There’s really not much of an update this time around. Work slowly continues in and around the Hogwarts building, hinting that most of the labor is going on somewhere that cameras are unable to reach.
An adaptation of the Will Eisner comic book series that launched over 60 years ago, “The Spirit” has been groomed for big screen dominance by writer/director Frank Miller, himself a legend in the field of graphic novels as well as the co-director of the influential hit “Sin City.” A blissfully coked-out-of-its-mind spit-take on Eisner and the modern world of superhero cinema, “The Spirit” is a wet bag of hot breath slowly released through a monochromatic lens, spending much of its running time reminding the viewer that not every hero needs his own film and perhaps Miller should never be allowed to direct on his own again.
Whatever director David Fincher has been drinking lately, I hope he maintains the habit for the rest of his career. Once the go-to guy for sinister stories dissecting the downfall of humanity, Fincher has found a new path for himself in recent years and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is perhaps his finest achievement as a filmmaker. The picture doesn’t lacerate or gnash its teeth. Instead, it conveys a soul-rattling ache of life that floods the moviegoing veins with storytelling electricity and piercing thematic resonance. I adore Fincher 2.0.
Taking time out of his hectic PG-13 schedule to make a flick for the kiddies, Adam Sandler tones down his act a smidge for the Disney film experience, “Bedtime Stories.” Only six months ago Sandler was try to ease Middle East tensions and enjoy sex with Lanie Kazan in “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” and now it’s all bug-eye guinea pigs, gumball storms, and Buzz Lightyear cameos. Even if you hold distaste for Sandler’s juvenile antics, I think some credit has to be given for his recent interest in versatility.
Try as he might, director Sam Mendes can’t manage to find his way out of suburbia. The “American Beauty” filmmaker returns to the cultural cancer in “Revolutionary Road,” an extraordinary motion picture that harnesses spellbinding emotional discharge and enthralling disgust, using two of the most talented and captivating stars of today to bring to the screen a masterwork of domestic isolation. It’s the best film Mendes has made to date.
A WWII thriller without the benefit of bullets and cigar-chomping bravery? How dare director Bryan Singer offer such alien delights. “Valkyrie” is a film that perfectly assumes the description of Hitchcockian, for this strange historical piece doesn’t proffer much gung-ho action, instead using an exquisite architecture of suspense as legal tender to persuade audiences to follow what is a rather obscure offering of war-torn German history.
“Marley & Me” isn’t so much an amiable motion picture as it is a series of manipulations kissed by Floridian sun and scored to a 45-year-old accountant’s idea of a “wicked cool” mix CD. With a legion of readers already devoted to John Grogan’s best-selling autobiography, the film has a built in audience ready to weep uncontrollably all over again. However, pull back the intense tear-jerking and layers of sitcom filmmaking, and you’re left with a movie with amazingly little in the way of dramatic nutrition or organic sentiment.
Jews kicking ass. The boys of “Knocked Up” would adore this movie. Actually, “Defiance” has a little more on its plate than simple heroics, but the violence, the sheer aggression, is one of the lone qualities that separate this Edward Zwick film from the average television movie. A respectable shot at a Holocaust story with uplifting qualities and plump moral questioning, “Defiance” is a handsome production, just not an especially inspiring one.
Perhaps not the most mesmerizing of love stories, “Last Chance Harvey” submits one of the most richly acted illustrations of attraction found this year. A performance showcase for Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, “Harvey” slips into a tranquil mood of burgeoning chemistry, following an unlikely couple not energized by a sitcom screenplay basted in comedic coincidences, but an adult yarn regarding a couple of lonely souls eager to make a connection.
The performance that Mickey Rourke delivers in the remarkable motion picture “The Wrestler” is something that has been passionately mined from deep within the recesses of the spirit. To great delight and unspoken relief, the picture backs up Rourke’s effort to perfection. Certainly not an easy film to absorb with a single bite, “Wrestler” is a pummeling experience of raw intensity and dire futures, orbiting around Rourke and his astonishing pro-wrestling majesty; a splendid presentation of wounded ego within a feature of breathtaking observation.
Once upon a time Jim Carrey couldn’t tell a lie. Now he can’t stop saying yes to every opportunity that comes his way. Reshuffling a comedy concept a little to the left, “Yes Man” has Carrey trying to reclaim his bygone slapstick glory days, scraping the gunk off his comic timing and sprinting toward low-calorie bellylaughs. The effort is appreciated; however, the film still leaves much to be desired.
The tears flow like a raging river in “Seven Pounds,” the latest Oscar-baiting step from Will Smith to solidify himself as an actor for all seasons. A murky stab at articulating emotional paralysis, “Pounds” plays dirty, selecting a path of confusion to unfurl its ache, resulting in a near absence of psychological or emotional connection the movie is absolutely desperate to conjure.
Entering a cluttered marketplace of World War II-era Holocaust tales (joining “Good,” “Defiance,” “The Reader,” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”), “Adam Resurrected” does enjoy the novelty of being the strangest film of the pack. A haunting, yet decidedly off-putting odyssey of psychological meltdown and crippling grief, “Resurrection” is built on a foundation of shocking dehumanization, yet doesn’t have the sense to pull back and let the images sink in organically.
“The Tale of Despereaux” is actually quite a misleading title. There’s so much oddity floating around this misguided film, it leaves little room for our hero to accomplish anything worthy of sole title ownership. He’s rendered a footnote in a cluttered fairy tale yearning for a sense of whimsy, only to conjure great bewilderment instead.
Never the ambassador of understatement, Clint Eastwood fits “Gran Torino” comfortably alongside the rest of his directorial oeuvre. A pleasurably performed character study of racism and redemption, “Torino” doesn’t have much nuance to soothe the demanding filmgoer; the pleasures of the picture emerge from the vigor of the acting and the manner Eastwood sticks to perhaps outdated storytelling techniques to preserve his version of tension.
On the unnecessary remake scale of brow-furrowed disgust, I would rate this new pass at “The Day the Earth Stood Still” fairly high; not only because the film endeavors to “reimagine” the 1951 Robert Wise classic, but because it dares to drag perfection in the opposite direction. Refusing to take Wise’s nuanced lead, the new “Stood” is a grotesque creation that prefers noise to thought, clumsily slapping together an eco-minded warning siren in the guise of a bloated Roland Emmerich creation. We already have one Emmerich, the world doesn’t need a second version running around.
Guilt is what drives “The Reader” to unsettling highs and low of conduct. It’s the essence behind Stephen Daldry’s latest film, his first since 2002’s “The Hours,” and a picture that isn’t easy to deconstruct at first glance. Daldry works the senses and emotions to build a striking sexually charged drama, taking specific interest in the interior of the characters and what compels them to swallow the anguish they obviously desire to expel.
Even in the cluttered battlefield of Academy Award-sniffing dramas, “Doubt” registers as something exceptional. There’s certainly enough dramatic meat to chew on for days after viewing, but the picture is made extraordinary by the performances, which all contain reverberating, harrowing depictions of the title burden. “Doubt” is a magnificent experience all around, but the acting, the gale force wind of top shelf performance, will leave you slack-jawed and hungry for more.
“Desperate Housewives” meets drive-in exploitation cinema in “While She Was Out,” another cringing reminder how the era of true sleaze dried up decades ago. Trying to merge a chase film with little bursts of suburban paranoia, the picture whimpers around, attempting to stall long enough to fulfill a contractual feature-length running time. The goal is achieved, but the movie is a chore to sit through.