Flick picks and pans
December 6, 2007
See the movie listings in this Arts & Entertainment section for theaters and show times. Go to http://www.aspentimes.com for detailed film reviews.ACROSS THE UNIVERSE: Here is a bold, beautiful, visually enchanting musical where we walk into the theater humming the songs. Julie Taymors Across the Universe is an audacious marriage of cutting-edge visual techniques, heartwarming performances, 1960s history and the Beatles songbook. With Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther and T.V. Carpio, who sings I Want to Hold Your Hand, and I realized how wrong I was to ever think that was a happy song. Its not happy if its a hand you are never, ever going to hold. Lurking here and there: Bono, Eddie Izzard and Joe Cocker. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 133 minutes. Rating: Four stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).AMERICAN GANGSTER: So perhaps Ridley Scotts much-anticipated mobster epic doesnt have a single original idea in its head, with its unshakable shades of Scarface and Serpico and Superfly. And maybe its a half-hour too long this time of year, what film with awards ambitions isnt? But its exceptionally crafted and superbly acted, with the on-screen combo of Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe unsurprisingly proving impossible to resist, even though it takes about two hours for their paths to cross. Thats one of the more compelling elements of the film, written by Steven Zaillian (Schindlers List) and based on a New York magazine article by Mark Jacobson. Washington, as real-life heroin kingpin Frank Lucas, and Crowe, as detective Richie Roberts, are on a collision course with one another thats bursting with the gritty period atmosphere of 1970s Harlem. Classified: R for violence, pervasive drug content and language, nudity and sexuality. Running time: 157 minutes. Rated: Three stars out of four. (Lemire, AP) BEE MOVIE: Following Antz, A Bugs Life, Flushed Away and this summers Ratatouille, here we have yet another animated movie in which a creature that would ordinarily seem pesky is rendered as not just harmless but even lovable and idiosyncratically human. Enough already. There is zero life left in this concept, even if it does spring from the fertile mind and absurd sensibility of Jerry Seinfeld. The comic stars in, co-wrote and co-produced this colorful jaunt about a bee named Barry who dares to leave the tradition and rigidity of New Hive City for the vast unknown of the outside world specifically, the corner of 67th and Columbus on Manhattans Upper West Side, Seinfelds longtime stomping grounds on TV and in real life. Classified: PG for mild suggestive humor. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated: Two stars out of four. (Lemire, AP) BEOWULF: The title alone will inspire painful memories of high-school English class and pangs of dread. Never fear. This 3-D animated Beowulf is more like 300, only with more violence, if thats possible. And nudity lots and lots of nudity. Director Robert Zemeckis, using the same performance-capture technology he introduced with 2004s The Polar Express, takes on the epic Old English poem by sexing it up. The film follows the mythic Viking hero who emerges from the sea to rid a Danish kingdom of the bloody, gooey, raging, pus-covered monster, Grendel. Only then can there be much merrymaking and mead-drinking and wench-bedding. The 3-D effects are extremely cool and Beowulf is also being shown in IMAX 3-D, if your brain can stand it. The way stuff comes at you and seems to come out of nowhere from behind you makes you feel as if youre fully immersed. But then the characters look distractingly fake, as if theyre made of wax. Classified: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity. Running time: 113 minutes. Rated: Two and a half stars out of four. (Lemire, AP) ENCHANTED: Amy Adams, Oscar-nominated for Junebug, is effortlessly charming as Giselle, a young girl from a fairy-tale world who is transported to modern New York City by a jealous queen (Susan Sarandon). The film starts as animation, then becomes live action but still plays by fantasy rules, in a winning musical romance also starring Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden and Timothy Spall. Classified: PG. Running time: 108 minutes. Rating: Three stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate). FRED CLAUS: Vince Vaughn plays the same guy he always plays the smart-alecky, fast-talking, seemingly insincere dude who ultimately turns out to be a lovable lug beneath the bravado only this time he does it surrounded by elves and toys with jaunty Christmas music blaring in the background. Clearly, he can do more. He proved it earlier this year in Into the Wild. But here hes once again coasting on his well-worn persona, surrounded by esteemed, award-winning actors who are vastly overqualified and mostly look bored. And the thing is, the central nugget of an idea behind this movie isnt bad. Vaughn stars as the bitter Fred Claus, whos spent a lifetime seething in the shadow of his loving, generous younger brother, Nicholas (Paul Giamatti), better known as Santa. Desperate for cash to get out of jail and start a gambling venture, Fred agrees to schlep to the North Pole and earn the money by helping his brother and his mini-minions prepare for Christmas. Classified: PG for mild language and some rude humor. Running time: 116 minutes. Rating: One and a half stars out of four. (Lemire, AP) THE GOLDEN COMPASS: A darker, deeper fantasy epic than the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia or the Potter films, offering more complex villains and posing more intriguing questions. As a visual experience, superb. As an escapist