WHEN CAPT. SAM CAHILL’S (MAGUIRE) HELICOPTER IS SHOT DOWN IN Afghanistan, Cahill is presumed dead. His ne’er do well brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) dedicates himself to helping Sam’s grief-stricken wife Grace (Portman) and his two young nieces deal with their loss. No one is more surprised than Tommy when caring for his brother’s family finally allows Tommy to emerge from Sam’s long shadow. Then Sam is miraculously found alive, having survived horrific imprisonment by the enemy. His homecoming leads to wrenching revelations in this faithful remake of an acclaimed 2004 Danish drama.
Directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Sam Shepard, Patrick Flueger and Clifton Collins Jr.
Directed by Sam Raimi. The third installment will likely be the last one to feature the Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst/James Franco trio, but the series sends them out with a bang. Peter Parker, alias Spider-Man, battles trouble at every turn. He’s attacked, and nearly turned to the dark side by a mysterious black goo that transforms a coworker into the spiteful Venom. Spidey’s web becomes crowded when he’s also assailed by the nefarious Sandman. Special effects are top notch, throughout a complex storyline running more than two hours. Minor tangles arise from the film’s overburdened final act that attempts to weave the film’s many loose strands into a working web.
“Pirates of the Caribbean”
Directed by Gore Verbinski. To rescue their friend from the clutches of undead Davy Jones, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) recruit formidable Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to the cause. Soon Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is reinstated among the living, where he makes idle promises to everyone during a series of longwinded meetings. The joke stalls as the film balloons to more than three hours long. Bill Nighy returns as part–sea creature Davy Jones, while the impressive cast grows. Chow Yun-Fat sharpens the swashbuckling action, and Keith Richards shares a real rock star’s moves. Depp needs all the help he can get since there may be a fourth installment.
Directed by William Friedkin. Agnes (Ashley Judd), a lonely cocktail waitress living at a seedy motel, gets more than she bargained for from her spontaneous affair with Gulf War veteran Peter (Michael Shannon). Agnes has no idea that Peter suffers from severe psychosis, but she is bowled over by their smokin’ sexual chemistry. As her feelings for her attentive lover intensify, Agnes becomes susceptible to Peter’s insistence that both he and her motel room are infested by aggressive insects. Down on her luck and suffering from low self-esteem, Agnes’ need to feel wanted makes her vulnerable to Peter’s delusions. Though not what you’d expect from “Exorcist” director Friedkin, “Bug” is nevertheless a good creepy-crawly surprise.
*** “Georgia Rule”
Directed by Garry Marshall. With Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan and Felicity Huffman. You gotta love the idea of Fonda as god-fearing Georgia, determined to straighten out her rebellious teen granddaughter Rachel (Lohan). To cope with Georgia’s stiff rules, Rachel unburdens her troubles to war veteran Simon (Dermot Mulroney). Unbalanced by the behavior of her nutsy mom (Huffman) and creepy stepdad (Cary Elwes), Rachel fascinates a handsome young Mormon (Garrett Hedlund) trying to follow a righteous path. With plenty of melodrama from director Marshall, this one goes a little bit sitcom and boasts a whole lotta pretty women.
**1/2 “The Ex”
Directed by Jesse Peretz. With Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Jason Bateman, Mia Farrow and Charles Grodin. Who wouldn’t shell out nine bucks to see “Scrubs” star Braff duke it out with “Arrested Development’s” Bateman as a wheelchair-bound chick magnet? Add a dash of Peet, fresh from her own flagging sitcom, as high-powered attorney Sofia, disconcerted by the prospect of becoming a stay-at-home-mom. Necessity prompts Sofia’s undisciplined hubby, Tom (Braff), to accept the “real job” offered by her father (Grodin). Considering the plot’s parenthood/in-law jitters, the film’s humor could go edgier, but this ensemble shakes what it bakes.
