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Recent reviews

The Aviator
Dir. Martin Scorsese; writ. John Logan; feat. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Adam Scott, Kelli Garner, Alec Baldwin, Gwen Stefani (PG-13)
The Aviator focuses on the 20 years of Hughes' life in which he was still a functioning, flamboyant tycoon. It begins in 1927, when Hughes assembles the largest private air force in the world in order to produce the cinematic extravaganza Hell's Angels, and it concludes in 1947 with the political victory that enables Hughes' airline, TWA, to expand its routes to Europe. The Aviator is Martin Scorsese's Citizen Kane, his exuberant account of how a voracious American life ends up devouring itself. Both films portray buccaneer capitalism with a human face, one that wears the mask of tragedy. Like Charles Foster Kane, Hughes leverages an ample inheritance into enormous wealth, celebrity, and power, before retreating into lonely solitude. This aviator, like Icarus, flies too high and falls very low. SGK

Closer
Dir. Mike Nichols; writ. Patrick Marber; feat. Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen (R)
Closer has as much rapid-fire banter and biting wit as you'd hope to find in a comedy, but you're not very likely to mistake it for one: Closer insists on showing us the horrific side of love, the nasty things we do to ourselves and each other while we pursue the world's most celebrated emotional state. A date movie it ain't, but the filmmaking and the performances are captivating, even for viewers who find it impossible to like any of the characters. Law and Portman are a couple, then Roberts and Owen, and as the characters meet each other, they couple in different ways as well. Over the course of the film, each of them will get to be both the weak partner and the strong one; each will be helpless, then cruel. Closer may delve a lot closer to the bone than some viewers care for, but once you're watching it's hard to ignore. JD

Flight of the Phoenix
Dir. John Moore; writ. Scott Frank, Edward Burns; feat. Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Tyrese, Miranda Otto (PG-13)
When their airplane takes a nosedive into the abyss of the Gobi Desert, an oil-drilling team is forced to make tactical decisions if they want to find a way out of the sand dune graveyard. Despite differing opinions, the deserted finally agree that the only way to escape their predicament is to attempt to build another airplane out of the damaged one. It's a good thing that among the crew is Elliott (Ribisi), an aeronautics engineer who believes the team can accomplish the feat before they succumb to the heat. A remake of the 1965 film of the same name, starring James Stewart, Phoenix hopes to rise above the flames like its namesake mythological creature, but it tailspins into unreliable and very inconsistent characterizations throughout its 114-minute run. KM

Kinsey
Dir. & writ. Bill Condon; feat. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O'Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt (R)
In 1948, publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, a sober study of American erotic practices, brought instant infamy to its author, a Hoosier academic named Alfred Kinsey. In Bill Condon's sympathetic biopic, Kinsey, played by Liam Neeson, is a professor of zoology who specializes in gall wasps. He is induced to extend his research to wingless bipeds of his own species when, asked by a flustered student couple for marital advice, he realizes that what they do not know does hurt them. Assembling a staff of devoted assistants, he crisscrosses the continent collecting data on what people say they do with others and themselves. Kinsey, while acknowledging Prok's flaws and blunders, is largely a celebration of the man who, along with Hugh Heffner, Lenny Bruce, Barney Rosset, Henry Miller, and other guerrillas in the post-war sexual revolution, made it possible to see an R-rated film like Kinsey 50 years later. SGK

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Dir. Brad Silberling; writ. Robert Gordon; feat. Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Bill Connolly, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken (PG)
Based on three children's books, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, by nom de plume Lemony Snicket, Lemony attempts to stockpile sequences of dreary storytelling to tell the dark tale of a trio of unlucky orphans. When their parents suddenly die in a fire, the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, along with a tidy inheritance, are sent to stay with their closest living relative, Count Olaf (Carrey), in his gothic mansion. Greed soon becomes the focus of the gloominess as Olaf schemes to kill the children and steal their fortune. As he did in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Carrey is able to protrude his rubbery facial expressions through the prosthetics and make all attention converge on his juvenile silliness. How unfortunate. KM

