Film » Film Capsules

Film Capsules

Opening and currently in theaters this week

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (PG) — This hyper kiddie flick has the best opening title sequence going right now: a terrific spoof of James Bond-style credit montages, with lots of feline silhouettes and iconic balls of yarn, etc. And there's a guilty-pleasure closing-credit crawl of YouTube lolcats and canine shenanigans. In between these two highlights, unfortunately, there's the rest of the movie. An attempt to build a franchise on 2001's semi-CGI Cats & Dogs, this sequel retains the basic idea that dogs are indeed Man's Best Friend, maintaining an underground high-tech espionage op that mostly seeks to foil megalomaniacal cat super-villians. The main one here, Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler), is a hairless feline determined to broadcast a high-frequency soundwave that will make dogs everywhere go crazy and fall into disfavor with their masters. An alliance of hound and cat agents (plus an annoying pigeon) seeks to foil Kitty Galore in an attention-deficit plot that has plenty of amusing moments but still suffers from a bad case of the friskies. (Charles Cassady)

Charlie St. Cloud (PG-13) — After his 11-year-old brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) dies in a car accident, Stanford-bound sailing aspirant Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) becomes unglued. Consumed with grief and guilt — he was behind the wheel at the time of the smash-up — Charlie soon abandons his dreams and takes a job as caretaker at the cemetery where his brother is buried. Soon he's playing catch in the woods with Sam's ghost every night (can you say Field of Dreams?) and even reconnecting with old schoolmates who died in the war. It's not until he meets Tess (Amanda Crew) that Charlie begins to question the wisdom of holding onto the past at the expense of, well, living. Based on a novel by Ben Sherwood, this second collaboration between High School Musical alum Efron and director Burr Steers (who made the excellent Igby Goes Down) might sound like an icky Nicholas Sparks knockoff, but it's actually a good deal better and considerably more restrained. Credit Steers for his ability to avoid treacle (most of the time anyway) and for once again bringing out the best in his young star. If Efron isn't quite ready to graduate to Ryan Gosling or Joseph Gordon-Levitt roles just yet, his tutelage under Steers has proven that he's definitely more than just another pretty face with some really killer abs. (Milan Paurich)

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (R) — The audience practically rioted during the first performance of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring in a Parisian opera house in 1913. The Russian composer knew he was taking a chance with the modern orchestration, foreign rhythms, and odd beats — not to mention the tribal dancers in Russian peasant patterns and wigs. Clothing designer Coco Chanel was at least one audience member who, rather than scandalized by Rite's raw energy, was intrigued. Having spent her career pushing modernity through the lines on her dresses and the shape of her hats, she knew a thing or two about risks. The gorgeous Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky opens with this failed performance. Seven years later, Coco (Anna Mouglalis) is grieving the loss of her lover, and Igor (Mads Mikkelsen) is a starving artist who lives in a tiny apartment with his four young children and wife, who is sick with consumption. Igor finally accepts Coco's offer to work and live with his family at her country villa outside of Paris. Mouglalis is almost cheerless in her role, but the elegance is all there. And she's a good match for Mikkelsen, who wears Igor's healthful habits of exercise and raw eggs for breakfast very well. And when the movie ends, it is with another performance, another gown of perfection, and another audience reaction. (Wendy Ward)

Despicable Me (PG) — The villains at the center of this amiable CGI movie are straight out of the James Bond playbook. After rival bad guy Vector begins to steal some of the planet's most notable landmarks, the borderline incompetent Gru hatches a plan to shrink the moon (it's basically a one-upmanship contest between these guys). He adopts three tiny orphan girls to help him, even though he knows as much about parenting as he does about taking over the world. It isn't long before Gru is squeezing in dance recitals and amusement park outings between world-domination plans. The great voice cast (Russell Brand, Jason Segal, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, and Julie Andrews) is headed by Steve Carell as the heavily accented and occasionally English-mangling Gru. The funny script is short on actual plot, but many scenes pop, thanks to the zippy animation and panoramic 3-D. (Michael Gallucci)

Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13) — Dinner for Schmucks plays more like a Hollywood multiplex comedy than a remake of a French art-house hit. That's either good news or bad news to fans of 1998's Le Diner de Cons. The jokes are broader here, and the cast is topnotch, but there's also a little too much catering to mainstream tastes to completely pull it off. The always likable Paul Rudd plays Tim, an eager financial analyst who's invited to a monthly dinner held by his snooty boss, who challenges his guests to bring the dorkiest person they can find to be ridiculed. Enter Steve Carell as Barry, an IRS auditor who builds dioramas with dead mice in his spare time (which he apparently has a lot of). The setup mostly works; getting there, not so much. There are some funny scenes, but Dinner for Schmucks eventually becomes a lesson in friendship, and several jokes are artificially shoved into the script. The movie's awkward charm seems real enough though. (Gallucci)

The Girl Who Played With Fire (R) — It's taken U.S. readers a few years to get to know Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of three posthumously released books. Part one of the crime trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is this year's surprise bestseller — a gripping story about a 25-year-old antisocial computer hacker who gets involved with a magazine publisher facing jail time for libel. The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second story, takes place a year after Dragon Tattoo. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) hires two young writers to investigate a sex-trafficking ring, but as they're wrapping up the story, someone kills them. The creepy guardian who raped a young Lisbeth is also murdered. Lisbeth's (Noomi Rapace) fingerprints are found on the gun, and now it's Mikael's turn to rescue her. Lisbeth is a fetching protagonist: She has multiple piercings, she chain-smokes, she's bisexual...and then there's that big-ass dragon tattoo running down her back. Director Daniel Alfredson wisely builds The Girl Who Played With Fire as a suspense film, slowly piling up the tension as the crime unravels. Still, the first movie — and book, for that matter — was better at maintaining momentum. (Gallucci)

Inception (PG-13) — Christopher Nolan has already directed one unquestionable mind-fuck masterpiece: 2000's Memento. He can now add a second to his résumé. Inception goes so deep, so often, you'll want to watch it again immediately just to see if all the pieces add up. Even if they don't (but I bet they do), it's a visual feast of dreamlike splendor. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an "extractor" who enters people's dreams to probe their innermost thoughts. He also carries a ton of personal baggage, which puts his faithful team in constant danger. Cobb's latest and presumably last job is to plant an idea — yes, it works both ways — into the mind of a young corporation head (Cillian Murphy) who's taking over the family business. That's when Inception really kicks into action. Think too hard about what you're seeing onscreen and you'll likely burn out your brain — but that's exactly what Nolan wants. (Gallucci)

The Other Guys (PG-13) — "Will Ferrell is back and Mark Wahlberg's got him" could be the tagline for this amiably goofy buddy-cop bromance by frequent Ferrell helmer Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers). Ferrell and Wahlberg play a pair of temperamentally mismatched NYPD doofuses who finally get the chance to prove themselves when the top dogs in their department (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) get temporarily sidelined. Because the movie ultimately devolves into the very thing it's poking fun at — '80s super-cop action flicks like the Lethal Weapon franchise, complete with explosions and car chases galore — it's not as satisfying as previous, more improv-friendly Ferrell-McKay collaborations. Still, the über-intense Wahlberg displays an agreeable knack for mocking his own patented alpha-male image (he's basically playing Ferrell's straight man here), and the first half consistently delivers more big laughs than just about any studio comedy this season. The boilerplate plot — in which the dependably wry Steve Coogan plays a crooked Wall Street bigwig — at least has the benefit of being topical. And for those not up to speed on the current financial crunch, there's an economics tutorial delivered over the end credits that just might be the funniest thing in the whole movie. (Paurich)

