The selling point in Capote is the excellent lead performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, that character actor extraordinaire who has contributed finely etched portrayals to such films as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia. Constantly punctuating the air with his whispery wit and entertaining other people as if to the diva manner born, Hoffman's Capote is an odd figure against the barren backdrop of the Kansas flatlands, where he has come to learn about the brutal murders of a respected family of four. Accompanied by his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), whose own book is about to make her a celebrity in her own right (a running gag is that nobody can recall the name of her upcoming novel, just that it has something to do with killing birds), Capote gets to know some of the locals and, eventually, the two drifters found responsible for the repugnant killings. He forms a bond with one of them, a pensive type named Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). But as time passes and Capote keeps needling Perry for specific details on the murders it becomes unclear -- perhaps even to Capote himself -- whether the author is merely using Perry for his own purposes or whether the doomed convict has indeed stirred Capote's own humanity.
MATCH POINT PPP
This picture represents Allen's best work since 1996's overlooked Everyone Says I Love You, but it hardly belongs in the pantheon reserved for the likes of Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. Yet the hosannas are understandable: It's nice to have Allen back again, even if it turns out to be only for a short visit. Forsaking his beloved New York City, Allen has made a film that's set -- and shot -- in England. Also gone is another mainstay: the nebbish protagonist, generally played by Allen himself but on occasion portrayed by a younger actor like John Cusack or Jason Biggs.
Clearly, the leading character here is no nervous, self-effacing nerd. Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is handsome, charismatic and secure enough to know what he wants out of life. A tennis pro employed at a posh London club, he makes the acquaintance of dashing rich kid Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), who then proceeds to introduce Chris to his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Chris' life in the fast lane, however, encounters a speed bump in the curvaceous shape of Tom's American fiancée, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson). Eventually, the two engage in an adulterous tryst that has the potential to bring down Chris' carefully constructed lifestyle. Match Point is exceedingly well-written and exquisitely performed (Johansson stands out in her best performance to date), yet what causes it to come up a hair short of true greatness is that, for all its dissimilarities to past Allen films, it still ends up largely playing like a remake of the "Crimes" half of Crimes and Misdemeanors, the section of the two-story film that focused on the adulterous duo portrayed by Martin Landau and Anjelica Huston. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won't specify exactly where the films line up and where they deviate, but suffice to say that this new drama could have offered more surprises and still retained Allen's thematic stance.
THE NEW WORLD PP
Any ambience created in tandem by ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki Lubezki and director Terrence Malick repeatedly dissipate in the face of the plodding treatment of fascinating material: the founding of Jamestown in 1607 and, more specifically, the relationship between lithe Native American girl Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher) and sensitive English settler John Smith (Colin Farrell). As a look at the despoiling of untamed territory by brutish Europeans, this can't touch Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God -- heck, it's not even up to the shaky standards of Hector Babenco's At Play In the Fields of the Lords. Malicks indifference to the accomplished performers milling around the set (Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale among them) is so apparent that one almost wonders why he didn't just cast this with mannequins. He seems equally bored with prose, considering some of the dead-weight exclamations uttered by various characters. To even attempt to compare The New World with Disney's animated Pocahontas would be a pointless exercise in futility, far beyond apples and oranges. But I will say this: Where's a mischievous raccoon when you really need one?
NANNY MCPHEE PP1/2
Nanny McPhee may be based on Christianna Brands Nurse Matilda books, but its cinematic predecessor is clearly the family film that turned Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious into the longest household word ever recorded. Reminiscent of the black comedies routinely made by Danny De Vito (most notably his delightful Matilda), Nanny McPhee finds director Kirk Jones and Emma Thompson (who also penned the script) similarly employing menacing situations, questionable comic material and oversized, often grotesque characters in an unorthodox attempt to arrive at a sentimental conclusion. Thompson, delivering a sharp performance under pounds of facial latex, plays the title character, a snaggletooth, wart-sprouting nursemaid who mysteriously shows up to help a widower (Colin Firth) contend with his seven monstrous children. As Nanny McPhee helps transform these little devils into little angels, she also becomes involved in the familys strained affairs with an interfering aunt (Angela Lansbury) and a husband-hunting harridan (Celia Imrie).
