Reviews from recently released movies

Flushed Away, Night at the Museum, Rocky Balboa

click to enlarge Night at the Museum - 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Night at the Museum

RECENT RELEASES

APOCALYPTO (R) For those of you completely over Mel Gibson after his recent tirades, and wondering if there might be any possible reason to be interested in yet another foray into subtitled, gore-soaked sadism from this controversial celebrity, I urge you to give Mel another chance. Although it's just a chase movie at its stripped-down core (think The Most Dangerous Game by way of John Woo's Hard Target), Apocalypto does what it does exceedingly well. The film's exotic flourishes are as intoxicating as they are omnipresent, even as Apocalypto plows ahead with the energy and compelling forward momentum of a Mad Max popcorn epic. It begins in a small jungle village, explodes into the head-spinning chaos and terrible beauty of a full-blown Mayan city, then resolves itself in a final burst of speed and motion, as the protagonist races to elude his murderous pursuers and make it home alive. Apocalypto is no masterpiece, but it's a more-than-respectable effort from a director who, at his best, produces some of the most visceral moviemaking Hollywood has to offer — no small feat in these blandest of times. Perhaps most important, Apocalypto reminds us that worthwhile art can issue from even the most flawed human beings, and that alone might be worth the price of admission. Stars Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Raoul Trujillo and Rodolfo Palacios. 3.5 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

CASINO ROYALE (PG-13) As with Batman Begins, Casino Royale reinvents its iconic hero, bringing him back to square one by stripping him of excess camp and clichés. The movie follows the exploits of a leaner, meaner, younger Bond (Daniel Craig) as he embarks upon his first big case, charting its hero's Anakin Skywalker-like course as he works his way past human emotions to become the smooth super-assassin we all know and love. Most of the 007 must-haves are here — a charismatic villain (this one weeps blood), cool credit sequence, beautiful girls, exotic locations (Madagascar, Nassau, Venice, among others), spectacular action set-pieces — but the movie is so determined to be taken seriously that much of the pure, outsized fun so crucial to the Bond experience winds up M.I.A. And although Daniel Craig is a more than interesting choice to play Bond (he's probably the best actor to step into 007's shoes since Sean Connery), I'm not quite convinced. Even if you get past the reality of a blonde Bond, Craig comes off too much like an unnaturally buff method actor; he inhabits the inside of his character fine, but doesn't seem nearly as comfortable communicating the flashy, iconic exterior. It's quite possible the actor and the filmmakers will get the mix down in future projects, but Casino Royale is more interesting than genuinely enjoyable, a 007 project mostly valuable for testing the waters. Also stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright and Caterina Murino. 3 stars

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