Film Reviews

ALEX RIDER: OPERATION STORMBREAKER When his uncle (Ewan McGregor) dies unexpectedly on an alleged business trip, ordinary English teenager Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) soon learns that there’s a family tradition of secret agents, and he’s next in line. Initially reluctant, he quickly gets into the swing of things when his American au pair (Alicia Silverstone, oddly miscast) is threatened with deportation by the head of MI6 (Bill Nighy, delivering more entertainment value with one eyebrow than everyone else in the movie combined). Alex must infiltrate the headquarters of an eccentric software mogul, who, for some odd reason, is played by Mickey Rourke under a bad wig and inches of thick pancake makeup, a misstep so wrong it’s almost right. Stephen Fry, Robbie Coltrane, Andy Serkis and Distraction host Jimmy Carr round out the cast, which would be fine if this were a comedy, but it’s ostensibly an action movie, and the action is so poorly shot as to be embarrassing; even a Donnie Yen–staged martial-arts sequence is ruined in the editing. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

GO A DIRTY CARNIVAL Ha Yu, the young director of the sleek Korean gangster drama A Dirty Carnival, walks the genre-movie tightrope like a master: He keeps us guessing but never gets so hot for novelty that he disrespects the ground rules of the form — the only error that could never be forgiven. Centering upon a midlevel mobster in his late 20s, In-Seong Jo’s lean and focused Byung-du, who has played by the rules for years but is now itching to move up, the story is a classic tragedy of aspiration, the foundational gangster-genre rise-and-fall pattern established by American classics such as Little Caesar and Scarface. The seething friezelike fight sequences are gorgeously mud-spattered and chaotic. But Carnival also feels like a fable of class mobility. The mobsters are beginning to shift their ill-gotten capital into legitimate enterprises (although the battered old baseball bats do come in handy when some stubborn residents refuse to make way for a new shopping mall). We realize early on that Byung-du is doomed: The genre pattern demands it. The real pathos of his situation emerges in his relationships with a couple of old friends from his pre-gangster days, especially his elementary school best buddy, now an opportunistic movie director sniffing out authentic details for his latest script. We begin to see Byung-du as a method actor who has lost track of his “motivation,” who is still trying to breathe life into a tough-guy role that now feels hollow. (Grande 4-Plex) (David Chute)

GO DELIVER US FROM EVIL See film feature  (Showtimes)

GO DRIVING LESSONS Walking around her book-filled home, the grandiose, washed-up English actress Eve Walton (Julie Walters) frequently hunches up her shoulders, as if she’s trying to keep her swirling thoughts — composed of quotes, soliloquies and too many opinions — from shooting out the top of her head like fireworks. Her shy new assistant, 17-year-old Ben (Rupert Grint), stares more than he speaks, but by summer’s end, Eve’s influence will lead Ben, who was long ago cowed into silence by his overbearing mother (Laura Linney), to realize that he has feelings and opinions of his own, ones he may finally find the courage to utter aloud. Ever since Harold met Maude, they’ve been making movies about eccentric old ladies who help peculiar, friendless teens find themselves. And while Driving Lessons’ writer-director, Jeremy Brock, sticks to the all-too-familiar template of such tales, he’s given Walters her best role since Educating Rita. Hamming it up with the precision of a master, she makes this somewhat plodding film a pleasure, as does young Grint, the red-haired charmer better known as Harry Potter’s pal Ron Weasley — whose onscreen mother, Mrs. Weasley, is played by Walters. She and Grint have now made five films together, with at least three more to come. Even Eve Walton couldn’t imagine that much job security. (Selected theaters) (Chuck Wilson)

EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH Following an amusing supporting turn in the minimum-wage comedy Waiting..., Dane Cook takes the lead in this similarly silly cinematic concoction, which sees his character, Zack, barely working at a Costco-type warehouse store. Was Ryan Reynolds not available? As a lead, Cook lacks any significant character traits beyond his groomed designer stubble; far more interesting is his arch­enemy, Vince (Dax Shepard), a petty, egomaniacal cashier who has nonetheless created a minor fiefdom around his swift checkout skills. Efren Ramirez, Harland Williams and Andy Dick round out the cast, though any one of them should have switched roles with Cook, who is a more natural comic jerk than a sympathetic or romantic figure. Don Calame and Chris Conroy’s script is witty and peppered with good laughs, but cops out a bit at the end with an overly conventional resolution. As for Jessica Simpson . . . her character is virtually irrelevant, as is her acting ability. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

