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Film Capsules From A to Z 

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Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (PG) — This hyper kiddie flick has the best opening title sequence going right now: a terrific spoof of James Bond-style credit montages, with lots of feline silhouettes and iconic balls of yarn, etc. And there's a guilty-pleasure closing-credit crawl of YouTube lolcats and canine shenanigans. In between these two highlights, unfortunately, there's the rest of the movie. An attempt to build a franchise on 2001's semi-CGI Cats & Dogs, this sequel retains the basic idea that dogs are indeed Man's Best Friend, maintaining an underground high-tech espionage op that mostly seeks to foil megalomaniacal cat super-villians. The main one here, Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler), is a hairless feline determined to broadcast a high-frequency soundwave that will make dogs everywhere go crazy and fall into disfavor with their masters. An alliance of hound and cat agents (plus an annoying pigeon) seeks to foil Kitty Galore in an attention-deficit plot that has plenty of amusing moments but still suffers from a bad case of the friskies. We wish there was more vintage-'60s 007 satire here (Roger Moore lends his voice) to make the hyperkinetic comedy more in tune with the colorful Austin Powers series. As it is, the movie is OK family fun, but more shaky than stirring. (Charles Cassady)

Charlie St. Cloud (PG-13) — After his 11-year-old brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) dies in a car accident, Stanford-bound sailing aspirant Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) becomes unglued. Consumed with grief and guilt — he was behind the wheel at the time of the smash-up — Charlie soon abandons his dreams and takes a job as caretaker at the cemetery where his brother is buried. Soon he's playing catch in the woods with Sam's ghost every night (can you say Field of Dreams?) and even reconnecting with old schoolmates who died in the war. It's not until he meets Tess (Amanda Crew) that Charlie begins to question the wisdom of holding onto the past at the expense of, well, living. Based on a novel by Ben Sherwood, this second collaboration between High School Musical alum Efron and director Burr Steers (who made the excellent Igby Goes Down) might sound like an icky Nicholas Sparks knockoff, but it's actually a good deal better and considerably more restrained. Credit Steers for his ability to avoid treacle (most of the time anyway) and for once again bringing out the best in his young star. If Efron isn't quite ready to graduate to Ryan Gosling or Joseph Gordon-Levitt roles just yet, his tutelage under Steers has proven that he's definitely more than just another pretty face with some really killer abs. (Milan Paurich)

Despicable Me (PG) — The villains at the center of this amiable CGI movie are straight out of the James Bond playbook. After rival bad guy Vector begins to steal some of the planet's most notable landmarks, the borderline incompetent Gru hatches a plan to shrink the moon (it's basically a one-upmanship contest between these guys). He adopts three tiny orphan girls to help him, even though he knows as much about parenting as he does about taking over the world. It isn't long before Gru is squeezing in dance recitals and amusement park outings between world-domination plans. The great voice cast (Russell Brand, Jason Segal, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, and Julie Andrews) is headed by Steve Carell as the heavily accented and occasionally English-mangling Gru. The funny script is short on actual plot, but many scenes pop, thanks to the zippy animation and panoramic 3-D. And even if Despicable Me doesn't need a bunch of little yellow helium-voiced minions running around, they're a kick every time they're onscreen. (Michael Gallucci)

Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13) — Dinner for Schmucks plays more like a Hollywood multiplex comedy than a remake of a French art-house hit. That's either good news or bad news to fans of 1998's Le Diner de Cons. The jokes are broader here, and the cast is topnotch, but there's also a little too much catering to mainstream tastes to completely pull it off. The always likable Paul Rudd plays Tim, an eager financial analyst who's invited to a monthly dinner held by his snooty boss, who challenges his guests to bring the dorkiest person they can find to be ridiculed. Enter Steve Carell as Barry, an IRS auditor who builds dioramas with dead mice in his spare time (which he apparently has a lot of). The setup mostly works; getting there, not so much. There are some funny scenes — an art opening featuring Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement as a pretentious artist, Zach Galifianakis' mind-reading displays, the dinner itself — and Barry's dioramas are hilariously inspired. But Dinner for Schmucks eventually becomes a lesson in friendship, and several jokes are artificially shoved into the script. The movie's awkward charm seems real enough though. (Gallucci)

