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Back to Brideshead

Plus: Weighing the relative virtues of this week's so-so films



Opening Wednesday, Aug. 27, is Traitor, a thriller starring Guy Pearce as an F.B.I. agent investigating the activities of a Special Operations officer played by Don Cheadle. Jeff Daniels co-stars. Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language. 113m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Also opening Wednesday is Hamlet 2, a comedy starring Steve Coogan as a failed actor exiled to teaching drama at a Tucson high school (the horrors!) where he oversees a student musical that purports to be a sequel to Will’s play. Directed by Andrew Fleming (Nancy Drew), the film co-stars Catherine Keener. Rated R for language including sexual references, brief nudity and some drug content. 92m At the Broadway.

Opening Friday, proving the summer isn’t yet over, is Babylon A.D., a post-apocalyptic film with a varied cast including Vin Diesel as a mercenary hired to escort from Russia a woman (Mélanie Thierry) who is secretly hosting some organism that a cult in the U.S. wants to turn into a messiah. Say what? Co-starring Michelle Yeoh, Gérard Depardieu and Charlotte Rampling. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality. 90m At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Disaster Movie intends to parody the genre as a group of young people faces a series of catastrophic events during a most difficult evening. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language, drug references and comic violence. 90m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

College is a frat comedy wherein three friends become pledges at a rowdy fraternity during college freshman orientation. Can’t wait (long enough). Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content, nudity, language, drug and alcohol abuse. 94m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and Minor.

The Wackness is a comedy/drama coming-of-age story, set in 1994 New York, about a high school graduate (Josh Peck) who has a very eventful summer, including jail, romance (with Olivia Thirlby, Juno) and therapy (with Ben Kingsley). Co-starring Mary-Kate Olsen (who heats up Kingsley) and Famke Janssen. Rated R for pervasive drug use, language and some sexuality. 99m At the Minor.


THE LONGSHOTS: About 5 minutes into The Longshots, I leaned over to my longtime film companion and accurately predicted every plot detail of the film’s climactic scene. All this proves, probably, is that I see way too many films but in truth, any film fan, and not just those of the underdog inspirational sports film genre, will be able to match my “feat.” If the plot, then, looks like it was copied and pasted from some film writing for dummies web site, then the viewer must look to other film elements.

In the case of The Longshots, what saves the film from being a total washout is an effective Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) in the lead role of Jasmine, and the typically warm screen presence of Ice Cube as the former star high school QB turned loser who ends up encouraging Jasmine to pursue Pop Warner football and reinvents himself at the same time.

Inspired by true-life story of 11-year-old Jasmine Plummer who became the first female to compete in Pop Warner, the film relates the story of an outsider being raised by a single mother (Tasha Smith) who defies gender biases and her own insecurities to lead her team into the Pop Warner Super Bowl.

Throw in an uncle (Curtis, played by Ice Cube) who has fallen on hard times, a sympathetic teacher who also serves as a love interest, and an absent father who makes a belated appearance, and you can fill in the blanks. Limply directed by Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit frontman) who takes absolutely no creative chances, this bland film has its modest merits, but these days I’ll take what few pleasures I can, including the fact that the Coming Attractions promo did not play before the feature. I’ll have to bribe the projectionist more often. Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild language and brief rude humor. 94m. At the Broadway.

BOTTLE SHOCK: For some reason, I did not expect this film to be primarily a comedy, but that’s what it is. Inspired by the now famous blind taste test by a panel of wine experts outside Paris in 1976 where two wines from small California wineries bested those from French wineries, the film seems more interested in evoking, in a superficial way, the hippie culture of 1970s California and using it for laughs. What little actual wine lore is present is safely tucked between the jokes, romance and the standard underdog triumphs narrative.

The film focuses on former lawyer Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), who is trying to jumpstart his vines into a viable chardonnay; his hippie, dope-smoking son, Bo (Chris Pine, Smokin’ Aces); Bo’s pal Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), who works for the father but is secretly making his own red wine; and Jim’s intern Sam (Rachel Taylor, Transformers), a very attractive young woman who turns the Bo-Gustavo friendship into a triangle.

This aspect of the story would go nowhere, but as this is based on history the viewer knows there must be something else besides glowing sunsets and casual sex. Indeed, back in Paris, expatriate American Maurice (Dennis Farina, hitting all the crude American with hidden sophistication notes) persuades Brit Steven Spurrier (a solid Alan Rickman), who is trying to break into the French wine establishment, to travel to California to sample the upstart New World wines. The rest, as someone once said, is history.

Much is made of the boldness of the American wines compared to the stodgy French ones, and the film plays out as it must with virtually no surprises. Bottle Shock is a pleasant enough film but TV director Randall Miller clearly didn’t want to challenge his audience. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and a scene of drug use. 110m. At the Broadway.

