Capsule reviews of current films.
"Capote" The brutal 1959 murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas would long ago have become merely the stuff of hazy local legend were it not for Truman Capote, who chronicled the slayings and their aftermath in his sensational best seller "In Cold Blood." Now comes Bennett Miller's terrific film "Capote," an account of just how the book came to be written and the price the writing of it exacted on the author. Arguably a finer work even than "In Cold Blood," "Capote" will be remembered perhaps above all for the mesmerizing performance turned in by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role. (R) 98 min. ***** Thomas Peyser
"Chicken Little" Disney wisely chose tasteful vocal performances by a talented cast including Zach Braff, Garry Marshall and Steve Zahn for its first in-house all-computer-generated animation movie. The parable centers on an alien invasion that threatens Earth. After Chicken Little (Braff) is publicly dismissed as a nut case by the community and his father (Marshall) for his famous "sky is falling" incident, he attempts to win respect by joining a baseball team with the support of his fellow outcast friends Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack) and Runt (Zahn). Characters break into song and dance over '70s pop hits that would be better left forgotten. Try as they might, these music-video trappings can't relieve the inadequate story line. "Chicken Little" doesn't hold a candle to "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." (G) 81 min. ** Cole Smithey
"Get Rich or Die Tryin'" Rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson makes an unimpressive acting debut in this violent dramatization of his troubled life as a drug dealer before becoming a rap superstar. Director Jim Sheridan ("In America") remains hamstrung by first-time screenwriter Terence Winter's unbalanced script that pays too much attention to drug dealing and brutality and not enough regard to Jackson's avowed musical abilities. Only a few of 50 Cent's songs are emphasized in the film, and they are not sufficient to convince uninitiated listeners that there is anything special about 50 Cent's music except that it comes from a former hardened criminal. Terrence Howard elevates the movie as a prison mate to Jackson who later becomes his music manager and protector. (R) 118 min. ** C.S.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" With the inane promise of making the "darkest" Harry Potter movie yet, Mike Newell takes on directing duties to issue a gruelingly sluggish film in the latest installment of the vastly overrated franchise based on J.K. Rowling's children's books. On the heels of puberty, the bushy browed Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends return from their summer vacation to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A special tournament consumes half of the film's overlong two-and-a-half hour running time before giving way to the promise of a dance. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" ticks along like a watch with a dying battery. If "darker" means that it makes you close your eyes for extended periods, then this Harry Potter episode will seem very dim indeed. (PG-13) 157 min. * C.S.
"Jarhead" Beginning more or less in the first half of "Full Metal Jacket," "Jarhead" follows recruit Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) through a few scenes from "Apocalypse Now," "Catch 22" and "Three Kings" as we see the first Gulf War from the perspective of an unoriginal movie. Director Sam Mendes' new film is also cowardly in the face of combat. Dick Cheney and the dubious nature of our foreign policy in Arab countries is discussed throughout Swofford's book (Cheney was secretary of defense under George H.W. Bush). Despite events of the last five years, including another war, Cheney never comes up, at least not in any meaningful way. Worse, Swofford's uncharacteristic questioning of the American military is tossed to a loudmouth redneck character so the audience can't take it too seriously. Someone walking into this movie unprepared might be tickled by the clever comic bits and impressed by the stabs of realism. But as an adaptation, "Jarhead" is AWOL and should be given a dishonorable discharge to DVD. (R) 115 min. * Wayne Melton
"The Legend of Zorro" The passing years have not allowed for improvement on "The Mask of Zorro" (1998), in which Antonio Banderas filled the classically styled swashbuckling role opposite Anthony Hopkins. The year is 1850 and Don Alejandro (Banderas) and Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are now married and have a 10-year-old son whom they shuffle between them, while a villainous Frenchman named Armand (Rufus Sewell) leads an effort to block the passage of California as the 31st state. Countless uninspired chase sequences and sword battles belabor the film's overlong running time as Elena feigns divorce in order to distantly assist Alejandro's kooky efforts against Armand's repugnant men. Lethal violence further corrupts the film's purpose as a children's movie. (PG) 130 min. ** C.S.
