The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The first chronicle, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was a near-perfect adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic, recreating the book's unique mix of mythic abundance harnessed to English restraint. Now, the restraint is gone and all we get is abundance, a heaping mound of the same action + banter that piles up over the Hollywood summer. As for the accompanying tsunami of CGI effects, they serve the usual twofold purpose: (1) to make flying gryphons look really real; and (2) to fill us with exactly the wrong kind of wonder, puzzled yet again by the contrast between such mountains of movie magic and the molehills of feeling they inspire. PG (May 16) R.G.
The Edge of Heaven
Having proved in Head-On that he's a young director to watch, Fatih Akin makes a quantum leap here - already he's a mature director to admire. Again, the setting alternates between the grey efficiency of Germany and the vibrant chaos of Turkey, but this time the narrative geometry is more complex: Three families, each of them internally fractured in different ways, and yet each tenuously linked to the others. As the accelerating plot drives daughters from mothers, sons from fathers, lovers from lovers, the survivors search for surrogates, reaching out across barriers of language and culture. They all feel the need to connect, but the ability is a whole other matter. Apparently, at the edge of heaven, everything converges but nothing quite connects, and that gap - the poignant shadow cast between the heart's desire and hard reality - gives this sensitive film its emotional weight. 14A (May 23) R.G.
Flight of the Red Balloon
Master Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien's feature film is an elaboration of the classic balloon travelogue of Paris. The red balloon is still following a little lonely boy around Paris. Only filmmaker Hou is more interested in the little boy's mother, played by Juliet Binoche, a puppet master who has lost control of her life and family. Binoche is mesmerizing in defeat - vain, glorious, infuriating and profoundly attractive; her Suzanne is Paris without apology or explanation. PG (May 16) S.C.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Written by and starring Jason Segel, as a pudgy lover rudely dumped by his comely blond girlfriend, it does run long but it mainly rollicks. Better still, the laughs continue the trend of the recent hits - The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and now this - rolling off the Judd Apatow production line. Each one reanimates the romantic comedy via some pretty creative thievery, stealing liberally from gross-out flicks and sex farces and slacker movies, then leavening the mix with the kind of laid-back, tossed-off dialogue
that lets the really absurd seem, well, absurdly real.
18A (April 18) R.G.
Given generally low expectations for sixties' sitcoms revived as movies, the new Get Smart doesn't miss it by that much. This goofy action comedy, directed by Peter Segal ( 50 First Dates, Anger Management) mixes physical comedy and off-hand one-liners, occasionally weighed down by generic action sequences. In what amounts to a Maxwell Smart "origin story," Steve Carell's Max is a pedantic intelligence analyst who gets his chance to become a heroic agent like the hunky Agent 23 (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway, looking soigné in updated sixties chic) still only has a number instead of a name, but she's a lively foil for the bumbling but cocky hero. PG (June 20) L.L.
In this follow up to the Canadian music documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen trace the permutations of heavy-metal music in seven countries outside the usual North American-European hub. The music may represent a rebellion against Islamic fundamentalism in Indonesia or Arab countries, a defiance of religious and caste distinctions in India and a form of protest against poverty in Brazil. The metalhead perspective on global culture is a bit narrow but the major problem is that Dunn, as front man for his film, gives himself far too much attention. 14A (June 20) L.L.
The Incredible Hulk
This is the second movie about the Marvel comic superhero in the past four years, after Ang Lee's 2004 Hulk, and this time Marvel Studios avoids the intellectual ambitions that made the last Hulk no smash. French action director Louis Leterrier ( The Transporter) replaces talk with action and familiar story elements - Bourne-style chases, battles using lots of military hardware and a cast of characters from the comic books. Edward Norton, too under wraps to really be much fun, plays timid scientist Bruce Banner and Liv Tyler is his biology-professor girlfriend Betty Ross. Though there are a few nods to the pathos of Frankenstein and King Kong, mostly The Incredible Hulk is just another computer-generated cartoon with all the requisite destruction of cars and buildings required of a summer blockbuster. PG (June 13) L.L.
and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull
Just like its hero, the Indy franchise has always been deep into archeology, digging up the cinematic stuff of B-movie serials and then magnifying the clichés under Steven Spielberg's flashy microscope. Now, nearly two decades after their last appearance, the archeologists are back but, with the weariness that comes with fame and age, they're really just excavating themselves - Harrison Ford the Elder trying to disinter Harrison Ford the Younger; and Spielberg shovelling into Spielberg, deep enough to uproot (along with the old Indy tropes) E.T. aliens and a Close Encounters spaceship. Yes, the circle has closed and, within its airless confines, heroes are withering, energy is flagging, and the raiders are raiding their own precious arks. PG (May 22) R.G.
