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Returning from the latest cinema shoot-up usually is not cause for introspection. But they are not all made by Martin Scorsese, and you usually don't enjoy them this much. "The Departed" is a vigorous though conventionally furbished police thriller about two cops (Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon) working undercover, one for Irish mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) and one against him. "The Departed" is extremely entertaining. Scorsese's fluency with the medium is such that he can shock, titillate, frighten and make an audience laugh, seemingly at will and sometimes all at once. In lesser hands this could have been a convoluted whodunit. With Scorsese there's no mystery. He makes the bullets and the banter zing and leaves the ponderous stuff like casings scattered on the floor. (R) 152 min. **** Wayne Melton"Flicka"
This sincere if not faithful adaptation of Mary O'Hara's children's novel "My Friend Flicka" flourishes thanks to Alison Lohman's gravitating performance as a free-spirited college dropout who returns to her family's Wyoming farm, where she adopts a wild mustang against her loving father's best wishes. Lohman's effervescent character gradually tames the dangerous horse and her own sense of discipline under the guidance of her God-fearing parents (Tim McGraw and Maria Bello). The coming-of-age drama gets syrupy after it's revealed that "Flicka" is Swedish for "beautiful young girl" and that Lohman's dad is considering selling the family farm. "Flicka" ends up a mundane fantasy weepy for young female audiences and their parents. (PG) 100 min. ** Cole Smithey"Flyboys"
Director Tony Bill's "Flyboys" plays like a blustering CGI cousin of the far superior "Hell's Angels" from 70-plus years ago. James Franco stars as a Texas cowpoke who takes off for France to defend against the Germans during WWI. He gets a crash course as a fighter pilot with the French Air Service before becoming distracted from his military duties by a local farm girl. His flying skills improve much faster than his command of the French language, as his fellow pilots are gradually shot down during the film's interminable dog fight sequences that repeat at regular intervals. "Flyboys" is a fluffy war movie that regales a brand of civilized warfare that no longer exists. The characters, although based on real people, have been reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes. The superabundant air battles offer distraction but little reason to sit through everything else. (PG-13) 139 min. ** C.S."Gridiron Gang"
A well-intentioned but hopelessly muddled vehicle for wrestling personality Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, this football yarn deals with the plight of inner-city kids who've landed in a grimy L.A. juvenile detention center. They've ended up there for a variety of offences: dealing drugs, knocking off liquor stores, murder. Based on a true story, the movie follows the efforts of probation officer Sean Porter (Johnson) to reform these hard-luck cases by teaching them to play football. That sounds like a sentimental cliché, and "Gridiron Gang" gives you very little reason to believe it's anything else. "Gridiron Gang" means well, but the small mountain of film clichés it deals in-the dying mom, the refractory teammate, the Big Game-turns its intended message of hope into just another bit of shtick. (PG-13) 120 min. ** Thomas Peysar"Jackass Number Two"
Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and their crew of modern-day clowns have turned masochistic slapstick humor into a cathartic existential experience. The communal social release they provide isn't the faux-intellectual slapstick of Monty Python, or even the canny social satire of Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat"), but rather a physical brand of humor that if it doesn't elicit a response, then you probably don't have a pulse. The schoolboy skits are shorter and greater in number than the first "Jackass" movie, but the laughs and howls they provoke are just as loud and many. (R) 92 min. *** C.S."The Last King of Scotland"
Forest Whitaker captures the alternating charm and brutality of the late Idi Amin, former dictator of Uganda (and self-designated Last King of Scotland for, in Amin's mind, defeating the British). If at times a bit conventional, the movie is brisk and thorough for such a small-scale work, avoiding the grandeur usually afforded contemporary history films in favor of convincing performances. James McAvoy plays a young Scottish doctor looking for adventure around the globe and finding more than he bargained for as a personal aide to Amin. The setup allows McAvoy's Dr. Garrigan to be our witness to horror, as Whitaker, the driving force of the film, begins by charming his guest only to reveal the cruelty inflicted when an already brutal leader turns murderously paranoid. Disregarding Whitaker's portrayal, "The Last King of Scotland" is a solid piece of historical fiction, but the actor, seizing the role of a lifetime with both hands, wrings a good deal of extra blood from the stone. (R) 121 min. **** W.M."The Last Kiss"
Madison, Wisconsin, is the stomping ground for a group of Generation Z 20-somethings to test their underdeveloped moral codes. Michael (Zach Braff) gets caught in an emotional whirlpool when his high-maintenance live-in girlfriend announces she's 10 weeks pregnant at a dinner with Michael and her parents. Michael, in turn, allows himself to be seduced by a needy college sophomore just to ensure that his girlfriend's irrational emotional outbursts have some merit. Paul Haggis adapted the script from Gabriele Muccino's 2001 comic drama, Tony Goldwyn directs and the consequence is a distinctly white-bread romantic comedy sprinkled with brief flashes of modern-day American existentialist dread. (R) 115 min. ** C.S."Man of the Year"
Writer/director Barry Levinson ("Rain Man") teams with his "Good Morning, Vietnam" star but squanders an opportunity to stir debate over Republican voter fraud, with a unfulfilling satire about a television comedian who runs for president of the United States. Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) is a freethinking political talk-show comic in the mode of Jon Stewart, who takes up a challenge from his fan base to run for president as an independent. Dobbs relies on a grass-roots movement and refuses to run an expensive television ad campaign that would obligate him to special interest groups that might support him. What starts out as a promising political satire quickly sinks in a quagmire of over-leveraged dramatic subplots and an ending that fatally softens the film's bite. (PG-13) 102 min. ** C.S."School for Scoundrels"
This remake of a 1960 British film casts Jon Heder in his "Napoleon Dynamite" goofball stereotype as Roger, an abused New York City meter maid vulnerable to fainting spells in the presence of his longed-for neighbor. A tip-off from a co-worker puts Roger in touch with a private self-esteem course for losers taught by a truly misanthropic "doc" (Billy Bob Thornton). Almost as soon as Roger parts with the $5,000 course fee, he jumps to the top of the class, ready to give the teacher a run for his money. Writer/director Todd Phillips ("Old School") relies on slapstick to compensate for his script's anemic narrative and ends up with a flat comedy occasionally punctuated with snaps of absolving vulgarity. (PG-13) 97 min.** C.S.Click here for more Arts & Culture