Recent reviews

Aliens of the Deep
Dir. James Cameron
Titanic's James Cameron returns to the screens - this time the 3D IMAX - with a flashy meditation on the natural majesty of the ocean. Two teams, one of marine biologists and one of NASA researchers, accompany Cameron on a voyage to the Mid-Ocean Ridge to observe how things thrive in a toxic environment devoid of sunlight. Alongside stunning under-sea photography, the film employs elegant CGI sequences that posit how similar technology will be used to explore Jupiter's moon Europa. Much of the film's 45-minute runtime is focused on the researchers' reactions rather than on the far more interesting life just outside the submersible window. But Aliens of the Deep is a worthwhile visual spectacle, treating its audience to a glimpse beyond the boundaries of human experience. AB

The Assassination of Richard Nixon
Dir. Neils Mueller; writ. Mueller, Kevin Kennedy; feat. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle, Jack Thompson (R)
Despite its title, neither assassination nor Nixon is the true subject of The Assassination of Richard Nixon, but rather how a human cipher proclaims to the world that he exists. Most of the film is a flashback to explain how Samuel Bicke came to board TWA Flight 523 with intent to commandeer it into the Executive Mansion. "All I want is a little piece of the American Dream," says Bicke, but he has not found it working in a furniture store. Bicke's boss (Thompson) arms him with motivational tapes and books, but Bicke is no more adept at closing a deal than sustaining a marriage. Incapable of abiding deceit in others (especially the president of the United States, exposed by Watergate as a liar), he fails to discern his own dishonesty. Penn's Bicke is an American Erostratus, a nebbish who attempts to overcome anonymity through one final act of transcendent violence. SGK

Assault on Precinct 13
Dir. Jean-François Richet; writ. James DeMonaco; feat. Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Maria Bello, Gabriel Byrne, Brian Dennehy (R)
A remake of the 1976 film written and directed by Halloween creator John Carpenter, Assault on Precinct 13 unites policemen with criminals in a shoot 'em up standoff with little bang. Spending their New Year's Eve at work in Precinct 13, officers and a psychologist keep warm indoors with a snowstorm coming down around their small headquarters. When a bus full of convicts including cop killer Marion Bishop has to be rerouted to another precinct because of the storm, the Precinct 13 team has to babysit the criminals overnight. Little do they know that the building is being surrounded by an ensemble of shady Detroit cops that wants kill Bishop before he can testify against the men in blue who secretly work with him. Their only way to survive the onslaught: The good cops and criminals trapped inside the precinct must fight together to ensure their survival. KM

The Aviator
Dir. Martin Scorsese; writ. John Logan; feat. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Adam Scott, Kelli Garner, Alec Baldwin, Gwen Stefani (PG-13)
The Aviator focuses on the 20 years of Hughes' life in which he was still a functioning, flamboyant tycoon. It begins in 1927, when Hughes assembles the largest private air force in the world in order to produce the cinematic extravaganza Hell's Angels, and it concludes in 1947 with the political victory that enables Hughes' airline, TWA, to expand its routes to Europe. The Aviator is Martin Scorsese's Citizen Kane, his exuberant account of how a voracious American life ends up devouring itself. Both films portray buccaneer capitalism with a human face, one that wears the mask of tragedy. Like Charles Foster Kane, Hughes leverages an ample inheritance into enormous wealth, celebrity, and power, before retreating into lonely solitude. This aviator, like Icarus, flies too high and falls very low. SGK

Coach Carter
Dir. Thomas Carter; writ. Mark Schwahn, John Gatins; feat. Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Brown, Rick Gonzalez, Denise Dowse, Ashanti (PG-13)
When their coach retires after another losing season, Ken Carter (Jackson) takes over the Richmond High School basketball squad and shows them tough love on the hardwood, laying down the law and forcing players to sign contracts promising to work hard for him not only on the court but also in the classroom. Everything is endurable for Carter and his players until grades start slipping and personalities start clashing. Carter decides that the only way to prepare the young men for their futures is to get them on the honor roll. After he cancels games and turns gym time into library time, the community lashes out at Carter despite his logical approach to a failing system. Although Coach Carter is worthy of praise for putting the "student" in "student athlete," the film doesn't stay focused on this theme, and its exceptional message is delivered with little imagination. KM