THE GRUDGE 2 The second Grudge movie is worlds better than The Ring 2, but it would seem that the trend toward American remakes of Japanese horror movies about pissed off demon girls with long stringy hair has run its course. In Tokyo, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) has arrived from the U.S. to rescue her older sister (Sarah Michelle Geller, in a brief cameo), who was terrorized in the first film by the angry ghost of a murdered woman and child. Ignoring some very sensible advice, Aubrey enters the dead people’s creepy house. Meanwhile, in Chicago, a young boy (Matthew Knight, superb) begins to suspect that there’s something evil lurking in the apartment next door. Generating gore-free unease through sound effects and scary faces is the specialty of director Takashi Shimizu, who helmed the original series (known in Japan as Ju-On). He creates some unsettling moments here, particularly a well-staged scene involving a body under the sheets and a man in a shower, but the evil ghost itself is a predictable, one-trick pony. The finale, in which the separate stories come together in America, isn’t an ending at all, but a setup, it’s clear, for a third film, which looks to be something along the lines of The Grudge Takes Manhattan. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

GO INFAMOUS See film feature

PICK GO LE PETIT LIEUTENANT Light on visceral thrills and heavy on the quotidian rhythms of life on the force, Xavier Beauvois’ police procedural owes more to Prime Suspect and Hill Street Blues than it does to any film genre. And it’s all the better for it, if you can withstand the glacial pace and loving attention to the smallest details. Jalil Lespert, who played the lead role in Laurent Cantet’s Human Resources, stars as a provincial cop who lands a coveted Paris assignment working on a multiple robbery-murder investigation under the leadership of a Jane Tennison–like inspector, played by Nathalie Baye, who’s returning to the force after a long struggle with alcoholism. Frumpy hair or not, Baye’s worn features, mobile mouth and doe eyes betray not just long-suffering but a capacity for motherly sensuality that complicates the inspector’s delicate relationship with her raw recruit. Still, if there’s any excitement in Le Petit Lieutenant, it’s the romance of the routine and the mundane, the cover-ups, elisions and casual racism of the police precinct, evoked by Beauvois with a spare precision that holds steady just this side of tedium. Even when tragedy finally strikes, it’s the inner shifts that count. Walking along a beach, Baye turns to the camera the dull eyes of a woman who’s seen it all, and has had enough. (Music Hall, Playhouse 7) (Ella Taylor)

MAN OF THE YEAR The once-promising Barry Levinson (Diner, Tin Men) bids to reverse his career’s spectacular downward spiral (Sphere, Bandits, Envy) by revisiting the formula of his last critical and popular success, the David Mamet–scripted political satire cum conspiracy thriller Wag the Dog. The result may be the first movie in history to make you long for Mr. Mamet’s lightness of touch. Here working from his own script, Levinson gives us a tired-looking Robin Williams as the Jon Stewart–like talk-show host Tom Dobbs, whose supposedly “irreverent” political humor consists of wisecracks about old ladies getting frisked at airport security checkpoints and that old knee-slapper about NASA spending millions to develop a zero-gravity writing instrument. Still, Man of the Year wants us to believe that a guy like Dobbs could become a dark-horse, grass-roots presidential candidate, and that he could even end up winning the damn thing. Only, Dobbs doesn’t win. Or rather, he does, but only because of a glitch in some newfangled touch-screen voting software — a fact that said software’s snarling Silicon Valley developer (Jeff Goldblum) will do anything to keep hidden, even if it means bumping off the company’s would-be whistleblower (Laura Linney). No doubt, Levinson thought he was making this generation’s Dr. Strangelove. What he’s actually made is a desperate, ponderous sop to progressives that caters to all of the left’s worst fears about voter fraud, corporate malfeasance and the impossibility of effecting real change. As the midterm elections approach, Tom Dobbs should be seen as a tremendous encouragement to the incumbency. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

