Film Capsules

Because reviews are easier when they're shorter

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)

A Film Unfinished (NR) — Bitter images may turn the stomach, but they no doubt attract the eye — especially when they reveal the truth. Nowhere does this rule apply better than in past grievances humans have wrought upon one another. Israeli director/screenwriter Yael Hersonski uses this morbid reality in an intensely executed and darkly exquisite piece about the Nazi obsession with self-documentation during its rise to terrible power. A Film Unfinished is, in essence, a slow unveiling of a dangerous truth. In the mid-1950s, reels of German-filmed footage of life inside the Warsaw Ghetto were discovered — unedited and silent — and entered into Holocaust canon as fact. Four decades later, outtakes from this same footage were uncovered in another building, and they reveal the creative process, including numerous takes and staging of scenes previously considered candid. The film embarks on a slow, deliberate journey into the twisted minds of the Reich. Much of the movie is simply a screening of the original Nazi footage, but Hersonski tracked down a handful of survivors and invited them to view the films, alone, in an empty theater. Hersonski lets the footage speak for itself, and defaults to beautifully chosen words from the mouths of those who were there to strengthen the case the movie builds, one laborious piece of evidence at a time: We don't know everything the Nazis were doing, but one thing they were definitely doing is lying. And it finally becomes clear what they were really trying to do: prepare the world to accept the looming monstrosities of the death camps. (Laura Dattaro)

Freakonomics (PG-13) — Documentary based on the bestselling book about the "hidden side of everything."

Hereafter (PG-13) — Clint Eastwood has been on a roll since 2003, when Mystic River once and for all replaced movies like Blood Work and Space Cowboys on his directing schedule. His latest dips into the metaphysical world of the afterlife for the first time, and the outcome is kinda boring. It starts with a bang — actually, it's a tsunami that rips through Indonesia, where French TV journalist Marie (Cécile De France) has a near-death experience. It's a stunning scene, one filled with terror, dread, and grief. But Hereafter soon settles into a more meditative groove half a world away, where San Francisco factory worker — and former professional psychic — George (Matt Damon) is reluctantly giving a reading to a widower who wants to connect with his wife. Meanwhile, a young British boy (Frankie McLaren) mourns his twin brother, who was recently killed in an accident. Eventually these three people and their stories converge, but it's a long and occasionally plodding journey to their destination. Along the way, all of them wrestle with mortality, some more furiously than others. It's a subtle movie — Eastwood's most subtle outing as a director — but it's also slow and somewhat tedious. And its views on the afterlife are less thought-provoking than impassively straightforward. It's a typically resolute move from the steadfast Eastwood, but the movie deserves a little more probing for such a weighty subject. Hereafter isn't a bad film, but it is a cluttered and soggy one. The real world doesn't stand a chance. (Michael Gallucci)

Howl (NR) — First off: James Franco is way too pretty to play beat writer Allen Ginsberg. But he manages to inhabit Ginsberg's idiosyncratic skin, adopting the incantatory nasal style he used when reading his poetry and the thoughtful intelligence of his interview responses, where sentences feel to rush forth just to get to the next pause. Writer-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman wisely let Franco's loving performance carry the majority of Howl, a modest biopic that focuses primarily on Ginsberg's life up to the titular poem and the 1957 obscenity trial that sprung in its wake. The movie feels a little tender-footed and not entirely confident, but that tone complements Ginsberg and the Beats' cultural significance. It's a snapshot of a man right before his life and work enter the public domain, which makes Franco's performance so integral. It's a subtle, tactful display of acting. Howl won't teach Beat fans anything they don't already know, but Franco's interpretation of Ginsberg offers a curious window into an artist deep in the creative act of distilling his life history into his art's story. (Bret McCabe)

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. (Wendy Ward)

Jackass 3D (R) — It's been a decade since ringleader Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass crew introduced us to their decidedly bizarre world of backyard stunts and public pranks. Since then, they've turned their scatological humor into decent box-office business leading up to this third sequel. The film is more of the same (except, of course, this time around the vomit and other bodily projectiles can be seen streaming through the air in digital 3-D). The camera effects and slow-motion replays bring out the truly painful qualities of these ill-conceived stunts. The film certainly has limited appeal. The guys laugh a little too much at their own jokes, and you can only see a dude get kicked in the balls so many times before the stunt starts to run thin. Still, these pranksters have an undeniable charm that exceeds their stupidity. Be sure to stick around for the credits to see all the stupid stuff that didn't make it into the finished film. (Jeff Niesel)

Life as We Know It (PG-13) — Life as We Know It, starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as a mismatched couple entrusted to care for their deceased friends' infant daughter, is a breezy and likable romantic comedy. It opens with a flashback of a disastrous blind date between statuesque Holly (Heigl) and Eric (Duhamel), who goes by his surname "Messer," arranged by friends who die shortly after in a car accident. The deceased couple leave cute redheaded baby Sophie to Holly and Messer, who loathe each other. Holly (a pastry-shop owner — the job given to every romantic-comedy heroine these days) and Messer (a womanizer who directs Atlanta Hawks TV broadcasts) move into their dead friends' house and forge an uneasy parenting alliance. Even a blind man can see where this is going. But there are pleasures along the way: easy chemistry between the leads, an amusing supporting cast (especially the couple's neighbors, who all lust after Messer), and some savory lines — the best of which comes from Messer's co-worker, who defines marriage as "Imagine a prison. And then don't change anything." (Zoslov)

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

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. (Gallucci)

Nowhere Boy (R) — Biopic about John Lennon's childhood.

Paranormal Activity 2 (R) — This quickie follow-up to last year's surprise hit is sort of a sequel/prequel/software patch to indie director Oren Peli's camera-POV chiller. But you don't have to know the first movie to follow Paranormal Activity 2, even though it centers on relatives of the original's demon-bedeviled couple. A fast-food magnate wires his house for security cams after the birth of his child and a vandalistic poltergeist attack is mistaken for a break-in. Suspense develops via various lenses and monitors, as Mom and her stepdaughter begin to sense weird sounds, slamming doors, and bad vibes around the new baby. The series' debt to The Blair Witch Project is even stronger here, but with Peli bumped for more mainstream filmmakers, the acting and storytelling rise way above the first movie's cast yelling "What the fuck?" every time something weird happened. Best of all, there are some genuine shriek-outta-your-seat moments in Paranormal Activity 2 to jumpstart your Halloween. (Cassady Jr.)

Red (PG-13) — You've seen Red's setup dozens of times before: A group of retired CIA operatives are being hunted by their former bosses because they know too much about something that happened a long time ago. So they go on the run, using the tricks and weapons of their trade to stay alive. But you've rarely seen a cast like this in this sort of movie: Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, plus Oscar nominee John Malkovich, all headed by Bruce Willis. The well-pedigreed crew brings a sense of oh-what-the-hell fun to the film, which is based on a comic book series that you probably never heard of. Still, despite some stylish set pieces from director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife), Red doesn't stray too far from action-movie convention. The kick here is the game cast (especially Malkovich's batshit-crazy loner), winking at and tweaking their screen images. (Gallucci)

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. (Gallucci)

Stone (R) — Edward Norton plays a guy named Stone. He's nobody special; just another convict trying to get paroled. Robert De Niro is Jack Mabry, a total depressive drag of a man who lives in some sorta weird soul-numbing purgatory with his long-suffering and completely damaged wife. Mabry is a guy who sits behind a desk at the prison and does the interviews and paperwork involved in deciding the fate of prospective parolees, who all talk about how they have changed and are well on the way to being rehabilitated — except for Stone, who's mostly just a pragmatist and deploys Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), his sex-bomb wife, to help his case with the authorities. Stone ultimately isn't so much about being a movie as it is about the acting. De Niro displays difficulty at not being De Niro, with that gummy grimace he does that everybody makes fun of. But Norton does a fine job and works well against De Niro's awkward pencil-pusher, tweaking his voice into a completely artificial delivery — a lilting, annoying, direct, sometimes confident and menacing voice, which beyond hair and makeup transforms him into a focused, motivated man who just wants to get out of jail free. (Joe MacLeod)

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. (Niesel)

Waiting for 'Superman' (PG) — A documentary filmmaker puts public education on trial.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (R) — Saying Woody Allen's latest isn't his best work is as useful as calling water wet. But Allen on autopilot can at least offer a witty moment or two in 98 minutes, and his 43rd feature delivers a few. Thank Lucy Punch and Josh Brolin for most of those. Punch delivers a chauv-tastic take on an Allen regular — an older man's younger sexpot — and Brolin once again proves he has an agile gift for twisting his all-American handsomeness into being part total heel, part charming cad. But it's Gemma Jones who gets to have the most fun. The veteran British character actress' dotty mother has reached her rope's end as her husband (Anthony Hopkins) leaves her because "she allowed herself to get old." Daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) suggests she seek advice from a seer (Pauline Collins) for her depression. And then the fun starts. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger stirs together a fairly typical Allen roundelay of relationship foibles through which he skewers sex, aging, desires, etc. The wry comedy here feels forced, but the movie does well with the fury. (McCabe)

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