Eat Pray Love (PG-13) — It is what it is, goes the cliché. And given that this is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling new-age chick-lit memoir starring Julia Roberts, it's about as good as could reasonably be expected. Faithful to Gilbert's intelligent confessional prose, Eat Pray Love finds our materially successful but spiritually empty N.Y.C. writer/heroine ditching her unfulfilling marriage and passionate rebound affair to undertake a yearlong odyssey living abroad and alone to find her "balance" via food (in Italy), ashram meditation (India), and true love (Bali). If you can avoid the fact that it all adds up to a story about a chic Manhattan woman who learns to reconcile her flaws only after she realizes that she is indeed the center of the universe, you'll discover a sweet, well-acted armchair travelogue and treatise about inner forgiveness. The movie features the considerable virtue of being tooled for grownups during a summer season usually reserved for superheroes, buddy cops, and bad guys. It's all good here. (Cassady)

The Expendables (R) — There's no denying that The Expendables boasts an awfully impressive cast for an action movie: Sylvester Stallone (who also wrote and directed), Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Mickey Rourke all show up. If that's not enough bad-ass for you, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis make cameos. And that's not even counting the guys who can't kill you with their bare hands, like Eric Roberts. With so many actors to juggle, it's no surprise the script is kinda clunky in its attempt to accommodate everyone. After Stallone's recent, somewhat enjoyable revivals of the Rocky and Rambo franchises, The Expendables is a bit of a letdown. Still, there are some cool action scenes and even a few enjoyable character moments (Rourke, in particular, gets a memorable monologue). The last 30 minutes amount to one extended fight scene, filled with carnage, mayhem, and lots of things going boom. You know, the real reason people want to see a movie like this. (Bob Ignizio)

The Girl Who Played With Fire (R) — It's taken U.S. readers a few years to get to know Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of three posthumously released books. Part one of the crime trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is this year's surprise bestseller — a gripping story about a 25-year-old antisocial computer hacker who gets involved with a magazine publisher facing jail time for libel. The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second story, takes place a year after Dragon Tattoo. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) hires two young writers to investigate a sex-trafficking ring, but as they're wrapping up the story, someone kills them. The creepy guardian who raped a young Lisbeth is also murdered. Lisbeth's (Noomi Rapace) fingerprints are found on the gun, and now it's Mikael's turn to rescue her. Lisbeth is a fetching protagonist: She has multiple piercings, she chain-smokes, she's bisexual...and then there's that big-ass dragon tattoo running down her back. Director Daniel Alfredson wisely builds The Girl Who Played With Fire as a suspense film, slowly piling up the tension as the crime unravels. Still, the first movie — and book, for that matter — was better at maintaining momentum. There's too much sitting and talking, as characters hash out plot details. But when Lisbeth gets down to ass-kicking, it cuts to the heart of the movie. Lisbeth is a heroine for the millennium and a feisty fireball you really don't want to piss off. (Gallucci)

Grown Ups (PG-13) — Adam Sandler plays a high-powered Hollywood agent who reunites with some boyhood friends (including former SNL castmates Chris Rock and David Spade) at the funeral of their grade-school basketball coach. Every character comes with a joke: Rob Schneider's new-age boob has a thing for older — really older — women; Rock's Mr. Mom is pussywhipped by his wife and harridan of a mother-in-law; Kevin James is, well, fat. None of them gets appreciably funnier with repetition. Lazy, witless, and aggressively coarse, this could very well be Sandler's worst and most cringeworthy film (and, yes, I'm including The Water Boy and Bedtime Stories). I don't know what's more offensive here — the rancid, vulgar humor or the icky sentimentality that permeates every frame like a congealed layer of Transfat. Hopefully, Sandler and his pals had more fun making Grown Ups than anyone will have watching it. (Paurich)

Inception (PG-13) — Christopher Nolan has already directed one unquestionable mind-fuck masterpiece: 2000's Memento. He can now add a second to his résumé. Inception goes so deep, so often, you'll want to watch it again immediately just to see if all the pieces add up. Even if they don't (but I bet they do), it's a visual feast of dreamlike splendor. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an "extractor" who enters people's dreams to probe their innermost thoughts. He also carries a ton of personal baggage, which puts his faithful team (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page) in constant danger. Cobb's latest and presumably last job is to plant an idea — yes, it works both ways — into the mind of a young corporation head (Cillian Murphy) who's taking over the family business. That's when Inception really kicks into action. Think too hard about what you're seeing onscreen and you'll likely burn out your brain — but that's exactly what Nolan (who also wrote the screenplay) wants. Just know that various levels of dream states are involved, and detachment from reality is necessary. Once you're settled in, you're ready for one of the year's smartest and most thrilling adventures. Buildings crumble, streets flood, and entire cities fold into themselves in this wondrous landscape. It's all mind-blowingly magnificent and spectacularly deep. (Gallucci)

