Everything else out there 

Things We Lost in the Fire ***

Hot from helming last year’s After the Wedding (an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign-Language Film), Danish director Susanne Bier returns with her first film in the English language. But if there was any worry that Bier was “going Hollywood,” this somber and mature drama immediately quells that notion. Bier’s steady hand behind the camera is enough to overcome the flaws in Allan Loeb’s script, which relates the story of a pair of adults whose lives have been altered by a personal tragedy. Audrey Burke (Halle Berry) has just lost her sweet-natured husband Brian (David Duchovny, seen in extensive flashbacks) in a shooting, while Brian’s best friend Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro) has long blown a promising career as a lawyer due to the allure of hard drugs. Audrey has always disliked Jerry, but for various vague reasons -- perhaps to cope with her loneliness, perhaps as a gesture toward her late husband -- she invites him to move into the family’s garage. In his new (and nicer) surroundings, Jerry does his best to stay clean, filling up much of his time by bonding with Audrey’s two children (Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry). But his presence only seems to rankle Audrey, who remains unable to deal with the death of her husband. Bier, one of the disciples of the Dogme 95 style of moviemaking (basically, a Danish movement that insists on no employment of movie artifice like special effects and soundtracks and maximum use of natural light, hand-held cameras, etc.), has retained some of her European filmmaking instincts to cut down on the melodrama inherent in Loeb’s screenplay. She doesn’t always succeed but for the most part, she keeps the excess in check, which in turn leads to scenes that are even more powerful thanks to their subtlety. Berry does fine work in a rather difficult role, yet it’s Del Toro’s staggering performance that will have tongues wagging throughout award season. Del Toro’s face can be a map of emotions, and he’s allowed to unfold it freely as Jerry, a decent man who tries to keep smiling even through all the heartbreak.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford ***1/2

While it’s unlikely to make any sort of dent at the box office, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford is no turkey; on the contrary, it’s a sterling example of accomplished filmmaking on a grand scale, wielding a lengthy running time that allows it to explore its themes and characters in satisfying detail. Adapted from Ron Hansen’s novel by writer-director Andrew Dominik, the story focuses on the tail end of Jesse James’ (Brad Pitt) run as a notorious outlaw. Planning one last heist, he and his brother Frank (Sam Shepard) enlist the aid of a motley crew, given that all of their regular cohorts in crime are either dead or in prison. Among the newcomers is Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a 19-year-old kid who grew up idolizing the Jesse James found in dime-store novels. Robert initially follows Jesse around like a groupie -- or a stalker -- finally leading the bandit to ask, “Do you want to be like me, or do you want to be me?” Robert, a diminutive punk who’s been teased his entire life, hopes to prove himself a real man -- as much to Jesse and his gang as to himself -- but he finds that goal difficult to accomplish. And as he spends more time with Jesse, he realizes that the notorious gunslinger is less an antihero who marches to his own tune than a paranoid, vicious man who’s not above beating up teenage boys or shooting someone in the back. Aided by stunning cinematography by the excellent lensman Roger Deakins (Fargo, A Beautiful Mind) and a music score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that grows in stature as the film progresses, The Assassination of Jesse James also benefits from Hugh Ross’ sturdy narration, which adds depth to a movie already awash in it. Pitt is generous in his capacities both as an actor and one of the film’s producers, making his mark via a skillfully etched portrayal but also allowing a strong supporting cast to share in the spotlight (Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner and N.C. School of the Arts grad Paul Schneider are all noteworthy as members of Jesse’s gang). Yet top honors go to Casey Affleck, who’s as impressive here as he is in Gone Baby Gone.

Across the Universe ***1/2

What to make of Across the Universe, an ambitious musical that fashions a story around a catalogue of classic Beatles tunes? For my money, Across the Universe isn’t simply a good movie; it’s one of the best films of the year. One can nitpick about the thin plot, though it’s sturdy enough to function as a support beam to director Julie Taymor’s outlandish ideas. Taking place in the late 1960s, the story, credited to Taymor and the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (the blokes responsible for the smashing Irish R&B flick The Commitments), finds Liverpool laborer Jude (Jim Sturgess) traveling to America, whereupon he finds a best friend in college kid Max (Joe Anderson) and a lover in Max’s kid sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Eventually, the three end up in New York, at which point Jude develops his passion for drawing, Max gets drafted into the army, and Lucy finds her political consciousness awakened. The kids experience good times (a cross-country bus trip, chaperoned by Bono’s Dr. Robert) and bad times (riots aplenty), yet through it all, they realize that “all you need is love,” and that anything is possible “with a little help from my friends.” Combining the song sampling technique of Moulin Rouge with Forrest Gump’s journey through the turbulent 60s (and owing reams to Hair as well), Across the Universe dramatizes the past while also serving notice to the present (the Vietnam War material can’t help but stir images of Iraq).

