Recent reviews

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

Beyond the Sea
Dir. & writ. Kevin Spacey; feat. Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi (PG-13)
Walden Robert Cassotto, a talented newcomer from the Bronx, became Bobby Darin when, struggling to make a name for himself, he glommed onto the sign above a Chinese restaurant: "MANDARIN." Though he settled on its final two syllables, no one viewing Beyond the Sea can ignore the first syllable. Ecce homo: Here was a man. It has taken 17 years, about as long as Darin's meteoric career, which ended with his death at 37 in 1973, for a film about this man's life to be made. What Kevin Spacey has done with the part and the film, as writer and director, too, is create meta-cinema, a film in which Darin self-consciously assembles his life as a film. "I want it all," declares Darin, who, stricken with rheumatic fever at a tender age, is uncommonly aware of his imminent mortality. Spacey does not just pay lip service to Darin's musicianship; he actually sings, and he does so with a verve that not only mimics Darin but carries the movie. SGK

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

Fat Albert
Dir. Joel Zwick; writ. Bill Cosby, Charles Kipps; feat. Kenan Thompson, Kyla Pratt, Dania Ramirez, Jermaine Williams (PG-13)
They're kids from the '50s that humored audiences as standup comedy in the '60s and became the stars of a hit cartoon series in the '70s. No matter the decade, the stylish entourage from North Philly has arrived again in the 21st century to solve life's oversized dilemmas in Fat Albert. Now in a live-action film, Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson, mostly known for his bad impressions of The View's Star Jones, takes a wallop at this inner-city icon and all his past glory. "I don't have a problem," Fat Albert says, "I solve problems." Like the Brady family in 1995's The Brady Bunch, Fat Albert and his cronies are perfect targets for ridicule. Too square to know any better, they spend most of their time trying to catch up on up-to-date lingo and wondering what cell phones, computers, and shopping malls are. Even a love story does not give this mamma-jamma anything to babble about. KM

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

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

Meet the Fockers
Dir. Jay Roach; writ. John Hamburg, Jim Herzfeld; feat. Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo (R)
Four years later, the humiliation is still poured on strong as Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the 2000 hit Meet the Parents, finds more ways to mercilessly degrade male nurse Greg Focker. Greg, fiancée Pam, her parents Jack and Dina Byrnes, and their genius toddler grandson, pile into the family Winnebago for a road trip to Miami to visit Greg's parents. Yet the relaxed Fockers and stiff Byrnes cannot seem to get along despite Greg and Pam's sincere attempts to bring their parents together. With secrets harbored among the families, including Jack's past in the CIA and Pam's recently discovered pregnancy, there is a predictable clash in parenthood principles and personalities. Add scenes of sexually energized antics, off-color engagement party speeches, and a slaphappy game of football and here is a family reunion you wouldn't mind attending. KM

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

A Very Long Engagement
Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet; writ. Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant, based on the novel by Sébastien Japrisot; feat. Audrey Tatou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jean-Pierre Becker, Dominique Bettenfeld, Clovis Cornillac, Marion Cotillard, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Julie Depardieu, Jean-Claude Dreyfus (R)
The film begins in the infamously muddy and claustrophobic French trenches of World War I. Five French soldiers are being escorted to their death through the fetid muck, accused of self-inflicted mutilation in order that they might return hom. Flash forward to the film's present, a countryside and people whose wounds have begun to turn to scars. The soldier's betrothed, Mathilde, refuses to accept that Manech died on that battlefield. While Mathilde clings to loose threads in the tale of Manech's faith, Manech clings to his wounded hand in whose throbbing he feels Mathilde's heartbeat. It's not until the very end of the film that we clearly hear Mathilde's syncopated gait as she follows the last clue to its conclusion, and it sounds just like a heart beating. 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