The Karate Kid (PG) — This remake of the 1984 Ralph Macchio-Pat Morita kitsch classic (itself a Rocky rip-off) rethinks the clichés and bundles a spectacular Far East travelogue on the side. New Karate Kid on the block Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) arrives in Beijing with his single mom (Taraji P. Henson), who's relocated for business reasons from Detroit. Outgoing Dre runs afoul of Chinese boys from a mean-spirited kung-fu school, adding serial bullying to his culture shock. To Dre's rescue comes Mr. Han (a subdued Jackie Chan), the Parkers' taciturn handyman and a secret source of ancient kung-fu knowledge and philosophy. To end the bullying, Han mentors Dre for a tournament showdown against the bullies. The movie delivers on the master-disciple interplay and the dawning respect across races and generations that werealways the strength of the series. (Cassady)

The Kids are All Right (R) — The Kids Are All Right finds an interesting balance between the revolutionary and the conventional. In a way, it's a fairly typical family comedy-drama. But it just so happens that the family is headed by two moms (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). The movie is charming and slightly annoying, expertly made but a little too slick and enamored of its unconventionality. "He just seems so self-satisfied," says Nic, Bening's sharp-tongued doctor, after meeting Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the free-spirited restaurateur whose sperm donation fathered the kids she raises with wife Jules (Moore). She could be talking about the film, which simultaneously revels in and rails against political correctness. But this is not a lesbian movie designed to titillate; it's a human drama about relationships and evolving definitions of family. Ruffalo's woozy, beatific demeanor has seldom been used better. Bening is a kaleidoscope of toughness and vulnerability. And Moore is affecting as the conflicted Jules. Igor Jadire-Lillo's skillful cinematography caresses Bening's facial lines and Moore's freckles, underscoring another of the movie's endearing qualities: It's a romance about middle-aged people — not very glamorous, but beautiful nonetheless. (Pamela Zoslov)

Knight and Day (PG-13) — This is the kind of film that practically encourages ADD, cobbled together out of stray parts from a slew of mostly better movies. North by Northwest (the standard-bearer for this type of escapist fluff), Romancing the Stone, the Mission Impossible flicks, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Groundhog Day, and even the under-loved Hudson Hawk are just a few of the titles liberally quoted here. The MacGuffin propelling Patrick O'Neill's connect-the-dots script is a super-strength new battery codenamed "The Zephyr." Rogue agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) wants to protect the contraption and its dweebish inventor (Paul Dano) from his former agency bosses (the overqualified Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard) and a slew of Euro weapons manufacturers. Cameron Diaz is the cutie Roy uses as a mule to help get through airport security then can't quite seem to shake. You'll forget most of the plot particulars before hitting the parking lot. (Paurich)

The Last Airbender (PG) — Disappointment in M. Night Shyamalan movies has become almost reflexive among fans, who bemoan the director's failure to match the success of his 1999 breakthrough film The Sixth Sense. Shyamalan's movies, though uneven and often reliant on twist endings, tend to be contemplative, with a spiritual component that seems to frustrate moviegoers seeking more obvious thrills. The Last Airbender, a live-action adventure film based on a Nickelodeon animated series, is likely to disappoint as well, since it emphasizes the narrative's cerebral elements over exciting action. The story centers on Aang (Noah Ringer), a preadolescent Airbender accepting his destiny as the reincarnated Avatar, the only person who can manipulate all four elements and maintain peace among the Air, Water, Earth, and Fire nations. (Zoslov)

Life During Wartime — This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this is Todd Solondz's first movie in five years. And it's filled with his usual cast of pedophiles and other degenerates. If that's not enough, Pee-wee Herman is in it.

Lottery Ticket (PG-13) — If you're holding a ticket to this movie — about a kid in the projects (played by rapper Bow Wow) who has a winning lottery ticket – you've already lost.