The Darjeeling Limited **1/2

Wes Anderson’s most wispish work to date, a road movie in which the road is made of railroad tracks. Carrying over the thematic baggage of most of his previous efforts, this one also concerns itself with familiar discord -- here, Francis (Owen Wilson) invites his younger brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) to India to join him on a spiritual quest. They travel mainly aboard the train The Darjeeling Limited, attempting to communicate (but often just miscommunicating) with each other as they reflect on their relationships with loved ones as well as with each other. Anderson regular Bill Murray pops up at the very beginning, and his shaggy-dog appearance sets the tone for the remainder of the picture. Working from a script he co-wrote with Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, Anderson places the bros in various situations that, despite all the lip service given to spiritual journeys and moments of epiphany, never markedly change them.

Dan in Real Life **1/2

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll sing! You’ll reflect! The trailer doesn’t lie: Dan In Real Life wants to offer it all -- a fine sentiment when a movie can pull it off, an example of trying too hard when it doesn’t. Dan In Real Life falls somewhere in the middle: There are individual scenes that work nicely, even if the finished product doesn’t produce the flood of emotions one might have reasonably expected. Writer-director Peter Hedges, whose past scripts (including About a Boy and Pieces of April) were far more fine-tuned to the give-and-take dynamics of testy relationships between people, soft-pedals this material, offering a warm and fuzzy tale of a popular newspaper writer (Steve Carell) whose column, “Dan In Real Life,” offers practical advice that he can’t seem to apply to his own life. A widower with three daughters, Dan travels to Rhode Island for the annual family get-together with his parents (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney), his siblings and their significant others. He falls for Marie (Juliette Binoche), a Frenchwoman he meets in a book store, only to be devastated when he learns that she’s the present girlfriend of his brother Mitch (Dane Cook). As Marie tries to sort out her feelings and Dan suffers in silence, the other family members parade through the story offering their own nuggets of advice to the downtrodden columnist. It’s nice to see this normal a family on screen, but the movie pays a price for its politeness, since there’s never any sense that feelings might be hurt or egos bruise.

We Own the Night **1/2

Beyond one terrific and mesmerizing action sequence, We Own the Night, set in 1988 New York City, is another example of (crime) business as usual. Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) is a nightclub manager at odds with his brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) and his father Burt (Robert Duvall), both respected police officers. Circumstances force Bobby to become even more estranged from his family, but that all changes when a powerful drug dealer (Alex Veadov) orders a hit on Joseph. The young cop barely survives, but this spurs Bobby to choose sides in the fight between law and disorder. He falls squarely on the side of right, risking his own life for the sake of his family. Phoenix and Wahlberg (who previously co-starred in Gray’s The Yards and serve as producers here) are solid but unremarkable, and even a great actor like Duvall can’t do much with his threadbare role.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age **

Sequels to multiplex fodder like Saw and Daddy Day Care are givens, but a follow-up to an art-house endeavor set in a century far, far away? Indeed, that’s the case with Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a sequel to the 1998 historical drama that proved to be a surprise box office performer and recipient of seven Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture). But like most sequels, Elizabeth 2 proves to be markedly inferior to its predecessor. Here, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) must cope with an assassination plot approved by the jailed Mary Stuart (an effective Samantha Morton) and the King of Spain (Jordi Molla, whose sneering turn would be more at home in a Monty Python spoof). At the same time, she grows fond of the rakish explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (a coasting Clive Owen), leading to a romantic subplot nearly identical to the one already presented more zestfully by Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in 1939’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Rush returns as Walsingham, but his role has been neutered and therefore his services are largely wasted. And while Blanchett delivers another first-rate performance, she’s ultimately defeated by a languorous script that makes court intrigue about as exciting as jury duty.

