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Reviews

Short Takes

Special screenings

David Lynch Mini-Festival

Thru 2/28, documentary Lynch and restored print of Eraserhead. 2/23-2/24, Inland Empire. Galaxy Theaters Neonopolis, 450 E. Fremont St., 383-9600. Various times and prices. Info: www.cinevegas.com.

Dreams of Dust

Makena Diop, Rasmane Ouedraogo, Souleymane Souré. Directed by Laurent Salgues. 86 minutes. Not rated. In French with English subtitles.

A Nigerian peasant comes looking for work in a dusty gold mine in northeast Burkina Faso, where he hopes to forget the past that haunts him. Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road, 507-3400. 2/26, 7 pm, free.

Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea

Takashi Sorimachi, Rei Kikukawa, Mayumi Wakamura. Directed by Shinichirô Sawai. Rated R.

A look at Genghis Khan’s life, from his birth to conquests in Asia. Galaxy Cannery, 2121 E. Craig Road, 639-9779. 2/21-2/24, 10 pm, $10.

IMAX Theatre

Deep Sea 3D, Mystery of the Nile, Dinosaurs 3D: Giants of Patagonia, Lions 3D: Roar of the Kalahari, Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure

Call for showtimes. $11.99 each show.

Luxor, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 262-4629.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Directed by Terry Jones. 94 minutes. Rated R.

A parody of religious epics starring Brian, who was born one stable over from Jesus. Benefit screening for Nevada Public Radio. Remastered film preceded by cocktail reception with Spamalot’s John O’Hurley. Grail Theater at Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. 2/21, 6:30 pm (reception), 8 pm (film), $30, includes admission to Tryst. Info: 952-5537 or www.cinevegas.com.

Murder, My Sweet

Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley. Directed by Edward Dmytryk. 95 minutes. Not rated.

Private eye Philip Marlowe is hired by a petty crook just out of prison to look for his former girlfriend, who has not been seen for the last six years. Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road, 507-3400. 2/26, 1 pm, free.

Psycho

Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 109 minutes. Rated R.

A young woman steals $40,000 from her employer’s client, and subsequently encounters a young motel proprietor too long under the domination of his mother. Whitney Library, 5175 E. Tropicana Ave., 507-4010. 2/24, 11:30 am, free.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Tim Curry. Directed by Jim Sharman. 100 minutes. Rated R.

The perennial 1975 cult classic is a mix of horror, comedy and musical, featuring sex, transvestites and the Time Warp. Augmented by a live cast and audience participation. Onyx Theater inside The Rack in Commercial Center, 953 E. Sahara Ave., #101. First & third Sat of month, 11:30 pm, $7. Info: 953-0682 or www.divinedecadence.org.

Yemen, the Spice Route

Directed by Alain Saint-Hilaire. Not rated.

This documentary tells the story of the legendary Spice Route through the Middle East to Yemen, one of the oldest trade centers in the world that hides numerous treasures and appeals to those with a taste for adventure. Screening followed by Q&A with director Saint-Hilaire. Springs Preserve Big Springs Theater, 333 Valley View Blvd., 822-7786. 2/21, 7 pm; 2/23, 2 pm, $12, $10 for members, $6.50 for children age 5-17.

New this week

Be Kind Rewind ***

Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover. Directed by Michel Gondry. 101 minutes. Rated PG-13.

See review Page 36.

Charlie Bartlett ***

Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings. Directed by Jon Poll. 97 minutes. Rated R.

See review Page 36.

Vantage Point ** 1/2

Dennis Quaid, William Hurt, Matthew Fox. Directed by Pete Travis. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.

See review Page 36.

Witless Protection (Not reviewed)

Larry the Cable Guy, Jenny McCarthy, Ivana Milicevic. Directed by Charles Robert Carner. 99 minutes. Rated PG-13.

A small-town sheriff (Larry the Cable Guy) stops what he thinks is two men kidnapping a woman, only to discover they’re FBI agents protecting a witness.

Now playing

27 Dresses ***

Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Edward Burns. Directed by Anne Fletcher. 107 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Romantic comedies don’t come much more by-the-numbers than 27 Dresses. It begins and ends with a wedding, the inevitable lovers initially hate each other in order to have sexual tension, and, by the end, all conflicts and rivalries are resolved without a single sore feeling. But this story of the eternal bridesmaid finally getting her day begins to grow on you, courtesy of Heigl’s effortless charm. Her chemistry with Marsden is intoxicating enough that we don’t see some of the requisite reversals and temporary heartaches coming. –MSH

Alvin and the Chipmunks (Not reviewed)

Jason Lee, voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney. Directed by Tim Hill. 91 minutes. Rated PG.

