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by THE INLANDER & r & & r & BABYLON A.D. & r & & r & It's a mad, mad Mad Max world in which Vin Diesel lives in the near future of Babylon A.D., and for 45 minutes or so, it's kinda riveting. Too bad the movie's 90 minutes long. Diesel's unappealing mercenary is hired to escort a young woman from the middle of dystopic, Third World Russia to New York, which turns out to be as sleek and sophisticated as Russia was bleak. But then the flick does the unforgivable: It asks you to ignore how absolutely preposterous it gets. (MJ) Rated PG-13





BANGKOK DANGEROUS


There's nothing menacing about Joe -- which is a problem, seeing as how he's supposed to be a heartless hired killer -- but it's a bigger problem that all the creative energy has been sucked out of the Pang brothers' work. Any hint of the talent their 1999 flick demonstrated is entirely absent here. It has been replaced by a jarring, uneven tone and turns of events so absurd that you'd laugh at them. That is, if you could be bothered to react that much. (MJ) Rated R





BURN AFTER READING


I've figured out how Joel and Ethan Coen do it -- how they move so effortlessly from comedy to drama. It's that they don't think about tone or genre, at least not at the beginning: They just think about a character, and let him have his lead, and see where he takes them. A brilliant but heartless killer like Anton Chigurh is naturally going to take them in one direction, and so we get No Country for Old Men. And a bubble-headed knuckleknob like Chad Feldheimer is naturally going to take them in another direction, and so we get Burn After Reading, which is as gloriously zany as Country was brutally vicious. (MJ) Rated R





THE DARK KNIGHT


Seldom do follow-ups ring so true to the original, then do them one better. Director Christopher Nolan revisits what he did with Batman Begins and improves everything. Christian Bale is gloomier and angrier, both as Bruce Wayne and as the Caped Crusader, while Heath Ledger's intense, frightening and funny Joker might make the world forget that Nicholson ever played him. Violent, action-packed, brilliantly realized. An outstanding sequel. (ES) Rated PG-13





DEATH RACE


Jason Statham stars in a high-octane remake of the paranoid classic of '70s sci-fi. A NASCAR driver wrongly imprisoned is given a chance at freedom if he can just win Death Race, a competition where convicts try to murder their way to the finish line. Expect this one to have conspicuously less pathos and social commentary than the original, but a hotter co-pilot. (LB) Rated R





DISASTER MOVIE


A series of dumb parodies of contemporary films (only vaguely centering on the disaster genre), Disaster Movie is so chunky and disjointed you don't have to watch the whole thing. It's so formulaic we suggest you don't watch any of it. (LB) Rated PG-13





THE HOUSE BUNNY


Written by the same people who brought you Legally Blonde, this is a carbon copy with a Girls Next Door/Hugh Hefner twist. Anna Faris (of Scary Movie fame) stars as a Playboy Bunny who gets kicked out of the mansion and becomes a housemother at a sorority full of freaks and weirdos. Touching. Faris might be worth a few laughs. (JS) Rated PG-13





Mamma Mia!


Young Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), on the eve of her wedding to young Sky (Dominic Cooper), has decided that now is the time to figure out who her father is: It could be any one of three former lovers of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep). Mostly it's wacky comedy of a brand that went out with Technicolor. (MJ) Rated PG-13





THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR


This charmless exercise steals shamelessly from its predecessors, but not what it should have stolen: the cheeky attitude. The Mummy would have winked at this; Tomb doesn't even know it's something to be winked at. (MJ) Rated PG-13





PINEAPPLE EXPRESS


And now, a haiku: Mmmm, the best dope in town. Ooohh, the cops are bad. Bullets fly. Inhale. Laugh. (ES) Rated R





PROUD AMERICAN


This came out of left field. Five not-at-all connected vignettes about what it means to be an American circa 2008. From a Caribbean refugee who comes to America only to be derided for her origins to a community that must confront skinheads to a soldier sent to war, it all seems like a propaganda piece. (LB) Rated PG





RIGHTEOUS KILL


DeNiro! Pacino! They're veteran NYPD officers investigating a serial killer who may be a cop. Too bad director Jon Avnet's latest is too clever by half: it's obvious from the start who the killer is, and the script appears to have been written for much younger actors -- like maybe Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo, who are far more intriguing as a rival team of detectives hunting down the killer. Could be DeNiro and Pacino are past their sell-by date. (MJ) Rated R





THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2


Those pants are still traveling as our four heroines go off on more adventures. It's all about emotions as they wrestle with boyfriend troubles, learn about themselves and discover how hard families can be -- all handled here with such sentimentality that it couldn't be more phony. (MJ) Rated PG-13





Star Wars: The Clone Wars


Pretty awesome, as overblown Saturday morning cartoons go. It's nonstop battles with a few funny lines thrown in, but the battles are highly entertaining, way more coherent than anything George Lucas created for his recent I-III trilogy. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi are off on a mission to rescue Jabba the Hutt's son. Sure, it's cheesy, but the original Star Wars was cheesy, too -- we just didn't realize it because we were only in third grade. (MJ) Rated PG





TRAITOR


Two FBI agents (Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough) think something's kinda fishy about a mysterious fellow (Don Cheadle) who keeps appearing in hot spots around the world just as an "event" (usually an explosion) takes place. The question is whether the guy, an ex-soldier, is a hero or a (see title) -- or maybe even something else. A study of contemporary terrorism hitting American soil. (ES) Rated PG-13





TROPIC THUNDER


High-octane action, smartly written satire and wild comedy come together in a story of contemporary actors making a movie about a daring rescue during the Vietnam War; suddenly, they get caught up in dangerous events. Highlights include an edgy, Oscar-worthy performance by Robert Downey Jr. (in blackface) as a "Method" actor, and a riotous extended cameo by a well-known Scientologist as a repulsive producer. Directed by (and co-starring) Ben Stiller. (ES) Rated R





TYLER PERRY'S THE FAMILY THAT PREYS


Centers on a black family, half laborers, half business people, and their relationship to a white family -- multimillionaires, Kathy Bates as the matriarch -- which begins to sour as a daughter flirts with using the rich white guy's feelings for her as a way to climb the corporate ladder. (LB) Rated PG-13





VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA


Two gal pals (Scarlet Johansson and Rebecca Hall) go to Spain for the summer, where both of them get romantically involved with a carefree fellow (Javier Bardem) who has never come to terms with his beautiful and troublemaking ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). Woody Allen wrote and directed this breezy comedy, and it's his best film since Sweet and Lowdown. (ES) Rated PG-13





WALL-E


The newest Pixar release jumps some 700 years into the future, offering a look at our garbage-strewn planet, a condition so out-of-control, humankind has left. Worker robots were put in place to clean things up, but they, too, left -- except for clunky little Wall-E. Great storytelling, with very little dialogue, exquisite visuals and a dash of Hello, Dolly! Ideal for every age imaginable. (ES) Rated G





THE WOMEN


Based on the 1939 George Cukor film, which was based on the Clare Boothe Luce play about a group of very close female pals who try to help one of them through her husband's cheating. The Women starts off with some annoying overacting, mostly from Annette Bening, but smoothly transitions into a bright and moving portrait of a woman (Meg Ryan, perky as ever) trying to put her life back together. The rat-a-tat dialogue becomes almost endearing, the friendships are believable, and small parts by Cloris Leachman and Bette Midler make it all even better. (ES) Rated PG-13

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