Capsule Reviews Of Current Releases 

Bedtime Stories - When Marty Bronson (Jonathan Pryce) has to sell his mom-and-pop motel to developer Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), he does so with the understanding that his son Skeeter (Adam Sandler) will eventually run the place. Skeeter does take over but as the maintenance manager. Skeeter gets his chance to advance when Barry announces a contest for the design of a new hotel he plans to build. Skeeter enlists the help of his niece and nephew, whom he's been babysitting. He hopes that because the bedtime stories he tells them magically come true, he'll have an advantage. But he ends up getting more than he bargained for when he tries to control the outcome of the final bedtime story. Sandler relies on his usual bag of tricks (talking like he's a little kid and making immature jokes), and his performance is nothing special. (Jeff Niesel)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Director David Fincher bookends The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with two pieces of American history: U.S. troops fighting in World War I and the looming threat of Hurricane Katrina. In between, a timeline of historical and not-so-historical events plays out as one man grows up, or more accurately, becomes a boy. "There are no rules," Benjamin (Brad Pitt) says of his unconventional life. And the movie does play around with convention (foremost, there's that whole aging-in-reverse thing). Still, it's Fincher's most traditional film. He's never been so sentimental or aimed this high. He stages nearly every scene with an awe that mirrors Benjamin's. By the time he reaches his 20s, Benjamin has 60 years behind him. As a result, he never really feels like he belongs. This charming fantasy, however, fits right in with other end-of-the-year Oscar hopefuls. (Michael Gallucci)

The Day the Earth Stood Still - The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the few 1950s science-fiction films that can still play to modern audiences as something other than camp. That can't be said about Scott Derrickson's remake. The storyline remains familiar: Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) has been sent to earth by a coalition of alien races to save the planet. Whether that includes saving human beings as well is of considerably less importance. It doesn't argue in humanity's favor when Klaatu steps off his space orb to be greeted by unprovoked gunfire and imprisonment. Then the movie turns into a fairly typical action/chase film, with a useless subplot about Benson's stepson (Jaden Smith) coping with the death of his father. Stay home and rent the original instead. (Robert Ignizio)

Doubt - Playwright/screenwriter/director John Patrick Shanley's adaptation of his own stage drama is directed with Clint Eastwood austerity and set in a working-class Catholic parish and parochial school in 1964 N.Y.C. Schoolchildren are kept in line by principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep in a hedge-clipped Bronx accent), a flinty alpha female of the old ways. Sister Aloysius' sore spot is jovial Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the popular boys' basketball coach. One of Flynn's altar boys, 12-year-old Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), is the first black admitted to the school. Intuiting that Donald is vulnerable, Father Flynn takes a special interest in him. Soon Sister Aloysius launches into a personal investigation into Father Flynn, accusing him directly of being a calculating child molester. Doubt is a story intended to afflict the comfortable and, while the cast couldn't be better, it's hard not to discern the moments that worked electrifyingly well in the intimacy of a stage presentation that were somewhat lost in the translation to film. 1/2 (Charles Cassady)

Marley and Me - Virtually nothing happens in the first half of this mundane romantic comedy that stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as John and Jennifer Grogan, a happy couple who decide to leave the Midwest behind for the warmer Florida climate. She's an established journalist, and he hopes to become a news reporter. When John worries that Jennifer will want kids right away, he gets her a puppy instead. An unruly lab named Marley, the dog becomes a handful, but the couple learn to love it all the same. And after a cranky old editor (Alan Arkin) decides to give John his own column, he thrives, infusing his daily musings with wit and humor. Things get a little tougher after the couple starts having kids, but their lives are generally conflict-free, something that makes the film a real bore to sit through. After an uneventful first half, it comes as an unwelcome surprise when tragedy strikes at its conclusion. (Niesel)

Seven Pounds - Seven Pounds reunites actor Will Smith with Gabriele Muccino, the same director who made The Pursuit of Happyness. And like his character in that film, Smith plays Ben Thomas, a guy who's seemingly always running from one problem to the next. Posing as an IRS agent, Ben visits people in need and makes personal sacrifices so that their lives can become better. And yet, because he doesn't want to live with his pain anymore, he's on the verge of suicide and not even unexpectedly falling in love with a terminally ill woman he meets (Rosario Dawson) can save him. The whole drama gets to be a bit much, as the film often settles for sentimentality and goes to extremes to evoke emotions. (Niesel)

The Spirit - Hollywood struck gold with adaptations of Frank Miller's graphic novels Sin City and 300. Miller even got to co-direct Sin City, and with this film based on Will Eisner's The Spirit, he makes his solo directing debut. It's a bold, visually stunning movie that's long on style, but that can't entirely compensate for a ho-hum story and a hero who just isn't all that interesting. The storyline: The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) runs and jumps around Central City in noirish fashion, trying to stop the evil machinations of the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) and his assistant Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson). The situation is complicated when a woman from the Spirit's past, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), and the Octopus each wind up with an artifact the other wants. There are some moments of fun in the movie, but far too much of it drags. 1/2 (Ignizio)

The Tale of Despereaux - For whatever reason, rodents have a rich film history, from Disney's 1950 Cinderella to last year's Oscar-winning Ratatouille. The Tale of Despereaux is the story of a young mouse (Matthew Broderick) whose bravery brings together a royal family and breathes life into a village obsessed with soup. Oddly enough, Despereaux the mouse gets relatively little screen time, as he shares his tale with a servant girl (Emma Watson) who's envious of a princess (Tracey Ullman), a rat (Dustin Hoffman) seeking redemption and a chef (Kevin Kline) whose soup has been outlawed. The result is a bland story filled with clichés about morals. 1/2 (Jason Morgan)

Valkyrie - Writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander went to great lengths to make sure everything in this Bryan Singer film about an attempt to assassinate Hitler was as close to accurate as possible. Based on the true story of German Resistance fighter Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), who led an attempt to overthrow Hilter on July 20, 1944, the film has an undeniable air of authenticity. The assassination attempt led by Stauffenberg, who even carried a bomb in a briefcase to a meeting with Hitler, also included several key military members, including Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) and Otto Ernst Remer (Thomas Kretschmann). The supporting cast is one of the film's strong points as Cruise simply brings too much of a Top Gun/Few Good Men feel to the role of Stauffenberg. 1/2 (Niesel)

Yes Man - Amusing return to 1990s form for manic funnyman Jim Carrey that should please his fans. It's a simple-to-digest gimmick, as the star plays Carl, a Los Angeles bank-loan officer in a personal and professional slump, shunning commitments to friends and family and clients. Carl attends a feel-good seminar led by a self-help guru (Terence Stamp, who had a similar role as a quasi-Scientologist in Bowfinger), admonished to turn his life around by saying "yes" to everything asked of him. Reluctantly at first, then with greater and greater joie de vivre and Carrey-okie zaniness, Carl unconditionally says yes to panhandlers, bank customers, internet-spam ads and, most crucially, a free-spirited West-Coast Boho chick (Zooey Deschanel) who begins to overcome the hero's divorce-bred fear of romantic commitment. Some third-act complications arise, more than anything else to satisfy a facile demand for third-act complications, but all ends happily. (Cassady)


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