THE MARINE WWE champion John Cena plays a marine so elite he can uncover Al Qaeda fortresses in Iraq. But as those who’ve seen Cena beat up Vince McMahon know, he has a problem with authority. Discharged from the service and fired from his first civilian job for getting in a fight, he’s on a nice peaceful vacation with his wife (Kelly Carlson) when he runs afoul of a gang of diamond thieves led by Robert Patrick. A lengthy chase through the apparently alligator-infested swamps of South Carolina ensues. As an action hero, Cena’s no Rock, though he could be the next Roddy Piper except for the fact that he appears to have taken his catchphrase “You Can’t See Me” too literally, becoming a peripheral player in his own movie. Patrick and henchman Anthony Ray Parker dominate, the latter hilariously recounting childhood traumas involving rock candy. Tongues are planted firmly in cheek; it’s impossible to endorse a full price ticket, but fans of campy action should check this out. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

GO NEARING GRACE You’d need an astigmatism the size of Texas to miss any of the signposts of this 1970s-era coming-of-age drama: the restless smart-aleck teen (Gregory Smith) itching to bust out of his small-town environs (South Orange, New Jersey, to be exact); his nice-girl best friend (Ashley Johnson), whose longtime crush goes unnoticed and unrequited; the raven-haired siren (Jordana Brewster) who makes his adolescent loins burn with lust. But director Rick Rosenthal and screenwriter Jacob Aaron Estes (who wrote and directed the excellent youth drama Mean Creek) find a truthfulness lurking beneath that shopworn façade — their movie courses with the feeling of being in the waning days of high school and knowing you are destined for bigger things and thinking you might be in love and wondering what the fuck you want to do with the rest of your life. If we’ve seen it all before, Nearing Grace’s mix of nostalgia and contempt for the follies of youth is a potent one. It’s exactly the sort of under-the-radar movie that young people might really respond to if only it had a fighting chance against the assembly-line banalities that Hollywood hurls week after week at the sacrosanct 18-to-25 demographic. The actors are superb — especially Smith, who exudes some of the live-wire charisma of the young Sean Penn in Rosenthal’s Bad Boys, and the smoldering Brewster, who transforms a potential vixen role into a complex portrait of a damaged young woman who uses her teasing sexuality as a defense against true intimacy. (Selected theaters) (Scott Foundas)

GO OLD JOY See film feature (Selected theaters)

ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING With its spate of blood curses, power-mad usurpers and holocausts narrowly avoided, the Old Testament story of the Jewish queen Esther of Persia certainly doesn’t lack for drama. But in this overlong costume epic courtesy of producers Matthew and Laurie Crouch (they of The Omega Code fame) and director Michael Sajbel, the tale of Esther — her unlikely ascent from orphan girl to regent and her heroic subversion of the traitorous Haman’s plans for a Jewish genocide — plods across the screen with the thudding portent of an earnest Sunday-school lesson. Despite spirited supporting work from the redoubtable John Rhys-Davies (as Esther’s father, the court scribe Mordecai) and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Peter O’Toole (as Samuel the prophet), most of the cast — including the beautiful but vacant Tiffany Dupont, a former Miss University of Georgia, who plays Esther — look and act like refugees from a Roger Corman remake of Gladiator. (Though there is some perverse pleasure to be had in seeing horror-movie staple Tommy “Tiny” Lister cast as a royal eunuch.) Those viewers who found anti-Semitism lurking under every stone in The Passion of the Christ may rejoice in this celebration of Jewish heroism; all others should rest assured that falling asleep in the cinema is not a mortal sin. (Selected theaters) (Scott Foundas)

