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NEW RELEASES

HELLBOY II:

THE GOLDEN ARMY ** 1/2

The Big Red One (Ron Perlman) and his cohorts battle elves and goblins who want to dig up a metal army to destroy humans despoiling the Earth. The film dazzles visually, as writer-director Guillermo Del Toro dreams up another array of fabulous creatures. Yet the parade of effects, crashes, fires and swordfights has no emotional weight, even in the prospect of Hellboy's death or his potential separation from pyromaniac Liz (the excruciating Selma Blair). 110 minutes. PG-13: Sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3-D** 1/2

That rating is for the 3-D version, available locally at Northlake and Stonecrest. (What the 2-D version is like, I can't say.) The science in this adaptation is ludicrous, but Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem are good company while exploring a subterranean world with giant mushrooms, vast lakes and (of course) a T-Rex. I had a good time watching people point yo-yos and tape measures at the camera, and the three spitting jokes were childishly entertaining when the water seemed about to cascade over us. But in a “flat” version, the 3-D effects I enjoyed may not come off. Unfortunately, the filmmakers pay virtually no attention to details. 92 minutes. PG: Intense adventure action and some scary moments.

MEET DAVE

A crew of miniature aliens operates a spaceship with a humanoid form (Eddie Murphy). They come to Earth to save their planet, but the “ship” falls for a human woman (Elizabeth Banks). 90 minutes. PG: Bawdy and suggestive humor, action and some language.

SAVAGE GRACE **

Reality TV has raised the bar for shamelessness so high that a film has a hard time competing: It must be much more lurid and/or laden with psychological complexities a TV show won't explore. “Savage Grace” scores on the first count but not the second in depicting the Baekeland family, where inherited wealth made everyone a wastrel or a pervert. Director Tom Kalin, making his second feature after 1992's “Swoon,” cast Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane and Eddie Redmayne. 97 minutes. Unrated: Sex, nudity, profanity, drug use, brief violence .

RECENT RELEASES

BEFORE THE RAINS

A British spice grower in India gets involved with a married woman from a local village and becomes the focus of tribal customs and laws. Linus Roache and Jennifer Ehle star in a drama directed by Santosh Sivan. 98 minutes. PG-13: Violent content, a scene of sexuality.

GET SMART

Director Peter Segal, one of Adam Sandler's favorites (“50 First Dates,” “The Longest Yard”), helms this comedy about a bumbler (Steve Carell) and a competent sidekick (Anne Hathaway) who protect the free world from the terrorist organization KAOS. Terence Stamp, Dwayne Johnson and Alan Arkin star. 110 minutes.

PG-13: Some rude humor, action violence and language.

HANCOCK ***

Two plots, either an excellent idea for a film but grafted together awkwardly. The first half shows the title character (Will Smith) to be an angry, alcoholic superhero who sleeps on the L.A. streets but can't stop saving people. When a PR man (Jason Bateman) decides to rehabilitate him, Hancock finds himself drawn to the man's wife (Charlize Theron). Then begins the second half, which is full of half-explained mythology and sometimes strained pathos. Smith, who keeps getting better, holds the piece together; Theron is strong. 92 minutes. PG-13: Intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language.

KIT KITTREDGE:

AN AMERICAN GIRL ** 1/2

The film has its heart in the right place and its head shoved well down into a box of clichés, treating its target audience of preteen girls as though they're not just inexperienced but unintelligent. It begins as a serious story about The Depression and degenerates into broad comedy about bumbling, harmless thieves. The title character (Abigail Breslin) wants to write for The Cincinnati Register in 1934. A rash of thefts around the city have been attributed to hoboes. But when the Kittredges' mortgage money vanishes, Kit realizes one of the boarders may have had a hand in this and the other robberies, so she investigates with her pals. Breslin's terrific, the other actors mostly adequate. 101 minutes. G.

KUNG FU PANDA *** 1/2

Roly-poly Po (voiced by Jack Black) realizes he's the Dragon Warrior who can save the Valley of Peace from a marauding panther (voiced by Ian McShane) in this charming, frantic and funny parable from Dreamworks' animators. Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson and writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger borrow material from many sources: the master-student relationship of “The Karate Kid,” the color scheme of “Hero,” the fight atop bamboo poles of “Iron Monkey,” a prison break from “Kung Fu Hustle,” and scads of flying imagery from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to show how hard work and fortitude help you achieve dreams. 91 minutes.

