Report Card

staff critics' takes on the top movies

January 15, 2009

... Benjamin Button

What it's about : In 1918, Benjamin Button (the never-better Brad Pitt, above) is born with an old face, dilapidated plumbing and wrinkled skin over an infant body. Then he ages backward.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop : Every chapter of Button's story brings a fresh air of discovery. And the movie's emotional completeness leaves you poised between sobbing and applauding - it comes from a full comprehension not just of one man's life, but of the intersection of many lives over the course of the 20th century.

Grade : ****

Bride Wars

What it's about : The worst comedy idea since Springtime for Hitler, with no room for redeeming camp: Kate Hudson (above) and Anne Hathaway play inseparable friends who declare war when they wind up with the same June wedding day.

Rated: PG

The scoop : The destructive strokes and counterstrokes are numbingly stupid and demeaning; the whole thing sets off noxious fumes, like a smoky, damp sparkler.

Grade: *

Gran Torino

What it's about : An emotionally scarred and bitter Korean War veteran (Clint Eastwood, above) becomes the unlikely defender of the Hmong brother and sister (Bee Vang, Abney Her) who live next door.

Rated: R

The scoop : Even for those who've been yearning to see Dirty Harry clean his hands, or have been waiting for another big action hero to play Messiah ever since Paul Newman stretched his arms out crucifix-style in Cool Hand Luke, this movie delivers only the second- and third-hand goods.

Grade: * 1/2

Marley & Me

What's it about : A newly married couple (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, above) bring home a puppy. Based on the autobiographical book by newspaper columnist John Grogan.

Rated: PG

The scoop : If you have experienced the redemptive joy of coming home from a hard day at work feeling like the saddest sad sack in the universe, only to be greeted by a dog who just knows you're the best thing in the world, then this is the movie you've been waiting for.

Grade: ***

Not Easily Broken

What it's about : Dave Johnson (Morris Chestnut, above) and Clarice Clark (Taraji P. Henson) are supposed to make God the third strand in the cord of their marriage, since a three-stranded cord is "not easily broken." Instead, Clarice inserts her mother.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop : We're meant to see Dave as the salt of the earth and Clarice as a pepper pot - feisty and adorable. But she's so demanding and oblivious, she loses any right to our sympathy from the outset.

Grade: **

Revolutionary Road

What it's about : A golden couple in mid-1950s America fall into the trap of a comfortable, convenient life and crash on their own failed hopes and dreams.

Rated: R

The scoop : You wonder whether you'd keep watching were it not for Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (both above); the movie never draws you into their summer of discontent. It's a failed adaptation of the very worst kind: It doesn't even make you want to read Richard Yates' deservedly legendary book.

Grade: * 1/2

Valkyrie

What it's about : The heroic attempts of a handful of German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler and thus bring down the Nazi regime.

Rated: PG-13

The scoop : It sounds like surefire "what-if?" thriller material, and Tom Cruise (above) gives a game physical performance as the officer at the center of the plot. But his key moment of conscience occurs off-screen, and the director, Bryan Singer, seems paralyzed by the seriousness of his subject.

Grade: **

Yes Man

What it's about : Jim Carrey (above) plays a bank-loan officer who, personally and professionally, can't say "No!" - because he has made a covenant with a self-help guru (Terence Stamp) to say nothing but "Yes!"

Rated: PG-13

The scoop : The picture evaporates halfway through because the story itself is a one-liner, yet it also has a cast, including Carrey, Zooey Deschanel and Rhys Darby, who can turn odd curves into dynamite goofballs.

Grade: **

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