Selected mini-reviews, rated on a system of 0 to 4 stars, by Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Stephen Cole and Jason McBride. Full reviews appeared on the dates indicated.
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 mound of the same action + banter that piles up on every Friday's doorstep over the long 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 stupefying contrast between such mountains of movie magic and the molehills of feeling they inspire. PG (May 16) R.G.
An accountant (Ewan McGregor), wearing heavy glasses and walking hunched over, like a man in a low-ceilinged room, shows up for work one night, laptop in tow, and is dragged away by a mysterious, charismatic Wall Street lawyer (Hugh Jackman). First, a fat joint is shoved in his mouth. Then he's taken nightclubbing. Before long, the accountant is involved with high-priced call girls, kidnapping, embezzlement and murder. Worse news: None of the sex clubs issue receipts! Dire, predictable thriller. 14A (April 25) S.C.
The Edge of Heaven
Having proved in Head-On that he's a young director to watch, Fati 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, French-101 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. No one would accuse these pictures of subtlety, but they're all smart enough to take DUMB and nudge it cleverly, at times hilariously, up-market. 18A (April 18) R.G.
Writer-director Jeremy Podeswa ( The Five Senses) isn't strictly faithful to Anne Michaels's novel of a Holocaust survivor's fragmented life, but he is devoted to the book's sombre, poetic spell and stream-of-consciousness flow. Through fluid editing, he moves the story back and forth between continents and decades. Stephen Dillane plays Jakob Beer, a Polish-born writer living in Toronto, struggling with memories of his lost family, and through the help of his Greek godfather (Rade Serbedzija) and a small constellation of fellow souls, finds how to live in the present by the film's tentatively affirmative ending.
14A (May 2) 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.
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.
My Blueberry Nights
Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, the celebrated stylist behind In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels and Ashes of Time, is out of his element in this American road movie/romance, starring singer Norah Jones as Elizabeth, a lovesick waitress, and Jude Law as Jeremy, a New York diner-owner, who meet at the beginning of the movie and wait until the end to find each other. In Memphis, Elizabeth meets a fatally mismatched couple (David Straitharn as a love-wounded cop and Rachel Weisz as his cheatin' wife), and on to Las Vegas, where she meets a jaded lady card shark (a hilariously miscast Natalie Portman). The characteristic Wong touches are there, from the orange-red lighting, fluttery editing and moody soundtrack, but they can't help redeem a vapid story.
PG (May 9) L.L.
As well as both having been childhood Oscar nominees, Abigail Breslin ( Little Miss Sunshine) and Jodie Foster now share a movie, though unfortunately not a particularly good one. This preachy fantasy-comedy about being the heroine of your life stars Breslin as an 11-year-old who is inadvertently abandoned, with her menagerie of cute animals, on a Pacific island. She e-mails her favourite adventure author (a manically overacting Foster) to break out of her neurotic, agoraphobic shell and come and save her. PG (April 4) L.L.
The Other Boleyn Girl
If you're going to treat the prickly lives of the British Tudors as an episode of Desperate Housewives, then damn well do the deed. Be campy, be sexy, be funny. Be anything but earnest. Adapted from Philippa Gregory's "fictional biography," with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson as the Henry-bedding Boleyn sisters, this is boilerplate history served up with breastplate formality. What might have been delicious trash lacks the courage of its trashy convictions, and the result is high-born melodrama with the juice boiled out, so much dry cabbage on fine china plate. 14A (Feb. 29) R.G.
Son of Rambow
It's 1982 and two emotionally undernourished British tweenagers fall under the spell of Sylvester Stallone's Rambo. Why Sly? Humiliated by authority figures and scorned by society, Rambo is an idol for beleaguered kids looking to survive middle school-Vietnam. The film gets the vicissitudes of eighties pop culture just about right. There's even a delirious sequence where kids pretend to get high mixing Coke and Pop Rocks candies; an urban myth from the Me Decade. A beguiling comedy from writer-director Garth Jennings. Who'd have thought the adoptive kids of spaniel-eyed lout, Rambo, would be so much fun? PG (May 9) S.C.
The main contribution of the Wachowski brothers to this cartoon saga - it's based on a Japanese anime about a car-racing clan - is to plunk actual actors into CGI sets. The landscapes, the architecture, the race courses, the cars themselves, are all supersaturated in colour and even gaudier than Gaudi. At first, the visuals are mildly intriguing, but then it's like being trapped in a thinly plotted video game that you're not allowed to manipulate, watching someone else make repetitively bad choices with the joystick. Yesterday, John Frankenheimer pumped more palpable racing excitement into a single frame of Grand Prix; and, today, Grand Theft Auto at least lets you throttle up your own virtual voiture. From parents through teens to tykes, the whole family can have fun making fun of this thing. PG (May 9) R.G.
