Film Capsules

Neat and tidy reviews for your short attention span

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Buried (R) — What do you get when you give an artful director 95 minutes of real time, one actor, a coffin, and a handful of props? The answer is a mostly realistic, mostly engrossing art-thriller that zeroes in on Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), an American truck driver doing contract work in Iraq. After his convoy is hit, he wakes up in a tight wooden box. Making a series of desperate calls — to his wife, the FBI, his kidnapper — Conroy is frustrated over and over again, reduced to grunting, convulsing, sleeping, and sobbing. Buried raises a number of questions: Are we all just pawns in the games of bigwigs? And who are the real terrorists? But the movie falls short of any satisfying answers. Still, director Rodrigo Cortés' dazzling and dizzying camerawork and Reynolds' intense performance keep things interesting. At best, Buried may end up a forerunner of minimalist thrillers. At worst, it's a pretty cool experiment. (Jonah Furman)

Case 39 (R) — Scary movie starring Renée Zellweger as a case worker involved with an abused girl.

Catfish (PG-13) — Documentary about a 24-year-old photographer and his friendship with an eight-year-old girl he meets on Facebook.

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. (Pamela Zoslov)

It's Kind of a Funny Story (PG-13) — Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is a reluctant overachieving student at a New York high school for only the smartest of kids. He's in love with his best friend's girl. His workaholic father pushes him to finish applying for an elite summer-school program, while his mother is a gentle soul who's unable to understand or relieve her son's stress (which is mostly internalized, although it physically manifests in projectile vomiting). Casual monthly therapy sessions are doing nothing for Craig. When it all gets to be too much for him, he rides his bike to the emergency room a few blocks from his house and ends up in the adult mental ward, because the juvenile one is undergoing renovations. He instantly realizes his mistake, but a doctor makes him give it five days to see if he's stable enough to leave. Craig's universe swirls with lovable loons, including a cute young cutter (Emma Roberts) and an odd voice of reason named Bob, played by the terrific Zach Galifianakis. By following up The Hangover's wackadoodle brother-in-law with a mental patient, Galifianakis succeeds where many comedy stars haven't: by transforming from the funny dude to the serious actor, thanks to the natural humor found in his character. He makes Bob a clever and crazy guy everyone wants to befriend — even a not-so-crazy teenager. (Wendy Ward)

Jack Goes Boating (R) — Philip Seymour Hoffman directed this love story about a pair of working-class couples.

Let Me In (R) – It's always risky when filmmakers remake beloved movies. It's even riskier when they do it so soon after the original — especially when the original is one of the best movies of the past 10 years and the greatest film of its genre. But Let Me In — an indie-budgeted U.S. version of 2008's Swedish Let the Right One In, the best vampire movie ever — doesn't disappoint. The plot and structure are mostly the same — vampire girl befriends bullied boy — and so are the movie's dark tones. Give credit to Cloverfield director Matt Reeves and star Chloë Grace Moretz (so good as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass earlier this year). Abby is 200 years old, but she looks 12. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is perpetually picked on at school. They're both outsiders — she can't stay in one place too long; his home life is almost as terrible as his days at school — but they find friendship in each other's company. But since Abby is a bloodthirsty vampire, she has to keep her new friend at a distance. Let the Right One In was just as much a coming-of-age story as a horror film. Let Me In emphasizes the horror aspects more, but at its core it's still very much a tale of friendship. The key to the movie is Abby, and Moretz is terrific, capturing the innocence and vulnerability of a 12-year-old girl and the ferociousness of a 200-year-old monster. Let Me In doesn't have quite the momentum of the 2008 film, but it's way better than you'd expect. It still puts story above scares, and it's still a horror movie with heart. (Gallucci)

My Soul to Take (R) — Wes Craven's latest shocker (in 3-D), about a vengeful serial killer.

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. (Paurich)

Never Let Me Go (R) — It's best if you know a thing or two about Never Let Me Go before you see it. First of all, it's based on an acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro about three kids raised in a boarding school. Second, it's a science-fiction story — and here comes a spoiler, so you may want to skip the next sentence if these sorta things bother you — set in an alternate England where humans are cloned so they can become organ donors when they grow up. This information helps director Mark Romanek's movie version of Ishiguro's complex novel unfold more naturally. Without it, the world Kathy (Keira Knightley), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Carey Mulligan) inhabit comes off as one without much heart or feeling. But in truth, it's the complete opposite: It has spawned three passionate characters whose feelings set the story in motion. Like many period dramas (and yes, Never Let Me Go is a period drama, despite its futuristic themes), the film is slow-moving at times. But it's a smart, fascinating, and methodical story; a subtle work, but also a lingering one. (Gallucci)

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.

Secretariat (PG) — True story about the Triple Crown-winning racehorse.

The Social Network (PG-13) — David Fincher's latest movie, and one of his best, is firmly rooted in reality, even though almost all of the characters live in a fantasy world of their own making. The true story is based on the rise of Facebook — in particular, the struggle between creator Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and the people around him who want a piece of the action. Harvard sophomore Zuckerberg is a smart guy, but he's also a smartass. A computer prank — which nets 22,000 hits in a mere few hours — lands Zuckerberg in trouble with Harvard administrators. More important, it leads to work on a social-network site that eventually becomes Facebook. Computer geeks. Code. Guys sitting in deposition hearings. None of this should make for a riveting movie, but The Social Network is one of the most exciting films you'll see this year. By the time Justin Timberlake, as Napster founder Sean Parker, enters the picture, you'll be hooked on Eisenberg's great performance, the thrilling narrative, and the movie's nonstop momentum. It's almost as addictive as Facebook. (Gallucci)

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)

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)

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (R) — This is a confounding career curveball from director Zhang Yimou, who exports the Coen Brothers' debut Blood Simple from a seedy Houston bar to an isolated noodle shop owned by Wang (Dahong Ni) in a painted desert. Other than the setting and period detail, the story unfolds almost exactly like the Coens' 1984 movie. Police investigator Zhang (Sun Hunglei) tells Wang that his young wife (Yan Ni) is carrying on an affair with his shop manager Li. Wang hires Zhang to kill the pair while he's away, but Zhang tries to double cross Wang to earn more money. Soon, Li is frantically working through the night to cover up a crime he assumes his lover committed, while Zhang keeps trying to make off with the fortune Wang keeps in his safe. Noodle is an orgy of color, and establishing shots offer ravishing floods of intoxicating beauty. But if there's an intellectual, aesthetic, or even clever reason for Yimou to update Blood Simple, the movie isn't saying. A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop merely offers a smorgasbord of superficial dazzle — a movie created by a consummate craftsman who unleashes his mastery, no matter how much he does or doesn't care about the subject matter. (Bret McCabe)

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. (Zoslov)

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