Three chipmunk brothers are adopted by a man named Dave (Lee) and turned into singing sensations.

Atonement ***

Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai. Directed by Joe Wright. 122 minutes. Rated R.

Atonement is best in its first third or so, which focuses on a tense day at the English country estate of the Tallis family on the eve of the Second World War. Precocious and self-important 13-year-old budding writer Briony (Ronan) witnesses a series of incidents between her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and Robbie Turner (McAvoy), the son of the family’s housekeeper. Misinterpreting the pair’s budding love as something more sinister, Briony, through a series of tragic coincidences, ends up condemning Robbie to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. When the film switches perspectives and time frames to focus on Robbie, now a soldier in the war a few years later, it’s less effective. Filmmaking skill aside, Wright never quite connects the emotion of the story to his awe-inspiring presentation of it, and that leaves the film beautiful but always just out of reach. –JB

Bee Movie ** 1/2

Voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick. Directed by Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith. 90 minutes. Rated PG.

Disaffected honeybee Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) is unwilling to commit himself to a regimented life of honey production and eager to experience life beyond the hive. So Barry ventures into the human world, where he breaks the bee law against communicating with people and strikes up a friendship with florist Vanessa (Zellweger). There are a few funny lines here and there, and the bee society is sometimes creative and clever. But the film is mostly a collection of tired celebrity voice cameos and stale Seinfeld riffs repackaged to relate to the bee world. –JB

The Bucket List ** 1/2

Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes. Directed by Rob Reiner. 97 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Early in The Bucket List, each of the film’s protagonists (auto mechanic Carter Chambers and hospital magnate Edward Cole) discovers that he has only a few months left to live—a year at most. Chambers (Freeman) draws up a list of things he’d like to do before his final kick, Cole (Nicholson) adds several items, and the next thing you know they’re flitting around the globe in Cole’s private jet, carpe-ing the holy hell out of every precious diem they have left. Any buddy movie rises or falls on the chemistry between its stars, and Freeman’s avuncular warmth offsets Nicholson’s irascible cynicism in a predictable but nonetheless satisfying way. And even at its most formulaic, the film manages the occasional surprise. –MD

Charlie Wilson’s War *** 1/2

Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Julia Roberts. Directed by Mike Nichols. 97 minutes. Rated R.

Hanks puts his enormous charm to use as the seemingly oblivious politician who latched onto the conflict between the Russians and the Afghans in the 1980s and made it into his personal crusade, increasing funding for covert operations and, as the movie would have it, becoming almost single-handedly responsible for repelling the Russians from Afghanistan. This, apparently, is what has been missing from all of this year’s movies about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East: humor. It seems like a simple thing, but the reason that Charlie Wilson’s War is just about the only one of these films worth seeing is that it actually cares about entertaining its audience, about giving them something to laugh at and have fun with before hitting them over the head with how bad things are. –JB

Cloverfield *** 1/2

Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller. Directed by Matt Reeves. 84 minutes. Rated PG-13.

A group of Manhattan twentysomethings throw a going-away party for their friend Rob (Stahl-David), about to take a new job in Japan. The mundane relationship dramas among Rob and his buddies are all documented by the appealingly goofy Hud (Miller), who for the bulk of the movie wields the handheld camera that provides the viewer’s only perspective. For 15 minutes or so, we’re watching what look like everyday home movies, and then something happens: A giant monster attacks Manhattan, and all hell breaks loose. What makes Cloverfield stand out from a Roland Emmerich movie is that it eliminates almost all of the big-picture storytelling (the politicians, the military, the scientists) and keeps its focus solely at ground level, on the average people whose lives are forever changed by this inexplicable and horrific event. –JB

Definitely, Maybe **

Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, Abigail Breslin. Directed by Adam Brooks. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.

The film’s strained gimmick is that Will (Reynolds), about to get a divorce from his unseen wife, recounts the story of their romance to his curious daughter, Maya (Breslin), who has somehow gone all of her 10 years of life without ever learning how her parents met or where they lived or what they did before she was born. Will variously seems ready to commit to college sweetheart Emily (Banks); free-spirited writer Summer (Weisz); and cynical co-worker April (Fisher). Since none of them can be knocked out of the running right away, the movie equivocates on each, never tipping the sympathy too far toward one particular object of affection, and the result is three movies’ worth of rom-com clichés stuffed into one. –JB

Diary of the Dead **

Joshua Close, Michelle Morgan, Shawn Roberts. Directed by George A. Romero. 95 minutes. Rated R.

Romero’s latest foray into zombie territory takes him back to his low-budget indie roots, which means some horribly awkward acting from a cast of unknowns, and much less lavish special effects. That might be forgivable if Romero’s writing or directing were up to his old standards, but it’s at least as awkward as the performances, and certainly can’t be excused for inexperience. Romero structures his film like a collection of found footage, made by a group of college students who were shooting a movie when people starting rising from their graves. The stilted dialogue declares the subtext in bold, unwieldy pronouncements, and Romero proves that, blank slates as they may be, zombies do have a limit when it comes to serving as carriers for his increasingly heavy-handed messages. –JB

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly ***

Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze. Directed by Julian Schnabel. 112 minutes. Rated PG-13. In French with English subtitles.

Schnabel’s biopic is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor of France’s Elle magazine. In his early 40s, Bauby suffered a severe stroke that left him entirely paralyzed aside from his left eye, which he used to write an acclaimed memoir by blinking words out one letter at a time thanks to a code devised by his speech therapist. Although the instinct to canonize his subject must have been strong, Schnabel concentrates mostly on atmosphere over melodrama, and thus ends up with a movie that is creative and often touching, if a little thin beyond its stylistic departures. –JB

Enchanted *** 1/2

Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden. Directed by Kevin Lima. 107 minutes. Rated PG.

Adams plays Giselle, an animated Disney girl hoping to marry a prince. The cartoon Prince Edward (Marsden) rescues Giselle, and they fall in love. But Edward’s stepmother, a bitter, evil queen, throws Giselle down a well that leads to live-action, modern New York City. Divorce lawyer and single dad Robert (Dempsey) finds her and reluctantly lets her stay on his couch. Although Enchanted doesn’t fully take advantage of its unique idea, it’s still a hugely entertaining, clever comic fairy tale. –JMA

The Eye (Not reviewed)

Jessica Alba, Alessandro Nivola, Parker Posey. Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud. 97 minutes. Rated PG-13.

A woman (Alba) receives a corneal transplant that allows her to see into the supernatural world.

First Sunday (Not reviewed)

Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Katt Williams. Directed by David E. Talbert. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Durell (Cube) and LeeJohn (Morgan) are best friends and petty criminals. When told they have one week to pay a $17,000 debt or Durell will lose his son, they come up with a desperate scheme to rob their neighborhood church.

Fool’s Gold * 1/2

Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland. Directed by Andy Tennant. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.

A murderous rap star/loan shark using his incompetent cronies to recoup his investment. An overly generous multimillionaire trying to connect with his tabloid-fodder daughter. A newly divorced pair of treasure hunters who give new meaning to the words “sexual history.” What do they have in common? Not as much as Fool’s Gold would like you to believe. The movie expects audiences to simply accept that this motley crew of characters might actually come together in pursuit of an 18th-century sunken treasure. But Fool’s Gold’s players are more caricatures than characters; only Hudson manages to infuse the otherwise absurd film with a hint of believability and comedy. Fool’s Gold delivers too many fools and too little comedy gold. –TC

The Great Debaters **

Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Nate Parker. Directed by Denzel Washington. 123 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Washington plays teacher Mel Tolson in the inspired-by-real-events story of a 1935 college debate team struggling to fight through racism in the Deep South in order to tackle the Ivy League. As both director and star, Washington walks us through the inspirational-teacher playbook. This is the kind of movie where all white characters are either corrupt lawmen or gun-toting, redneck pig farmers. There are good points to be made with this story, but as any good debater knows, constantly resorting to hyperbole only undermines your argument. –MSH

Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert (Not reviewed)

Directed by Bruce Hendricks. 74 minutes. Not rated.

Concert film from the recent Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus tour, presented in 3D.

How She Move **

Rutina Wesley, Dwain Murphy, Tre Armstrong. Directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13.

After a sibling’s death, a teenager uses supreme stepping skills to win a dance competition. In an effort to escape her crime-ridden neighborhood, Raya (Wesley) joins up with a local all-male step group hoping to become the first coed team to win the ultimate step contest, Stepmonster. Unfortunately, Raya bulldozes over the people who try to help her, quickly losing any sympathy she may have garnered from her unlucky circumstances. Since the stale story is secondary to the stepping, How She Move would have benefited from forgoing the fiction altogether in favor of a documentary about the steposphere. –TC

I Am Legend **

Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan. Directed by Francis Lawrence. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13.

