Film Capsules

And then some more film capsules

Farewell (NR) — Two actor-directors deliver the controlled performances that hold this subtle thriller together. Guillaume Canet's Pirre Froment is a French engineer working in 1981 Moscow who becomes the reluctant middle man in a disillusioned KGB agent's efforts to leak information to France's DST counterintelligence agency. Sergei Gregoriev (played by Serbian director Emir Kusturica) — a character inspired by real-life KGB spy Vladimir Vertov, who leaked more than 4,000 secret documents to the West in the early 1980s — tells Pierre that he doesn't want to defect; he just wants life in Russia to get better for future generations. What makes director Christian Carion's Farewell — the code name DST gives Sergei — so refreshing is how it focuses on the mundane lives of its spies, average and flawed husbands and fathers who might as well be put-upon middle-management Americans in an Arthur Miller play. But credit Kusturica for any gravitas Farewell sustains: His hangdog face and thousand-yard stare suggest Sergei knows exactly what kind of unpleasantness his decisions are eventually going to bring him. (Bret McCabe)In Theaters

The American (R) — "You are American. You live for the present," says Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), a priest who befriends The American's enigmatic protagonist, a mystery man played by George Clooney. Americans also like plenty of action in their thrillers, which director Anton Corbijn bravely ignores, reserving most of the gunplay for the movie's operatic last act. Corbijn — whose feature debut, Control, was a thoughtful biography of doomed Joy Division singer Ian Curtis — made his reputation as a photographer, so he has a rather static style. The movie is a little slow, but you may appreciate its quiet, contemplative mood. Or there's always the sight of Clooney's bare torso and backside. (Pamela Zoslov)

Animal Kingdom (R) — Based in part on the true exploits of Australian crime families, Animal Kingdom follows emotionally remote teen J Cody (James Frecheville) after his mother's death sends him off to live with his Aunt Smurf. J's mother had always kept him away from his aunt, and it soon becomes clear why: Smurf hasn't raised sons so much as she's spawned a criminal gang, headed up by Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). Just as J starts to feel like one of the family, the cops come down hard on the Codys, the Codys come back harder, and everyone is reminded how much of a stranger J actually is. Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce) does his best to bring J in as a witness, but it's clear that J is on his own in this suburban jungle. Animal Kingdom is a crime flick that rarely depicts crime. But that's not to say director David Michôd doesn't get to flash Scorsesean flair (Lee Gardner)

The Concert (NR) — A brilliant conductor, now working as a janitor after being fired years ago for hiring Jews, reunites with his old orchestra for a performance. Their opening number: "Fuck You, Ant-Semitic Assholes."

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. (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 a few enjoyable character moments. (Bob Ignizio)

The Extra Man (R) — Kevin Kline heads a stellar cast (Paul Dano, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly) in this comedy about a guy who escorts rich old ladies to fancy-ass gatherings so he can live the good life.

Going the Distance (R) — Drew Barrymore plays Erin, a 31-year-old graduate student and intern at a New York City newspaper who bonds over 1980s music and arcade games with Garrett (Justin Long), an indie record-company employee freshly dumped by his girlfriend. Six weeks into this romantic idyll, Erin must return to California to finish school, leaving Garrett to his goofy pals (Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) and his unrealistic music-industry job. Despite being a real-life couple, Barrymore and Long generate little charisma or erotic heat. And since they're less interesting than the supporting characters, our emotional investment in Erin and Garrett is limited. (Zoslov)

Kisses (NR) — Shot mostly in black and white and with subtitles (the Irish brogue is as thick as the swearing), Kisses follows two kids who escape their depressing lives for a day in Dublin. Dylan (played with magnificent heaviness by Shane Curry) lives with his abusive "da" and abused "ma"; life isn't much better for friend Kylie (Kelly O'Neill). After Dylan has a major fight with his da and Kylie endures one more visit from her creepy uncle, the two run away. Kylie is both fearless and fun on their trip to find Dylan's runaway older brother, but her sense of responsibility doesn't crowd out her innocence. Dylan's cloud of despair lifts in the city, where he and Kylie finally act like kids. The freedom high sends them racing through a shopping mall and out on the lighted streets. It's a holiday — it's actually close to Christmas — but a short one. Searching for Dylan's brother and trying to stay safe in Dublin brings Dylan and Kylie back down to the dangerous world they live in, whether at home or on the run. At one point Kylie says, "There is no devil, just people," and she's right. What they find in themselves and in each other on their journey is a sense of survival and safety — perhaps for the first time. (Wendy Ward)

The Last Exorcism (R) — Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a former evangelist who used to perform phony exorcisms, but now he wants to expose the ritual as a potentially dangerous sham. So he and a film crew visit a rural family that's looking for some divine intervention. Cotton expects something he's seen dozens of times, but he winds up with a lot more than he bargained for. Even when the spooky stuff starts, The Last Exorcism (shot documentary style with handheld cameras and iffy lighting) keeps the audience guessing: Are demonic forces really at work? Or is it just the dark side of human nature taking over? Director Daniel Stamm slowly builds dread while maintaining suspense and actually taking time to develop characters. The Last Exorcism's influences are obvious, but there's enough here to keep it from being just another pea-soup-spewing rip-off. (Ignizio)

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.

Machete (R) — In his first starring role, veteran character actor Danny Trejo earns his place among the hallowed hall of action heroes as he slices and dices his way through a series of bad guys, led by none other than Steven Seagal. Trejo (whose quarter-century career includes everything from Maniac Cop 2 to voiceover work in one of the Grand Theft Auto games) plays Machete, a former Mexican police officer who turns vigilante against the men who left him for dead. There are hints of racial politics and some social commentary here, but what you're really going for are the action-packed fight scenes, fiery explosions, multiple dismemberments, and gratuitous nudity. In short: everything you could possibly want from an ultraviolent Mexploitation flick. Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis capture the spirit of '70s drive-in movies without slipping into kitschy parody or empty tribute. (Ignizio)

Mao's Last Dancer (PG) — Director Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy) has carved out a career crafting sturdy films with just enough pulse to shuffle his audiences out of theaters with a half-smile and a bland compliment. Mao's Last Dancer — a tender, gawky, and at times gorgeous true story about an impoverished Chinese kid plucked from his village to be trained as a ballet dancer —- is pleasant in the most Beresfordian meaning of the word. Star dancer Chi Cao plays Li Cunxin as a gentle soul, nationalistic yet a romantic who dances with power and sorrow. He's selected as an exchange student to come to the U.S. and train with the Houston Ballet. Before long, he succumbs to all the capitalistic tendencies his Chinese handlers warned him about, falls in love, and decides to stay, setting off an international incident. When Dancer focuses on the dancing, it's intoxicating. (Justin Strout)

Nanny McPhee Returns (PG) — This sequel to the minor 2005 hit based on Christiana Brand's kid-lit series — about a Mary Poppins-like nanny who looks more like one of Macbeth's witches — is mildly charming and passably entertaining. But instead of taking place in Victorian England, like the previous movie, the action here picks up in World War II-era Blighty, where the title character (again played by the redoubtable Emma Thompson, who also penned the screenplay) goes to work for the stressed-out Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal with a British accent as counterfeit as her bogus southern twang in Crazy Heart), whose husband (Ewan McGregor) is off fighting the war. McPhee's charges include her employer's three rambunctious tykes and two miscreant houseguests (scene-stealers Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Isabel's horrid nephew and niece). Once again, the crone-like nanny transforms into, well, the perfectly lovely Thompson after teaching her unruly brood five invaluable life lessons. (Paurich)

The Other Guys (PG-13) — Will Ferrell and Mark 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. (Paurich)

Piranha 3-D (R) — Killer fish jump in your lap, steal your popcorn, and nibble on your flesh.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (R) — Milla Jovovich kicks zombie ass in the third sequel based on the hit video game. This time she does it in 3-D.

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. (Paurich)

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