Page 2 of 3

GONE BABY GONE (R) Casey Affleck stars in brother Ben's surprisingly good directorial debut about something rotten in a working class Boston neighborhood where a little girl has gone missing. Gone Baby Gone is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, and, frankly, Affleck outdoes Eastwood in his understanding of the author's Boston-based turf. Affleck goes for maximum authenticity, trolling through the city's seedier sides with a camera that discretely observes the nonglamorous flora and fauna, making good use of virtual unknowns in several key roles. The director occasionally even shows himself to be a touch over-enamored with his blue collar grotesques — it sometimes seems like every Beantown resident with a hair lip, goiter or obesity problem gets screen time here — but Gone Baby Gone still manages to be an effectively disquieting descent into a local underworld. Lehane's source material culminates in a series of dubious plot twists involving a conspiracy of least likely suspects, but Affleck wisely uses this as a springboard to get into something more interesting, albeit uncomfortable. Also stars Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan and Titus Welliver. 3.5 stars

INTO THE WILD (R) This is Sean Penn's meandering but strangely compelling take on the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a child of privilege who burned his IDs, gave away his money and, reborn as Alexander Supertramp, hit the open road. Into the Wild unfolds on a certain level as a road movie, with Chris/Alex hooking up with fellow travelers as he makes his way across the country, but the film also offers frequent flashbacks providing a parallel story obsessing on the familial tensions supposedly being left behind. The flashback structure and ominous, anguished tone of the voice-overs leave little doubt that we're witnessing a tragedy, however, and the movie's pervasive fatalism provides a bottom note even to Into the Wild's brighter moments. To his credit, and despite a soundtrack studded with painfully sincere Eddie Vedder songs, Penn doesn't turn Alex into a hero — his quest ultimately seems as foolish as it is noble. The film is too long by at least a half hour, and its frequent attempts to provide Alex with metaphorical surrogate families are a bit transparent, but there's something important being communicated here about the beauty and folly of attempting a personal spiritual revolution, the closest corollary being Herzog's Grizzly Man. Also stars Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Brian Dierker, Kristen Stewart and Hal Holbrook. 3.5 stars

KING OF CALIFORNIA (PG-13) Further exploring the vein of aging eccentrics he's begun playing of late (epitomized by the pot-smoking head-case in Wonder Boys), Michael Douglas stars as Charlie, a recently released mental patient with wild eyes and formidable facial hair. There's an appealingly odd edge to King of California but the film is rooted in fairly conventional father-daughter bonding stuff, as Charlie moves back in with his level-headed teenaged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and, despite the love obviously dying to bust out in all directions, makes life immensely difficult for the girl. Things are further complicated when Douglas' character becomes obsessed with locating the treasure he's convinced is buried beneath his local Costco, but King of California is only intermittently successful as it treads a fine line between quirky character study and screwball adventure. Also stars Willis Burks II, Greg Davis Jr. and Gerald Emerick. 3 stars

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (PG-13) A Sundance favorite that falls all over itself in an effort to be both enormously quirky and enormously sweet — but never achieves even a fraction of the depth it seems to be implying. Ryan Gosling stars as painfully shy and thoroughly delusional Lars, who buys himself an anatomically correct blow-up doll, introduces it around as his new girlfriend and, apparently won over by the sheer purity of his innocent soul, gets everyone in his community to treat it as a real person. Screenwriter Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under) peppers the script with graceful moments, but the story never really gets beyond its one-joke premise, and most of the characters basically come across as caricatures pitched somewhere between Fargo and Napoleon Dynamite. Gosling remains one of our finest actors, although he spends too much time here simply blinking his eyes, the movie's code for a man furiously trying to shut out the world. Also stars Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Kelli Garner and Paul Schneider. 2.5 stars

Scroll to read more Events & Film articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.