A few years after an “elegant” man-made virus has wiped out most of the world’s human population, Robert Neville (Smith), a military microbiologist stationed in Manhattan and the city’s last healthy biped inhabitant, scavenges the island for supplies in the company of his German shepherd. Battling loneliness, he also conducts experiments to reverse the effects of the disease on “dark-seekers”—physically ravaged, vampire-like victims of the disease who huddle in cavernous hovels during the day and feed by night. The introduction of a pair of healthy, itinerant survivors (Braga and Tahan) midway through is the final straw, and from there the movie lumbers toward a hasty, predictable conclusion that even manages to mangle the meaning of Matheson’s lovely title. –MH

In Bruges ****

Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes. Directed by Martin McDonagh. 107 minutes. Rated R.

The surreptitious plot revolves around two less-than-superb hitmen. In fact, they hardly seem suited for contract killing at all. The younger of the two, Ray (Farrell), has only performed two murders, and both at the same time. Only one of them was intentional. The elder assassin, Ken (Gleeson), is gentle and relaxed, seeming less interested in taking lives than in taking in the sights of Bruges, the well-preserved medieval town the two men are sent to following Ray’s debacle of an inaugural hit. The screenplay’s like a superb hitman—by the time you realize what it’s actually been doing, it’s already done. The difference is, after experiencing In Bruges, you’re still around to appreciate its brilliance. –MSH

Jumper 1/2

Hayden Christensen, Jamie Bell, Samuel L. Jackson, Rachel Bilson. Directed by Doug Liman. 88 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Teleporting Jumpers like David Rice (Christensen), who have existed in secrecy for millennia, are constantly hunted by a group of xenophobic zealots known as Paladins, whose mission in life is to exterminate David’s kind. Why? Beats me. The chief Paladin, Roland (Jackson), repeatedly intones that “only God should have such power,” and suggests that Jumpers are invariably corrupted by their absolute freedom of movement. Liman and his effects team do their damnedest to dazzle us, warping the frame at the point of rupture and accompanying each jump with a vaguely metallic “whoosh!” noise, but the novelty, which is negligible to begin with, wears off in a big hurry. Jumper’s most serious problem is its leading man, whose overpowering aura of whiny entitlement could make any film insufferable. –MD

Juno *** 1/2

Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner. Directed by Jason Reitman. 92 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Pregnant high-school student Juno (Page) is a sullen indie-rock chick who sleeps with her best friend/bandmate Bleeker (Cera) because she’s “bored,” listens exclusively to punk rock made before she was born and peppers her speech with self-consciously artificial language that proves how much smarter she is than just about everyone she interacts with. Reitman continues to show his aptitude for sharp comedy in the face of situations that most people would find appalling, and he brings the at-times overly mannered screenplay to life in a visually inventive way, downplaying the preciousness that could make it come off like a riot-grrrl version of a Wes Anderson movie. –JB

Mad Money ***

Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes. Directed by Callie Khouri. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Our band of thieves includes Keaton as a woman who just wants to preserve her quality of life; Latifah as a single mother who just wants to provide for her two children; and Holmes as a spunky and sweet girl who joins the thieving duo just because she’s tickled to be included. They’re not even stealing money that anyone would suffer to lose. They’re taking worn-out cash scheduled to be shredded. The heists are clever enough to make us forgive their implausibility, and the significant others of these lady thieves offer touching support and hilarious one-liners. Mad Money’s no classic, but you won’t mind giving the price of a ticket to these lighthearted hoodlums. –MSH

Meet the Spartans (Not reviewed)

Sean Maguire, Carmen Electra, Ken Davitian. Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. 84 minutes. Rated PG-13.

The creators of Date Movie and Epic Movie parody the latest blockbusters.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Not reviewed)

Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. 124 minutes. Rated PG.

Treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) looks to discover the truth behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by uncovering the mystery within the 18 pages missing from assassin John Wilkes Booth’s diary.

No Country for Old Men ****

Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones. Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. 122 minutes. Rated R.