"The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience" IMAX movies and Santa Claus have a lot in common. Both produce a certain cynicism in weary adults and a sense of wonder in wide-eyed little ones. Fitting, then, that Robert Zemeckis' "The Polar Express" has been retooled for release in IMAX theaters. The animated story of a young boy who doubts Santa's existence but is then whisked away to the North Pole by train stars Tom Hanks in multiple roles. The storybook visuals and several awe-inspiring scenes are considerably enhanced by the IMAX format, which takes up your entire field of vision. Cynical or not, when a 20-foot-tall Santa towers over you, you'll believe in him. Though the impressive technology can't rescue the handful of cheesy moments, it will reaffirm children's sense of wonder and may even reawaken it in a few adults. (G) 99 min. *** Daryl Grove
"Prime" The ever-unpredictable Meryl Streep is never believable as Lisa Metzger, a Jewish mother and therapist, but she's nonetheless endlessly entertaining in this cautionary comedy about dating outside of your age range. Rafi (Uma Thurman) is a recently divorced 37-year-old Manhattanite who falls for would-be artist Dave Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg) without knowing he's the 23-year-old son of her caring therapist (Streep). Moods shift as the heady air of romance evaporates at the reality of everyday life and the lovers discover the cost and context of their love. "Prime" is an above-average romantic comedy. (PG-13) 106 min. ** C.S.,/i>
"Saw II" Eight strangers attempt to escape from a sealed house ingeniously booby-trapped by serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) while Detective Eric Mason (Donnie Wahlberg) attempts to rescue his teen son (Eric Knudsen) from among the trapped victims. "Saw II" reveals a horror franchise to be reckoned with. A superior grade of actors and a virtuosic application of gore make the sequel more entertaining than the original, even if the movie bogs down occasionally in its own syrupy blood and nebulous plot excursions. (R) 91 min. **
"Shopgirl" What, exactly, is Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) suffering from that she deserves a feature film dedicated to the alleviation of her angst? It is to the credit of Steve Martin's comedic talents that "Shopgirl" (which he produced and wrote based on his own novella) deftly avoids such scrutiny, largely because of its wit and grace. The first comes in the form of Mirabelle suitor number one, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), an air-headed and unintentionally hilarious young graphic artist. Grace (all that money can buy) is Ray Porter (Martin), suitor number two, an aging, moneyed gent who supplies Mirabelle with things but leaves her wanting emotional security. She ends up with one of them after a series of funny and tender sequences. Many of them are delightful, but it's uncertain what the whole concoction might be. (R) 116 min. *** W.M.
"The Squid and the Whale" The striking title of Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale" refers to a giant diorama depicting monsters of the deep in a death clasp, a fitting metaphor for the family in this rich, funny and ultimately moving new film. A faltering novelist (Jeff Daniels) manages to keep the news of his failure from himself by turning his family into a private fiefdom. The enchantment is broken when his wife (Laura Linney) insists on a separation, and their two boys mount a quirky, mildly self-destructive rebellion. What's revelatory about the movie is its documentation of family intimacy, that force that can tie us even to thoroughly disagreeable characters. The terrible pressure brought on by the looming divorce and the (remote) possibility of reconciliation brings on a series of startling, completely persuasive confrontations that demonstrate, once again, that the thinnest line in the emotional realm can be the one between love and hate. (R) 88 min. **** T.P.
"The Weather Man" Poor little wealthy Chicago television weatherman Dave Spritz (Nicolas Cage) mistakenly attempts to reunite with his wretched ex-wife (Hope Davis) as he struggles with low self-esteem issues exacerbated by his ailing and uncaring father (Michael Caine). Even the promise of a high-paying job with a national morning TV show doesn't encourage Spritz when strangers are constantly throwing fast food at him and his children suffer humiliations that he is incapable of protecting them from. Director Gore Verbinski ("Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl") fails to elevate newbie screenwriter Steven Conrad's droning script that is a cynical yet apolitical vision of postmodern capitalist ennui. If you've never heard of a living funeral, this film is an icy introduction. (R) 102 min. ** C.S.
"Zathura: A Space Adventure" A gaggle of youngsters are spending divorce visitation time with Dad when they discover a '50s-style wind-up board game called "Zathura." With Daddy away on an errand, the boys begin playing the game that involves a house-penetrating meteor shower, initiating a journey into outer space with their uprooted house serving as a spaceship. Based on the children's book by author Chris Van Allsburg ("Jumanji"), "Zathura" is a mediocre children's film. The crux of the movie's many defects is its familiar video-game-type narrative device. Similar to the crystal ball centerpiece of "Jumanji," the Zathura board game delivers foreboding messages that arrive whenever a player presses its red "go" button that begins another turn. Tim Robbins makes a strong impression as a devoted dad, but the quirky space adventure that follows can't live up to its promise as a fountain of life lessons for children. (PG) 101 min.** C.S.