BILLY: THE EARLY YEARS **
This well-meaning film pays unadulterated homage to the Rev. Billy Graham, following him from his tent-revival conversion as a Charlotte teenager to an L.A. speech in 1949, where the orator and the man of faith were fully joined. Despite Armie Hammer's charismatic presence in the title role and good support, notably from Lindsay Wagner as his mother and Stefanie Butler as his wife, the movie never gets far enough under Graham's skin. It also makes faith in God seem like a choice that involves no struggle, no despair, virtually no doubt – just smiling, unexamined belief. 89 minutes. PG: Thematic material including some disturbing images, brief language and smoking.
BODY OF LIES ** 1/2
A CIA employee in the Middle East (Leonardo DiCaprio) becomes dissatisfied with the heartless policies of his boss (Russell Crowe) and attempts to keep humanity and sanity intact while pursuing a terrorist leader. He has a not very credible romance with a Jordanian nurse, but the picture is mostly about America's attempt to police the world while retaining its respect. The movie's on fuzzy ground there, and not as complex as it ought to be. With Mark Strong as a suave, shrewd Jordanian anti-terrorist operative. 128 minutes. R: Strong violence including some torture, and for language throughout.
CITY OF EMBER **
This imaginative children's fantasy hasn't been thought out well enough or given sufficient detail. It's another teens-save-civilization fantasy, with Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan finding a way to rescue their underground city from falling into perpetual darkness when it uses up its resources. The environmental message is welcome, but the movie never makes the contained, dying world of Ember real enough. 95 minutes. PG: Mild peril and some thematic elements.
THE DUCHESS ***
Lady Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley) marries the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) in the 18th century, then realizes she's a glorified brood mare expected to produce a son and ignore his affair with her best friend (Hayley Atwell). The film doesn't do full justice to her political and social impact – it's more about wigs than Whigs – but the romantic triangle is interesting. 110 minutes. PG-13: Sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material.
THE EXPRESS ** 1/2
Syracuse University running back Ernie Davis, the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy, was by all accounts a quiet, lovable, hardworking guy. This movie sets Davis (Rob Brown) amid the racial politics of the civil rights era, not entirely convincingly, and shows how he awakened the consciousness of coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid). A well-meaning history lesson, with just enough drama to get by. 120 minutes. PG: Thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality.
I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND
Czech director Jiri Menzel (“Closely Watched Trains”) returns with another serious comic parable, this one about a little guy who survives the Nazi and Communist takeovers of his nation through a mix of luck, diplomacy, cunning and self-effacing slyness. 120 minutes. R: Sexual content and nudity.
A horror film about an infection in an L.A. apartment building investigated by a TV crew. Screened nowhere in advance. 89 minutes. R: Bloody violent and disturbing content, terror and language.
A western long on atmosphere but short on detail. Ed Harris co-wrote, directed and stars as a dictatorial itinerant lawman with a cooler-headed sidekick (Viggo Mortensen). The town of Appaloosa hires them to subdue a brutal outlaw (Jeremy Irons) at the risk of giving up personal freedoms; you can see this as political allegory, if you like. With miscast Renée Zellweger as a mystery woman. 114 minutes. R: Some violence and language.
AN AMERICAN CAROL
An anti-American filmmaker out to abolish the Fourth of July holiday is visited by three ghosts who try to change his perception. Directed by David Zucker. Not screened for critics anywhere. 83 minutes. PG-13: Rude and irreverent content, language and brief drug material.
BATTLE IN SEATTLE
Stuart Townsend wrote and directed this docudrama about activists protesting a meeting of the World Trade Organization. Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson and André Benjamin star. 98 minutes. R: Language and some violence.
BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA **
Two snooty creatures, a lost dog and her spoiled caretaker, fall in love with a humble chihuahua and the Latino gardener who owns him in this noisy, colorful but completely predictable adventure. Piper Perabo is dull as the human, and Drew Barrymore is the nondescript voice of the dog. Kids will laugh, but adults will find nothing to enjoy but the vocal antics of Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez and George Lopez as beasts. 91 minutes. PG: Some mild thematic elements.
BLINDNESS * 1/2
A sudden virus causes most people in an unidentified city to lose sight; penned up in care centers, they swiftly degrade to the emotional level of beasts – probably some sort of metaphor I'm not bothering to contemplate. Fernando Meirelles' imaginative visuals are the only compensation for soggy acting by Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and many others. 120 minutes. R: Violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity.
A sex addict (Sam Rockwell) pays medical bills for his mother (Anjelica Huston) by pretending to choke in restaurants, then developing parasitic relationships with the rich people who “save” his life. Clark Gregg directed and adapted Chuck Palahniuk's novel. 89 minutes. R: Strong sexual content, nudity and language.
EAGLE EYE ** 1/2
A supercomputer that controls all U.S. electrical and electronic devices forces two innocent people (Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan) to help it try to assassinate most of the top 12 officials in the federal chain of command. The racing, non-stop action doesn't make us forget the plot's preposterousness and the hero's blandness, but it's fun while it lasts. 118 minutes. PG-13: Intense sequences of action and violence, and for language.
Alex Kendrick (“Facing the Giants”) wrote and directed this story of a firefighter and his wife (Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea) who begin a 40-day Christian experiment to save the marriage. 122 minutes. PG: Thematic material and some peril.
FLASH OF GENIUS ** 1/2
Greg Kinnear plays Robert Kearns, who invented the intermittent windshield wiper and fought for years to get automakers to pay him; Lauren Graham plays his wife, who tried to hold their family together in the face of his obsession. Neither has quite enough fire to spark this honest but mundane look at a little guy fighting the corporations.119 minutes. PG-13: Brief strong language.
HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE *
Execrable trash, neither romantically nor comedically successful and moronically plotted. Simon Pegg plays a moronic, smug British journalist at a trendy New York magazine, who charms would-be novelist Kirsten Dunst against her will. Mine, too. 110 minutes. R: Language, some graphic nudity and brief drug material.
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA
Spike Lee directed this World War II drama about black soldiers trapped in an Italian village. Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller star.160 minutes. R: Strong war violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.
NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST
Romance blossoms between two teens in Manhattan, a guitarist for a rock band (Michael Cera) and an average-Jane who knows nothing of hip fashions (Kat Dennings) but keeps bumping into him through one night. 90 minutes. PG-13: Mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior.
NIGHTS IN RODANTHE ***
Diane Lane runs an inn at the Outer Banks while deciding whether to let straying husband Christopher Meloni back into her life. She meets surgeon Richard Gere, who has come to the Banks to meet the husband of a woman who died on his operating table (soulful Scott Glenn). The film's more interested in emotional realities than physical ones, and the romantic bonds give it appealing honesty. 97 minutes. PG-13: Some sensuality.
Bill Maher interviews figures from all over the map – geographically and denominationally – to put the world's religions into perspective. Larry Charles (“Borat”) directed. 101 minutes. R: Some language and sexual material.
BURN AFTER READING (R) ***
THE FAMILY THAT PREYS (PG-13)
GHOST TOWN (PG-13) ***
LAKEVIW TERRACE (PG-13)
MY BEST FRIEND'S GIRL (R)
RIGHTEOUS KILL (R)
TROPIC THUNDER (R) ***1/2
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (PG-13) * 1/2
Film capsules are written by Lawrence Toppman. If there's no star rating, he hasn't seen the movie.
Grades: **** = excellent, *** = good, ** = fair,
* = poor.