While hunting in the West Texas mountains, Llewelyn Moss (Brolin), a hard-luck but humane Vietnam War vet, stumbles across a botched heavyweight drug deal and impulsively makes off with a $2 million cache of very dirty money. When a delayed bout of guilt inadvertently tips off his identity to the thugs involved, Moss becomes the quarry of ultraefficient psychopathic hit man Anton Chigurh (Bardem) and kind-hearted but demoralized small-town sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones). In a return to the bleak physical setting and hair-trigger brutality of 1984’s Blood Simple, the brothers Coen pull out of their multi-film slump and then some with this violent, pitch-black adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 chase thriller. –MH

Over Her Dead Body **

Paul Rudd, Eva Longoria Parker, Lake Bell. Directed by Jeff Lowell. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Kate (Parker) is one bossy bride. She harangues the caterers, yells at her future sister-in-law and even rejects her angel ice sculpture due to its lack of wings. But five minutes into Over Her Dead Body, that same wingless angel crushes Kate. Even the groom (Rudd) appreciates the irony. One year later, Rudd’s Henry meets psychic/caterer Ashley (Bell), and so they start their utterly predictable romance. But Kate, who’s now a ghost, thinks keeping Henry and Ashley apart is her key to escaping the waiting room to the afterlife. What follows is a series of events in which Kate tries to scare, annoy and intimidate Ashley into dumping Henry while simultaneously attempting to make viewers laugh. Alas, neither task is accomplished. –TC

Persepolis ****

Voices of Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux. Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13. In French with English subtitles.

At age 9, Marjane Satrapi saw her entire world changed when the Islamic Revolution hit Tehran. Women were forced to wear the veil, and people were being imprisoned and executed. In private, Marjane listens to her educated parents and their opinions on the war and its outcome. It fuels her imagination, and she seeks her own types of freedom, including bootleg cassettes of Iron Maiden. As a teenager, she travels to Austria but can’t make a home for herself there. Paired with co-director Paronnaud, Satrapi has turned her graphic novel into a powerful animated feature. Though the film leaves out the subtle and complex political nuances of the book in favor of speed and brevity, it’s also a good deal livelier and funnier. –JMA

P.S. I Love You (Not reviewed)

Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow. Directed by Richard LaGravenese. 126 minutes. Rated PG-13.

A young widow discovers that her late husband has left her 10 messages intended to help her ease her pain and start a new life.

Rambo **

Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden. Directed by Sylvester Stallone. 93 minutes. Rated R.

Rambo (Stallone) has been living in Thailand for some time, world-weary and cynical, catching snakes and piloting a longboat up the Salween River for a living. American missionaries approach him for a ride into Burma, a deadly war zone, so that they can hand out Bibles and encouraging words. Not surprisingly, their chosen village is attacked, and they are captured. So a band of scurvy, tattooed mercenaries join Rambo on a rescue mission that lasts the entire second half of the film and results in mighty amounts of carnage. Stallone plays Rambo with very little dialogue, which is good, because whenever anyone speaks, it’s cringe-worthy. Rambo really doesn’t bother to ask where this relic of a character fits today. –JMA

The Savages ***

Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco. Directed by Tamara Jenkins. 113 minutes. Rated R.

Forty-ish Jon (Hoffman, really working the schlump), a college professor specializing in Brecht, and Wendy (Linney, surprisingly manic), a failed playwright subsisting on temp work, must put aside decades of interpersonal rancor in order to tend to their ailing father, Lenny (Bosco), whom they both resent for having been a distant and demanding figure throughout their motherless childhood. Black humor abounds, but the prevailing mood is one of defeat and frustration, especially since both of these adult children are struggling at work and hopelessly entangled in failed relationships. What keeps you from wanting to slit your wrists is the typically nuanced work of Linney and Hoffman, both of whom mine coarse nuggets of emotional truth from the sediment created by years of buried discontent. –MD

The Spiderwick Chronicles ****

Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker. Directed by Mark Waters. 97 minutes. Rated PG.

Show me a world with cell phones, single moms and SUVs and then reveal that every dandelion seed has a hidden mystical creature in it, and I’m as amazed as the film’s hero. The Spiderwick Chronicles never feels slow, but it is very deliberate in its pacing, and only gradually shows us the hidden magic in the mundane world we all know. Truth be told, the special effects aren’t even that convincing. The trolls and goblins look cool, but they also look very digital. But by the time the epic battle between the movie’s child heroes and the evil Mulgarath finally takes place, the spectacular images involved seem truly spectacular. This is also the first fantasy movie I’ve seen in a long time that didn’t set itself up for a sequel (or trilogy), and it’s the first one in a long time that I kind of wish had. –MSH

Step Up 2 the Streets (Not reviewed)

Briana Evigan, Robert Hoffman, Telisha Shaw. Directed by Jon M. Chu. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Romantic sparks occur between two dance students from different backgrounds at the Maryland School of the Arts.

