Capsule reviews of recently released movies

Half Nelson, All the King's Men


HALF NELSON (R) On the surface, Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) seems to be the best sort of teacher — smart, funny, personable, engaged, a professional who actually manages to keep more than his fair share of inner-city eighth-graders interested in the study of history. But Teacher Dan leads what can only be described as a double life, and when the school day is over, he can be found out on the street, copping hard drugs (smack and crack appear to be his fix of choice), and self-medicating until the wee hours of the morning. When one of Dan's students, 13-year old Drey (Shareeka Epps), discovers his secret, Half Nelson has the good sense to avoid rushing right into the expected teacher-student bond that a conventional Hollywood movie would immediately begin milking. Instead, Half Nelson has Dan and Drey spending most of the film circling each other like wary animals forced to share the same unclean cage. A bond does eventually develop, relatively late in the film, but even then Half Nelson generally avoids clichés or excessive sentiment, focusing instead on the tension created by its two main characters' mutual awareness that things aren't what they seem. Filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden take an unpretentious and refreshingly low-key approach to their story (think a slightly edgier, more urbanized Victor Nunez), with key plot points never shoved down our throats, and performances — specifically from seasoned pro Gosling and newcomer Epps — are admirably naturalistic, fueled by an understated intensity that allows even some of the film's more predictable elements to go down easier. Half Nelson is a morality tale, but one we can live with. Also stars Anthony Mackie, Monique Gabriela Curnen and Karen Chilton. Held over at Tampa Theatre. Call theater to confirm. 3.5 stars

OPEN SEASON (PG) On the heels of Madagascar and The Wild, here's yet another kid-friendly take on the whacky high jinx ensuing when city-bred beasties get thrust into the great outdoors. Martin Lawrence lends his voice to the character of Boog, an overly domesticated grizzly bear who finds it tough going when his owner leaves him to fend for himself in the great outdoors. Lack of creature comforts and an abundance of annoying fellow animals are bad enough (nut-wielding squirrels with Scottish accents, skunks and beavers with attitudes, a needy deer voiced by Aston Kutcher), but the worst threat of all is gun-toting humankind, natch, providing the movie with its obligatory message. The humor here encompasses a familiar mix of the heartwarming, slapstick and poop jokes, and the animation looks much like every other CGI kiddie flick you've seen over the past few years (not a bad thing, but not exactly good, either), but the movie's no better or worse than most of its recent inspirations. If you can get past the disturbing concept of a buddy movie starring four-legged versions of Lawrence and Kutcher, you may even have find yourself having a fairly good time. Also featuring the voices of Debra Mesing, Gary Sinise and Billy Connolly. Opens Sept. 29 at local theaters. 3 stars

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP (R) Working for the first time from a self-penned script, director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has created a film that is in almost every way an extension of his daring, ridiculous, and unabashedly cerebral collaborations with acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Gondry's new movie may lack the high-concept hook and metaphysical subtleties of many of Kaufman's projects, but The Science of Sleep's delirious jumbling of fantasy and reality is its own reward — ingenious, provocative and, for much of its running time, a thing of pure beauty. Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Stephane, a graphic designer given to mixing up dreams with reality, and whose hyperactive imagination eventually takes over the movie. The film's lack of a linear structure may sometimes appear to lack cohesiveness, but it's a well-thought-out randomness that mirrors not only the mess of the protagonist's mind ("Fuck organization," he declares at one point), but the way that dreams work in general. Gondry trades here in Bunuel-ian non-sequiturs and communicates some very sophisticated ideas in ways that are extremely clever, yet executed with a certain deliberate primitiveness. (Cameras and cars are likely to be constructed from cardboard, water from sheets of cellophane, and those omnipresent dreams are concocted in a ridiculously lo-fi TV studio, out of a witch's brew of booze, spaghetti and old vinyl records.) There's a love story here as well that doesn't engage us quite as much as it should, but the movie succeeds, sometimes spectacularly, in almost every other way. Also stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou and Pierre Vaneck. Opens Sept. 29 at local theaters. 4 stars


ACCEPTED (PG-13) After being rejected by every college on the planet, a group of oddball high school graduates appease their parents by secretly creating a fake university, which conveniently accepts them all as students. Complications, as if you couldn't guess, arise. Stars Justin Long, Blake Lively, Mark Derwin and Columbus Short. Opens August 18 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

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