Simon West, director of 'Con Air' and 'The General's Daughter,' has been off the big-screen radar long enough to properly contemplate the slick little cinematic take-over that is The Mechanic. The film's generic poster of a handgun made up of roughly sketched weapons cleverly conceals an ingenious update on the time-honored assassin-with-a-heart genre. Grade: B-plus.
Released just a few months after Alex Gibney's Jack Abramoff documentary, director George Hickenlooper's feature version of the same tale of corruption shellacs rather than shackles its GOP super-lobbyist antihero. Grade: D.
Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s verite-styled familial drama is an aspirational observance of three generations of males living at one with nature in the Caribbean’s coastal solitude of Banco Chinchorro, Mexico’s largest coral reef.
A determinedly sunny take on the labor struggles of women factory workers at a British Ford plant in 1968, Made in Dagenham is a highly polished comedy with a clear message about equal pay for women. Adapted from William Ivory's seamless script, director Nigel Cole taps into colorful cultural references of the era in order to convey layers of social subtext. Grade: B.
There's something terribly romantic about the bond that develops between Ewan McGregor's and Jim Carrey's gay lovers in a con-man story not far removed from a great film like 'Catch Me If You Can.' There's a sincerity in both movies than humanizes its criminal protagonists and celebrates their abilities to outwit the lawmen that tirelessly pursue them. Grade: A-.
For the third 'Narnia' franchise installment, veteran director Michael Apted takes over helming duties performed by Andrew Adamson on the first two films. Sadly Apted, the filmmaker famous for the hugely influential '7Up' documentary series, is confined by a script that is a mere sketch of C.S. Lewis' original novel. The result is a disposable children's adventure story that wears its well-worn primary narrative device like an afterthought. Grade: C.
The Bush administration picked the wrong family of Northern Californian atheists to paint with its pro-war brush of "hero" propaganda. The administration's attempted cover-up of the April 22, 2004, "friendly fire" murder of former pro football player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan is dissected in damning detail in Amir Bar-Lev's revealing documentary, narrated by Josh Brolin. Grade: A-.
'127 Hours' is based on mountain climber Aron Ralston's memoir about his
misadventure in Utah's Canyonlands National Park where he became
trapped by a boulder and was forced to cut off his own arm in order to save his life. Boyle has fun playing with the challenge of presenting such a tale by compressing time with things like dream sequences that mirror Ralston's warped mental state that floated in while trapped in the middle of the desert. Grade: A.
The same exponential decline in story complexity that occurred between the first and second cinematic installments of Stieg Larsson's posthumously published 'Millennium Trilogy' continues here. Where 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' had taut crisscrossing subplots of boundless internal and external significance, the final act of the trilogy is little more than a tepid courtroom drama with some willy-nilly spectacle thrown in for good measure. Grade: C-.
Drawn from the same murky well of Hollywood ethical ambiguity that gave us 'Thank You for Smoking' and last year's 'Up in the Air,' 'Love & Other Drugs' audaciously defines its slick anti-hero protagonist as beyond reproach. The filmmakers are clearly banking on the allure of nude sex scenes between Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway to attract audiences, but the love story (and sex scenes) don't amount to much. Grade: C.