Recent reviews

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

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

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. 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

Writ. & dir. Margarethe von Trotta; feat. Katja Riemann, Maria Schrader, Doris Schade, Jutta Lampe, Svea Lohde (PG-13)
Auschwitz converted its inmates into corpses, and it is far too easy for historians to reduce them to numbers. How to convey the enormity of the atrocity without slighting the humanity of individual victims? In Rosenstrasse, German director Margarethe von Trotta recounts one unusual episode in the Nazi genocide. On February 27, 1943, up to 2,000 German Jews were interned at a former Jewish welfare center, to await deportation to the death camps. As news of their situation spread, hundreds of wives, mothers, and daughters assembled on Rosenstrasse to try to save the detainees. Von Trotta tells their story as an extended flashback. In what seems a parody of the strategy of personalizing mass experience, she suggests that one woman's willingness to offer herself to a Nazi lecher might have been more consequential than the actions of all the other women of Rosenstrasse. "The past can be so exhausting," sighs a survivor. It can, at least for one moment, also be exhilarating. SGK

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

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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