Reviews from recently released movies

Flushed Away, Night at the Museum, Rocky Balboa

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FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (PG-13) A worm's-eye view of Hollywood, For Your Consideration should have been Christopher Guest's ready-made masterpiece. Guest and his collaborators are some very funny people, and they know this terrain as well as anybody does, but For Your Consideration rarely offers much beyond some pretty mild amusements, and the level of satirical insight on display here is a notch or two below even the filmmaker's recent A Mighty Wind. The new film revolves around a little independent film (an unintentionally kitschy item called Home for Purim) that's inexplicably managed to generate some Oscar buzz, but, to no one's surprise, Guest and cowriter Eugene Levy use the storyline as a jumping-off point for a series of sketches skewering actors, agents, publicists, critics and various other sundry members of the movie industry. Curiously, though, much of the humor comes off as flat, toothless this time around, and even weirdly dated (jokes about out-of-touch agents exploring the "world Interweb," anyone?), to the point where even a standout performance by Guest regular Catherine O'Hara can't quite turn it all around. Also stars Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge. 2.5 stars

A GOOD YEAR (PG-13) It's nice to see the Gladiator dream team of Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott trying something different — and the breezy romantic comedy of A Good Year is certainly a change from the elaborately produced seriousness we expect from this pair. But while we welcome Crowe and Scott letting their hair down to toss off some silly, throwaway moments, A Good Year often appears to be nothing but throwaway moments. Based on Peter Mayle's book, this uninspired retread of A Year in Tuscany stars Crowe as icy stock trader Max Skinner, a self-described "famously callous" type who flees dreary London for the vineyard he's just inherited in Southern France. Provence turns out to be charming beyond words, of course, the residents are lovably eccentric, and romance quickly rears its head in the form of a comely local restaurateur, as Scott charts Max's predictable transformation from soulless bastard to sensitive bon vivant. The problem here isn't so much that the movie is all complete fluff; it's that Crowe and Scott just don't seem comfortable working in this vein. The goal may well have been to channel the great French humorist Jacques Tati (there's even a cute little dog here by that name), but the comedy on display generally amounts to a fairly vapid mix of sexual innuendo and awkward slapstick. Crowe wears large glasses, falls in swimming pools, and drives around in a funny little yellow car (to the strains of French pop songs and vintage Nilsson), and we can literally see him and Scott straining to drum up the requisite amount of fun. Also stars Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Didier Bourdon, Tom Hollander and Freddie Highmore. 2.5 stars

THE HISTORY BOYS (R) Adapted from Alan Bennett's play of the same name, Nicholas Hytner's new film follows a group of very bright and very precocious English schoolboys trying to figure out how to get into Oxford. Stars Richard Griffiths, Stephen Campbell Moore, Frances de la Tour, Dominic Cooper and Samuel Barnett. (Not Reviewed)

NATIVITY STORY (PG) The bizarre synchronicity of its teenaged star's real-life pregnancy aside, Nativity Story takes its place in the culture as an irony-free affirmation of faith, a surprisingly stodgy but absolutely sincere love letter to Mary, the Mother of God. The film gains a degree of authenticity from its out-of-the-way location shooting in Morocco and Italy (including the village where Mel Gibson filmed Passion of the Christ) to brief snatches of biblical Aramaic sprinkling the English dialogue (although the cast displays a mish-mash of accents that range from Zorba the Greek to Yiddish Borsht Belt to Count Chocula). Digital effects aren't overly pronounced, and the movie has that by-now requisite bleached-out, semi-sepia look that screams "authenticity" and "taste." Otherwise it's pretty much business as usual, a better-than-average Davy and Goliath episode with slightly more animated characters and competent but curiously bland filmmaking chops. Looking at this as the beginning to a contemporary trilogy on the life of Jesus, Hollywood style (with Gibson providing the end, and Scorsese the much maligned middle), then Nativity Story might just be the most moderate of the lot, with a gentleness that approaches colorlessness (think of it as the anti-Passion). What we have here is a carefully faithful reading of material that's all about faith but decidedly lacking in vision. Also stars Oscar Isaac, Hiam Abbas, Shaun Toub, Ciaran Hinds, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Stanley Townsend and Alexander Siddiq. 2.5 stars

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