recommended viewing

October 31, 2008|By Capsules by Michael Sragow

Capsules by Michael Sragow. Full reviews are at baltimoresun.com/movies.

City of Ember: ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS) The builders of the subterranean city of Ember wanted humanity to survive an unspecified apocalypse. Two hundred years later, though, the city is falling apart, and only the intrepid young Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and his alert, nimble friend Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) intend to escape its slow death and discover whether it's true that outside Ember, all is darkness. It may sound irretrievably gloomy and doomy, but it boasts a loony originality that grows on you. The director, Gil Kenan, who made the computer-animated hit Monster House, gives Ember itself a higgledy-piggledy design that's engaging, not alienating in the now-cliched Blade Runner manner. PG 96 minutes

Miracle at St. Anna: *** ( 3 STARS) It follows four "Buffalo Soldiers" - African-Americans fighting in segregated units - as they leapfrog over the rest of the Army's positions and land in a hamlet filled with terrified villagers. Even when the scene-making is prosaic, as they talk about interacting more easily with Italians than with white Americans, the actors' total identification with their roles transcends everything that's awkward or obvious. Omar Benson Miller brings a touch of the poet to a bighearted GI who becomes known as "the Chocolate Giant." R 155 minutes

Morning Light: *** (3 STARS) Even if you can't grasp the jargon of sails and riggings or plotting a course, the action feels understandable when you see ships outmaneuvering each other or plowing through wind-tossed seas in this handsome, compelling documentary produced by Roy E. Disney and Leslie DeMeuse, and written and directed by Mark Monroe. It offers a high-tech version of nautical adventure as well as something else: a refreshing affability and purity. Disney has been sailing for five decades, and DeMeuse is a sea salt, too. They assembled a team of 11 young sailors and four alternates, from all over the country and from all walks of life, to race 2,500 miles from Long Beach, Calif., to Hawaii in the legendary Transpac open sailing competition, on a boat called Morning Light. PG 100 minutes

Religulous : *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS) Bill Maher brings his disarmingly direct humor to the topic of organized religion in this bracing and funny documentary. Maher's central subject is religion as it is really practiced in the suburbs, the country and the streets (and even, increasingly, in our halls of government). Until the heavy-handed ending, he manages to debunk blind faith with a twinkle in his eye. R 110 minutes

What Just Happened: **** ( 4 STARS) It's a superb comedy that just happens to take place in that tinseled part of the real America known as Hollywood. Robert De Niro's harried, resourceful producer attempts to keep a British auteur (Michael Wincott) and an American superstar (Bruce Willis) from imploding, as well as woo an ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn) and provide fatherly guidance to his eldest child (Kristen Stewart). His life reflects the overloaded existence that's been celebrated everywhere from coffee commercials to wired campuses. No one in this film has a frank conversation; everyone is negotiating relationships and deals, or barking or receiving orders, or simply begging for favors. The result is a crackpot symphony of missed connections, with De Niro's best performance since Wag the Dog. R 107 minutes

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