Selected mini-reviews, rated on a system of 0 to 4 stars, by Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Kate Taylor, Stephen Cole, Catherine Dawson March and Jennie Punter. Full reviews appeared on the dates indicated.
With this drama about a Toronto high-school student who identifies himself as the child of a terrorist and becomes engulfed in the ensuing Internet controversy, Atom Egoyan returns to his career-long examination of how the technology of communication promotes alienation. The film plays brilliantly with narrative expectations as it slowly reveals the student's real history, features some breathtaking cinematic symbols (an elaborately veiled Muslim woman beside a Christmas tree; a bonfire made from painted figures of the Magi) and offers warm performances by Devon Bostick as the student and Arsinée Khanjian as his teacher, but it is also a cerebral exercise driven by ideas rather than experience. As it moves from its cleverest illustrations of its themes into a more conventional family drama about prejudice and loss, it becomes less artificial yet paradoxically less interesting. 14A (May 8) K.T.
A post-adolescent comedy set back in the mid-eighties, Adventureland deposits its Renaissance Studies grad square in the midst of a dreary summer job at a run-down amusement park. There, the delight of this movie lies in its devilish details. Working from his own loosely autobiographical script, writer-director Greg Mottola knows the turf well, supplementing the basic comedic farce with a dash of raw sociology and a dollop of real feelings. The menu is admirable, if a bit overcooked on occasion. The laughs are usually fresh, the sociology is fairly crisp, but those feelings are the bottled jam of emotions - a bit too sweetly calculated for my taste. 14A (April 3) R.G.
Bart Got a Room
Danny Stein (Steven Kaplan) needs a date to the prom. Divorced dad, Ernie (William H. Macy) is also looking for companionship. Writer-director Brian Hecker follows both their misadventures in an attempt to captures the state of cultural disarray that is Florida - a land where Girls Gone Wild and Grandparents Gone Deaf try not to collide and kill each other. Like Danny and Ernie, the film is too restrained. Still, it's a likable, oddly flawed curio - a teen comedy with a hormone deficiency. PG (May 1) S.C.
Everyone here is scamming everyone else, not least of all writer-director Tony Gilroy, who's cleverly pulling a fast one on the audience. Essentially, he's made a formula flick that plays with the formula, a breezy romantic thriller (with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts) that simultaneously exploits and explodes the genre's familiar conventions. Sure, he cheats a bit - what scam artist doesn't? - but, with a few exceptions, his chicanery leaves us sufficiently off-balance to pique our interest and keep the fun quotient high. Mainly, it's a light/bright treat. PG (March 20) R.G.
A Disney nature film with smarm galore. "Unlike humans, polar bears don't always listen to their moms," narrator James Earl Jones tells us at one point, suppressing a chuckle. Still, Earth's outdoor and underwater footage is right out of this world. Anyone interested in racing their kids past 42 species from 64 countries in 90 minutes will be thrilled and entertained. And yes, there are penguins. PG (April 22) S.C.
Love her or hate here, Miley Cyrus has an undeniable charisma that radiates from the big screen as strongly as it does on the small one. The movie plays out like one long episode of her TV show, and that's a good thing. The story is much of the same as what we see every week, except here schoolgirl Miley Stewart believes her own pop-star press. She's spending too much time promoting Hannah Montana and blowing off her family and friends. Now, that don't sit right with her pa (Billy Ray Cyrus), who sends her home to the farm in Tennessee for a Hannah detox. Goodbye Rodeo Drive, hello rodeo. Cue the handsome farm hand, country music and plot turn that (almost) overturns the Hannah/Miley premise altogether. G (April 10) C.D.M.
Hunger - the disturbing, provocative, brilliant feature debut from British director Steve McQueen - does for modern film what Caravaggio did to Renaissance painting. Centred on the death by self-imposed starvation of IRA activist Bobby Sands, the picture forces us to take a long, hard look at a martyr's moment in history, but with the polite iconography completely stripped away, revealing the dirt beneath the fingernails, the filth on the cell walls, the anguish of the punished and the punishers. And so the moment casts its lingering shadow, stretching from yesterday's Northern Ireland to the Iraq, the Darfur, the Guantanamo of today. 18A (April 10) R.G.
I Love You, Man
Paul Rudd, a familiar sidekick in films from The Forty-Year-Old Virgin to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, emerges as a lead character in this comedy about a likable nerd named Peter whose fiancée (Rashida Jones) wants him to find a male friend. Peter goes on a "bromantic" quest and discovers Sidney (Jason Segel) who becomes his mentor in the world of maleness. Effectively a Judd Apatow comedy without Judd Apatow, I Love You, Man is familiar but also very funny, thanks to Rudd and Segel's often nuanced comic timing and sharp, improvised banter. 14A (March 20) L.L.
