Al Pacino has demonstrated that theres still some gas in the tank: Marvel at his latter-day performances in Insomnia and Heat. But ever since winning that Oscar for Scent of a Woman (still the worst con job ever to snag a Best Actor statue), Pacino has elected to Hoo-ah! his way through almost every subsequent role. Pacinos back in full manic mode in Two for the Money, a malnourished morality tale not dissimilar in structure to the other Pacino vehicles in which he serves as a shady mentor to a hot young actor (The Devils Advocate, Donnie Brasco, The Recruit, etc.). Here, he plays Walter Abrams, the head of a sports consulting firm who finds his protege in Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey), a former college football star permanently sidelined by a leg injury. With a pro career out of the question, Brandon scrapes together a living at a small Las Vegas betting house, where he picks the winners of the upcoming weekend games. Walter learns of Brandons near-psychic ability to correctly handicap the gridiron match-ups and lures him to New York with a substantially better job offer. Under his new boss tutelage -- and with Walters sharp wife (Rene Russo) also offering expert advice -- Brandon becomes a raging success by providing gamblers with surefire tips, but personality conflicts between the two men threaten to drive both their careers into the ground. The entertainment value in Two for the Money can be found in its incoherence and its ineptitude -- this movie is so ludicrous on so many fundamental levels (unexplained character motivations, clumsy scene transitions) that it almost crosses over into camp territory.
IN HER SHOES PPP
Based on the best-selling novel by Jennifer Weiner, In Her Shoes is the sort of movie that gets instantly pigeonholed. Schmaltz-loving women will grab their tissues while Neanderthal males will roll their eyes. But In Her Shoes isnt designed for any of these people; instead, it will attract viewers who have little use for rigid societal labels and who anticipate a well-crafted blend of comedy and pathos. An initially acrid look at sibling rivalry, the picture stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette as Maggie and Rose, two sisters who have nothing in common except their shoe size. Maggie is the outgoing one, pinballing between men, jobs and other peoples couches as she shuns adult responsibilities for endless partying. Rose is the introvert, wallowing in insecurity about her looks while devoting almost every waking hour to her job as a lawyer for a prestigious Philadelphia firm. In this case, the ties that bind have been shredded down to a mere string, one which snaps when Maggie cruelly betrays Rose in an act of astonishing thoughtlessness. Banished by her older sister, Maggie heads to a Florida retirement community to meet Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine), the grandmother she only recently learned she had. It isnt hard to guess how this will all play out, but the pleasures rest in the journey more than the destination. Maggie undergoes radical changes as she seeks to better herself, and Diaz is up to the challenge of navigating her characters trek through uncharted emotions. Shes in top form here, though shes matched every step of the way by the other featured players. As for MacLaine, her no-nonsense portrayal allows Ella to serve as a necessary counterpoint to her granddaughters, cutting through the girls messy outlooks with the sharp steel edge of scrappy experience.
Writer-director Rob McKittrick obviously views his pet project as the new Clerks (citing that film as an inspiration in the closing credits), but whereas that Kevin Smith gem featured genuine wit beneath the rampant vulgarity, Waiting is merely puerile, crammed with incessant employment of the F word (fag, that is) and featuring more unkempt pubic hair (male and female) than any picture this side of a 50s-era stag film. Ryan Reynolds, recycling every smart-ass cute guy dating back to Tim Matheson in National Lampoons Animal House, plays the veteran employee at Shenanigans, an eatery in the Applebees/Bennigans mold. Hes assigned to show the new kid (John Francis Daley) the ropes, and the story kicks into high gear once he explains to the rookie that every male employee must try to trick the other guys into looking at his exposed genitalia. Its depressing to see such likable performers as Chi McBride and Justin Long stranded in this toxic dump, but the biggest casualty is Anna Faris -- an adept comedienne in Scary Movie and Lost In Translation, she deserves better than this.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
In the same manner that David Lynch deconstructed the myth of the squeaky-clean small Southern town in Blue Velvet, so does director David Cronenberg take a hatchet to the façade of bland Midwestern homeliness. The movie establishes the proper tone from the start, as two men check out of their motel in the grisliest way imaginable. From here, we jump over a few cities to the home of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a hard-working café owner and family man blessed with a devoted wife named Edie (Maria Bello) and two children. Toms peaceful existence disappears the night that a pair of strangers bust into his diner with the intention of slaughtering everybody in sight. Tom kills the intruders, which in turn leads to his national status as a hero. This widespread exposure brings more strangers to town -- gruff mobster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and his two flunkies. Viggo Mortensen, formerly a wretched actor who has matured in leaps and bounds these last few years, was a wise choice -- its impossible to read anything on his passive face, thus making it hard to gauge whether or not hes telling the truth about his past. Maria Bello shines as the wife whos forced to confront some unpleasant truths about both her spouse and herself.
