BEING JULIA (NR) "Luminous" is a word that film critics tend to overuse when describing beautiful actresses lighting up the screen, beautifully, but hardly any other word will do for Annette Bening's career-topping performance here. The film itself is lushly mounted but otherwise pretty standard stuff - Bening plays an aging diva in 1930s London, engaged in a clandestine affair with a younger man - but Bening herself is on screen nearly every moment, and it's impossible to take our eyes off her. Director Istvan Szabo (Mephisto, Sunshine) invests the material with an appealingly light touch, lovely visual flourishes and as much wit as we might expect in what is essentially a pretty dull story. Currently playing at Burns Court Cinemas.
BLADE: TRINITY (R) Wesley Snipes returns as the iconic, elaborately tattooed hybrid human-vampire, but this time he's reduced to a minor character in his own movie, overshadowed by a pair of young, vampire-hunting hipsters. One is Jessica Biel, who slinks around exposing her midriff when not kicking vampire butt, and the other is Ryan Reynolds, who engages in incessant, lively banter with Blade and supplies most of the movie's comedic moments. We quickly become numb to all the blood, guts and speed, and there really isn't much spooky stuff to be found, much less atmosphere. Blade: Trinity also features no less a baddie than Dracula himself (now known simply as Drake), although he's a bland, gold-chain-wearing beefcake, shirt unbuttoned to display the bulging pecs where his acting ability apparently resides. Also stars Dominic Purcell.
BOOGEYMAN (PG-13) A young man (Barry Watson) returns home to face the shadowy creature who tormented him as a child. The movie's million-dollar question - is the thingie real or a figment of the imagination? - sounds like an instant retread of any number of other recent horror flicks, but we'll reserve judgment until we see how this one plays out. Also stars Skye McCole Bartusiak and Lucy Lawless. (Not Reviewed)
CLOSER (R) Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen play sexual (and maybe, just maybe, romantic) musical chairs in a raw-boned ballet of what director Mike Nichols probably intends as modern alienation. Law's would-be writer and Portman's off-and-on stripper are Couple No. 1, and Roberts' long-suffering photographer and Owen's rude-and-crude dermatologist are Couple No. 2, although each time the movie jumps forward in time it seems like someone is screaming at someone for screwing someone else. Nichols and writer Patrick Marber give us some moments of genuine, albeit vicious, power here (particularly in the film's later stages), but Closer's basic take on self-destructive relationships often seems like it's been chiseled with a sledgehammer - and it's certainly nothing new.
COACH CARTER (PG-13) Samuel L. Jackson stars in a drama based on the true story of a high school basketball coach who valued grades as much as the ability to win games. Also stars Rob Brown and Vincent Laresca. (Not Reviewed)
DARKNESS (R) Stylish visuals and atmosphere up the yin-yang are all well and good, but do not necessarily a good horror film make, as proven in spades by this swell-looking mess of a creepfest. Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balaguero, who previously gave us the excellent The Nameless, seems like a fish out of water directing a cast of English-speaking actors in a disjointed story about an American family coming apart at the seams while holed up in an isolated home in the Spanish countryside. Stars Anna Paquin, Lena Olin and Iain Glen.
ELEKTRA (PG-13) Her name is Elektra, "Like the tragedy," as one of the movie's characters puts it, and truer words were never spoken. Slick, loud, stupid and phony down to the marrow, this latest big-screen adaptation of a Marvel comic book is a tough slog. Jennifer Garner reprises the ninja-like superheroine character she played in Daredevil, but lacks the gravitas to pull off the role and comes off about as believable in the part as, say, Pamela Anderson. Frankly, Pam might have been a better choice; at least her presence might have provided this glum project with some much-needed, self-deflating humor or, for that matter, personality.
FINDING NEVERLAND (PG) Finding Neverland depicts the friendship between Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie (an unusually subdued Johnny Depp) and the five young sons of a beautiful young widow (Kate Winslet), giving us a romance, a coming-of-age tale, and an elaborate parlor game in which we're teased with the bits from Barrie's life that served as inspiration for his classic-to-be about a boy who refused to grow up. It's best to put history out of your mind here, since the movie whitewashes several key facts of Barrie's life, but then again Finding Neverland is a movie designed to lift spirits, not dash them. Marc Forster, a talented director previously responsible for the much grittier Monsters Ball, coaches solid performances from the cast and layers Neverland with pleasing symmetries, wit and moments that make good on a clear intention to appear "magical." What we get is pleasant enough but a bit too pre-digested to take completely seriously. Also stars Radha Mitchell, Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman.