker from making an artful film, and Undertow is one of the most personal, distinctive movies of the year no matter what kind of story it's telling. JD

What the Bleep Do We Know?
Dir. Mark Vicente; writ. Vicente, William Arntz, Betsy Chasse; feat. Marlee Matlin, Elaine Hendrix, William Tiller, Amit Goswami, John Hagelin, Fred Alan Wolf, David Albert, Stuart Hameroff, Jeffrey Satinover, Andrew Newberg, Daniel Monti, Joseph Dispenza, Candace Pert, Ramtha, Miceal Ledwith (NR)
It's hard to respect a film from the get-go that substitutes the word "bleep" in the title for what must be the most popular four-letter expletive in use today. If the producers of What the Bleep Do We Know? are correct, nothing in the universe is fixed anyway, not the ground under your feet, not your bad luck with men, and certainly not the word fuck. This is a big big picture film that invites you to reimagine the world with yourself at the center as the primary creative force in your life, while Marlee Matlin walks through a dramatization of how your life could change if you, too, believe that quantum mechanics can finally answer the great philosophical questions that dog mankind. It's a shaky marriage of philosophy, spirituality, and science, so for the time being we may have to follow the sage advice offered in the opening sequences: "The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery." EW

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


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