Capsule movie reviews

Kate Beckinsale and Robert De Niro in “Everybody’s Fine.’’ Kate Beckinsale and Robert De Niro in “Everybody’s Fine.’’ (Abbot Genser/Miramax Film Corp. via Ap)
December 5, 2009

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New releases
Brothers When a US Marine (Tobey Maguire) is presumed killed in action, his ex-con brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps up to help with his widow (Natalie Portman) and daughters. The movie jerks between scenes of military torture on one side and scenes of domestic frolic on the other, then becomes an emotional potboiler. And there’s something distasteful in the way director Jim Sheridan relishes turning that trauma into a thriller. (110 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Defamation Is modern anti-Semitism an invention of right-wing Jews intended to silence dissent? Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir wears his point of view lightly but firmly, and the results are provocative in the best ways. You’ll have some good, loud arguments on the way out of the theater. In Hebrew, English, and Polish, with subtitles. (91 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

Everybody’s Fine It takes some effort to neutralize the charm of a modestly charismatic Robert De Niro performance. But this tedious dramedy does a stupendous job. De Niro plays a widower crossing the country, by train and bus, to drop in on the adult children who claim they’re too busy to visit him. Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, and Drew Barrymore are the kids. Adapted from a 1990 Italian film. (101 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

The House of the Devil A college student (Jocelin Donahue) baby-sits for devil worshipers during a lunar eclipse. Bad idea. Director Ti West has made an almost fetishistic re-creation of a horror-suspense movie circa 1978, but his genuine love for the genre keeps it from being an empty stylistic stunt. With Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov. (95 min., R) (Ty Burr)

The Strip A nominal comedy about the employees of a Chicago-area strip-mall electronics store. The dialogue is embarrassing, and scenes that should take two minutes wind up lasting 10. It makes you appreciate what hard work effortless comedy is. (90 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Up in the Air From Jason Reitman, a warm, smoothly made movie about a man (George Clooney) who spends most of his time firing people. The movie concerns his attempt to settle down. At its very best, it invents new for old Hollywood sophistication. The sequined cocktail parties and crack banter are now happening in the Admirals Club lounge. With Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, and Anna Kendrick, who’ll rightly be labeled a discovery. (109 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Previously released
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Nicolas Cage is back in his high lunatic mode as a New Orleans police detective investigating a murder while high and corrupt. He’s working with the hellion, Werner Herzog. Their pairing is about as perfect a meeting between a director’s sense of mischief and an actor’s license to misbehave as a moviegoer could hope for. With a never-better Eva Mendes as Cage’s hooker girlfriend. (88 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

½ Black Dynamite In the spoof that bears his name, Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) sports every outfit in the blaxploitation look book: leather, denim, Afro. The movie, meanwhile, strikes many of the genre’s poses. And for its first 50 minutes, it’s as intentionally funny as “Shaft in Africa’’ and “Dolomite’’ are accidental comedies. Tedium overtakes the movie - one corny martial-arts sequence turns out to be plenty - and all the good jokes start to dry up. (84 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

The Blind Side Sandra Bullock plays a Memphis woman who takes in an enormous, athletic African-American. He thrives. She thrives. The film is hard to resist. But it’s another Hollywood movie about a black male rescued from God knows what either by nice white people or sports. Here it’s both. How good we feel is directly proportional to how blind we’re willing to be. (125 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

A Christmas Carol Robert Zemeckis’s second try at 3-D motion-capture holiday storytelling (after 2004’s dire “The Polar Express’’) is a marked improvement: A darkly detailed marvel of creative visualization that does well by Dickens and right by audiences. Jim Carrey (or his digital facsimile) gives a sharp, reined-in performance as Scrooge, and while the film sometimes panders, it just as often soars. Too scary for the little guys, though. (96 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

Fantastic Mr. Fox A dry stop-motion delight. Director Wes Anderson adapts Roald Dahl’s 1970 kids’ book to his usual obsessions (irresponsible dads, confused children). George Clooney voices the hero, raiding henhouses in a mid-life crisis. A fairy tale for adults that’s gracious enough to let everyone play along. With the voices of Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray. (87 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