In the English comic tradition of The Full Monty, Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots, here comes more sentimental twaddle with a moderately racy premise. Irina Palm stars Marianne Faithfull as the consistently inexpressive Maggie, a downtrodden widow trying to raise money for her grandson's operation who takes a job offering manual relief to men in a Soho porn emporium (the movie's title is her professional name) where all strokes lead to a happy ending, and where Maggie emerges not only as a life-saver, but as the best right hand in all of London. And they say there are no good roles for older actresses. 14A (June 13) L.L.
Cynical, hip, politically opportunistic and loaded with kick-ass comic action, Iron Man could easily be called Irony Man. The movie brings together the wry talents of director Jon Favreau ( Swingers, Elf) and the intelligent bad-boy charm of star Robert Downey Jr. for the first blast of summer-movie heat. Downey plays amoral arms-dealer and inventor Tony Stark, who discovers his conscience after escaping from captors in the Afghanistan desert and decides to fight for world peace by encasing himself in a flying robot suit. His enemies include not only swarthy foreign warlords but his corporate partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges, bald with a fierce beard). His allies include his efficient assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Air Force officer Rhodey (Terrence Howard). The launch of what's obviously the next big superhero franchise is marred only by the movie's flat-footed ending, which looks like a dull heavy-metal outtake from Michael Bay's Transformers movie from last year.
PG (May 2) L.L.
Kung Fu Panda
DreamWorks's latest CGI critter comedy stars Jack Black as a roly-poly panda who must save a Chinese village from a grouchy snow leopard (Ian McShane). Kids will love Black's Po; pop-eyed stuttering and reckless slapstick always go over big with wee ones. Parent chaperones, however, may grow tired of the actor's class clowning - behaviour that will remind them of their own charges when they've had too much cake. PG (June 6) S.C.
In a summer already crowded with superheroes, Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov adds a rather unusual figure to the pantheon: Genghis Khan. In this splashy biopic, Bodrov traces the early life of the great Mongol warrior, depicting Khan as family man, political saviour and fearless warrior. Despite a somewhat tedious, stop-start narrative, Mongol is satisfying enough as an epic actioneer. Think Braveheart. Think 300. Just don't think too much. For all of Bodrov's humanizing attempts to fashion Khan as a visionary unifier - his big innovation is to introduce the idea of law into Mongol society - the director is only substituting one myth for another. More psychological inquiry might be misplaced in a film like this, but more imagination would not.
14A (June 6) J.M.
Sex and the City
Writer-director Michael Patrick King simply takes the designer brand that is the TV show and mounts it on the big screen with all the other brand names, the ones attached to dresses and linen and footwear. That means the four famously single women don't perform here so much as parade, fixed in their roles as semi-animated clothes-hangers on a cinematic runway. At its best, the TV series was a witty little accessory, a clutch purse containing pearls of debatable wisdom, definitely worth arguing about. But this exercise in recycled fashion is a whole other vat of Vuitton, just a pricey handbag of a movie uncontaminated by anything so crass as content, filled only with the perfumed air of a culture at rest - concept blissfully free of content. 18A (May 30) R.G.
When Did You Last
See Your Father?
In a tale based on the Blake Morrison memoir, a middle-aged son (Colin Firth) waits at the deathbed of his father (Jim Broadbent), sifting through his feelings for the old man - reverence, hatred, envy, love. Of course, none of these conflicting emotions is unique to him. They're felt, to varying degrees, by most flawed sons toward most flawed fathers, all those patriarchs who are neither ogres nor saints. That's why this honest, unsentimental and, in the end, moving film packs such a resonant charge - the relationship it explores may be specific and particular, but the wellspring it taps into runs wide and deep.
PG (June 13) R.G.
You Don't Mess with
Mess with Adam Sandler if you like, but be prepared for the consequences. About a counterterrorist turned hairdresser, this picture is to comedy what carpet bombing is to aerial warfare: The onslaught is so relentless that occasional direct hits on the funny bone are a statistical guarantee. As for any lingering wounds suffered by the more cerebral parts of your anatomy, chalk them up to collateral damage and consider it the price of laughter, Sandler-style. In his field manual of aggressive humour, you pay for your fun. 14A (June 6) R.G.
Young People F*ing
The title is as outrageous as things get in this mildly racy Canadian sex comedy, directed by Martin Gero and co-written with Aaron Abrams, featuring attractive middle-class young folk talking their way through embarrassing relationship issues. It could be called Friends with Benefits and run as a Friday-night cable television show. Gero keeps the pace moving briskly and maintains an effective balance of laughs and
emotional vulnerability, though not always enough to obscure uneven performances and patchy writing.
18A (June 14) L.L.