Rendition **

A perceived Oscar contender that instead should prove to be an Oscar also-ran, follows United 93, In the Valley of Elah and several other post-9/11 titles that tackle the immediacy and anguish of the troubled world in which we live; here, the topic on hand is “extraordinary rendition,” which allows the U.S. government to send suspected terrorists to other countries in order to be “interrogated.” Since the Bush Administration has no qualms about torturing any foreigner (guilty or innocent) whose skin is darker than, say, Nicole Kidman’s, it’s a viable volatile for a movie, but Rendition does so in the most simplistic manner possible. Reese Witherspoon plays Isabella, a pregnant suburban mom whose Egyptian-born, U.S.-raised husband (Omar Metwally) has disappeared without a trace, snatched at the Washington, D.C. airport for his suspected part in a bombing that killed a CIA operative. The U.S. government’s evidence is feeble, but foaming-at-the-mouth Senator Whitman (Meryl Streep, not particularly effective) decides that’s all the proof she needs to ship him off to be subjected to all manner of pain. The American analyst (Jake Gyllenhaal) assigned to preside over the torture finds the treatment shocking, especially since it’s clear the man’s innocent; meanwhile, Isabella seeks help from a former college fling (Peter Sarsgaard), who just happens to be the assistant to a senator (Alan Arkin) who works closely with Whitman.

Gone Baby Gone ***1/2

The days of laughing at Ben Affleck appear to be over. As anyone who’s seen his accomplished work in Chasing Amy, Good Will Hunting and Hollywoodland can attest, the man has talent, even if it’s of a limited nature. That talent apparently exists on the other side of the camera as well. With his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, he ably demonstrates that he can turn out a compelling drama that’s absorbing and surprising. The mystery unfolds in a working-class Boston neighborhood in which a child proves to be the victim of tragic circumstances. In this new film, a little girl is snatched from her home, and the family, not content with the investigation being conducted by the police, hires private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to track down the missing moppet. Working in uneasy unison with detectives Bressant (Ed

Harris) and Poole (John Ashton), sometimes without the knowledge of the cops’ superior officer (Morgan Freeman), Patrick and Angie follow the trail of clues wherever it leads, which is usually straight into an underworld populated by thuggish crime lords and coke-addled pedophiles. Aided by a stellar cast that showcases superlative turns by Ben’s brother Casey, Harris and Amy Ryan as the child’s trashy mom, Affleck has crafted a forceful crime flick.

Into the Wild ***

Adapting Jon Krakauer’s based-on-fact novel, Sean Penn directs a somber, reflective film about a young man whose actions are so open to interpretation that where some will see an idealistic dreamer, others will see an obnoxious brat; where some will see a martyr, others will see a moron. Emile Hirsch delivers a strong performance as Chris McCandless, a well-to-do college graduate who, instead of following the distinguished career path laid out for him by his parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden), elects to donate all his savings to charity and head for the wilderness. Determined to leave society and all its hypocrisies behind, he treks all over North America’s untamed terrain, finding himself as far south as Mexico and as far north as Alaska. But while Chris (who has since renamed himself Alexander Supertramp) may think he has little use for humankind in general, he finds he still can benefit from the kindness and occasional company of particular people. He meets a wide range of interesting individuals during his travels, among them an elderly man (Hal Holbrook) who engages in philosophical debates with the lad, a Midwestern farmer (Vince Vaughn) who offers him practical advice, and a hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker, a real-life river guide making the year’s best acting debut) who view him as a surrogate son.

Michael Clayton ***

Michael Claytons proper place would seem to be with the paranoia thrillers of the 1970s, a sweaty sub-genre that houses such classics as All the President’s Men, The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor. But appearing in 2007, Michael Clayton is a lonely figure, a deceptively low-key suspenser that trusts its audience to be intrigued by its look at corporate skullduggery. Michael Clayton plays like Erin Brockovich without the populist appeal — it centers on the title character (George Clooney), a law firm “fixer” who’s always called upon to clean up messy problems for clients. Hating his job but stuck with it due to massive debts and an expensive divorce, Michael finds himself caught in the middle when Arthur Edens (an excellent Tom Wilkinson), Michael’s good friend and the firm’s best attorney, threatens to derail their most important case: defending an agrochemical company against a lawsuit filed by citizens. Michael’s boss (Sydney Pollack) orders Michael to talk some sense into Arthur, but it turns out that the agrochemical company’s chief counsel (Tilda Swinton) is willing to go to more extreme lengths to silence the wayward lawyer. Almost everything about the movie is muted and this decision gives the story a real-world gravitas that make the odious executive actions seem even more plausible than they already are.