Ramona and Beezus (G) — I loved Beverly Cleary's books so much when I was younger that I suffered the wrath of Mrs. Horn, the school librarian who deemed them "too easy" and would snatch them from me and replace them with something dull. Kids since 1950 have similarly embraced Cleary's wonderful children's novels about Henry Huggins, his neighbor Beezus (Beatrice) Quimby, and her mischievous little sister Ramona, a pest with an overactive imagination. Nine-year-old Ramona (Joey King) gets top billing in Elizabeth Allen's live-action adaptation of Cleary's Ramona and Beezus, falling into misadventures ranging from spilling paint all over a neighbor's Jeep to humiliating sister Beezus (Disney star Selena Gomez) in front of nascent heartthrob Henry (Hutch Dano). The movie tries, with mixed success, to update the Cleary universe with computer animation, cloying pop songs, teen romance, and Nickelodeon-style slapstick. But it deserves credit for incorporating a timely recession theme (Ramona's dad, endearingly played by John Corbett, loses his job) and capturing, as Cleary did, the angst of being a kid who's different. (Zoslov)

Restrepo (R) — What sets this down-in-the-hole documentary — which follows a company of U.S. soldiers over the course of a yearlong deployment to one of the deadliest places on earth — apart from so many other peeks into a distant war is that it humanizes dreadfully young combatants. Writer Sebastian Junger is famous for his into-the-fire journalistic style, but he's taken on the documentarian role with passion and gusto, placing the audience directly in the line of fire — a vantage point that permits us insights that the guys pulling the trigger have no time for. It allows us to understand that the war in Afghanistan is as abstract and detached to its fighters as it is to us. Massive explosions surround them constantly, the clack-clack of machine gun fire as perpetual as a woodpecker. But unless it's just loud enough to be close, to them it's just how the valley sounds. In a war with little hand-to-hand (or even face-to-face) combat, it's the relative safety of the fort that brings out the animal in the fighters. They grapple, play music, and cook for each other with as much intensity and pride as when they march up mountains. When one of their own becomes a casualty, they mourn with shocking rawness, even while taking fire. They remain above all else human, and Restrepo never lets us forget that. (Justin Strout)

Salt (PG-13) — If Inception is the summer's brain-twisting action movie, Salt is its check-your-brain-at-the-door-and-enjoy-the-freakin'-ride alternative. There's a plot here (a mighty farfetched one about a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy), but it's mostly secondary to the explosive set pieces. While interrogating a Russian defector, agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is told she is actually a Russian spy trained to assassinate the Russian president. Is she? Director Phillip Noyce piles on the possibility, especially after Evelyn goes on the run like Jason Bourne, dodging bullets, leaping onto speeding trucks, and kicking major ass. Jolie has become adept at playing tough gals, so once Evelyn hits the road with the CIA in hot pursuit, the movie rarely lets up. But Salt doesn't hold together as a story (Inception is more believable): The post-Cold War element is lukewarm, and the scenes with Liev Schreiber as her faithful boss are deadly boring. Too bad all that narrative gets in the way of the good stuff. (Gallucci)

Step Up 3-D (PG-13) — The third installment in Disney's lucrative urban dance flick franchise mostly delivers the guilty-pleasure goods. And for a welcome change of pace, the 3-D doesn't seem like just a cynical ruse to bilk gullible teens out of a few extra bucks of allowance money. Give returning director Jon M. Chu his due. Unlike most so-called dance movies these days, Step Up actually films his performers in full body shots (most of the time anyway), so we can see they're really dancing. I know this probably sounds like a small thing, but so many contemporary dance flicks tend to obscure their hoofers' lack of experience, grace, and talent with choppy, headache-inducing MTV editing. The cookie-cutter storyline and archetypal characters remain pretty much the same as in the previous Step Up movies. Sharni Vinson stars as dance-addled, hot-to-trot ingénue Natalie, Rick Malambri plays rakish boho-impressario Luke, and the whole thing builds to a big dance showdown in which Luke's pure-of-heart Pirates crew battles the boo-hiss Samurai posse. Shake your booty indeed. (Paurich)

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