The Other Guys (PG-13) — "Will Ferrell is back and Mark Wahlberg's got him" could be the tagline for this amiably goofy buddy-cop bromance by frequent Ferrell helmer Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers). Ferrell and Wahlberg play a pair of temperamentally mismatched NYPD doofuses who finally get the chance to prove themselves when the top dogs in their department (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) get temporarily sidelined. Because the movie ultimately devolves into the very thing it's poking fun at — '80s super-cop action flicks like the Lethal Weapon franchise, complete with explosions and car chases galore — it's not as satisfying as previous, more improv-friendly Ferrell-McKay collaborations. Still, the über-intense Wahlberg displays an agreeable knack for mocking his own patented alpha-male image (he's basically playing Ferrell's straight man here), and the first half consistently delivers more big laughs than just about any studio comedy this season. The boilerplate plot — in which the dependably wry Steve Coogan plays a crooked Wall Street bigwig — at least has the benefit of being topical. And for those not up to speed on the current financial crunch, there's an economics tutorial delivered over the end credits that just might be the funniest thing in the whole movie. (Paurich)

Predators (R) — Screenwriter Robert Rodriguez conceived Predators as a sequel to the first two Predator movies. So it's more about man vs. Predator than Predator vs. Alien this time around. The plot centers on a group of soldiers trapped in a foreign jungle where the sun never sets. At first they fight among themselves, but they soon realize something is hunting them and they're better off putting aside their differences. So they rally around Royce (a beefed-up Adrien Brody), who establishes himself as the pack's leader. "It doesn't matter what happened or why," he tells them. "The only question is, How do we get out?" Turns out it ain't easy, especially when there's a bunch of bloodthirsty Predators hunting you down with heat-seeking weapons. The first half of the movie is fairly suspenseful, but once the Predators show up, the whole thing goes to hell. With their glowing eyes and infrared vision (not to mention their cloaking devices), they look like cheesy creatures from an old Star Trek episode. Brody is an OK action hero, but he's a bit stiff in the role, and the supporting cast (including a brief cameo by Laurence Fishburne) practically shows him up. (Jeff Niesel)

Ramona and Beezus (G) — I loved Beverly Cleary's books so much when I was younger that I suffered the wrath of Mrs. Horn, the school librarian who deemed them "too easy" and would snatch them from me and replace them with something dull. Kids since 1950 have similarly embraced Cleary's wonderful children's novels about Henry Huggins, his neighbor Beezus (Beatrice) Quimby, and her mischievous little sister Ramona, a pest with an overactive imagination. Nine-year-old Ramona (Joey King) gets top billing in Elizabeth Allen's live-action adaptation of Cleary's Ramona and Beezus, falling into misadventures ranging from spilling paint all over a neighbor's Jeep to humiliating sister Beezus (Disney star Selena Gomez) in front of nascent heartthrob Henry (Hutch Dano). The movie tries, with mixed success, to update the Cleary universe with computer animation, cloying pop songs, teen romance, and Nickelodeon-style slapstick. But it deserves credit for incorporating a timely recession theme (Ramona's dad, endearingly played by John Corbett, loses his job) and capturing, as Cleary did, the angst of being a kid who's different. (Zoslov)

Restrepo (R) — What sets this down-in-the-hole documentary — which follows a company of U.S. soldiers over the course of a yearlong deployment to one of the deadliest places on earth — apart from so many other peeks into a distant war is that it humanizes dreadfully young combatants. Writer Sebastian Junger is famous for his into-the-fire journalistic style, but he's taken on the documentarian role with passion and gusto, placing the audience directly in the line of fire — a vantage point that permits us insights that the guys pulling the trigger have no time for. It allows us to understand that the war in Afghanistan is as abstract and detached to its fighters as it is to us. Massive explosions surround them constantly, the clack-clack of machine gun fire as perpetual as a woodpecker. But unless it's just loud enough to be close, to them it's just how the valley sounds. In a war with little hand-to-hand (or even face-to-face) combat, it's the relative safety of the fort that brings out the animal in the fighters. They grapple, play music, and cook for each other with as much intensity and pride as when they march up mountains. When one of their own becomes a casualty, they mourn with shocking rawness, even while taking fire. They remain above all else human, and Restrepo never lets us forget that. (Justin Strout)