The Heartbreak Kid **1/2

The Farrelly Brothers have a reputation for pushing the envelope when it comes to risky business on screen, but in the case of The Heartbreak Kid, they seem only marginally more daring than Robert Wise helming The Sound of Music. That’s because the original 1972 version (with a screenplay by Neil Simon) is one mean-spirited movie, a prickly comedy about an unlikable nebbish (Charles Grodin) who suddenly decides to abandon his plain-Jane wife (Jeannie Berlin) on their honeymoon once he spots a beautiful blonde WASP (Cybill Shepherd) on the Miami beach. The movie stings because the bride is only slightly annoying — hardly deserving of the cruel treatment she receives — while the protagonist is selfish, insensitive, and due for a comeuppance that he never really gets. But in this version, the groom (Ben Stiller) is generally a nice guy, his new bride (Malin Akerman) is an outright nightmare, and the beach bunny is no longer a callow, self-centered brat but a sweet-natured and down-to-earth gal (Michelle Monaghan). That’s not to say the siblings have completely backed away from their raunchy roots. The movie earns its R rating, thanks to plenty of salty language, some acrobatic sex scenes (though why is it that in American movies, a healthy sexual appetite is always depicted as a vice or a disease to be shunned?), and one startling crotch shot. Much of it is funny (stay through the closing credits for a satisfying capper), some of it merely infantile, but the picture ends with a clever twist, and Akerman proves to be a real trouper throughout as she degrades herself in the name of modern movie comedy.

The Jane Austen Book Club ***

I’ve always despised the sexist and demeaning term “chick flick.” There are only good films, bad films, and the ones that fall in between, and provided the viewer isn’t a complete Neanderthal, he should be able to separate the cinematic wheat from the chaff. The Jane Austen Book Club is an example of the wheat. It’s intelligent, entertaining, emotional and amusing. It sports its share of rough passages, but those flaws derive from unfortunate shortcuts taken in the screenplay (or the source material, a novel by Karen Joy Fowler), not from the topic at hand or the fact that most of the principal players are (gasp!) women. As the title blurts out, The Jane Austen Book Club centers on a group of people, most of them already friends, who come together to discuss Austen’s literary canon. The members consist of Bernadette (Kathy Baker), the self-appointed matriarch of the club; Jocelyn (Maria Bello), who prefers the company of her dogs to any man; Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), whose husband (Jimmy Smits) just left her for another woman (breaking screen stereotypes, he leaves her for an older, not younger, woman); Sylvia’s daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace), a lesbian into extreme sports; Prudie (Emily Blunt), a French teacher unhappily married to an inattentive lump (Marc Blucas); and Grigg (Hugh Dancy), who’s actually into science fiction novels but joins the group because he’s attracted to Jocelyn. Both the letter and spirit of Austen infiltrate these club members’ lives, as they not only apply the author’s words to modern living but also note similarities between the novels’ characters and their own particular sets of circumstances.

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising *1/2

The dark may have been rising, but my eyelids were repeatedly falling as I struggled to stay awake during this interminable and exhausting film. Based on one of the books in Susan Cooper’s award-winning fantasy series, The Seeker comes across less as a faithful adaptation of a beloved story than as a cash-in-quick product meant to appease small kids who can’t abide the waits between Harry Potter or Narnia flicks. Also owing a passing nod to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Seeker concerns itself with Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig), an American kid living in a quaint British burg with his large family. Young Will learns from Deadwood’s Ian McShane and other village protectors that he’s the only person who can enter the eternal fray between “the light” and “the dark” and protect the planet from being conquered by an evil entity known as The Rider (Christopher Eccleston). This designation allows Will to draw upon his heretofore unknown abilities to travel through time, telekinetically start fires, and make a mean martini (OK, just kidding on that last one).

The Game Plan **

After his film career began floundering, action star Vin Diesel turned to the family audience with The Pacifier and ended up with a $113 million hit. Along the same lines, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson now throws himself on the mercy of the small fry and their easy-to-please parental units with The Game Plan, an innocuous mediocrity whose biggest sin is its punishing running time. Rocky stars as Joe Kingman, a narcissistic quarterback who’s blindsided when 8-year-old Peyton (Madison Pettis) shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his daughter. Livin’ la vida loca with a lavishly designed bachelor pad, a European model for a girlfriend, and a flashy sports car to complement his lifestyle of the rich and famous, Joe (whose clunky gridiron nickname is “Never Say No Joe”) learns that in order to become an effective parent he has to accept a pink tutu being placed on his bulldog, his football trophies getting BeDazzled, and his mode of transport getting downsized to a station wagon. Considering that The Game Plan holds next to no surprises for anyone who’s ever seen a movie before, a 90-minute length would have been plenty; instead, this gets mercilessly stretched out to 110 minutes.

