On local screens this week

Movie showtimes and reviews Feb. 5-12

By Bill White on February 5, 2009


CATCH A FIRE: A South African hero’s journey to freedom from acclaimed director Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American, Rabbit-Proof Fence) starring Derek Luke and Tim Robbins.  Part of the Blue Mouse’s Tacoma Sister Cities International Film & Food festival. (NR) – Bill White

CORALINE: An unpleasant little girl finds a tunnel opening from behind a painted-over door in her house, and follows it into a parallel world where her parents are replaced by Other Mother and Other Father, whose eyes are sewn-in buttons.  Inspired animated images by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas); worth seeing for its artistry and the grotesque story, but maybe too scary for younger kids.  The 3-D adds nothing. (PG) Three Stars – Roger Ebert

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009): Before there were weekly horror film openings, rated PG-13 and mass marketed to eighth graders, there was the occasional campy slasher film with an R rating and plenty of blood. At age 16, together with your best friend and two girls you hoped would need plenty of “comforting,” navigating your way into the theater was half the fun. One such film was 1980’s Friday the 13th, and later this week the remake opens. Good to see it rated R.  — BW

HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU: A romantic comedy based on a self-esteem-lowering self-help book. (PG-13) Two stars. — RE

INLAWS & OUTLAWS: A special screening of the award-wining documentary.  A collection of true stories about love and marriage told by ordinary people both gay and straight.  Candor, humor good music and real heart. (NR) – BW

MABOROSHI: From Japan.  A newly remarried widow living in a remote Japanese village by the sea, tries to come to terms with her fist husband’s suicide.  Part of the Blue Mouse’s Tacoma Sister Cities International Film & Food festival. (NR) – BW

THE PINK PANTHER 2: Inspector Jacques Clouseau joins an international Dream Team to prevent the theft of the pink diamond that is France’s pride.  Steve Martin and a truly gifted cast are never fully realized in a comedy that doesn’t pop out the supporting characters and lacks payoffs to sight gags, so we’re not nudged to laugh. (PG) Two stars – RE

PUSH: Psychic espionage is explored as Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning battle the forces of evil and perfect the art of killing with their minds. (PG-13) – BW

SWORD OF THE STRANGER: Animated Samurai action epic is part of nationwide one-night-only production at select theaters. (NR) – BW

Now Playing

BEDTIME STORIES: Sandler plays a hotel handyman named Skeeter, fighting it out for a promotion and a girlfriend with the son of the hotel owner.  He tells bedtime stories to a niece and nephew, and the stories seem to come true the following day.  A harmless and pleasant Disney comedy, but not special.  With Guy Pearce, Keri Russell, Courteney Cox. (PG) Two and a half stars – RE

BRIDE WARS: Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway play girlhood friends who made a vow to realize their dreams of both getting married at the Plaza.  As adults, they are bubble-brains with vacuous fiancés, and their dialogue is fiercely on-topic, dictated by the needs of the plot, pounding down the home stretch in cliches, obligatory truisms and shrieks.  A sitcom of consumerism. (PG) Two stars – RE

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON: A splendidly made film based on a profoundly mistaken premise: A man is old when he is born and an infant when he dies.  It’s impossible to identify with or care deeply about a story — however well-told — that’s essentially a gimmick.  Good performances by Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, many others. (PG-13) Two and a half stars – RE

DEFIANCE: Based on the true story of a group of Jews in Belarus who defied the Nazis, hid in the forest, and maintained a self-contained society while losing only about 50 of their some 1,200 members.  Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell play three of the Bielski brothers, whose defiance was the most successful Jewish resistance.  Well-mounted and acted, but loses focus with romantic and personality conflicts. (R) Two and a half stars – RE

DOUBT: In a Catholic grade school in 1964, a stern nun (Meryl Streep) rules with severe perfectionism.  The new parish priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is gentler and more progressive.  A sweet young nun (Amy Adams) suspects something that places them all on a collision course.  And the mother (Viola Davis) of the school’s only black student faces up to Streep in an unexpected way, in a towering supporting performance.  Directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play. (PG-13) Four stars – RE

FROST/NIXON: The famous 1977 interviews between Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and David Frost (Michael Sheen), played as a duel with both men troubled by private agendas.  Nixon wants both to conceal and reveal.  Frost wants be liked, but he has gambled all his money on wringing a Watergate confession out of Nixon.  Begins as an inside look at the TV news business, tightens into a spellbinding thriller. (R) Four stars – RE

GRAN TORINO: Clint Eastwood directs himself as a cantankerous, racist, beer-chugging retired autoworker who keeps his shotgun ready to lock and load.  Dirty Harry on a pension, we’re thinking, until we realize that only the autoworker retired; Dirty Harry is still on the job.  The movie is about his touchy relationship with the Asians next door, during which he discovers his better nature, but not without a lot of growling.  Funny at times, violent and sad. (R) Three and a half stars – RE

HOTEL FOR DOGS: A sweet, innocent family movie about stray dogs that seem as well-trained as Olympic champions.  Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin play a brother and sister in foster care, who turn an abandoned hotel into a foster hotel of their own for stray dogs — eventually dozens of them, who all seem trained to within an inch of their lives.  Fun for the Nickelodeon crowd. (PG) Two and a half stars – RE

INKHEART: Brendan Fraser plays a man who has the gift, when reading aloud, of bringing fictional characters to life and trapping living people in the pages of a book.  He and his daughter (Eliza Hope Bennett) find a copy of Inkheart, the novel he was reading when her mother was sucked into its pages.  Now they compete with demonic spirits freed from its pages at the same time.  Ingenious, yes, but it all descends into basic action scenes and skullduggery. (PG) Two stars – RE

