Capsule reviews of recently released movies

Happy Feet, Shut Up and Sing

Upcoming Releases

HAPPY FEET (PG) Cashing in a craze that crystallized with those scene-stealing undercover birds in Madagscar and that officially reached epic proportions in March of the Penguins, this latest entry in the world of kiddie animation features more singing, dancing penguins than even the more dedicated penguinophile may be prepared to handle. Music is supplied by an eclectic line-up including k.d. lang, Prince and Pink, and this might be as good a time as any to mention that the whole project comes with the obligatory "Featuring the voice of Robin Williams" warning. Also features the voices of Elijah Wood, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy and Hugo Weaving. Opens Nov. 17 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

SHUT UP AND SING (R) The Dixie Chicks, Texas musicians with sweet voices and passionate political beliefs, are probably best known at this point for publicly confessing (at the height of the Iraq War, and on foreign soil, no less) to being "ashamed" of the current U.S. president — a remark that serves as the pivotal event in Barbara Kopple's new documentary. Shut Up and Sing is a well-meaning but ultimately unrevealing examination of the shitstorm that ensued, flipping back and forth between the initial controversy in 2003 and then examining the Chicks' lives two years after the fall, as they attempt to resurrect their careers after alienating a large portion of their conservative, country-music-loving base. There are lots of pointless detours here (scenes detailing the singers' difficulties getting pregnant and feuds with fellow musician Toby Keith seem like padding) — and, when you come right down to it, the film's three primary subjects just aren't all that interesting, either as personalities or as thinkers (two are sweet but pretty much faceless, one is simply strident). But if you're a fan of the music, obviously none of this will matter. Stars Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie McGuire. Opens Nov. 17 at local theaters. 2.5 stars


BABEL (R) Many tongues are spoken and many stories interwoven in Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu's Babel, but, like those blind men feeling up the elephant, each of the movie's characters has only the foggiest notion of the big picture of which they're a part. Babel continues the patented blend of interlocking narratives and scrambled time frames that Innaritu and screenwriting partner Guillermo Arriaga dished out in Amores Perros and 21 Grams, a method that links its characters' lives by a series of coincidences rendered cosmic in the unbearable randomness of being. In Babel's version of chaos theory, a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere and a Japanese businessman on vacation gives his hunting rifle to a Moroccan guide, eventually resulting in the guide's youngster accidentally putting a bullet in Brad Pitt's wife (Cate Blanchette). This in turn causes Pitt's and Blanchette's housekeeper, on the other side of the world, to risk missing her son's wedding unless she brings the couple's kids with her to Mexico, where beautiful and dangerous things await. And so on and so on. There are some painfully potent moments here, but the filmmakers' grasp sometimes exceeds their reach; simply put, we too often feel the movie straining to supply the connections necessary for making sense of the chaos. Still, Babel is bound and determined to pull off its cosmic hat trick and, even with all the metaphysical doodling and contrived rearranging of structure, the film gives us slabs of emotion that ring raw and true, with an English Patient-esque mix of ingenious editing, seductive cinematography and solid performances that goes a long way toward winning us over. Also stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi and Elle Fanning. 3.5 stars

BORAT (R) A subversive mockumentary after the style of Christopher Guest (but pound-for-pound funnier), Borat is a road trip across America in which many of the key players appear bizarrely unaware that they're participants in a massive hoax. Our guide is British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, adopting the persona of clueless Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdivev (a recurring character from his Da Ali G Show), who travels coast to coast in a feces-smeared ice cream truck, ostensibly in an effort to see what makes this country tick. A typical Kazakh (which is to say, Cohen's lampooning of otherness manifested as a "typical" Kazakh), Borat is a sweetly contemptible, hygienically-challenged moron, a product of a decimated, inbred environment with a rabid fear of Jews, independent women, homosexuals and virtually anything else that moves. Borat plays into just about every conceivable stereotype, and half the fun of the movie is watching the reactions of the people he encounters, many of them presumably ignorant of the fact that he's an actor playing a part. Some of these people react to Borat's wildly inappropriate words and deeds in stunned revulsion, others with disturbing affection, but either way the way the results are as spontaneous as they are hilarious. Also stars Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson, Pat Haggerty and Alan Keyes. 4.5 stars

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