Laura Linney portrays suspicious voting analyst Eleanor Green as Robin Williams plays comedian-turned-candidate Tom Dobbs in ’Man of the Year.’MCT photo
Capsule reviews of continuing films follow. (Reviews of new movies appear first in expanded format, then as capsules until the movie closes locally.)
CATCH A FIRE — The film takes place in apartheid-era South Africa, but identifying the good guys and bad guys isn’t always as simple as black and white. Director Phillip Noyce continues his recent streak of historical dramas (“Rabbit-Proof Fence,” “The Quiet American”) by exploring the true story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), an oil-refinery foreman and married father of two who’s wrongly accused of sabotage in 1980. Tim Robbins plays the police colonel investigating the case and gives the character enough shading to keep you guessing: Is he a torture-happy sadist, or a decent man with dubious methods? It’s the most subtle, complex work we’ve seen from him in years. Similarly, Luke (“Antwone Fisher”) is totally believable as a kind, hardworking family man who’s also capable of secrets and lies. (Though his transformation into bomb-toting rebel in the African National Congress happens a bit too abruptly.) Bonnie Henna co-stars as Luke’s beautiful but conflicted wife. PG-13 for thematic material involving torture and abuse, violence and brief language. 102 minutes.
THE DEPARTED — This is what you want in a Martin Scorsese film: beautifully edited, brutally violent sequences, brimming with life even as bodies are hitting the floor, all awash in a blaring Rolling Stones song. (In this case, “Gimme Shelter,” again.) Even though this is an Americanized version of the 2002 Hong Kong hit “Infernal Affairs,” it’s vintage Scorsese — for a while at least. The veteran director has made two-thirds of a great film about Boston cops and mobsters, with rich, meaty performances from a dizzyingly stellar cast and an ambience that screams Scorsese’s typical cultural authenticity. Leonardo DiCaprio, reuniting with the director for a third film, stars as a Massachusetts State Police detective who’s gone undercover to take down a crime boss (Jack Nicholson). Matt Damon, meanwhile, stars as the crime boss’ protege, who’s been working his way up the state police ranks. Each of them is asked to sniff out the rat — to seek out each other. It’s a clever premise and can be thrilling, but “The Departed” is also about a half hour too long and tends to drag just when it should be at its most intense. R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material. 150 minutes.
EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH — Jessica Simpson, Dane Cook, Dax Shepard and colleagues will not be in the running for Hollywood’s employee of the month for their new comedy. Except for standup comic Cook, who manages to come off as likable enough in this dreadful workplace tale, everyone else involved belongs in the unemployment line. First-time director Greg Coolidge shares screenwriting credit with Don Calame and Chris Conroy, and it’s a sorry day on the job when it takes the toil of three people to come up with a comedy so lame and gags so pathetic. Set at a bargain warehouse store, the movie pits Cook as a slacker box-boy against Shepard as an odious super-drone competing for the latest employee of the month contest, both convinced that winning is the only way to win the heart of a gorgeous new cashier (Simpson). Simpson is so flat and vacuous, she delivers her lines with all the personality of a 10-pound can of cling peaches. PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and language. 108 minutes.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS — The battle scenes are harrowing, the black-sand beaches exploding again and again with artillery fire, filling the gray sky and forming an even darker vision of hell. But it’s what happens to the men who fought after they’ve come home from Iwo Jima — and been hailed as heroes, whether they feel they deserve to be or not — that can be just as devastating in its intimate, internal way. With its awesome scope, this is by far the most ambitious picture Clint Eastwood has made in his 35 years as a director. Yet in following up “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby,” he balances the quiet intensity of those films with sequences that are breathtaking in their epic proportions. Working from a script by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, based on the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, Eastwood follows the men featured in the iconic flag-raising photograph at the Battle of Iwo Jima — a Pulitzer prize-winning Associated Press photograph, we might add — and those who grapple with the guilt of being linked to that shot, even though they might not have been there. Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford and John Slattery lead the excellent ensemble cast. R for sequences of graphic war violence and carnage, and for language. 131 minutes.