The Kingdom **1/2

Just as 1978 saw the release of two Vietnam War flicks that complemented each other in their portrayals of the skirmish — The Deer Hunter and Coming Home — along comes September 2007 and its entree selection of two Iraq War dramas. The Kingdom is basically a Rambo retread outfitted with a thin veneer of topical import. Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) appears to be an American apologist at heart, which may explain why, after a fascinating title sequence illustrating the United States’ complicated ties to Saudi Arabia the movie quickly devolves into a standard us-against-them revenge flick. The film opens with a shocking sequence in which a base for American families in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is destroyed by terrorists, thereby prompting a group of elite FBI agents to undergo a secret mission to find the culprits once the Saudi and U.S. governments both balk at creating an international incident. Collectively, the four agents — played by Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman — are devoid of much in the way of personality, but that’s OK: Their only purpose in this story is to kill Middle Easterners. Lots of them.

In the Valley of Elah ***1/2

1/2 Writer-director Paul Haggis will forever be lambasted in many circles because his arch drama Crash unfairly shanghaied the clearly superior Brokeback Mountain at the Oscars. But those quick to write off Haggis as a pandering huckster tend to forget that he also penned the exquisite screenplays to two Clint Eastwood triumphs, Million Dollar Baby and Letters From Iwo Jima. It’s that Paul Haggis who shows up with In the Valley of Elah, a powerful drama that employs a murder-mystery template to initially camouflage what ultimately proves to be the picture’s true intent: Examine the repercussions of war on the psyches of the youngsters we ask (or order) to defend us in battle. Tommy Lee Jones, in a superlative performance, stars as Hank Deerfield, a retired officer trying to find out why his son went AWOL upon returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. It’s obvious from the outset that Hank won’t find his son alive, and once it’s ascertained that the boy was murdered, the morose father teams up with equally glum detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) to solve the case. On its own terms, the mystery is set up and followed through in a satisfying matter, and only those expecting an elaborate Agatha Christie-style unmasking of the killer will be disappointed in this aspect of the story, which wraps up well before the actual movie does. Clearly, Haggis’ main story is about the toll that the Iraq War — and, by extension, all battles, especially those (like Iraq) created for bogus reasons — takes not only on the soldiers sent to participate in the bloodshed but also on their families and friends. For all his surface simplicity, Hank Deerfield is a complicated and conflicted individual, a conservative patriot who would never question the military but who can sense that its ideals, along with those of the country he loves, have changed since his time of service. Even more daringly (and likely to spark debates among war vets), Haggis’ film attempts to depict the manner in which the specter of war can follow a soldier back to civilization and inform every subsequent decision and action.

Feast of Love **1/2

A sprawling, messy yet occasionally affecting adaptation of Charles Baxter’s novel, Feast of Love finds Oscar-winning director Robert Benton (whose last film was the grossly underrated The Human Stain) orchestrating a series of intertwined storylines that all push force the notion that the true meaning of life can be found in the arms of a loved one. Morgan Freeman once again plays his stock role, a gentle soul who’s smarter than everyone else around him; here, that translates into the character of a happily married and semiretired professor who notices that love — and, in some cases, lust, deception and betrayal — is all around him. In what could probably be construed as first among equals in terms of the competing storylines, he befriends a coffee shop owner whose wife (Selma Blair) leaves him for another woman and who then becomes involved with a realtor (Radha Mitchell) who can’t seem to break off her affair with a married man (Billy Burke). The Mitchell-Burke relationship is given plenty of screen time on its own; ditto the puppy-love romance between two young coffeehouse employees (Alexa Davalos and Toby Hemingway). Happiness and tragedy are doled out in equal measure — usually falling where we expect — but a fine cast and some touching moments help make the film if not exactly a feast, then at least an edible appetizer that will keep our hunger for a great movie romance at bay a while longer.