SOMETHING NEW PP1/2
From Silver Streak to Bringing Down the House, there have been countless movies in which an uptight Caucasian is taught how to loosen up by an African-American acquaintance. Something New reverses that formula, but beyond this little-seen novelty, theres not much about this modest romantic comedy that transcends the storys expected ebb and flow. Here, the rigid individual is Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan), a workaholic who doesnt have time to look for her IBM (ideal black male). When she finally does make time to go on a blind date, shes stunned to discover that the guy, a landscape architect named Brian Kelly (Simon Baker), is white. Initially resistant, she soon finds herself relaxing in his company and comes to realize that hed make a suitable boyfriend. But once Kenya is eventually introduced to her perfect mate, a black businessman (Blair Underwood) who shares her work ethics and outlook on life, shes forced to make a decision between what she wants and what society expects. This potential sleeper from director Sanaa Hamri and screenwriter Kriss Turner (both making their feature-film debuts) is a diamond in the rough, blessed with a vibrant leading lady and choice moments dealing with racial tensions but marred by occasional clunky dialogue and perfunctory supporting characters.
LAST HOLIDAY PP1/2
A remake of a 1950 British comedy starring Alec Guinness, Last Holiday is better than expected thanks to its retooling as a vehicle for Queen Latifah. Latifah stars as Georgia Byrd, a working class woman who, upon learning that shell die in three weeks, cashes in all her assets and heads off to the Czech Republic with the intent of winding down her life in luxury. While at the hotel, she befriends the cook (Gerard Depardieu -- how Ive missed him!), offers sage advice and butts heads with her former boss, the hardhearted CEO of a national retail chain (Timothy Hutton). Meanwhile, her love interest (LL Cool J) back home discovers her dark secret and hightails it to be by her side.
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN PPP1/2
The secret behind Brokeback Mountain is that, behind its convenient (and infuriating) designation as the gay cowboy movie, this is as universal as any love story Hollywood has produced in recent times. As Jack, Gyllenhaal delivers a nicely modulated performance thats by turns silly and sullen. The weakness in his work -- that he doesnt completely disappear into his character -- is only noticeable because his co-star is operating at such a stratospheric level. Ledger, in short, is phenomenal as Ennis, the sort of pensive individual whos so reluctant to speak that it appears as if uttering a syllable is as strenuous for him as lifting a refrigerator is to the rest of us.
Munich is a strong film, an important work, and already a lightning rod for controversy and (one hopes) healthy debate. But another instant Spielberg classic? Not quite. With a script drafted by heavy-hitters Tony Kushner (Angels In America) and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), Munich is largely a fictionalization of the events that transpired after that tragic day at the 1972 Olympics in Germany, when a group of Palestinian terrorists known as Black September slaughtered the Israeli athletes they were holding as hostages. The movie reveals that, in an effort to exhibit their toughness to the world, the Israeli government sent a select band of assassins to eliminate everyone who was responsible for the Munich massacre. Spielberg and his writers bring to vivid life this motley crew of enforcers.
Clearly aping the Shrek films, this attempts to put a spin on the classic childrens fairy tales by adding all manner of so-called hip references and grownup-geared plot maneuverings, approaches that grow more stale with each passing year.
FUN WITH DICK AND JANE PP1/2
Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni play the new Dick and Jane, who find themselves in a similar predicament once the CEO (Alec Baldwin) of Dicks company bails out, leaving thousands of employees without jobs, pensions or benefits. After working a series of low-paying odd jobs (the pictures funniest sequences), the couple eventually turn to robbing local shops with a squirt gun, earning enough dough to engage in even more elaborate heists.
KING KONG PPP1/2
Peter Jacksons new Kong will make a fortune, and it saddens me that it will be viewed by scores of people who wont even give the original 1933 take a passing glance because they lack the imagination to immerse themselves in the world of vintage black-and-white cinema. But thats their loss, and certainly not Jacksons fault. Hes done his part by treating the property with love and respect, and, much to my surprise, his Kong is a -- pardon the pun -- roaring success.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE PPP
Like the best kid flicks, this one never talks down to its target audience, and its religious themes -- issues involving honor, forgiveness and redemption -- embody the true spirit of Christianity and serve as an antidote to the sadistic theatrics of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
WALK THE LINE PPP
Just as Ray lived or died on the performance of Jamie Foxx, so too does Walk the Line depend on the mesmerizing work by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (who both do their own singing). Phoenix commands the screen, yet even he's topped by Witherspoon in her most fully realized performance since Election. Phoenix may provide the movie with its voice, but it's Witherspoon who delivers its soul.