Originally created 12/25/05

At the Movies: capsule reviews of new films



Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"Cache" - Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke spins a piercing drama whose spare, simple surface conceals an unnerving emotional labyrinth. The French-language film centers on literary talk-show host Georges (Daniel Auteuil), his wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche), and their young son. The couple's cozy, rather sterile life is disrupted by a series of menacing videotapes and messages that aren't overtly threatening yet indicate they are being watched, even stalked. The videos eventually lead Georges to an encounter with a childhood acquaintance and force him to confront forgotten memories over actions taken in his youth. This is a film that will rattle - and, in one unexpected instant, shock - viewers into contemplation of their own choices, values, regrets and transgressions, and its images and ideas will continue to perturb long afterward. R for brief strong violence. 118 min. Three and a half stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"Casanova" - Placing this movie on a double feature with "Brokeback Mountain" would offer an intriguing contrast - or at least provide fodder for some film student's grad-school paper. The former features Heath Ledger as the most notoriously fervent heterosexual male in history. In the latter, Ledger stars as a stoic cowboy who's conflicted about his romantic longings for another man. Together they confirm something that's become increasingly evident as Ledger's career progresses: This is an actor of seemingly immeasurable range and versatility. Director Lasse Hallstrom is trying too hard to evoke the complex hilarity of a Shakespearean comedy with this story set in 1753 Venice. But "Casanova" is fun, featuring great banter between Ledger and Sienna Miller. R for some sexual content. 110 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Cheaper by the Dozen 2" - Steve Martin's tiresome follow-up to his 2003 hit about a family with 12 children is innocuous enough, its heart in the right spot even if it did misplace its brain. This installment plays like a toned-down retread of one of the "National Lampoon's Vacation" movies as the Baker parents (Martin and Bonnie Hunt) take their family of 12 children on a lakeside summer fling, where dad falls into his old competitive ways with a longtime rival (Eugene Levy) who has eight kids. The entire clan of Baker kids is back, led by Hilary Duff, Tom Welling and Piper Perabo, each with their own lame little subplot. Director Adam Shankman delivers nothing more than a loose collection of sketches, belly flops, pratfalls and sight gags, none of them remotely inspired. PG for some crude humor and mild language. 94 min. One and a half stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"Fun With Dick & Jane" - Like "Assault on Precinct 13," "The Longest Yard," "Yours, Mine and Ours" and a slew of other remakes this year of movies from the 1960s and '70s, this effort confuses speed and volume with innovation. The idea of having Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni go on an armed robbery spree - as George Segal and Jane Fonda did in the 1977 original - is funny enough without amping up their antics with quick edits, broad sight gags and loud, peppy music. As in the original, they're forced to look for work when Dick's company lays him off, but find that a life of crime is a more lucrative way to support their son and maintain their comfy suburban lifestyle. Screenwriters Nicholas Stoller and Judd Apatow have effectively contemporized "Dick & Jane" by placing Dick's employer in an Enron-type scandal, and every once in a while the movie seems to have something to say. PG-13 for brief language, some sexual humor and occasional humorous drug references. 87 min. Two stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Munich" - Steven Spielberg lays to rest any worries that he might sanitize the story of the 1972 Olympics massacre and the reprisals Israel would take over the slayings of athletes and coaches by Palestinian terrorists. Spielberg is in "Schindler's List" mode here, harsh and merciless in telling an uncompromising story about morally agonizing matters. That the characters evoke both compassion and repugnance is a sign of a balanced film whose creator is considering all sides. Eric Bana leads an outstanding cast as a Mossad agent tapped to lead a team of assassins charged with hunting down Palestinians suspected of plotting the slayings of 11 Israelis. Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz and Hanns Zischler offer brilliant support. Spielberg deftly recreates the gritty, menacing look of 1970s thrillers, the camera stalking the characters with restless zooms and pans. The film presents an absorbing study of the emotional toll violence and vengeance can exact on even the most faithless soldiers of the cause. R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language. 