Eastern Promises ***

One of the central gags in Knocked Up involves the efforts of Seth Rogen and his pals to create a website that catalogues all the nude appearances made in motion pictures by actresses of all ranks. Of course, sites of this nature really do appear all over the Internet, though it’s unknown (at least by me) if a similar site exists that tackles male movie-star nudity with such dedication. If so, then Viggo Mortensen’s turn in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises will be right at the top of the site’s “Most Searches” list. In one of the climactic scenes, Mortensen’s Nikolai Luzhin, a taciturn chauffeur who works for the Vory V Zakone outfit (the Russian mafia) in London, is relaxing in a steamroom when he’s attacked by two knife-wielding (and clothed) assassins. Without time to even pick up his discarded towel, he ends up fighting both assailants in the buff, and thanks to cinematographer Peter Suschitzky’s camera angles, we can examine Mortensen from vantage points that even his personal doctor probably hasn’t seen (it’s astonishing that the prudes on the MPAA board gave the film an R instead of an NC-17). Some might think that Cronenberg is merely giving the ladies in the audience equal time, but on a thematic level, the skirmish makes sense: Nikolai has been living a life full of betrayal and deceit, and it’s time to strip down to his essence in order to make an attempt to reclaim his true identity. In a sense, Eastern Promises is a bookend to the last film made by Cronenberg and Mortensen: 2005’s excellent A History of Violence, about an ordinary cafe owner who may or may not have been a vicious mobster in his earlier years. Both films run along parallel tracks, full of whispery menace, marked by probing studies of masculinity at its extreme boundaries, punctuated with bursts of sexual and violent excess, and coping with abrupt endings.

The Brave One **1/2

The Brave One is basically a retread of Death Wish, only with a sex change for its protagonist and, given the director (The Crying Game’s Neil Jordan) and star, a more distinguished pedigree. It also purports to add dramatic heft to the moral implications of the situation at hand, with an ad line that blares, “How Many Wrongs To Make It Right?” But the movie itself clearly doesn’t believe in its own promotion, resulting in a finished product that works as exploitation (like Death Wish) but fails at anything more socially relevant. Jodie Foster stars as Erica Bain, the host of a particularly dreadful-sounding NYC radio show called Street Walk. She and her fiancé David (Naveen Andrews) are blissfully happy, but everything changes after a brutal attack by street punks leaves David dead and Erica in a coma. Once Erica awakens, she’s become a different person, afraid of the city she calls home and terrified by even the thought of leaving her apartment. Mustering up her courage, she goes out and illegally buys a gun for protection. But quickly learning that happiness is a warm gun, she sets about using the weapon on anyone who threatens her, from punks on the subway to a killer in a convenience store. Detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard) obviously has no love for the victims, but he feels that it’s nevertheless his duty to stop this vigilante. Via a massive coincidence, he also becomes friends with Erica, little suspecting (at least at first) that she and the vigilante are the same person. Foster is rarely less than excellent, but for years now, she’s settled into making movies in which she portrays a largely desexed woman who’s all business and no pleasure (Panic Room, Flightplan, Inside Man, etc.). Mind you, I’m not suggesting an insipid romantic comedy opposite someone like Bruce Willis, but I’m sure there’s a happy medium to be found somewhere.

3:10 To Yuma ***

3:10 to Yuma proves to be a rarity among remakes. It doesn’t slavishly copy the original, nor does it update it for modern times. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, the 1957 3:10 to Yuma retains its status as a solid Western, typical of the psychologically rooted oaters that emerged in force during that decade. In Glenn Ford’s old role, Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, a notorious outlaw who’s finally captured by the authorities and scheduled to be transferred via train to the prison in Yuma, Arizona. Dan Evans (Christian Bale in the Van Heflin part) is a rancher by nature — he’s so mild-mannered that his own wife (Gretchen Mol) and son (Logan Lerman) are often disappointed in him — but because he’s about to lose his home and cattle, he agrees to help transport Wade for $200.


More by Matt Brunson

  • Review: Keeping Up With The Joneses
  • Review: Keeping Up With The Joneses

    Galifianakis continues to become less annoying and more likable with each subsequent turn (this might be his best role to date), and Hamm again reveals the prankster’s soul buried underneath the matinee-idol looks.
    • Oct 19, 2016
  • Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
  • Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

    Niceties have fallen by the wayside for this dreary sequel, which seems to exist for the sole purpose of serving as a vanity project for its aging star (who also produced).
    • Oct 18, 2016
  • Review: The Accountant
  • Review: The Accountant

    Smart movies tend to avoid offering obvious patterns, imbecilic narrative coincidences, and imploding third acts. Unfortunately, The Accountant isn’t that smart.
    • Oct 11, 2016
  • More »


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