*** “28 Weeks Later”
Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. With Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack. Set 28 weeks after “28 Days,” the zombie sequel takes no prisoners and spares no political commentary concerning war and occupying forces. Having starved out hordes of London zombies, Britain calls upon the U.S. military to aid the city’s repopulation effort. However, while guarding the uninfected, the Americans overreact to pockets of the remaining undead, killing the healthy as part of their cleansing efforts. This turn of events prompts a handful of survivors to flee both foreign protectors and undead countrymen. Spiteful, satiric and bloody, bloody, bloody.
Directed by D.J. Caruso. With Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss and Sarah Roemer. Under house arrest for assaulting a teacher, high school student Kale (Shia LaBeouf) spends his days spying on the bathing beauty next door but soon becomes increasingly suspicious of Turner (David Morse), a mysterious neighbor. Women seem to enter his home, but never exit. Hampered by an ankle bracelet and his hothead rep with police, Kale enlists help from a friend and the pretty neighbor to get to the bottom of Turner’s activities. Echoing "Rear Window," the suspenseful film makes fine use of its young hero’s naïveté.
Directed by James Foley. With Halle Berry, Bruce Willis and Giovanni Ribisi. A beautiful journalist, trained in exposing the subjects of her tabloid stories, Rowena (Halle Berry) goes undercover to catch her best friend’s murderer. He is Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a predatory CEO posing as a faithful husband while prowling the Web for his next sexual conquest. Aided by a computer geek (Giovanni Ribisi), Rowena lands a temp job at Hill’s company, but Hill is not easily fooled. Willis revels playing against type, while Berry mines her character’s strengths and weaknesses. Ribisi finds his quirky niche rounding out this suspense thriller.
***1/2 Directed by Billy Ray, With Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Dennis Haysbert. Based on the true story documented in Lawrence Schiller’s “Master Spy: The Life of Robert P. Hanssen.” Ryan Phillippe portrays Eric O’Neill, an FBI recruit mentored by senior agent Hanssen (Cooper). When O’Neill discovers that Hanssen is probably a traitor, the agency asks the pupil to gather evidence against his teacher. Laura Linney adds her edgy quality in a supporting role as a career agent, while the film follows the domestic drama resulting from Eric’s dangerous mission with his wife Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas). The realistic depiction of life in the agency is a gratifying change.
MUSIC AND LYRICS
**1/2 Directed by Marc Lawrence. With Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Cast as washed-up ’80s pop star, Alex Fletcher, Hugh Grant does a commendable job portraying a singer-songwriter reaching for a comeback. Barrymore is cast as Sophie, caretaker to Fletcher’s plants when the composer discovers her flair for song lyrics. Fresh from a painful affair with a novelist who made Sophie an unflattering central character in his latest tome, Sophie hesitates to let herself fall for another self-centered demi-celebrity. Notable onscreen chemistry between the leads overcomes many a romantic cliché in this Valentine’s Day offering.
The Pursuit of Happyness
*** Directed by Gabriele Muccino. With Will Smith, Thandie Newton and Jaden Smith. The real-life struggles of Chris Gardner, a homeless, single parent during his unpaid internship at Dean Witter in the Bay Area circa 1980 should be a powerful story. Smith enjoys the opportunity to work with his 8-year-old son Jaden, an experienced television actor, as they portray Gardner and son. The movie, which threatens to choke off our empathy with its iron grip, chronicles the difficulty Gardner had hiding his anger and fear while struggling to find food and shelter for his child and impress the Dean Witter management. Yet, “Happyness” is a heavy watch that leaves viewers searching for signs of joy.
The Dead Girl
*** Directed by Karen Moncrieff. With Toni Collette, Brittany Murphy and Marcia Gay Harden. A young hooker (Murphy) is found murdered and mutilated. This multistory film is comprised of five vignettes exploring events affecting others associated with the dead girl. However, the film is slow in revealing the who, why and how. We meet the woman who finds the body (Collette), the murdered girl’s mother (Hayden) and even the unhappy middle-aged wife of a sex offender. Writer-director Karen Moncrieff frames her characters as angry, fearful and uncertain. Though some may find her work inspirational, others will simply find it unpleasant.
