Reviews in Short
Bride Wars. With a title like "Bride Wars" you’d expect some explosive comic moments of wedding sabotage and subterfuge, but instead you get a clunky romantic comedy, even by Hollywood standards. Best friends since childhood, Liv (Kate Hudson) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) have long shared a dream of holding their wedding day at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. Crisis comes via wedding planner extraordinaire Marion St. Claire (regally played by Candice Bergen) who mixes the dates of Liv and Emma’s June weddings to coincide on the same day. Obligatory shopping, arguing and dance sequences lead to a feeble climax. Hudson and Hathaway share little chemistry together in spite of their polished individual comic abilities. The worst thing about "Bride Wars" is that it’s boring. (20th Century Fox) Rated PG. (D )
Defiance. While it’s set in the same era and country as Elem Klimov’s war drama “Come and See,” Edward Zwick’s “Defiance” wears its heart on its sleeve, where Klimov’s superior film took a more poetic, yet realistic approach. Three brothers — avenger-turned-pacifist Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), and younger Asael (Jamie Bell) — go into hiding inside the thick forests of Belarus with an ever-growing group of Holocaust refugees. Tuvia has a crisis of faith after murdering his father’s assassin, and Zus comes to doubt Tuvia’s ability to lead before breaking away to start his own band of freedom fighters. Historian Nechama Tec’s factual book "Defiance: The Story of the Bielski Partisans" provides the basis for an underwhelming war film done-in by miscalculated episodes of violence and some exceptionally inept dialogue. (Paramount Vantage) Rated R. 136 mins. (C)
Last Chance Harvey. The nightingale of mature romance sings for Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in a good-spirited romantic comedy worthy of their understated comic performances.
In foggy London town, American jingle-composer Harvey Shine (Hoffman) arrives to give away his daughter at her large-scale wedding. The trouble is that daughter Susan (Eileen Atkins) wants her new step-dad Brian (James Brolin) to do the honors. With no job to return home to, Harvey courts London-native Kate Walker (Thompson) with more gusto than he’s probably shown in many years. As a tender love story told with delicate simplicity, "Last Chance Harvey" is a winner.
(Overture Films) Rated PG-13. 90 mins. (B )
Yes Man. Jim Carrey’s career has succumbed to painfully mediocre comedies and genre missteps for so long that "Yes Man" barely registers even as you’re watching it. Carl Allen (Carrey) is like every New Yorker; "no" is his first response to anything. Recovering from a three-year-old divorce, depressed Carl is dragged by a caring co-worker to a self-help seminar led by a convincing guru (Terrence Stamp). Carl’s following episodes of helping others and striking up a relationship with Allison (Zooey Deschanel) come as uninspired afterthoughts in a crumby feel-good movie about feeling good. Blech! (Warner Brothers Pictures) Rated PG-13.
104 mins. (C-)
Gran Torino. "Old man Dirty Harry" is one way to describe Clint Eastwood’s miserable racist character Walt Kowalski in what the actor and director says will be his last film role. Detroit resident and widower Walt is a veteran of the Korean War who carries the ugly experience with him everywhere he goes. He’s most comfortable around his barber, who he can relate to in the same rude way soldiers of his generation expressed the subtext of their situation — with lots of racial insults and fourletter words. A family of Hmong rile Walt when they move into the house next door, but gradually soften him up with their respectful traditions and culinary generosity. In the face of intimidation from a group of neighborhood gang-bangers, Walt takes the family’s teen-aged son Thao (played by newcomer Bee Vang) under his wing. Less than solid performances from some of its inexperienced actors tug at the overall effect of the movie, but "Gran Torino" is a delicacy for its keen embrace of a dying breed of American male identity that Eastwood perfected around the time of the Korean War. Rated R. 116 minutes. (B)
Bedtime Stories. Adam Sandler’s marginal humor spices up a harmless kid’s movie (with an adult romance story) touched by magical influences. Skeeter Bronson (Sandler) was born into his father’s hotel business, and he believes a longforgotten promise will elevate him from maintenance guy to General Manager of the high-rise Nottingham Hotel in Los Angeles. Skeeter’s sister Wendy (Courtney Cox) entrusts him with weeklong babysitting duties for two children, Bobbi and Patrick, that he shares with day-sitter Jill (Keri Russell). At night, Skeeter and the kids invent wild stories of fantasy that partially come true in Skeeter’s daily life. The trick is that only ideas generated by the kids will actually take place. Sandler has toned down his normally racy humor effectively, but the lightweight story is a one-note sidestep.
(Walt Disney) Rated PG. 110 mins. (C)
The Day The Earth Stood Still. In an awkward, semi-retro remake of the 1951 sci-fi B-movie classic, director Scott Derrickson confirms the law of diminishing returns for remakes. Keanu Reeves is his porcelain self as the alien Klaatu who arrives to earth accompanied by a gigantic metal soldier with a laser ray for eyes. Scientist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith) go on an extended hayride with Klaatu that pales every time the camera returns to the colossal warrior, busily changing his molecular matter to launch an overwhelming attack on the planet. The tone is all wrong for what should have been a revved-up modern take on a good sci-fi story. What you get is spectacle-driven bombast that in recent years has generated a new genre of lowbrow populist cheese. (20th Century Fox) Rated PG-13. 92 mins. (C)
The Reader. A flawed mix of a kind of German "Summer of ’42" with a theatrically bound courtroom drama and aftermath, "The Reader’s" lopsided before-and-after structure defeats part of its dramatic impact. David Hare’s screenplay adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s 1995 novel packs a punch during the first half, when 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) slips into a heated sexual affair with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a thirty-something train assistant. In between bouts of intimate frolicking, Hanna has Michael read aloud to her from the books of literature that he studies in school. The sexual relationship plays out, and Michael goes on to study college law where he is shocked to encounter Hanna standing trial for her association with the Nazis in sending Jews to their deaths. The story is unique in that it attempts to humanize a perpetrator of war atrocities via an unconventional sexual context. The film reaches for a satisfying resolution, but it can’t settle on how to sum up a deeply personal story of loss and unintended betrayal. Nevertheless, strong ensemble performances prevail with Ralph Fiennes giving a characteristically nuanced weight to Michael in his later years. (The Weinstein Company) Rated R. 123 mins. (B-)
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