INTO THE BLUE P1/2
Paul Walker is Jared Cole, an amicable beach bum hoping to find sunken treasure in the Bahamas. Jessica Alba, who wears the same vapid look she displayed earlier this year in Sin City and Fantastic Four, plays Samantha, whos apparently content simply being Jareds sweetheart. Along with Jareds insufferable best friend Bryce (Scott Caan) and his opportunistic girlfriend Amanda (Ashley Scott), they not only discover a sunken pirate ship but also a downed airplane containing millions of dollars worth of cocaine. This is the sort of low-IQ fare in which Albas derriere receives more close-ups than her face, yet writer Matt Johnson does make a stab at providing some heft to his script until the inanities finally get the best of him.
OLIVER TWIST PP1/2
This re-imagining (as the press material calls it) of the Charles Dickens classic tinkers with the original tale, but deviation from the source material isnt its primary problem. Instead, its that while this timeless tale has been uncorked once again, it isnt allowed to properly breathe, stewing instead in its own stodginess. Leanne Rowe makes a favorable impression as the ill-fated Nancy, while Ben Kingsley, while never matching Alec Guinness peerless portrayal in the Lean version, turns the sniveling thief Fagin into a figure more likely to be pitied than loathed.
Fans of the short-lived TV series Firefly will want to add another couple of stars to the rating for this big-screen spin-off. But for those who havent already built up a rapport with these characters, Serenity is a long slog through sci-fi tedium. This is set 500 years in the future, with the universe under the thumb of the evil Alliance. Its only opposition comes from the crew members of the spaceship Serenity, captained by a cocky scoundrel named Mal (not to be confused with Han Solo). Offering next to nothing in the way of character development or even simple introductions, this is a cinematic flatline, only perking up for a bravura finale.
WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT ***1/2
Not only the best animated flick of the year but also one of the most enjoyable outings in any genre. In this yarn, Wallace and his silent sidekick have taken it upon themselves to rid their burgs rabbits by forming a pest control outfit called Anti-Pesto. Using Wallaces latest invention, the Bun-Vac 6000, the team is able to humanely capture all the bunnies that have been helping themselves to the neighbors garden patches.
TIM BURTONS CORPSE BRIDE PPP
Based on a Russian folk tale yet set in Victorian England, Corpse Bride finds Johnny Depp as the voice of Victor Van Dort, a shy lad whos set to marry a shy lass named Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). While practicing his wedding vows he places the ring on a spindly branch, only to watch in horror as the branch reveals itself to be the finger of a corpse that rises from the ground. This turns out to be Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), a woman who died on her wedding night and whos been waiting ever since for her true love. Corpse Bride is a marvel of craft and imagination, yet whats most surprising is its ability to make us care about Bonham Carters character.
Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster), a recent widow catching a flight along with her six-year-old daughter, becomes frantic once the girl disappears during the course of the flight. The entire premise rests on the fact that no one else aboard the plane, from the crew to the passengers, ever once caught a glimpse of the moppet, thereby establishing in their minds Kyle as a woman whos delusional and possibly dangerous. Director Robert Schwentke exhibits aptitude in his ability to stage confrontations between Kyle and her doubters, while the recreation of a jumbo airliner provides the film with a setting that feels as expansive and full of mystery as Baskerville Hall.
Based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book, Hidden Figures places Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) at the forefront, relating how she was tapped for her skills as a mathematician to help NASA’s Space Task Group (headed by Kevin Costner’s tough but fair director) crunch the numbers needed to successfully send astronaut John Glenn (winningly played by Glen Powell) into space and have him safely return to Earth.