Salt (PG-13) — If Inception is the summer's brain-twisting action movie, Salt is its check-your-brain-at-the-door-and-enjoy-the-freakin'-ride alternative. There's a plot here (a mighty farfetched one about a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy), but it's mostly secondary to the explosive set pieces. While interrogating a Russian defector, agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is told she is actually a Russian spy trained to assassinate the Russian president. Is she? Director Phillip Noyce piles on the possibility, especially after Evelyn goes on the run like Jason Bourne, dodging bullets, leaping onto speeding trucks, and kicking major ass. Jolie has become adept at playing tough gals, so once Evelyn hits the road with the CIA in hot pursuit, the movie rarely lets up. But Salt doesn't hold together as a story (Inception is more believable): The post-Cold War element is lukewarm, and the scenes with Liev Schreiber as her faithful boss are deadly boring. Too bad all that narrative gets in the way of the good stuff. (Gallucci)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PG-13) — In a world of comic-book heroes, Scott Pilgrim is even less super than the caped crusaders in Kick-Ass. In fact, he isn't super at all. And in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — based on a six-volume graphic-novel series — the nerdy 22-year-old protagonist (Michael Cera, who really needs to look into expanding his résumé a little) falls hard for a girl, Ramona V. Flowers (geek dream Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But before he can even think of calling himself her boyfriend, he must defeat her "seven evil exes." The movie's comic-book and video-game style — short character bios pop up onscreen, exclamations splash out of people and objects, all of the battles look like video-game fights, complete with "finishing" moves — is fun, and there's plenty of visual pizzazz speckled across every scene (you can thank Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright for that). It feels a bit disconnected at times, which has as much to do with the source material as with the movie's inability to stay in one place for too long. Still, this is a total geekfest. Comic books, video games, indie rock — this is Scott Pilgrim's world, and at times it's an awesome one. (Gallucci)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (PG) — Conceived to make your eyeballs feel like they're bouncing through a pinball machine for 90 minutes, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a swollen special-effects blast that expands a classic segment from 1940's Fantasia to feature length. You remember Mickey and the marching brooms, right? Only here it's live action, with director Jon Turteltaub working from Michael Bay's gaudy playbook. Ever since the eighth century, good-guy wizard Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) has been looking for a chosen one to carry on the fight against an evil sorceress. In modern-day New York, Balthazar recruits nebbish physics major Dave (Jay Baruchel) for the job. Balthazar mentors clumsy Dave in such magical-martial arts as levitation, lighting fires, and hurling plasma balls. And there's not a moment to lose, since warlock Horvath (Alfred Molina) is on the attack, threatening to bring on a zombie armageddon. An obscenity-free script and Molina's hearty villainy are the only tangible Magic Kingdom touches in The Sorcerer's Apprentice — that and the awesome CGI, which brings to life the Chrysler Building's gargoyle filigree and the famous sculpted bull on Wall Street. Visually impressive? Sure. Magical? Not very. (Cassady)

Step Up 3-D (PG-13) — The third installment in Disney's lucrative urban dance flick franchise mostly delivers the guilty-pleasure goods. And for a welcome change of pace, the 3-D doesn't seem like just a cynical ruse to bilk gullible teens out of a few extra bucks of allowance money. Give returning director Jon M. Chu his due. Unlike most so-called dance movies these days, Step Up actually films his performers in full body shots (most of the time anyway), so we can see they're really dancing. I know this probably sounds like a small thing, but so many contemporary dance flicks tend to obscure their hoofers' lack of experience, grace, and talent with choppy, headache-inducing MTV editing. The cookie-cutter storyline and archetypal characters remain pretty much the same as in the previous Step Up movies. Sharni Vinson stars as dance-addled, hot-to-trot ingénue Natalie, Rick Malambri plays rakish boho-impressario Luke, and the whole thing builds to a big dance showdown in which Luke's pure-of-heart Pirates crew battles the boo-hiss Samurai posse. Shake your booty indeed. (Paurich)

Toy Story 3 (G) — For a studio as innovative and consistently terrific as Pixar, it's kind of odd that they're reaching into the Toy Story box for a third time. Not that we're complaining: The first Toy Story (and Pixar's first feature, from 1995) is a masterpiece of CGI storytelling. The 1999 sequel nearly tops it. The third outing achieves the near impossible: Toy Story 3 is the best of the bunch. This time, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the gang are accidentally shipped to a daycare center as all-grown-up Andy gets ready for college. And things don't go well. The toys run into some sticky situations and a hierarchy led by the pink, vindictive, and strawberry-scented Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty). Like the other two movies in the series, Toy Story 3 expertly mixes poignancy and humor. It's the funniest, smartest, and most touching movie you'll see this summer. (Gallucci)

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (PG-13) — Bella (Kristen Stewart) finally chooses between emo vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and hunky werewolf/shape-shifter Jacob (Taylor Lautner) in the third chapter of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga. Directed by the gifted David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy), Eclipse is infinitely superior to last fall's pedestrian New Moon and is quite possibly the best, most stylish Twilight yet. Although the vapid Lautner continues to be a huge drain on the series (I've seen better acting in middle-school Christmas pageants), Slade proves that bigger can sometimes be better. This film's more extravagant budget and improved CGI effects and production values finally give the franchise the properly epic (read: Harry Potter-ish) feel it's been striving for all along. I just wish that the dialogue, most of it lifted directly from Meyer's books, weren't quite so tin-ear. (Paurich)

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