FLICKA — Still girlish at 27, Alison Lohman stars as a spirited teen who tames a spirited horse in this paint-by-numbers update of Mary O’Hara’s children’s book “My Friend Flicka,” previously filmed in 1943. Lohman plays a 16-year-old who adopts a wild mustang that everyone else, including her rancher dad (country singer Tim McGraw), thinks is too fierce and crazy to be tamed. Director Michael Mayer presents some gorgeous Western vistas, but the dull dialogue and predictable action corrals the actors, including the daring Maria Bello in an unusually dry role as Lohman’s mom. Lohman is blandly cute and mischievous, while McGraw is so tightly reined, he’s a dull stone face even when he’s supposed to be playing a testy father. PG for some mild language. 94 minutes.
THE GRUDGE 2 — The tormented souls from “The Grudge” are still tormented, but now they’re taking their pain on a world tour. That creepy, dead girl with the long, stringy black hair (Takako Fuji) and her little brother in his perpetual fetal position (Ohga Tanaka) are back, as is Takashi Shimizu, who directed the 2004 hit “The Grudge,” based on his own series of Japanese horror movies. This time they explain the origins of the curse that dwells within that dark, secluded house. But now the haunted themselves seem to have the ability to be everywhere at once: in a girls’ locker room in Tokyo, in a bathtub in Chicago, in a phone booth, in a hospital. Seems that if they’re this resourceful, they could figure out whatever it is they’re looking for and finally find some peace. But then there wouldn’t be a “Grudge 3,” which this sequel clearly sets up. PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence and some sensuality. 98 minutes.
THE GUARDIAN — Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher’s Coast Guard adventure drags on like a slow boat ride to Anchorage, its standard-issue heroics and flavorless dialogue gone stale long before the movie arrives at the big, valorous finish. Director Andrew Davis crafts hearty action sequences of men hurling themselves into peril to save others in Alaska’s churning waters. But the drama and emotion behind the action are so frosty, you could die of exposure by the time the movie lumbers to its climax after well over two hours. Costner plays a legendary Coast Guard rescue swimmer who takes on a temporary assignment training recruits, with Kutcher as his arrogant but promising protege. PG-13 for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality. 139 minutes.
MAN OF THE YEAR — Funny as he is at times, Robin Williams as a political jokester turned presidential candidate is a lightweight, almost as empty a suit as the career politicians he’s up against. Writer-director Barry Levinson’s premise is too absurd for belief even alongside 2000’s photo-finish presidential election, the movie relying mainly on its cast to see it through. Williams and especially co-stars Laura Linney, Christopher Walken and Lewis Black deliver well enough to keep the movie in the race, making viewers care about these people more than the story merits. Williams plays the comic host of a political talk show who runs as a lark and winds up elected — only to find out a computer glitch may have put him in the White House. PG-13 for language including some crude sexual references, drug-related material and brief violence. 115 minutes.
MARIE ANTOINETTE — Marie Antoinette denies ever saying “Let them eat cake” in Sofia Coppola’s film, dismissing it as if it were some tabloid rumor that she’d been spotted canoodling with a pop star in the VIP room of Paris’ most exclusive nightclub. Whether or not she did utter the famous phrase, the movie itself is so richly colorful and ornate, it looks as if the whole thing were confected out of frosting. Coppola’s stylishly bold vision is lush and dreamy — often mesmerizing to watch — with the lovely, petite Kirsten Dunst playing the French queen as a romantic girly-girl, not a cold royal whose spending habits sent the country into turmoil. The mix of 18th-century costumes and settings with modern dialogue and music (Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” as Marie shops for shoes with her girlfriends) may be jarring to some. Just go with it. The movie is a blast — until the end, that is, when Coppola finally injects some historical context, which Dunst and Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI discuss as convincingly as a couple of kids in a high school play. Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Asia Argento and Steve Coogan are among the eclectic ensemble cast. PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and innuendo. 121 minutes.