LAST CHANCE HARVEY: A tremendously appealing love story in a movie that doesn’t do it justice.  Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are pitch-perfect as two depressed strangers in London who may have found refuge in each other.  A touching scene at a wedding.  But their story is diluted by a gratuitous subplot about her mother, and too many montages substituting for dialogue. (PG-13) Three stars – RE

MARLEY & ME: Family movie about a young couple starting out in life with a new house, new jobs, a new dog and three children, who the dog doesn’t eat or it wouldn’t be rated PG.  Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston are likable as the couple, who acquire the Dog from hell, which considers everything in the house to be food, playthings or enemies.  Sometimes he pauses while eating the garage to gaze soulfully upon his masters with unconditional love.  Cheerful family story. (PG) Three stars – RE

MILK: Extraordinary performance by Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the first self-identified gay person to win public office in America.  Following him from a personal turning point to the leadership of a powerful political and social movement, the film never objectifies him as a hero, but as an ordinary man: kind, funny, flawed, shrewd, idealistic, yearning for a better world.  Deeply involving, emotionally inspiring. (R) Four stars – RE

MY BLOODY VALENTINE: 3D: A mining town is haunted by a tragic accident and a revenge mass murder.  Ten years later, the murderous miner seems to have returned in a movie enhanced by “cutting edge, 3-D projection.”  Stars Jensen Ackles, Jaime King and Kerr Smith. (R) – BW

NEW IN TOWN: Renee Zellweger is a high-powered exec from Miami who flies into tiny New Ulm, Minn., to downsize the food plant.  There she meets Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), who talks just like Marge Gunderson’s sister, and the plant’s union rep,  Harry Connick Jr., the only eligible man in town, so do the math.  An awfully nice movie about very nice people in a very awfully predictable formula. (PG) Two stars – RE

NOTORIOUS: The life and early death of Christopher Wallace, known as the rapper Notorious B.I.G. Another rapper, Jamal (Gravy) Woolard, looks and sounds uncannily like B.I.G. in the title role, as do Antonique Smith as his wife, Faith Evans, and Angela Bassett as his mother, Voletta.  Derek Luke is B.I.G.’s manager, Sean (Puffy) Combs.  Good music, strong story, subtle message. (R) Three and a half stars– RE

PAUL BLART: MALL COP: Kevin James stars as a fat schlub who transforms himself into an action hero during a hostage situation at a New Jersey mall.  Slam-bam slapstick, preposterous, funny, using a Segway like a NASCAR winner. (PG) Three stars – RE

THE READER: A postwar German affair between a woman in her 30s (Kate Winslet) and a boy of 15 (David Kross) connects to her past and his future as a cold, frightened man (Ralph Fiennes).  Not simply about her past as a Nazi murderer, but about his decision to keep secret information that would be relevant at her trial.  The larger implication is that human nature prompts most of us to simply go along.  Winslet and Kross are particularly good in their peculiar scenes together.  Not a film as simple as some of its critics believe. (R) Three and a half stars – RE

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as a 1950s couple stuck in suburban desperation as undefined yearnings eat at their souls.  They have the house, the car, the kids, the good paycheck, the drinks, the cigarettes, everything they need except a purpose they take joy in.  With a devastating character played by Michael Shannon whose “madness” takes the form of seeing straight through them.  Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty); based on the famous 1961 novel by Richard Yates. (R) Four stars – RE

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE: Bridges the two Indias, cutting between poverty and the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.  The story of an orphan born into a brutal early existence.  A petty thief, impostor and survivor, he improvises his way up through the world and remembers everything he has learned.  A miraculous entertainment by Danny Boyle, winner of the Audience Award at Toronto 2008. (R) Four stars – RE

TAKEN: Liam Neeson plays a semi-retired CIA man whose daughter is kidnapped in Paris by traffickers in human bodies.  Turning into a preposterously versatile one-man killing machine, he determines to track her down and save her from a fate worse than death, followed by death.  If you can’t wait for the next Bourne thriller, you don’t have to. (PG-13) Two and a half stars – RE

TWILIGHT: Teenage romance between fresh-faced Kristen Stewart and the distant, aloof, handsome, dangerous Robert Pattinson, who plays a vampire.  Lush, beautiful, preposterous, based on the runaway best-seller. Primary audience: 16-year-old girls. They’ll love it. (PG-13) Two and a half stars – RE

THE UNBORN: Now that the holiday season is behind us, and all the Oscar hopefuls have been released, we have the new year’s first supernatural thriller opening.  The Unborn starring Odette Yustman and Gary Oldman has all the familiar ingredients needed for success: young, attractive female lead being haunted by the undead and lots of scary images. (PG-13) – BW

UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS: Prequel to the Underworld series has the distinct disadvantage of not having Kate Beckinsale running around in her tight black suit.  However, this story centered on the origins of the feud between the aristocratic vampires and their one-time slaves, the Lycans, is still likely to clean up at the box office. (R) – BW

THE UNINVITED: Emily Browning from Lemony Snicket in a very different role in a well-made horror film about a troubled teenager whose mother died in a fire, and whose father (David Strathairn) is now living with her mother’s nurse (Elizabeth Banks).  Skillfully constructed, with some genuine scares. (PG-13) Three stars – RE

THE WRESTLER: Mickey Rourke plays the battered, broke pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, in the performance of his lifetime.  Once famous, now making the rounds of shabby New Jersey venues, he’s in his 50s and lonely.  He tries to reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and hopes to get something going with a stripper (Marisa Tomei), as Darren Aronofsky’s film provides a rare backstage look at how matches are prepared.  The sport may be “fake,” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.  I cared as deeply about Randy as any character I’ve seen this year. (R) Four stars – RE