The Stone Angel
In bringing Margaret Laurence's 1964 novel, a cornerstone of CanLit, to the big screen, director-writer Kari Skogland's well-intended adaptation aims to be respectful of her source material while bridging the gap to a younger female audience. The adaptation emphasizes incident-filled plot and eroticism more than themes of dour Calvinist pride and repression, for a story in the Gone with the Wind mode of indomitable feminine passion and pluck. The cast, led by Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn and winsome newcomer Christina Horne, as Hagar old and young, is game, but the episodic flashback structure feels desultory, as if there's a miniseries here, squeezed into a movie.
14A (May 9) L.L.
Another corrupt-cop movie: Keanu Reeves is a middle-aged LAPD detective who gargles vodka and sleeps in his uniform. He also kills suspects rather than taking them down to the station. That's fine with his captain (Forest Whitaker), a big believer in "exigent" police work. Internal Affairs investigates when a crusading do-gooder cop ends up on the cooling board. Reeves is quite good as the sadistic heavy. But the film is undone by novelist-screenwriter James Ellroy ( L.A. Confidential), who would appear to regard murder, alcoholism and revenge as blessed sacraments in the macho religion that is police work.
18A (April 11) S.C.
Then She Found Me
A lukewarm human comedy from actress/debut-director, Helen Hunt. April Epner (Hunt) is a 39½-year-old schoolteacher who becomes pregnant and must decide how to proceed with her life. Alternately helping out and hindering April on her voyage of middle-aged discovery are boyfriend Frank (Colin Firth) and ex-husband Ben (Matthew Broderick). It's great to see Hunt on screen again, smiling and coping, warm and funny as ever. But the new men in her life drag all the fun out of her movie. Ben is a 50-year-old Beaver Cleaver. And when the going gets rough, Frank turns into Basil Fawlty, storming out of rooms to hurl profanities into the wind. 14A (April 25) S.C.
What a big cheat of a movie, oh-so-loosely based on a true story that has an M.I.T. professor (Kevin Spacey) recruiting a student team of math geniuses to win big at the blackjack tables. Problem is, it wants to be everything to everybody - tough gambling picture, revenge-of-the-nerds fantasy, Vegas caper flick, sweet little romance, simple morality tale - but ends up just hedging its bets, leaving you with an occasional tidbit to like but nothing at all to love. And that tepid combo makes for a tepid result. Final frame over, the film disappears from your consciousness as fast as a fistful of coins into a hungry slot machine. 14A (March 28) R.G.
A political thriller with its trigger finger on the rewind button, Vantage Point shows us the apparent assassination of the American president (William Hurt) at an anti-terrorist summit in Spain from several perspectives, including that of a TV news crew (with Sigourney Weaver as the producer) and a couple of secret-service men (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) and a tourist (Forest Whitaker). Interesting in theory, the gimmick grows increasingly tiresome as the stop-and-start technique frustrates the plot momentum. Vantage Point ends up with something of the overconstructed stiffness of a seventies disaster movie, which isn't saved by the final big car chase. 14A (Feb. 22) L.L.
The famed character actor Richard Jenkins ( Six Feet Under) is the improbable lead in Tom McCarthy's tedious but affecting new film. A repressed and lonely economics professor, still grieving after his wife's death, he becomes unlikely friends with Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), an illegal immigrant from Syria. Their friendship is cut short when Tarek is imprisoned in a detention centre. Jenkins brings nuance to his role, but the film suffers from a condescending tone and gratuitous ironies. Eventually, it becomes less about the suffering of immigrants who have never enjoyed the embrace of Ellis Island than the indignation of a liberal intelligentsia raging against its own powerlessness. PG (April 25) J.M.
What Happens in Vegas
Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher sure are pretty people and there are worse things on this freighted Earth than watching people's prettiness magnified on the big screen, but beyond the basic ogling pleasure that is this romance comedy's sole raison d'être, What Happens in Vegas should damn well have stayed in Vegas. PG (May 9) R.G.
Where in the World
is Osama Bin Laden?
Morgan Spurlock's goofy, exasperating follow-up to Super Size Me has the filmmaker facing fatherhood. Wanting to protect his unborn child, he travels to the Middle East to track down the World's Most Wanted Man, or at least find some mutual understanding. As narrator and subject, Spurlock lacks Michael Moore's firm politics and Nick Broomfield's bluff charm. He's more amiable than either - a kind of Anderson Cooper manqué - but, in 2008, his blithe ignorance and why-can't-we-all-just-get-along analysis aren't so much simplistic as simple-minded. It's too obvious a question, but what kind of husband and father heads out on such an absurd, dangerous mission exactly when he's needed at home? The contrivance undermines everything. PG (May 16) J.M.