Journey to Mecca: In the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta
The tale of a 14th-century Muslim traveller who followed the sun and stars for 30 years, searching for spiritual contentment, has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama and the former archbishop of Canterbury. But don't let that discourage all you temporal pleasure-seekers out there. The 45-minute Imax film has the cheery innocence and dramatic sweep of a Saturday-afternoon kiddies' matinee. Narrated by Ben Kingsley. NA (Feb. 6) S.C.
Monsters vs. Aliens
Mere seconds into Monsters vs. Aliens, an animated feature "wholly conceived in 3-D," a rubber ball gets whacked by a wooden paddle and flies off the screen smack toward us - yep, tricked out in our plastic glasses, we duck. In other words, through generations of computerized advances, the high-tech wizards are still stooping to the same low-brow shtick. As for the tale itself - the monsters are Shrekian good guys, the aliens ain't - there's a musty odour to the script, a committee job that spins dull variations on stock figures and ends with the usual pillow-soft moral. PG (March 27) R.G.
An American-made Hindi film that is every bit as tranquil as the blue-green reservoir that serves as its abiding metaphor. Venkatesh is an impoverished teenager whose lone pleasure is climbing a tree to study an unruffled turquoise pool. The pool's owner adopts him, offering the use of his swimming facility. "But be careful," he warns, "My son drowned there." An artful, unresolved mystery that lingers in the mind after we leave the theatre. Directed by Chris Smith ( American Movie). PG (April 3) S.C.
The destinies of a young Chiapan gangster and Honduran immigrant collide on top of a Mexican train in 31-year-old Cary Joji Fukunaga's thrilling and beautifully crafted debut feature, winner of top directing and cinematography awards at Sundance this year. Rooted in the filmmaker's deep first-hand research, Sin Nombre ("Nameless") was shot in real locations, stars Mexican and Central American actors and is sprinkled with eye-catching details that lend an authentic feel. But it unfolds almost like a fairytale, anchored in contemporary versions of archetypes - rites of passage, prophecies and border crossings, both physical and moral. 14A (April 3) J.P.
State of Play
Back when it first surfaced as a BBC miniseries, State of Play - a murder-mystery triangulated on the incestuous relationship among politicians, the press and the cops - may have strained credulity at every second plot turn, but, my, the rip-roaring yarn really zipped along. With the setting transplanted to Washington, and the original length shrunk by a third to a feature-friendly two hours, the film version keeps the bogus plot yet loses all that lively zip. Giving new meaning to movie magic, those Hollywood tricksters have managed to shorten the story while slowing the pace - all of a sudden, minutes pass like hours. PG (April 17) R.G.
A tall stalk of cane with a lively arm, Sugar leaves the Dominican Republic for the diamonds of America, there to pursue his dream of a career in professional baseball. The admirable result combines two genres that are typically laden with clichés - the sports flick plus the immigrant's tale - and rubs away all the melodramatic varnish, leaving only the natural grain of life's small victories and lingering disappointments. This is a dramatic feature with reportorial strengths, sensitively exploring a theme that has grown prominent with the globalization of sport: The foreign athlete arriving in a strange land to put on a familiar jersey, his name on the back competing for, and struggling with, the logo on the front. 14A (April 17) R.G.
A former CIA "preventer" (Liam Neeson) Rambos over to France to rescue his teenage daughter from a sex-slave operation. Neeson is a persuasive action star. And the production team is the pit crew who changed tires on The Transporter trilogy. The film moves well. Right up until the Rambo retribution scenes, whereupon the whole shebang turns punch drunk, slow and stupid. With Maggie Grace. 14A (Jan. 30) S.C.
It opens with a botched suicide and then turns a little glum. Director James Gray is back in the New York area code, returning to his pet theme of divided loyalties, with screwed-up Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) torn between the two lovers of the title - a nice Jewish girl (Vinessa Shaw) and a hot blond shiksa (Gwyneth Paltrow). Gray is an awfully programmatic writer whose scripts are so schematic they flirt with cliché. What redeems this one, though, are several lovely set-piece scenes and the actors' nuanced performances, both of which dig beneath the ordered narrative to extract nuggets of real emotion. 14A (April 10) R.G.
Director Zack Snyder ( 300) offers a solid adaptation of Alan Moore's (writer) and Dave Gibbons's (illustrator) ambitious meta-pulp graphic novel about the folly of hero worship. The story re-imagines the United States of the postwar era, in which the USA wins the Vietnam War, and President Nixon keeps getting re-elected. Splashy violence and trippy visuals combine, along with a lot of boomer music (Dylan, Hendrix) underlying key scenes. The acting (Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has a comic-book simplicity, with the exception of former child actor Jackie Earle Haley as the twisted anti-hero, Rorschach. 18A (March 6) L.L.