Hotel Rwanda
Dir. Terry George; writ. George & Keir Pearson; feat. Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Desmond Dube, David O'Hara, Fana Mokoena (PG-13)
Hotel Rwanda recounts the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where an artificial ethnic distinction between the Hutus and Tutsis, made by occupying Belgians in the early 20th century, led to a slaughter of 800,000 people in the space of three months. The dramatic heart of this film is Don Cheadle who is captivating as Paul Rusesabagina. Rusesabagina begins the film as a luxury hotel manager comfortable in the world of bribery and back-scratching, but as violence begins Paul is forced to act. In a gradual but engrossing transformation, Rusesabagina's knack for graft turns him into a natural hero, and by the film's end he is housing more than 1,000 refugees. Hotel Rwanda is not a great film, but it is a deeply affecting one, with the power to shock viewers into outrage, not only at the atrocities onscreen but at the idea that our leaders ignored the problem for so long. JD

Million Dollar Baby
Dir. Clint Eastwood; writ. Paul Haggis, F.X. Toole; feat. Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Margo Martindale, Bruce MacVittie (PG-13)
Million Dollar Baby is a stunner that easily ranks among Eastwood's very best. Baby is set in a failing gym in a faded neighborhood. In the movie's shadows live two men, Eastwood and a half-blind Freeman, a manager and one-time pugilist. The drawling, fresh-from-the-trailer-park Swank shakes things up when she comes looking for a trainer. The movie distills the thrill of punishment, offering both the exciting arrogance of invincibility and the horrific shock felt on the other end of the punch. There's something here beyond the "endearing kid wins over gruff oldster" routine. Baby has a big heart, big enough that some moviegoers will feel manipulated, but the sentiments reverbrate as purely as the ringside bell. JD

Vera Drake
Dir. & writ. Mike Leigh; feat. Imelda Staunton, Philip Davis, Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly, Eddie Marsan, Adrian Scarborough (R)
Though it is set, meticulously, in 1950 England, Vera Drake speaks to current American anxieties over reproductive rights, in the working-class accents of extraordinarily ordinary characters. For longer than she can remember, Vera has been coming to the rescue of women "in trouble." Her patients - a careless adolescent, a wayward wife, a Caribbean immigrant, a mother who has already borne six children - are often queasy, even desperate, but Vera goes about her fateful work with steady self-assurance. "You'll be right as rain," she promises. But when one of Vera's supplicants ends up right as acid rain, near death in a hospital bed, the police come calling. In the title character, Imelda Staunton has created an icon of instinctive, guileless generosity. Vera Drake takes no overt position on whether abortion should be outlawed. It merely tells the story of one unreflective woman and her reflexive response to suffering. SGK

The Woodsman
Dir. Nicole Kassell; writ. Steven Fechter & Nicole Kassell; feat; Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Benjamin Bratt, Mos Def, Eve, Hannah Pilkes (R)
Even cannibal Hannibal Lecter and serial killer Aileen Wournos might not seem as monstrous as a man who molests pubescent girls. It took considerable courage for Kevin Bacon to produce this film and to star in the part of a sexual deviant. Bacon's Walter Rossworth has not only violated the trust and flesh of minors before the drama begins, yet, as Walter tells his brother-in-law: "I'm not a monster." By the end of The Woodsman, Bacon succeeds in convincing a viewer that Walter is right at least in this, or that monstrosity is linked to our common humanity. Though it refuses the facile Hollywood consolation of virtuous redemption, the film does promise that the love of a good woman can salvage a creep. SGK

Films reviewed by:
AB: Aaron Block
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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