GO TALES OF THE RAT FINK There are no talking heads in Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann’s exuberant 75-minute “animentary” about legendary car customizer and graphic artist Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, though there are plenty of talking cars. No, not the cute, cuddly Disney kind, but rather the tricked-out, cool-daddy-o drag-racing kind, like a 1932 Ford Roadster named Heartbreaker and a longboard-toting fiberglass concept car called the Surfite. With a little help from animation director Mike Roberts and a voice cast that includes Jay Leno, Matt Groening and John Goodman, these hunks of greased lightning tell how a gearhead SoCal teen got wind of the post-World War II hot-rodding craze, crossed paths with a pinstriper named von Dutch and ended up as the automotive visionary whom Tom Wolfe famously called “a genius of the only uniquely American art form.” Along the way, there are pit stops to consider Roth’s lasting and wide-ranging influence on the field of design (from Bart Simpson to candy-colored iMacs). And while some may argue with Mann’s contention that, were it not for Roth, we’d all still be wearing plain white T-shirts and seeing the USA in our cavernous Chevrolets, it’s hard to resist the movie’s affectionate rebel yell for the beatnik underachiever who made the world a more colorful, stylish place for us all. Following a successful run on the film-festival circuit, Tales of the Rat Fink arrives in local theaters one week ahead of its DVD release on the Shout! Factory label. (Grande 4-Plex) (Scott Foundas)

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING When they say The Beginning, they really mean it: In producer Michael Bay’s prequel to his 2003 remake of the 1974 horror classic, we flip back through the Leatherface family album all the way to 1939, when the badly disfigured future chain-saw wielder crawls out of his mother’s womb on (where else?) a slaughterhouse floor. Then it’s on to the Summer of Love, when Leatherface finds himself the victim of meatpacking-industry downsizing and, resourceful lad that he is, turns his attention from bovine to human pursuits. Enter the requisite carload of nubile young things — two brothers (Taylor Handley and Matt Bomer) en route to Vietnam, their respective girlfriends (Diora Baird and Jordana Brewster) in tow — about to discover they’re what’s for dinner. Few surprises lie in store for connoisseurs of torture cinema, though unlike its 2003 predecessor, this Massacre owes less to Bay’s attention-deficient aesthetics than to the measured, “Georgia O’Keeffe on acid” sensibility that guided Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s much-cannibalized original. The director, Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls), has a strong graphic sensibility — the decrepit farmhouse where most of the action takes place looms on the desolate horizon like some godforsaken Tara — and the overall tone is less punishing than you’d expect. The longer it stays on the screen, the closer the movie comes to the full-throttle nihilist comedy that Hooper himself seemed to be striving for in his own misbegotten Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, from an obese woman used as a makeshift doorstop to none other than Gunnery Sergeant Hartman himself (a flamboyant R. Lee Ermey, as Leatherface’s adoptive uncle) taking sadistic glee in dispensing with flag-waving patriots and beatnik draft dodgers alike. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

GO THE WAR TAPES While Vietnam first introduced the concept of the living-room war — with journalists broadcasting shocking images into America’s homes nightly — the Iraq occupation has only upped the ante in terms of civilians’ access to the fighting. On the heels of Gunner Palace and The Ground Truth, The War Tapes offers one more you-are-there wartime perspective, but with an intriguing twist. Director Deborah Scranton and producer Robert May provided cameras to several National Guardsmen, who shot their own video diaries of their Iraq tours, and then enlisted Hoop Dreams editor Steve James to shape the footage around the stories of three soldiers: Sergeant Zack Bazzi, Specialist Mike Moriarty and Sergeant Steve Pink. The War Tapes overlaps thematically with other recent war documentaries, but the film succeeds because of its refreshingly low-key emotional approach and its refusal to impose character arcs or political agendas on its subjects’ footage. After years of reality television’s manufactured drama and intimacy, the assembled video diaries quietly reveal open-ended scenes of boredom and fear in a combat zone that have a devastatingly cumulative effect because of their unscripted randomness. Likewise, the filmmakers’ interviews with the soldiers’ loved ones back home possess a similarly gnawing uncertainty — everyone we meet in The War Tapes is struggling with his or her confusion about this war, and the documentarians honor that struggle by leaving it respectfully unadorned. With its weary disillusionment, The War Tapes shouldn’t be criticized for its seeming lack of outrage. Indeed, from the overwhelming grief and anger it uncovers, the film feels appropriately, uncomfortably numb. (Nuart) (Tim Grierson)

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >