Film Capsules

Because you want to know if it's good before you see it

Alpha and Omega (PG) — Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long) and Kate (Hayden Panettiere) are buddies in their wolf pack until Kate goes off to alpha training to become a future pack leader in this animated movie. Humphrey is an omega; his pack role is merely comic relief. The two classes traditionally never mix, but when Humphrey and Kate find themselves relocated from their Canada home to a park in Idaho, Humphrey shows he can be more than a joke as he helps Kate get home to fulfill her responsibility of marrying a rival pack's male alpha. Instead of facing conflict head-on and giving young audiences something real, Alpha and Omega sidesteps all its trials, creating a thin veil of suspense that is always quickly and conveniently wrapped up. And rather than letting the movie be what it is — something for little ones to laugh at — the writers inject random jabs at adult humor that are truly awful. This doesn't mean straight-up silliness doesn't have a place in a kids flick. But the trick is to use it with purpose and balance it with something devastating or terrifying, guaranteeing audience members big and small an intensely emotional and beautiful ride. Alpha and Omega fails pretty much across the board. (Laura Dattaro)

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 who calls himself both Jack and Edward. 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. No surprise that The American often plays like a series of stunning and skillfully framed photographs. The movie is a little slow, but you may appreciate its quiet, contemplative mood. Or, if that high-minded approach doesn't work for you, there's always the sight of Clooney's bare torso and backside. (Pamela Zoslov)

Bran Nue Dae (PG-13) — A young guy runs away from a religious mission and finds his own salvation.

Easy A (PG-13) — In this comedy based on The Scarlet Letter, straitlaced Olive (Emma Stone) acquires her "filthy skank" reputation by accident: She invents an imaginary boyfriend and fake-confesses to her best friend that she lost her virginity to him. It's overheard by the school's Jesus-freak-in-chief, and soon rumors of Olive's loose ways spread like a text-message virus and she's approached by all manner of nerds, fat boys, and outcasts who want help acquiring a studly reputation. Suddenly awash in gifts and condemnation, virginal Olive decides to embrace her inner Hester Prynne. In real life, high school girls kill themselves over such scorn; in Easy A, Olive cuts up her conservative wardrobe and starts wearing sexy improvised bustiers (each adorned with a huge red letter "A"), strutting down school hallways and turning heads. These rather outlandish plot points are made tolerable by witty writing and a winning performance by Stone, whose sultry voice and oversized eyes make her an eminently appealing heroine. (Zoslov)

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.

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. (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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 — the funny Sudeikis and Day, plus lovely Christina Applegate as Erin's sister, who's saddled with the sole unfunny trait of being a hygiene freak — our emotional investment in Erin and Garrett is limited. Overlong and meandering, Going the Distance has trouble maintaining a consistent tone. (Zoslov)

Heartbreaker (NR) — Alex (Romain Duris) breaks up couples for a living. His game is always the same: He wins the woman's heart, tells her that his own broken heart won't allow him to ever love again, but that she must go on and find someone who truly deserves her. And just like that, women leave their loser boyfriends and Alex collects a paycheck. It's a well-run and sex-free business. It's also a well-planned and systematic business that requires lots of groundwork. So when Alex and his crew have a mere ten days to break up Jonathan and Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) before their wedding, the pressure is on. Despite its thin premise, Heartbreaker features plenty of funny moments, particularly those involving Alex and his co-workers, who juggle dozens of duties, wigs, and personas. About halfway through this French comedy, you know where it's all heading. But first-time feature director Pascal Chaumeil and his endearing cast make Heartbreakers a breezy and often hilarious piece of escapist fluff. It won't be long before the inevitable Hollywood remake comes along and screws it up. (Michael Gallucci)

I'm Still Here (NR) — Actor Joaquin Phoenix is either a total nutjob or an annoyingly pretentious "artist" who thinks he's making a big, bold statement about Hollywood in this documentary directed by his pal (and brother-in-law) Casey Affleck. It's hard to tell which side he falls on, since the Phoenix we see in I'm Still Here comes off a combination of both. After watching it, you still won't know whether Phoenix has lost his mind or if his batshit-crazy behavior (and this movie) is just one big hoax. Over the course of the movie, we see him snort coke, check out online porn, cavort with a pair of prostitutes, make an infamous appearance on Letterman, and get in a fight at one of his concerts. How real is I'm Still Here? The movie never lets on, and it doesn't quite deliver as self-mocking parody or true-life portrait. But you'll watch and cringe anyway. Phoenix's onscreen breakdown could very well be real. But I doubt it. Is that "written by" end credit a hint? Either way, it's a performance that's as self-consciously mannered as it is disturbing. (Gallucci)

Lebanon (R) — Writer-director Samuel Maoz's debut feature is less a traditional war flick than an endurance test, since it spends nearly every second of its 93 minutes inside the close quarters of a tank on the day Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. What lies beyond is seen only through a cross-haired viewfinder. Lebanon captures the whiplash mix of terror, anxiety, anticipation, and confusion of young soldiers' first war experiences. It's not long before the tank and squad wind up off course in a Syrian-occupied portion of the city, and their seemingly breezy mission turns into a fight for survival. Like The Hurt Locker, Lebanon favors soldier subjectivity over big-picture politics, but that doesn't mean it shies away from convenient symbolism at times. The experience is harrowing and tense, but that also seems to be the movie's only point — the familiar refrain about war and hell. It delivers a powerful soldier's-eye-view of war, but it's a picture — soldiers in a foreign land fighting an enemy they can't always identify and dealing with the psychological trauma of causing civilian casualties — that looks way too much like headlines from the past seven years. (Bret McCabe)

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (PG) —The filmmakers, on a quest to plumb the outer corners of young-adult fantasy for a Harry Potter-style franchise, stumble with the initial outing in Kathryn Lasky's Owls of Ga'Hoole series. The CGI animation provides Legend of the Guardians with a visually lush story about young owls who are kidnapped and take opposing sides in a scheme hatched by a megalomaniacal warlord owl to conquer primordial Australia. The setup makes the movie sound cheesier than it is. In fact, the dignified, quasi-Arthurian script never talks down to its young audience. There are no hip-hop wombats voiced by Wanda Sykes here and only one ill-placed pop song on the soundtrack. But verbose Tolkien-meets-Lucasfilm dialogue weighs heavily on the semi-predictable, sequel-pregnant plot. Even the birds occasionally tell each other to stop talking so much. But the digital design is excellent and worth seeing on the big screen. (Cassady)

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. For one thing, Cotton would make a great subject for a real documentary. (Bob Ignizio)

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. Rodriguez' previous old-school exploitation outing, Planet Terror, was enjoyable, but he tried too hard at times. Machete is more like the real thing: a genuinely entertaining low-budget movie made by talented filmmakers who nail the genre's sense of violent fun. (Ignizio)

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. Harry Potter devotees will get a kick out of cameos by Maggie Smith and Ralph Fiennes, while Babe fans will dig the menagerie of hyperactive CGI animals who, even without the distracting supplement of 3-D, still manage to do the darndest things. (Milan Paurich)

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.

Takers (PG-13) — The "Takers" are a group of criminals who drive Porsches and live in high-rise condos. They pick and choose heists with discretion. So when old pal Ghost (played by ex-con rapper T.I.) returns from prison with a plan to hijack an armored truck, they're a bit suspicious. But because Ghost used to be part of their crew before he got nabbed during a bank robbery, they decide to go along with him. Not so surprisingly, things don't go exactly as planned — especially since a relentless cop with anger-management issues (Matt Dillon) is hot on their tail. Dillon gives the only credible performance in Takers, but even he has trouble breaking his character from stereotype. (Jeff Niesel)

The Town (R) — Ben Affleck proves that Gone Baby Gone, his sensational 2007 directorial debut, wasn't a fluke with this equally impressive — if a tad more conventionally plotted — follow-up. Based on an acclaimed crime novel by Chuck Hogan, the film examines what happens when Beantown bank robber Doug MacRay (Affleck, very good here) falls for his former hostage (Rebecca Hall). (Conveniently, she doesn't recognize him from the heist because the thieves were all wearing masks.) With the FBI (led by a steely Jon Hamm of Mad Men) breathing down his neck and hotheaded criminal cohort Jem (The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner) itching to pull the trigger on any potential witnesses — including his buddy's new girlfriend — Doug's decision to go straight runs into some perilous roadblocks. Once again shooting on location in some of Boston's least-touristy working-class neighborhoods, Affleck brings a startling degree of verisimilitude and white-knuckle intensity to pulp-fiction material that might have seemed like just another standard-issue Hollywood cops-and-robbers flick in the hands of a lesser director. The performances — including an unrecognizable Blake Lively from Gossip Girl and Oscar winner Chris Cooper as Doug's convict dad — are beyond reproach. (Paurich)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13) — This sequel to the 1987 hit pretty much plays like director Oliver Stone's strained attempt to personalize the stock market crash of 2008. It mostly centers on the relationship between Jacob (Shia LeBeouf) and Winnie (Carey Mulligan). But before they can marry, Jacob hopes to patch up the stressed relationship between Winnie and her father, the original Wall Street's Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who's just been released from prison and back in the public eye. Jacob, an up-and-coming broker, befriends Gordon, and they begin "trading" information: Jacob tells Gordon about Winnie, and Gordon offers Jacob advice on how to handle Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a slimy hedge-fund manager. Even though the acting is terrific throughout, the movie tries to do too many things, which doesn't leave much room for the great Douglas or any new insight on the catastrophic economic downturn that's still affecting the nation. (Niesel)

You Again (PG) — The notion, as stated by You Again's protagonist, that "who you are in high school determines who you are for the rest of your life" is hardly a new one. But it's seldom been as clumsily dramatized as it is in this woeful comedy about teen rivalries revived among several generations of a California family. We first meet Marni Olsen (Kristin Bell) in a video from her awkward '90s, with oversized glasses and acne, being bullied by a cabal of cheerleaders chanting Queen's "We Are the Champions" as they shove her out of the school. Marni has triumphed by becoming a pretty, successful PR exec. Traveling home for her brother's wedding, she learns that his fiancée is Joanna (Odette Yustman), Marni's erstwhile chief tormentor, who has wormed her way into the hearts of Marni's family. Through a series of mirthless mishaps, Marni is restored to her bad-skinned, bespectacled high-school self as she labors to stop the wedding. Joanna's glamorous Aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) sashays in, reigniting her own rivalry with Marni's mom (Jamie Lee Curtis). The pairing of Weaver and Curtis is the movie's big draw, but the witless script and feckless direction make it a rickety vehicle for these veteran actresses. Betty White, still riding the crest of renewed popularity, provides the sole laugh near the end of the movie. (Zoslov)

The Virginity Hit (R) — Pals try to get their buddy laid. Starring a cast of people you've never heard of.

Scroll to read more Movie Reviews & Stories articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.