Strange Wilderness (Not reviewed)

Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Jonah Hill. Directed by Fred Wolf. 87 minutes. Rated R.

With the ratings dropping for a wilderness-themed TV show, the hosts go to the Andes in search of Bigfoot.

 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street *** 1/2

Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman. Directed by Tim Burton. 117 minutes. Rated R.

Demented barber slits the throats of his customers, who are then ground up and baked into meat pies by his equally amoral accomplice, Mrs. Lovett. Sweeney Todd is the alias of a man named Benjamin Barker, who was falsely imprisoned by a corrupt judge with designs on Barker’s lovely wife. Freed from prison some 15 years later, Barker/Todd returns to London seeking revenge, only to be informed by Mrs. Lovett, whose mingy bakery is just downstairs from his former home, that his wife is long dead and his daughter is now the judge’s ward. The film veers back and forth between intimacy and extravagance, and the juxtaposition of Sondheim’s lyrical melodies and intricate wordplay with Burton’s great geysers of arterial blood—this is decidedly not a film for the squeamish—produces a delectable cognitive dissonance. –MD

There Will Be Blood ****

Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. 158 minutes. Rated R.

The film, which spans the period from 1898-1927, follows the meteoric rise to fortune of a rapacious prospector, Daniel Plainview. Unforgettably embodied by Day-Lewis, Plainview is first seen mining silver in an astonishing wordless prologue that lasts nearly 15 minutes. A few years later, he’s established himself as an oil man, traveling with his adopted son H.W. (Freasier) from one impoverished burg to another. All goes smoothly until Plainview runs up against his equal in greed and hypocrisy, a boy preacher by the name of Eli Sunday (Dano), who uses his influence to blackmail Plainview into supporting his Church of the Third Revelation. The ensuing battle of wills between the forces of capitalism and organized religion could scarcely be uglier. Anderson’s mastery of the medium has never been in doubt, but There Will Be Blood is even more impressive for the comparative restraint he shows here. –MD

U2 3D (Not reviewed)

Directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington. 85 minutes. Rated G.

Concert film of U2 performances from their most recent tour, in 3D.

Untraceable * 1/2

Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks. Directed by Gregory Hoblit. 100 minutes. Rated R.

Following pretty much every cliché known to the serial-killer genre, Untraceable has its particular psychopath broadcasting his grisly killings online, with the speed at which his victims die determined by how many sickos (just like the people who watch this movie!) log on to his website. Although Hoblit has made his share of passable-to-more-than-passable thrillers, here he and his three screenwriters generate essentially no suspense, showing us the killer early on and then having Lane’s FBI agent solve the whole case in one rushed, exposition-heavy scene. Instead of genuine tension, we get cheap gross-outs ripped off from movies like Hostel, making Untraceable into torture porn for housewives. –JB

Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show **

Directed by Ari Sandel. 100 minutes. Rated R.

The documentary follows Vaughn and four starry-eyed comics he plucks from Sunset Boulevard’s Comedy Store as they whine, visit tourist traps and tell adequate jokes to entertainment-starved yokels in the South and Midwest. The host basks in his own charitable glow; without his benevolence how could such hamlets as Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Nashville, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago temporarily escape their dreary existence? The few moments of introspection pass too quickly. And where is the footage of after-show partying? When Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam cameos provide the most heart in a film about stand-up, it’s easy to see why comedy is widely viewed as the most frivolous of art forms. –JJG

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (Not reviewed)

Alex Etel, Ben Chaplin, Emily Watson. Directed by Jay Russell. 111 minutes. Rated PG.

A lonely boy discovers a mysterious egg that hatches a sea creature of Scottish legend.

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins *

Martin Lawrence, James Earl Jones, Joy Bryant. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Lawrence stars as the successful host of a sleazy talk show, engaged to a Survivor winner (Bryant). They visit his Southern family, the source for a lot of unsolved childhood anguish. Funny people abound, such as Cedric the Entertainer, Mo’Nique and Mike Epps, but their antics can’t save this lazy, bloated, stupid affair. Writer-director Lee sets up all the typical jokes with no skill or timing, and his attempts at heartfelt drama flop; in fact, his camera seems to have trouble even following any kind of physical movement. This is the type of thing his cousin Spike has railed against for years. –JMA

JMA Jeffrey M. Anderson; JB Josh Bell; TC Tasha Chemplavil; MD Mike D’Angelo; JJG J.J. Gordon; MH Mark Holcomb; MSH Matthew Scott Hunter; BS Benjamin Spacek

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