164 min. Three and a half stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"The New World" - A bit of advice before embarking upon your journey: Take a nap, stock up on candy and possibly caffeine pills, but avoid the coffee and soda. You're going to be in your seat for a long while, but your perseverance will be rewarded. Terrence Malick settles in and takes his time telling the story of the settlement of Jamestown, probably a half-hour longer than he needed, but the result is hypnotically beautiful. It's actually a rare and daring thing Malick does, something to be celebrated in a cinematic landscape in which speed and noise are the norm. He's almost created a silent film, the dialogue is so sparse. Mood is paramount, created through the crunch of earth underfoot, wind blowing through tall grass, sunlight streaking between treetops and the constant, distant chatter of birds. Colin Farrell stars as John Smith and Q'Orianka Kilcher, who was then 14, makes a stunning film debut as the legendary Pocahontas. PG-13 for some intense battle sequences. 150 min. Three stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"The Ringer" - The idea alone is enough to make you cringe: Johnny Knoxville stars as an average guy who pretends he's mentally challenged in order to rig the Special Olympics. Hunched over to one side and slightly contorted, referring to himself in the third person by the simpleton pseudonym "Jeffy," he insinuates himself among the athletes who truly have physical and intellectual disabilities with the hopes of winning the thousands of dollars he owes. It could have been painful to watch in its political incorrectness or, conversely, an insufferably feel-good life lesson. It's actually surprisingly funny - often laugh-out-loud hilarious - and yes, inspirational, mostly without trying too hard to be. Produced by the Farrelly brothers and written by Ricky Blitt from "The Family Guy," the film features actual Special Olympians as well as actors playing such athletes in scenes that buzz with the most unexpected comic energy. PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and some drug references. 93 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Rumor Has It" - Rob Reiner's slow slide toward oblivion continues with this dreary comedy starring Jennifer Aniston as a woman who learns her messed-up family may have been the inspiration for the book and movie "The Graduate." At first glance, it sounds like a potentially cute idea, and perhaps with some wit, energy and bite to it, the story could have been a blackly comic successor to Mike Nichols' 1967 masterpiece. But Reiner's movie doesn't even rise to the level of trivially pleasant romantic comedy. It just sits there, lumbering along with nothing to offer but occasionally caustic sparks from Shirley MacLaine as the supposed inspiration for Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson. Kevin Costner co-stars as the basis for Dustin Hoffman's character, along with Mark Ruffalo as Aniston's fiance. PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content, crude humor and a drug reference. 97 min. One and a half stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"The White Countess" - The Ismail Merchant-James Ivory producing-directing duo, specialists in all things classy and costumed, bows out gracefully with this dramatically inconsistent yet beautifully performed period saga set in Shanghai before World War II. The last act of the venerable filmmaking team after the death last May of producer Merchant, the film arguably is their strongest of the past decade. Ralph Fiennes stars as a blind American diplomat haunted by tragedies that cost him his family and eyesight, who becomes involved in an understated romance with an exiled Russian noblewoman (Natasha Richardson). The terrific leads are backed by sturdy support from Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave, Madeleine Potter and Hiroyuki Sanada. Kazuo Ishiguro, whose novel was the basis for Merchant and Ivory's "The Remains of the Day," wrote the screenplay. PG-13 for some violent images and thematic elements. 138 min. Three stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"Wolf Creek" - Nothing screams "holiday cheer" like a movie about a serial killer terrorizing tourists in the Australian outback. The feature debut from writer-director Greg McLean will be a gift, though, to fans of '70s-style slasher flicks. "Wolf Creek" features no-name actors, a bleached-out setting and an utter lack of irony. The young people who become the film's eventual victims (Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi) don't do stupid things for the sake of furthering the story, there's no gratuitous nudity and the characters don't joke about the fact that they know they're in an ideal horror-movie setting. They do what real people do, which makes the film even more unsettling: They go on vacation, get stranded in the middle of nowhere and rely hesitantly on the kindness of a stranger (John Jarratt) who offers help but has harm in mind. "Wolf Creek" has a brutally sadistic, misogynistic streak, though, even for a slasher movie, and some moments are incredibly difficult to watch. Not rated. 99 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic