Flick picks and pans | AspenTimes.com

Flick picks and pans

Sean Penn gives an over-the-top portrayal of a populist Louisiana activist turned ruthless politician in a film that is an unholy mess despite a top-notch cast. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 129 minutes. Rating: Two stars. (Roeper, Universal Press Syndicate).

Brian De Palma’s fictionalized tale of two Los Angeles detectives assigned to the gruesome 1940s murder of a real-life wannabe starlet begins as a slow but intriguing character study that gradually unravels into a turgid mess. Like so many De Palma pictures, the convoluted story gets choked amid the flash and flourishes of the filmmaker’s visual excess, and characters who start out promisingly idiosyncratic become caricatures by the end. Adapted from James Ellroy’s noir mystery thriller, the movie stars Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart as cops hunting for the psycho who killed and mutilated a young actress (Mia Kirshner) then cut her in half in a notorious unsolved Hollywood homicide. Hilary Swank plays a femme fatale and Scarlett Johansson co-stars as a woman involved with both cops. R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language. 121 minutes. Two stars out of four. (Germain, AP)

In 1692, in the Ipswich Colony of Massachusetts, five families with untold power formed a covenant of silence. One family, lusting for more, was banished; their bloodline disappearing without a trace ” until now. This is the story of the Sons of Ipswich, four young students at the elite Spencer Academy who are bound by their sacred ancestry. As descendants of the original families who settled in Ipswich Colony in the 1600’s, the boys have all been born with special powers. When the body of a dead student is discovered after a party, secrets begin to unravel which threaten to break the covenant of silence that has protected their families for hundreds of years. PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, sexual content, partial nudity and language. (Yahoo! movies)

A scrawny little boy, growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium during the Depression worshipping Babe Ruth, learns self-esteem when he goes on an adventure with a talking baseball and the Bambino’s beloved bat. (The movie is animated, by the way, and not a documentary by Ken Burns.) Given his professional sports affiliation and his name, you’d think young Yankee Irving (voiced by Jake T. Austin) would be insufferably overconfident, but that’s a conversation for another time. Instead, “Everyone’s Hero” is exceedingly earnest with its feel-good message of perseverance, which ordinarily would make it an easy target for trashing. But Christopher Reeve was directing this when he died, and his late wife, Dana, was a producer and provided the voice of the boy’s mother, and everyone involved seems committed to carrying on their legacy posthumously. So the kindest thing we can say is this: The movie means well and, like tee ball, it’s probably best suited for the littlest kids only. Rob Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg and William H. Macy are among the vocal cast, with the ideally cast Brian Dennehy bellowing as the Babe. G. 85 min. Two stars out of four. (Lemire, AP)

Running alongside the closing credits is a series of clips from the 1993 documentary that provided the basis for this drama about a football team at a Los Angeles juvenile detention center. The real people say and do the same things we just saw actors say and do, only in a stripped-down, matter-of-fact manner without the swelling of bombastic music to accompany every feel-good or poignant moment. Those final few moments are more powerful than anything we saw during the previous two hours, simply because they don’t try so hard to be. Former television and music video director Phil Joanou is relentless in his attempts to inspire us, but the result is just overbearing and redundant. The football scenes themselves, though, are sufficiently visceral in their bone-crunching intensity. And Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson exudes his usual natural magnetism as the probation officer turned coach. (Not once does he try to wring a laugh out of raising that famous eyebrow of his.) PG-13 for some startling scenes of violence, mature thematic material and language. 120 min. Two stars out of four. (Lemire, AP)

This period piece about the power of magic lacks just that. The magic of romance, drama, longing and faith generally is missing in director Neil Burger’s tale of a love triangle involving a magician, a noblewoman and the heir to the Austrian throne. Burger crafts a movie with a sumptuous visual palette but little heart, the characters detached and cold-blooded. It’s no surprise that an inscrutable poker-face such as Edward Norton plays the title role as such a closed-book. It’s quite a sleight of hand, though, for a film to thoroughly constrain a co-star as expressive as Paul Giamatti into a character so aloof he barely registers emotionally. Norton plays a magician in 1900 Vienna at odds with the crown prince (Rufus Sewell) and the police inspector (Giamatti) charged with debunking the prestidigitator’s amazing illusions. Jessica Biel co-stars as the magician’s childhood flame, now the jealous prince’s fiancee. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 110 minutes. Rating: Two stars out of four. (Germain, AP)

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It’s a great story. And it has the added benefit of being (mostly) true. In 1976, at the start of his first year as the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach, Dick Vermeil issued an open call to anyone who wanted to try out for the team. Hundreds showed up. One guy made it: Vince Papale, a lifelong Eagles fan who happened to be at a crossroads at age 30, but who also happened to possess explosive athletic abilities and even greater heart. The aptly titled “Invincible” is his story ” or rather, it’s “inspired by” his story. And, like its predecessors “The Rookie” and “Miracle,” it’s remarkably un-Disneyfied for a Disney movie. Longtime cinematographer Ericson Core (“The Fast and the Furious”), who directs for the first time and also shot the film, and screenwriter Brad Gann take a stripped-down look at Papale’s unlikely pro football career and at the economic hardships Papale and his friends endured in working-class South Philly in the 1970s. And in Mark Wahlberg, himself a product of a poor upbringing in South Boston, Core has the ideal star. Greg Kinnear plays the young Vermeil, with the increasingly versatile Elizabeth Banks co-starring as Papale’s future wife. Classified: PG for sports action and some mild language. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated: Three stars out of four. (Lemire, AP)

After smearing the world with all sorts of ridiculous crap, the original creators and cast of the MTV series are back at it again. Significantly raising the stakes and lowering the bar, this installment in the “jackass” and “jackass the movie” series unleashes a spirited mess of absurdity as the cast and crew gets even more ugly around the globe. Classified: R.

Back in the day, Public Enemy urged us, “Don’t believe the hype.” Here, you should just ignore the hype entirely, tune out the buzz that’s been building steadily for this movie since it was picked up at the Sundance Film Festival in January for a record $10.5 million. Just buckle up and go along for the ride. The road trip comedy subverts the genre (a welcome change a few months after the lame “RV”) and instead offers a surprising mix of dark humor and heart, with rich performances from a strong cast. What’s even more amazing is that this is the first feature from husband-and-wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, as well as screenwriter Michael Arndt. A family of losers in a society obsessed with winning packs up the VW bus and heads to Southern California for the garishly oversexualized Little Miss Sunshine pageant, where the sweetly awkward youngest child (Abigail Breslin) plans to compete. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Paul Dano help her get there. Classified: R for language, some sex and drug content. Running time: 99 minutes. Rated: Three and a half stars out of four. (Lemire, AP)

Arrogant, talented Dan Millman seems to have the perfect college life and a shot at the Olympic qualifiers in men’s gymnastics. Still, Dan wakes up almost nightly from terrifying nightmares and odd visions he can’t explain or dismiss. One night, Dan goes for a run and comes upon a well-lit service station. Behind the counter, an old man seemingly moves without regard for space or time. Dan begs the old man, whom he names Socrates, to share the secret of his abilities in order to achieve his goal of Olympic Gold. Thus begins a journey of discovery for Dan that will shatter every preconceived notion he has about academics, athletics, and achievement. Guided by Socrates, Dan will consider a whole new ideology ” one that values consciousness over intelligence, strength in spirit over strength in body. (Yahoo! movies)