Movie Stars

February 12, 2010

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Previously released
Avatar James Cameron’s long-game gamble pays off - for the most part. The film creates a planet called Pandora, a race of tall, blue cat-people called the Na’vi, and gives them both a dazzlingly colorful rain forest reality - part Rousseau, part George Lucas on inhalants. The 60 percent of the film that comes from the computer is tantalizingly realistic; the roughly 40 percent that’s live action is less convincing. With Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Zoe Saldana. (162 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

The Blind Side Sandra Bullock plays a Memphis woman who takes in an 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)

Crazy Heart A familiar tale - fading country musician hits bottom, looks up - enlivened by a great, generous jewel of a performance by Jeff Bridges, our shaggiest of leading men. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a single mom who falls for him against her better judgment; Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall turn up, too. Songs by T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton. (111 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Dear John Another calculated tear-jerker based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, author of “The Notebook,’’ “Message in a Bottle,’’ and “Nights in Rodanthe.’’ This time the star-crossed lovers are a soldier (Channing Tatum) and a college student (Amanda Seyfried) kept apart by war. Lasse Hallstrom directs without distinction. Tatum’s copper-toned abs and pecs get enough camera time to deserve their own casting credits. (102 min., PG-13) (Janice Page)

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 midlife 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)

From Paris With Love John Travolta adores being John Travolta. As if we needed any reminder of that, there’s this collection of explosions and shootouts duct-taped to a terrorism plot. It’s the sort of asinine action exercise that needs a star to blow up cars and leap from rooftop to rooftop with gusto. So right about the time that Travolta curses out the Charles De Gaulle customs staff, we know this otherwise lousy movie has found a reason to be. (95 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

The Hurt Locker This war film focuses on the work of an Army bomb squad and one particularly gifted soldier (Jeremy Renner), who seems to have no fear of roadside bombs. We see and feel how when he disarms a bomb, it’s almost no different from watching a conductor seduce an orchestra or a chef produce a meal. (88 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Invictus A strong, sober-sided, largely satisfying entry in a rarely-seen genre: the Civic Statuary movie. Morgan Freeman takes a break from playing God to take on Nelson Mandela, bringing his fragmented country together via the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Matt Damon is fine, if opaque, as the team captain. It’s not one of Clint Eastwood’s very greatest films, but it works just fine. (134 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

The Last Station An entertainingly unrestrained melodrama about the last days of Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), when his utopian admirers are battling his wife for his soul and the copyright to “War and Peace.’’ Helen Mirren plays the Countess Tolstoy as a grandly spoiled diva moved by genuine love; it’s a brilliant feat of overacting. With James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti. (112 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Nine Rob Marshall’s musical about an uninspired Italian movie director is full of all the mistakes Marshall made with “Chicago.’’ The editing murders all the logic of the choreography. The camera shoots too many sequences from dubious positions. The numbers themselves are locked away from the rest of the narrative action. With, among others, Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, and Judi Dench. (118 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

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)

A Single Man Colin Firth has been our stalwart Hollywood Brit for so long you may have forgotten he can act. Based on the landmark 1964 novel, this casts the star as a closeted gay man mourning the death of his lover - it’s about the grief that dare not speak its name. Fashion designer Tom Ford directs sensitively but without much subtlety; Firth brings the latter. (99 min., R) (Ty Burr)

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)

When in Rome There’s actually not a lot of Rome in this movie. And not much creativity or entertainment either. It’s a predictable romantic comedy starring Kristen Bell as an American who disturbs the mojo in an Italian “fountain of love,’’ which invites the advances of suitors ranging from Josh Duhamel to Danny DeVito. Even that sounds a lot funnier than it actually is. (91 min., PG-13) (Janice Page)

The White Ribbon The pristine paradise of a small, Protestant village in pre-World War I Germany is beset by all sorts of unspeakable horrors whose culprits continue to go uncaught. The Austrian writer and director Michael Haneke is determined to keep the ends loose. But that lack of closure turns out to be thrilling. Haneke lays his grim fable of a movie and its mysteries at our feet, where we see a picture of future evil develop. (140 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

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