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

Dir. Oliver Stone; writ. Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis; feat. Anthony Hopkins, Val Kilmer, Angelina Jolie, Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Jared Leto (R)
Though not the Thanksgiving turkey forecast by some critics, Oliver Stone's Alexander is nevertheless far, far from great. The film never manages to manhandle a sprawling, epic story into proper cinematic form. Full of court intrigue and rousing battle scenes, the film needed a ruthless editor. Most of the time it plays like a National Geographic special. A shame, since Farrell as Alexander is so talented and likeable that he deserves a superior star vehicle. Though the film emphasizes Alexander's megalomania, he's the only character in the film that becomes more interesting over time. The hullabaloo over Alexander's bisexuality has drowned out what should be the controversial aspect of the film: its parallels with the current Iraq war. But the ethics of Alexander's colonization are never called into question. This is a surprising, even disconcerting, take from the director of Platoon; one can only hope that Stone's next film is a full of great things again. TJ

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

Finding Neverland
Dir. Marc Forster; writ. David Magee, based on the play by Allan Knee; feat. Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Nick Roud, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman, Freddie Highmore (PG)
"Inspired by true events" in the life of J. M. Barrie, Finding Neverland celebrates a London playwright and children's playmate who attained worldly success by withdrawing to an alternative world that he created. On an outing in Kensington Gardens with his frisky, friendly Labrador, Barrie encounters four young boys and their widowed mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. Barrie helps the brothers cope with the recent death of their father and the fatal illness of their mother, and they provide him with the inspiration for a new play that idealizes the evanescent grace of childhood. Scanting the price that others had to pay for Barrie's literary gift, director Marc Forster extols the quest for Neverland as a triumph over dullness and death. SGK

National Treasure
Dir. John Turteltaub; writ. Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley; feat. Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer (PG)
Remember that song about the valley people who kill the mountain people for the treasure under the stone, and then it turns out that the treasure is just a little proverb? National Treasure will help you to identify with the valley people. After slogging through what feels like three hours of dialogue as fresh as yesterday's donuts and enduring Cage and Kruger's attempts to ignite a romantic spark with painfully flinty interaction, the audience is left with a happy ending saccharine enough to make fillings ache. The story's apogee, however, is its portrayal of the first Crusaders as selfless curators who "saved" acres of gold artifacts and scrolls from the library at Alexandria because they realized the treasure was too great for any one entity to own. (That strange feeling is your gag reflex.) The diamond in the rough here is Justin Bartha as the idiot savant programmer sidekick. He occasionally manages to turn cold canned asparagus into something you'd consider putting in your mouth. EW

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

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
TJ: Thomas Jenkins
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
JMO: J. Michael Owen
SDP: Susan Pagani
AP: Alejandro Pérez
LS: Lisa Sorg
EW: Elaine Wolff

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