* 1/2 Directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang. With Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller and Kristen Stewart. When Roy and Denise (McDermott and Miller) purchase a rundown sunflower farm, the family throws itself into a renovation effort. When a drifter (John Corbett) arrives, Roy inexplicably sinks into dark, unpredictable moods. Young Ben sees apparitions that are affecting his dad, but can the little boy’s affinity for the paranormal rescue his family? Nice touch casting Corbett against type, but haunted, isolated country houses have been done until the ghosts come home.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua. With Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena and Rhona Mitra. Adapted from "Point of Impact," the first book in a trilogy by Jonathan Lemkin, this conspiracy thriller stars Wahlberg as Bob Lee Swagger, a retired sniper pressed into service to protect the president from an assassination plot. Instead, Swagger is framed as the shooter, compelling him to flee the law along with the underground organization responsible for framing him. Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") returns to the topic of corrupt officials and reluctant heroes with a potentially powerful film franchise.
Directed by Mike Binder. With Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle and Jada Pinkett Smith. Years after 9/11, Charlie remains unable to cope with the loss of his wife and children. Drifting through each day, Charlie begins to regain focus after bumping into his old pal and dental school roommate, Alan (Cheadle). The pair rekindle their friendship as Alan sets aside his tendencies to feel sorry for himself in favor of helping Charlie. Slowly, the floodgates open, allowing Charlie to grieve. Liv Tyler plays a therapist, a role that adds depth to this story fueled by the healing power of friendship.
Directed by Sunu Gonera. With Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac and Kimberly Elise. Squeezing every ounce of uplift and then some from this true story, "Pride" comes dangerously close to a fall. In the early 1970s, African-American swimmer Jim Ellis (Howard) attempts to redeem his checkered past by molding a group of disaffected youths into a winning swim team. Besieged by his disbelieving boss (Bernie Mac), a turf-conscious drug dealer (Gary Anthony Sturgis) and an unyielding senator (Elise), Ellis needs all of his pride and determination to sustain his effort. Schmaltz aside, any film casting Tom Arnold as a racial bigot can’t be all bad.
Directed by Mennan Yapo. With Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, Amber Valletta and Peter Stormare. Housewife Linda Hanson (Bullock) suddenly finds herself living each day out of chronological order. One morning she awakens to find her husband is dead; the next morning, he’s alive and everything is fine. Can she unlock the clues to his unexpected death and prevent it? Will viewers tolerate the film’s shaky, sneaky resolution? Will Bullock’s career continue to nose dive? Such forecasts are difficult, but are more likely to occur when little effort is made to look ahead.
*1/2 I Think I Love My Wife
Directed by Chris Rock. With Rock, Kerry Washington and Gina Torres. Rock writes, directs and stars in a misguided movie that is seriously unfunny, unless you’re looking for unintended laughs. Rock portrays Richard, a banker nervous around women and therefore easily controlled by his career-minded wife (Torres), and his potential mistress (Washington). During the day Richard attends couple’s counseling; at night he’s catching the shuttle to DC and exchanging gunfire with a young hottie’s ex-beau. Loosely based on Eric Rohmer’s “Chloe in the Afternoon,” Rock’s attempt to relieve his movie boredom is equivalent to two-timing his audience.
**1/2 Dead Silence
Directed by James Wan. With Ryan Kwanten, Judith Roberts and Donnie Wahlberg. Leigh Whannel and James Wan, writer and director of the “Saw” films, try a more cerebral horror. Jamie (Kwanten), a young widower suspected of killing his wife, is drawn to his hometown, Raven Fair, by a ventriloquist’s doll he received just prior to her death. Now a virtual ghost, Raven Fair is rumored to be the haunting ground of ventriloquist Mary Shaw (Roberts). As Jamie attempts to prove the connection between his wife’s murder and the angry ghost, his every move is shadowed by a cocky, wisecracking detective (Wahlberg).