Report Card Staff Critics' Take On The Top Movies

December 11, 2008

Bolt

What it's about : A dog who plays a superhero on TV thinks he is one in real life, which presents all sorts of problems when he unexpectedly finds himself in New York, a continent away from his beloved owner, Penny.

Rated: PG

The scoop : The script is smart, its conceit a heart-tugger in the finest of senses, and it's the first Disney effort in way too long to be more concerned with being a movie than with being a breeding ground for product tie-ins.

Grade ***: 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS)

Cadillac Records

What it's about : Leonard Chess, a self-made Chicago "record man," puts Muddy Waters and then Chuck Berry on the nation's turntables, and then pays Alan Freed and other DJs to put them on the air; thus do they invent rock 'n' roll.

Rated: R

The scoop : Writer-director Darnell Martin goes for the throat of this killer subject, and Adrien Brody (Chess), Jeffrey Wright (Waters), Beyonce (above) as Etta James and Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf reward her with indelible performances.

Grade: *** ( 3 STARS)

Four Christmases

What it's about : After years of leaving the country for Christmas, a couple are forced to spend the holiday with their families when fog shuts down the airport and they're interviewed live on TV.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop : Yet another "Holidays+Families=Hell" comedy, but this one's surprisingly funny. Vince Vaughn, as one-half of the trapped couple, is his usual boarish self, but Reese Witherspoon (above) explores her lighter side to great effect as the other half.

Grade : *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS)

Milk

What it's about : Harvey Milk (Sean Penn, above), a community activist in San Francisco's Castro district, struggles to become the first openly gay man elected to high public office in a major U.S. city.

Rated: R

The scoop : The film rests so exclusively - and solidly - on its performances, especially Penn's marvelous characterization of Milk, that audiences won't realize how strong its mojo is until an assassin's bullets break the spell.

Grade : *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS)

Punisher: War Zone

What it's about : Ray Stevenson (above) is Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, a U.S. commando who turns himself into a vigilante killing machine; Dominic West play Jigsaw, who's about as interesting as Batman's Two-Face would be with one face.

Rated : R

The scoop : Director Lexi Anderson, a female world karate and kickboxing champion, uses spiked skulls and speared body parts as exclamation points - and flesh-shredding bullets as fatal periods marking the end of thousands of plug-uglies.

Grade: No stars

Quantum of Solace

What it's about : 007 avenges the death of his true love while obliterating a crooked international green-industry syndicate.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop : Daniel Craig (above), the most Byronic of all James Bonds, manages the astonishing task of rooting an outlandish yet sober-sided movie in reality and bringing it an air of wicked amusement, too.

Grade: ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)

Slumdog Millionaire

What it's about : The unlikeliest epic hero ever: a ragamuffin (Dev Patel, above) in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) who, at age 18, becomes a contender on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

Rated: R

The scoop : Director Danny Boyle outdoes himself with a blend of hair-raising social melodrama, earthy humor and mystic adventure. The result is a movie of kaleidoscopic contradictions and dazzling clarity: a Dickensian extravaganza.

Grade: **** ( 4 STARS)

Twilight

What it's about : Good-guy vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, above) and human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) fall into a love that's immediate and absolute and at the same time not to be consummated - unless Edward decides to let himself go wild and drink her blood.

Rated : PG-13

The scoop : This flesh-biter of a movie never turns into a nail-biter. The emphasis is on swooning, and even the amorous thrills fade away.

Grade: ** ( 2 STARS)

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