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Quick Flicks

Capsule reviews of current films.

"Asylum" — This thriller about a woman who has an affair with a member of the criminally insane is lurid, but otherwise pretty nuts. Based on a best seller by Patrick McGrath, it follows the adventures of Stella (Natasha Richardson), wife of a remote institute's new deputy director (Hugh Bonneville), as she ruins careers and her family to get into the arms of Edgar (Marton Csokas), a handsome inmate and former sculptor who killed his wife in a jealous rage. "Asylum" is a potboiler, a wacky tale from an old tabloid come to life. Ian McKellen almost walks away with the movie, a la Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs," as a mysterious psychiatrist at the institute. Alas, this is not that kind of movie. (R) 96 min. **1/2 — Wayne Melton

"The Brothers Grimm" — Terry Gilliam's much anticipated film is a visually impressive but viscerally blank movie thanks to Ehren Kruger's ("The Skeleton Key") irksome script. Without concern for veracity about the celebrated authors of such fairy-tale classics as "Cinderella" and "Rapunzel," Kruger imagines the erudite brothers as fictional 19th-century con men, fooling German villagers about monsters. The gypsy brothers, cynical Will (Matt Damon) and gullible Jacob (Heath Ledger), are found out and captured by French authorities, who assign them to dispel the mystery behind the disappearance of some young maidens. Even fairy tales don't need to be this tediously gimmicky. (PG-13) 118 min. ** — Cole Smithey

"The Constant Gardener" - Kenya is filmed within an inch of its life as we learn of the machinations of pharmaceutical companies using the Kenyans as guinea pigs to test their wares. A fine-looking journalist (Rachel Weisz) is on the case while her husband (Ralph Fiennes) is wrapped up in low-level diplomatic work for the British government. Both are being watched by the conniving powers that be, including nasty big pharma execs and their own colleagues. "City of God" director Fernando Meirelles uses every crazy angle, rapid montage, color saturation and panning technique he was able to squeeze in his first film and then some as he tells this story (based on a novel by John le Carré) in a mix of flashback and present-day action. The tale and its implications are rare and worthy subjects, and the mystery is tightly wound and naturalistic. If only you didn't have to sit through all the masturbatory artistry to take it in. (R) 128 min. **1/2 — W.M.

"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" — Audiences seeking the rush of fear so eloquently delivered in the bar-setting 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" will be disappointed by writer/director Scott Derrickson's imbalanced attempt at stirring similar emotions. Purportedly based on actual events, the story commences just after the death of a teenaged girl (Jennifer Carpenter) during an exorcism performed by a priest (Tom Wilkinson) who suddenly finds himself the target of murder charges based on his assumed negligence. Father Moore (Wilkinson) refuses to cop a plea and instead insists on publicly airing the girl's story in a jury trial with the assistance of his ambitious attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney). The movie unsuccessfully toggles between snappy courtroom testimony and creepy flashback episodes. These build toward an anticlimax that fails to adequately reveal the circumstances of Emily Rose's death. PG-13 114 min. **1/2 — C.S.,/i>

"Grizzly Man" - This movie shows a man trying to pet grizzly bears in the wild. Enough said? Werner Herzog philosophizes extensively over this footage as he recounts Timothy Treadwell's long run as a self-proclaimed grizzly savior (he went up to live with them in Alaska for 13 seasons), but when it comes down to it, this fascinating picture is by nature as exploitative as any documentary. Would Herzog have been so quick to make this movie (or we to see it) if Treadwell had communed with squirrels? Maybe if they'd eaten him and his girlfriend, as a grizzly eventually did. That sad end was reported extensively by the press. But the heart-pounding footage that will have you chewing on your hat is when he shoos them away like the neighbor's pesky tabby. It's fantastic stuff, but its only difference from "When Animals Attack" is the quality of the narration and the sympathy for a victim you eventually get to know. (R) 100 min. ***1/2 — W.M.

"Junebug" — A prodigal son (Alessandro Nivola) brings his worldly art dealer wife (Embeth Davidtz) to visit his rural North Carolina family as she tries to secure an eccentric outsider artist for her Chicago gallery. She is stymied as she attempts to get to know her husband's difficult family, a mom, dad and younger brother played in that order with subtle brilliance by Celia Weston, Scott Wilson and Benjamin McKenzie as people who are either too guarded, too shy, too envious or too ignorant to connect with her. Only the pregnant sister-in-law (Amy Adams) reaches out, in a work where Southerners, instead of being portrayed as ignoramuses or ennobled as wise people, are given true-to-character roles. Some may call it slow, but director Phil Morrison and screenwriter Angus MacLachlan have resisted the impulse to satirize or caricature, turning in a restrained character study and measured portrait of a region more commonly ignored or given up for cheap laughs. (R) 106 min. ****— W.M.

"Just Like Heaven" — This romantic farce (based on a book by Marc Levy) gets laughs with its light story about a comatose young woman (Reese Witherspoon) haunting a widower (Mark Ruffalo). He's moved into her former apartment only to find a woman who walks through walls telling him to clean up his beer cans. Soon the two are friends and getting friendlier while investigating why one of them is a phantasm. The screwball comedy moments are funny, but too much of the movie is old-fashioned. Witherspoon is a driven, talented doctor before her accident. The only thing that can save a wacko female like that, we learn, is a good man. (PG-13) 95 min. ** — W.M.

"Lord of War" -Can you say "Blow" with AKs instead of coke? Full of catchy one-liners and pat plot developments, this story about an arms dealer (Nicolas Cage) playing cat-and-mouse with an upright Fed (Ethan Hawke) suffers from a hurried pacing and slick tone, but it captures a cynicism infecting world politics since the Cold War in its own composite-story kind of way. Director Andrew Niccol ("Gattaca") has made a marked improvement, however, on last year's "The Terminal," bookending it with a wonderful opening montage featuring the life of a bullet and the wittiest Hollywood ending in years. The only problem is that Cage is a limited, hit-and-miss actor who shows up half-asleep when he's supposed to be jaded and smarmy. Funny and forgivably preachy, the film's only risk is that people will look up to its lord rather than despise him. (R) 122 min. *** — W.M.

"Red Eye" — Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth's admission that he wrote the movie with inspiration from Joel Schumacher's notoriously hokey "Phone Booth" speaks volumes about the tedious straight-line narrative Ellsworth gives horror master Wes Craven to direct. Rachel McAdams is a hotel manager on an overnight flight to Miami. Her fear of flying is overshadowed by the threat to her father (Brian Cox) by her seatmate Jackson Ripper (Cillian Murphy). Something about switching hotel rooms, the plot is too hokey by half to recount. Craven fails to elevate the lackluster script and does surprisingly little to add scares. (PG-13) 85 mins. *1/2 — C.S.

"Transporter 2" — French film industry heavyweight Luc Besson continues his "Transporter" franchise (producing), with Jason Statham returning as a hair-challenged professional driver with a penchant for Jackie Chan-style stunts. Set in Miami, the picture follows Frank Martin (Statham) as he attempts to rescue the son of a wealthy family from kidnappers intent on spreading a fatal virus. The bare-bones story serves as a skeleton on which to hang stylized car chases, martial arts mayhem and explosions galore. The "Transporter" franchise has picked up the slack left over from the lack of James Bond movies in recent years. Sure, it's a smaller-scale knockoff, but the overall effect is similar. PG-13 88 min. **1/2 — C.S.

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