fantasy, challenging. With gifted newcomer Dakota Blue Richards, a 12-year-old who won the role in competition with 10,000 others. Also starring Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Sam Elliott. Classified: PG-13. Running time: 114 minutes. Rating: Four stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).GONE BABY GONE: Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan play lovers and business partners who are private investigators specializing in tracking down deadbeats. Approached by clients to help find a missing child, they protest that theyre just garden-variety PIs, dont carry guns, arent looking for heavy lifting. But maybe theyll see something the cops miss. Impressive directing debut by Ben Affleck, with a top-drawer supporting cast: Morgan Freeman, Amy Madigan, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan. Classified: R. Running time: 115 minutes. Rating: Three and a half stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate). IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON: I never use the words must-see, which have been cheapened by association with so many films you need not see. But this extraordinary documentary, interviewing many of the surviving Apollo astronauts about their voyages to the moon, combines restored and in many cases never-before-seen moon footage into a spellbinding experience. Especially recommended for those to whom Apollo is only a word in a history book. Classified: PG. Running time: 100 minutes. Rating: Four stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate). INTO THE WILD: You probably dont know the name Emile Hirsch. Not yet at least. Hes a young, good-looking, up-and-coming actor whos been working steadily for the past few years he was the guy who lusted after Elisha Cuthbert in The Girl Next Door, maybe thatll ring a bell. All that should change, however, with Into the Wild, and deservedly so. Hirsch gives an absolute tour de force as the doomed Christopher McCandless, whose restless wanderings in search of nature, beauty and truth left him dead in Alaska, starved and alone, at 24. In adapting Jon Krakauers 1998 best-seller of the same name, writer-director Sean Penn gives him a wealth of material to work with. Hirsch gets to be charming, passionate and idealistic but also impetuous, stubborn and self-righteous. Penn depicts this flawed figure with all the richness and complexity youd find in the unforgiving Alaskan terrain, presenting McCandless in both his selflessness and selfishness without once judging him or turning him into a martyr. Rated:R language and some nudity. 150 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four. (Lemire, AP) LARS AND THE REAL GIRL: Ryan Gosling plays Lars Lindstrom, a painfully shy young man who can barely stand the touch of another human being. One day he orders a life-sized love doll through the Internet, using Bianca not for sex but for companionship. He expects everyone else to treat the doll the same way, including his brother (Paul Schneider), sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) and therapist (Patricia Clarkson). Only after the movie is over do you realize what a balancing act it was, what risks it took, what rewards is contains. Directed by Craig Gillespie, written by Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under). Classified: PG-13. Running time: 106 minutes. Rating: Three and a half stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate). MR. MAJORIUMS WONDER EMPORIUM: Youd have to be a really little kid were talking young enough to be enthralled by colorful, shiny objects and oblivious to the necessity of character development to fall for this toy story. With wild hair and an annoying accent, Dustin Hoffman looks completely uncomfortable as the titular impresario, a childlike eccentric who doesnt just sell toys but whose store is a living being with feelings. Now, at age 243, he decides its time to leave (read: die, inexplicably) and hand the keys over to store manager Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman in full-on pixie mode), a former piano prodigy whos stuck creatively. (Ah, the irony she works at a place that encourages creativity!) The whole endeavor feels like the love child of Willy Wonka and Pee-Wee Herman. Its totally one-note in its incessant whimsy, except for those few moments when it treads awkwardly toward the topic of death. The most curious part is that this tongue-twister of a movie comes from writer-director Zach Helm, who previously wrote the clever, charming Stranger Than Fiction starring Will Ferrell (and co-starring Hoffman, much more effectively). The comic skills of Jason Bateman are wasted in the role of an uptight accountant whos come to assess the stores worth. Zach Mills shows some precocious likability as a 9-year-old with a hat fetish who visits the store daily because he has no friends. Classified: G. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated: One and a half stars out of four. (Lemire, AP) NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: Regards a completely evil man with wonderment, as if astonished that such a merciless creature could exist. He is Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who travels Texas and kills people with a cattle stun gun. He is one strand in a plot involving a drug deal gone bad. Another is a sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) and a third is a hunter (Josh Brolin), a poor man who comes across $2 million in drug money. A masterpiece based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, written, directed and edited by Joel and Ethan Coen. As good as their Fargo, which is saying something. Classified: R. Running time: 123 minutes. Rating: Four stars. (Ebert, Universal Press Syndicate).