Report card

movies

November 15, 2007

American Gangster

What it's about: A Harlem criminal mastermind puts together a huge heroin operation with drugs smuggled out of Vietnam in soldiers' coffins and a wholesome army of outlaws.

Rated: R

The scoop: It plays like a deluxe network-TV miniseries, but with all the nudity, profanity and gore the networks would cut out.

Grade: C+

Bee Movie

What it's about: Jerry Seinfeld's Barry B. Benson, a squat, big-eyed buzzer, attempts to break out of a job stirring honey in the hive and ends up falling for a human florist (Renee Zellweger).

Rated: PG

The scoop: It's Seinfeld's amiably bent view of bee-ness that supplies this film with its modest charm.

Grade: B- Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

What it's about: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an overweight would-be criminal mastermind who ropes his alimony-poor brother (Ethan Hawke) into trying to stick up a mom-and-pop jewelry store owned by their own mom and pop (Rosemary Harris and Albert Finney).

Rated: R The scoop: The movie has all the elements of black comedy, but it isn't laugh-out-loud funny; it's brutal and punishing, the psychological equivalent of a torture film; the ensemble goes so far into their roles that you feel their sweat through your own pores.

Grade: B-

Control

What it's about: It locates the raw lyric impulse in post-punk rock as it tells the story of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), lead singer and songwriter for Joy Division, who committed suicide in 1980.

Rated: R The scoop: Even if you have no interest in Joy Division, this picture is worth seeing for the unsentimental empathy and passion of the moviemaking and performances. Grade: A-

Fred Claus

What it's about: Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) agrees to lend his ne'er-do-well brother Fred (Vince Vaughn) the money to open an off-track betting office in Chicago if Fred helps with the holiday rush up in the Arctic.

Rated: PG

The scoop: This movie will do anything for a laugh or a tear, but doesn't get any laughs or tears; against all odds, though, Giamatti makes a superb St. Nick.

Grade: D+

Gone Baby Gone

What it's about: Private eye Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) struggles to crack the kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl from the rough Boston neighborhood of Dorchester.

Rated: R The scoop: Director Ben Affleck skillfully focuses on the tragedy and mordant comedy of urban corruption and decline, and the blunders and debacles of good guys and bad guys.

Grade: B+

Lions for Lambs

What it's about: College professor Roberd Redford tries to push a complacent frat boy (Andrew Garfield) into some commitment to our civic life, while hotshot Republican senator Tom Cruise shops a scoop about a bold strategic change in Afghanistan to a seasoned journalist (Meryl Streep). Rated: R The scoop: The problem with this film isn't its political engagement but its cinematic disengagement: It would have been more effective as a radio play.

Grade: C Plagues & Passions on the Salton Sea

What it's about: A man-made freshwater lake in the Southern California desert turned into a salty inland sea and now threatens to become a giant sewer or source of alkaline clouds.

Rated: Unrated

The scoop: It's a funky, terrifying and improbably funny demonstration of environmental neglect leading to ecological disaster. Grade: A

30 Days of Night

What it's about: A band of vampires descends on Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States, just when the December sun is about to set and plunge it into monthlong night.

Rated: R

The scoop: It's seductive in its buildup but overall as subtle and, alas, as humorless as a hatchet to the brain.

Grade: C+

Wristcutters: A Love Story

What it's about: Patrick Fugit plays a young man who kills himself out of heartbreak and winds up in an odd little corner of the afterlife reserved for suicides: the seedier parts of Los Angeles and the Southern California desert. Rated: R

The scoop: It's a lousy title for a lovely-loony picture about people who learn that affection, companionship and love can be found even in limbo. Grade: A-

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