OPEN SEASON — Too bad this comes out now, at the end of a year that saw a flock of animated flicks about smart-alecky talking animals. It has the obligatory all-star vocal cast (Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing) and a healthy sprinkling of pop-culture references, but unlike “The Wild,” “The Ant Bully” or “Over the Hedge,” which it most closely resembles, it’s not insufferably obnoxious. This has a giddy energy about it and a gleeful sense of its own weirdness, as evidenced by the casting of Billy Connolly as the furry-eyebrowed McSquizzy, the leader of an organized, angry band of squirrels. Lawrence’s character, Boog, gets sent back to the woods after being wrongly accused of attacking a deer, the one-antlered Elliot, voiced by Kutcher. He longs to return to the home he shares with forest ranger Beth (Messing) but learns to survive and even thrive amid his fellow creatures along the way. It’s appropriate for most kids, though the confrontations with an overzealous hunter (Gary Sinise) could be a bit scary for little ones. PG for some rude humor, mild action and brief language. 87 minutes.
THE PRESTIGE — Director Christopher Nolan’s saga of dueling magicians devolves into a silly spiral of one-upmanship and half-baked revelations that won’t make you marvel so much as shrug and forget about them. Nolan captures a sturdy, period-drama variation of the dark broodiness that underscores his previous films, “Batman Begins,” “Insomnia” and “Memento.” Yet this tale of a blood feud between rival magicians (Hugh Jackman and “Batman Begins” star Christian Bale) is cold and distant emotionally, with extreme, single-minded obsession the only palpable sentiment. The movie is a schoolboy rivalry gone overboard, with wives and stage assistants (Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and Piper Perabo), a mentor (Michael Caine) and inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) caught in the fray. PG-13 for violence and disturbing images. 130 minutes.
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS — Augusten Burroughs’ unusual upbringing seems supremely cinematic. Mom (Annette Bening) drones on all day in a drug-induced haze, mesmerized by the sound of her own voice as she recites the narcissistic poetry she hopes will make her famous. Dad (Alec Baldwin) drinks and chain-smokes his way through night after night of suburban oblivion — before leaving the family for good. And his ersatz adoptive mother (Jill Clayburgh), the wife of his birth mother’s egomaniacal shrink (Brian Cox), simply sits in front of the TV, watching “Dark Shadows” and eating dog kibble out of the bag. In writing and directing his first film, based on Burroughs’ best-selling memoir, “Nip/Tuck” creator Ryan Murphy vividly re-enacts all these episodes and more. But that’s all they are: a series of darkly funny, sometimes downright depressing moments with no great cohesion or narrative momentum. And after a while the weirdness, which might have seemed so lively on the page, becomes dreary, overbearing and contrived on the screen. The performances are universally strong, though, especially from Bening, Clayburgh and Evan Rachel Wood. And as Burroughs himself, 20-year-old Joseph Cross more than holds his own with this veteran cast. R for strong language and elements of sexuality, violence and substance abuse. 121 minutes.
SAW III -- The “Saw” “trilogy” comes to a rip-cut, planed and sanded ending here, in a movie that fills in back story and wraps up five hours or so of blood, entrails, bone splinters and albumen. That’s brain fluid, by the way — albumen. Aside from that, it’s more “traps” set by the wily, wheezing puppet-master “Jigsaw” for more not-quite-deserving victims, people metaphorically trapped by hatred, fear or other shortcomings. In the “Saw” movies, see, it’s all about what sins you’ve committed against society or your own potential and just what you will do to extricate yourself from a horrific situation. Every manner of torture apparatus imprison folks who are given the chance to hacksaw their feet off, burn their hands with acid or “take a bullet” to pass some “test” that will win their release. The premise is bogus to anybody with all their albumen intact. Nonetheless, Jigsaw, the murderous judge and executioner, is on his last legs. He and his sidekick seize a doctor and her husband and put the husband through a murderous series of tests of compassion. He’s enraged in his grief for their dead son. He must show growth, as a man, in every step, or his wife dies. Meanwhile, the wife is treating the terminally ill Jigsaw. Not by choice. R for strong grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language. 107 minutes.