PG: Martial arts action.

THE LOVE GURU

Mike Myers co-wrote and stars as an American who was raised by Indian gurus and comes back to his homeland to spread wisdom – especially to a hockey player who has just lost his wife to another athlete and the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Justin Timberlake, Jessica Alba and Verne Troyer star. 88 minutes. PG-13: Crude and sexual content throughout, language, some comic violence and drug references.

LOVE STORY 2050

A Bollywood musical. 150 minutes. Unrated.

MONGOL *** 1/2

Director Sergei Bodrov follows Temudjin, as he was known before becoming a ruling “khan,” from the age of 10 to about 40. He and co-writer Arif Aliyev strike a satisfying balance between the warm family man and the warrior. They don't romanticize the adult Temudjin (Japanese actor-model-pop singer Tadanobu Asano), but they provide a corrective to the idea that he was a brutal bandit. The sweeping, bloody battles will make your eyes pop, and you'll reconsider this supposedly “uncivilized” man who unified quarrelsome Central Asian tribes to create one of the largest empires in history. 126 minutes.

R: Sequences of bloody warfare.

PRICELESS ***

A cinematic soufflé, prepared as only the French know how. A penniless fool (Gad Elmaleh) pursues a golddigger (Audrey Tautou) with the idea that she'll love him if he's sufficiently devoted. When she dumps him, he becomes a gigolo; they enter a good-natured, informal competition, realizing that their attraction to each other may queer their mutual deals with rich third parties. Director Pierre Salvadori (who wrote the script with Benoît Graffin) gives us an ending we can read as we like. 104 minutes. PG-13: Sexual content, including nudity.

THEN SHE FOUND ME ***

Helen Hunt directed this romantic comedy-drama and was one of three writers, so it's no surprise that it reflects her screen personality: a friendly, slightly anxious, smarter than average woman who's a bit afraid of age and loneliness and tries to approach them with humor. She plays April Epner, whose life is in turmoil: Her adoptive mother has died, she's dumped by her new-minted husband (Matthew Broderick), and her birth mother (Bette Midler) drops back into April's life. Meanwhile, an author (Colin Firth) with his own troubling ex-spouse enters the picture romantically. 100 minutes. R: Language and some sexual content.

THE RAPE OF EUROPA

*** 1/2

Writer-directors Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham focus on Adolf Hitler's plan to loot the nations of Europe, destroy art that displeased him and enshrine the rest in his boyhood town of Linz, where he planned the largest art museum on Earth. They explore the idea that destroying a culture is a kind of genocide: Remove things that separate humans from beasts, and they become beasts in the eyes of a conqueror – “subhumans” who can be crushed under tank treads without troubling the conscience. Yet there are heroes in this documentary, too, including U.S. Army “monument men” who protected buildings and restored art to rightful owners. 117 minutes. Unrated.

WALL-E *** 1/2

Rarely has any animator – especially in America, ESPECIALLY Pixar – been as tough-minded and daring about a dark vision as in this film, a potent environmental message wrapped up in an irresistibly cute romance between robots. It takes place in the 28th century, where the title character packs mountains of trash into stackable cubes. Mankind sailed away long ago and now sends probes to check Earth for plant life; a sleek number named Eve learns WALL-E has carefully preserved a seedling and returns to the mother ship, her friend in tow. The ship's computer, however, overrules the captain when he decides to head home. The film has one collective villain: heedless humanity, which turned the Earth into a garbage dump and sailed off into space. 97 minutes. G.

WANTED ***

Terrifically exciting, visually dazzling nonsense about a fraternity of assassins that takes orders from the Loom of Destiny, which weaves the names of deserving victims into cloth patterns. When the most gifted killer turns renegade and attempts to slay the slayers, the master of the order (Morgan Freeman) seeks the one man who can stop him: office drone Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), who doesn't realize his genetic makeup allows him to curve bullets around stationary objects. Director Timur Bekmambetov has a bloodlust that can be revolting when it's extreme, but he also has remarkable visual ideas and a fine sense of pacing; what he can do with cars will make your jaw drop. 110 minutes.

R: Strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality.

LONG RUNS

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (PG) ** 1/2

THE HAPPENING (R) * 1/2

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (PG-13) ***

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (PG-13) ***

IRON MAN (PG-13) ***

SEX AND THE CITY (R) * 1/2

THE VISITOR (PG-13) ***1/2

YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN (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.

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