Meet the Fockers
Dir. Jay Roach; writ. John Hamburg, Jim Herzfeld; feat. Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo (R)
Four years later, the humiliation is still poured on strong as Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the 2000 hit Meet the Parents, finds more ways to mercilessly degrade male nurse Greg Focker. Greg, fiancée Pam, her parents Jack and Dina Byrnes, and their genius toddler grandson, pile into the family Winnebago for a road trip to Miami to visit Greg's parents. Yet the relaxed Fockers and stiff Byrnes cannot seem to get along despite Greg and Pam's sincere attempts to bring their parents together. With secrets harbored among the families, including Jack's past in the CIA and Pam's recently discovered pregnancy, there is a predictable clash in parenthood principles and personalities. Add scenes of sexually energized antics, off-color engagement party speeches, and a slaphappy game of football and here is a family reunion you wouldn't mind attending. KM

Ocean's Twelve
Dir. Steven Soderbergh; writ. George Nolfi; feat. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould (PG-13)
Remember the brainy kid in high school who, for a time, became one of the cool kids? This is what the Steven Soderbergh of Ocean's Twelve looks like to those of us - the four-eyes and brace-faces - who took him to heart when he was making weird, smart little movies like sex, lies, and videotape and The Limey. Ocean's Twelve uses celebrity and beauty like a crutch - one that weakens Soderbergh's filmmaking muscles, turning wit into smugness and style into affectation. He used to deliver glamour without sacrificing substance. Twelve, on the other hand, knows that all it has to do to please a certain audience is find an excuse for George Clooney and Brad Pitt to slump together on a sofa, watching reruns and drinking wine. Here's hoping that the high-wattage party of Ocean's Twelve leaves him with a hangover serious enough to make him - even if just for a while - swear off hanging with the cool kids. JD

Sideways
Dir. Alexander Payne; writ. Payne, Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett; feat. Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht (R)
There are road movies and buddy movies, and buddy-road movies, and midlife crisis road-buddy movies - and then there are movies that cover all this familiar ground but rise above it. Sideways is one, and it's easily one of the year's finest releases, as delicate yet robust as the wines its characters obsess over. Giamatti and Church play old college buddies who take a week off before the latter's wedding. Their idea is to tour wineries and play some golf, but the men wind up indulging their worst tendencies and endangering the blessed event that occasions their vacation. Payne surrounds the pair with the breezy colors and the sounds of a middlebrow Northern California. The light is diffuse and overbright, the jazz soundtrack is blandly Brubeckish. It's not serious or even necessarily pleasing, but it fits, setting the mood for a week-long trip that lets some emotions run their course, invites new ones to bubble up, and leaves everyone a little wiser than they were earlier in the month. JD

Spanglish
Dir. & writ. James L. Brooks; feat. Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Rae Allen (PG-13)
La nueva pelicula de Adam Sandler ... er ... Adam Sandler's newest semi-dramatic vehicle Spanglish tackles the oft-used Hollywood "fish-out-of-water" cliché with the awe-inspiring majesty of a slowly deflating balloon. Sandler plays a level-headed father and up-and-coming chef married to the most annoying and needy woman on the face of the planet, played (a little too convincingly) by Leoni (Bad Boys, Deep Impact). Relative newcomer Vega lights up the screen as Flor, their new live-in Mexican maid around whom most (if not all) of the story centers. Things get hairy when Sandler's character and Flor begin to connect with each other on an intimate level that surpasses their language barriers. As the chef, Sandler's character longs to not receive the dreaded bittersweet four-star rating for his restaurant. If only this film could aspire so high. JMO

A Very Long Engagement
Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet; writ. Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant, based on the novel by Sébastien Japrisot; feat. Audrey Tatou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jean-Pierre Becker, Dominique Bettenfeld, Clovis Cornillac, Marion Cotillard, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Julie Depardieu, Jean-Claude Dreyfus (R)
The film begins in the infamously muddy and claustrophobic French trenches of World War I. Five French soldiers are being escorted to their death through the fetid muck, accused of self-inflicted mutilation in order that they might return hom. Flash forward to the film's present, a countryside and people whose wounds have begun to turn to scars. The soldier's betrothed, Mathilde, refuses to accept that Manech died on that battlefield. While Mathilde clings to loose threads in the tale of Manech's faith, Manech clings to his wounded hand in whose throbbing he feels Mathilde's heartbeat. It's not until the very end of the film that we clearly hear Mathilde's syncopated gait as she follows the last clue to its conclusion, and it sounds just like a heart beating. EW

Films reviewed by:
JD: John DeFore
GG: Gilbert Garcia
TJ: Thomas Jenkins
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
JMO: J. Michael Owen
SDP: Susan Pagani
AP: Alejandro Pérez
LS: Lisa Sorg
EW: Elaine Wolff


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