The Messenger A forcefully acted and peculiar emotional drama about two soldiers (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) who inform the next of kin of soldiers killed in service. The movie, which Oren Moverman directed and co-wrote with Alessandro Camon, devotes itself more to the noti fiers than the notifications, which in themselves are powerful, and opens into a strange, fraught universe of the men’s downtime. (88 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Ninja Assassin Cobbled together from the instructions of assorted Hong Kong gangster bloodbaths and whatever the French superproducer Luc Besson did last, this long, thanklessly repetitive slice-kick-and-shoot-’em-up has nothing to offer but the aggravating awareness that Jet Li and Jason Statham have done it better. This time our star is a moderately charismatic young martial artist named Rain. (99 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Oh My God Peter Rodger took a movie camera on a tour of the world and its religions. He came back with a documentary that succinctly captures the experience of enduring this ponderous, repetitive, and exasperating attempt at moral, philosophical, and spiritual discourse. The problem isn’t with the questions. It’s the manner in which they’re asked. When the movie isn’t harassing Muslims and worshipping Buddhists, it’s condescending to almost everyone else. (93 min., unrated) (Wesley Morris)

Old Dogs A painfully stupid family comedy about two aging buddies forced to play daddy, this looks exactly like what you’d get if Robin Williams and John Travolta went out, got hammered, scrawled scenes on a bar napkin in random order, gave the napkin to “Wild Hogs’’ director Walt Becker, and filmed it. Trust me, you could do it at home and save yourself the $9.50. (88 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

Pirate Radio A rowdy, mostly hilarious British comedy-drama about the offshore radio stations that blared rock ’n’ roll to a desperate UK audience in the 1960s. Writer-director Richard Curtis has made a party, not a movie, and if the party goes on too long, at least the guests are great company and the host’s taste in music is impeccable. With Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy. (120 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Planet 51 A digitally animated family film about an astronaut (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock’’ Johnson) visiting a planet where he’s the alien. Fast, shiny, short, and cheerful; also obnoxious, unoriginal, and potty-mouthed. Young children and adults with a high pain threshold will enjoy the movie during its brief pause on the way to your On Demand menu. (88 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push’’ by Sapphire Is America, in fact, ready for a movie about a poor, fat black girl (Gabourey Sidibe) who can’t read and is pregnant, for the second time, with her absent father’s baby? Who cares? It’s here, and it’s very much alive. In its own determined way, this is a work of immense, astonishing joy. It believes that in this girl’s wide, brown face and bleak little life there’s a reason to live. Mo’Nique brings down the house as her mother. (110 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Red Cliff The very epicness of John Woo’s historical war picture is an entertainment. It’s set near the end of the Han Dynasty, in the second century, and focused on the territorial battle among warlords (Tony Leung, Chang Chen, and Zhang Fengyi). But truth be told, the movie feels laborious. It’s almost 2 1/2 hours, pared down from a 4-hour-plus Asian version, and what’s not admirably comical or thrillingly staged is corny, cramped, and impressionistically vague. (148 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

The Road Writer Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic fable has been brought to the screen by Australia’s John Hillcoat (“The Proposition’’) with bleakness and caution. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee play a father and son crossing the barren wasteland of what used to be America. The movie’s darker than a happy-face sleigh ride like “2012’’ but arguably not dark enough. (119 min., R) (Ty Burr)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon The second installment in Hollywood’s adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s mega-selling vampire romance series is an anemic comedown after the full-blooded swoon of last year’s “Twilight.’’ Director Chris Weitz is stuck with a sequel that’s a morning-after mope-fest, but Taylor Lautner is relaxed and likable as Native American wolfboy Jacob Black. (130 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

2012 “Apocalypse Really Soon’’ or “Airport 2012.’’ Director Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow’’) imagines global apocalypse as a state-of-the-art multiplex circus whose special effects stagger the senses and play like a video game, and whose human drama aims for the cosmic and lands waist-deep in the Big Silly. John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Amanda Peet are among the scrambling humans. (157 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

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