Recent reviews

Dir. Mike Nichols; writ. Patrick Marber; feat. Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen (R)
Closer has as much rapid-fire banter and biting wit as you'd hope to find in a comedy, but you're not very likely to mistake it for one: Closer insists on showing us the horrific side of love, the nasty things we do to ourselves and each other while we pursue the world's most celebrated emotional state. A date movie it ain't, but the filmmaking and the performances are captivating, even for viewers who find it impossible to like any of the characters. Law and Portman are a couple, then Roberts and Owen, and as the characters meet each other, they couple in different ways as well. Over the course of the film, each of them will get to be both the weak partner and the strong one; each will be helpless, then cruel. Closer may delve a lot closer to the bone than some viewers care for, but once you're watching it's hard to ignore. JD

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

Dir. & writ. Bill Condon; feat. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O'Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt (R)
In 1948, publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, a sober study of American erotic practices, brought instant infamy to its author, a Hoosier academic named Alfred Kinsey. In Bill Condon's sympathetic biopic, Kinsey, played by Liam Neeson, is a professor of zoology who specializes in gall wasps. He is induced to extend his research to wingless bipeds of his own species when, asked by a flustered student couple for marital advice, he realizes that what they do not know does hurt them. Assembling a staff of devoted assistants, he crisscrosses the continent collecting data on what people say they do with others and themselves. Kinsey, while acknowledging Prok's flaws and blunders, is largely a celebration of the man who, along with Hugh Heffner, Lenny Bruce, Barney Rosset, Henry Miller, and other guerrillas in the post-war sexual revolution, made it possible to see an R-rated film like Kinsey 50 years later. SGK

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Dir. Brad Silberling; writ. Robert Gordon; feat. Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Bill Connolly, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken (PG)
Based on three children's books, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, by nom de plume Lemony Snicket, Lemony attempts to stockpile sequences of dreary storytelling to tell the dark tale of a trio of unlucky orphans. When their parents suddenly die in a fire, the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, along with a tidy inheritance, are sent to stay with their closest living relative, Count Olaf (Carrey), in his gothic mansion. Greed soon becomes the focus of the gloominess as Olaf schemes to kill the children and steal their fortune. As he did in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Carrey is able to protrude his rubbery facial expressions through the prosthetics and make all attention converge on his juvenile silliness. How unfortunate. KM

The Machinist
Dir. Brad Anderson; writ. Scott Kosar; feat. Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, John Sharian, Michael Ironside, Larry Gilliard (R)
At National Machine, the factory where Trevor Rerznick works as a tool operator, his supervisor observes, "I think you look like toasted shit." And on two separate occasions a different woman remarks, "If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist." The Machinist is an existential drama about a man who has not slept in a year and is haunted by the question posed by a phantom co-worker: "Who are you?" Estranged from his fellow machinists, Trevor begins finding enigmatic Post-It notes on the refrigerator of his apartment. His desperate attempt to track down the perpetrator becomes an ordeal of self-discovery. The Machinist violates a viewer's basic trust that what appears on the screen is actually happening within the universe of the film, but what fuels the engine of the plot seems less important than the acid portrait of a working man who is starving for connections and the truth about himself. SGK

Ocean's Twelve
Dir. Steven Soderbergh; writ. George Nolfi; feat. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould (PG-13)
Remember the brainy kid in high school who, for a time, became one of the cool kids? This is what the Steven Soderbergh of Ocean's Twelve looks like to those of us - the four-eyes and brace-faces - who took him to heart when he was making weird, smart little movies like sex, lies, and videotape and The Limey. Ocean's Twelve uses celebrity and beauty like a crutch - one that weakens Soderbergh's filmmaking muscles, turning wit into smugness and style into affectation. He used to deliver glamour without sacrificing substance. Twelve, on the other hand, knows that all it has to do to please a certain audience is find an excuse for George Clooney and Brad Pitt to slump together on a sofa, watching reruns and drinking wine. Here's hoping that the high-wattage party of Ocean's Twelve leaves him with a hangover serious enough to make him - even if just for a while - swear off hanging with the cool kids. JD

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

Dir. & writ. James L. Brooks; feat. Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Rae Allen (PG-13)
La nueva pelicula de Adam Sandler ... er ... Adam Sandler's newest semi-dramatic vehicle Spanglish tackles the oft-used Hollywood "fish-out-of-water" cliché with the awe-inspiring majesty of a slowly deflating balloon. Sandler plays a level-headed father and up-and-coming chef married to the most annoying and needy woman on the face of the planet, played (a little too convincingly) by Leoni (Bad Boys, Deep Impact). Relative newcomer Vega lights up the screen as Flor, their new live-in Mexican maid around whom most (if not all) of the story centers. Things get hairy when Sandler's character and Flor begin to connect with each other on an intimate level that surpasses their language barriers. As the chef, Sandler's character longs to not receive the dreaded bittersweet four-star rating for his restaurant. If only this film could aspire so high. JMO

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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