BRIDESHEAD REVISITED: Brideshead Revisited is based on the 1945 novel by Evelyn Waugh, which Waugh says he wrote during a “bleak period” of his life following a parachute accident. Previously adapted in a 1981 British TV miniseries that I recall with enjoyment but no specific detail, the story, set before World War II, is indeed bleak, as it is narrated by the non-aristocratic Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode, Match Point) who meets Lord Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw, Perfume) while an undergraduate at an Oxford University college, and subsequently the rest of the family, including Sebastian’s sister Lady Julia Flyte (Hayley Atwell who will be in the forthcoming The Duchess) and his mother Lady Marchmain (an excellent Emma Thompson).

Charles is an aspiring artist but it turns out that his aspirations, poorly understood, are much broader than that. Additionally, Charles’ relationship with the Flytes is complicated by the family’s Catholicism; indeed, that religious alliance may be the defining factor in the story, despite Charles’ self-professed atheism and the attempt by both Sebastian and Julia to escape their mother’s devoutness.

What makes the narrative particularly interesting and complicated is that Charles is an unreliable narrator. He does not sufficiently explore his own ambitions, particularly in his intermittent dalliances with both Sebastian and Julia, nor does he ever understand the core character of the Flytes. This lack of insight is made plain when Charles is shocked when Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon) receives the sacrament of Extreme Unction as he’s dying.

As directed by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots; Becoming Jane), this film’s virtues are fine acting and an attention to interior character that is especially developed through the film’s subtle compositions. Jarrold also understands that the exterior action functions primarily as an aid to revealing subtext. What a nice change from this summer’s film fare. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. 133m At the Broadway.

THE HOUSE BUNNY: The House Bunny is a superficial romantic comedy designed to take advantage of Anna Faris’ (My Super Ex-Girlfriend; the “Scary Movies” series) considerable physical attributes. Too bad it didn’t more fully exploit her comic talents as well, although, to be fair, the film has a number of genuinely funny lines, and director Fred Wolf has the sense to let the camera focus on Faris’ nice comic takes.

The premise pretty much reveals the film. Playboy Bunny Shelley Darlingson (Faris) is asked to leave the Playboy mansion when she turns 27 (too old). Fortuitously, she hooks up with the nerdy Zetas, a sorority who desperately needs to discover their inner slut bimbo in order to attract 30 new recruits before they are decertified. Clearly Shelley understands bimbo, but aligned against her and the seven bimbo-challenged Zetas is the snobbish, elite, mean girl sorority Phi Iota Mu that stands to inherit the Zeta’s house.

As it transpires, though, Shelley needs to find her inner non-bimbo self in order to consummate a romantic relationship with the earnest Oliver (Colin Hanks) who clearly likes attractive women but not bimbos, although maybe Oliver needs to tap his inner brain-dead guy. Could it be that both the Zetas and Shelley need to find a middle ground, sort of like what the Greeks presumably advocated? I think the alert viewer can guess the answer, along with the rest of the film.

I hope Faris finds a better vehicle for her talents eventually. Hugh Hefner appears as himself and the soundtrack features “I Know What Boys Like,” sung by former American Idol Katharine McPhee, who plays pregnant Zeta Harmony in the film, with the cast doing backup vocals. Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor, partial nudity and brief strong language. 97m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.


DARK KNIGHT. Batman walks the line between hero and vigilante when he faces the Joker to save Gotham once again. Rated PG-13. 152 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

DEATH RACE. Global TV audience gets pumped up on adrenalized prisoners driving weapon-loaded monster cars. Rated R. 105 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

FLY ME TO THE MOON. First ever 3D animated film follows houseflies that stow away on the Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Rated G. 125 m. At Fortuna.

HANCOCK. Hard-living superhero who has fallen from grace gets help from a public relations pro. Rated PG-13. 93 m. At The Movies.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel packs in comedy, fantasy, action and adventure. Rated PG. 93 m. At The Movies.

MAMMA MIA! Film adaptation of musical uses the jams of ’70s supergroup ABBA to tell the story of a bride-to-be searching for her real father. Rated PG-13. 109 m. At the Broadway.

MIRRORS. Unspeakable evil infiltrates family home through mirrors; ex-cop dad must save the day. Rated R. 112 m. At The Movies.

MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR. Family battles against China’s ruthless tyrant Dragon Emperor. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Two dudes in the pot business get wrapped up in some bad juju. Rated R. 112 m. At The Movies and the Minor.

ROCKER. Musician finds long-denied fame 20 years after his first big-haired attempt. Rated PG-13. 102 m. At Mill Creek, The Movies and Fortuna.

SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2. Lifelong friends embark on separate paths for their first year of college and beyond. Rated PG-13. 120 m. At The Movies.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS. Yet another epic Star Wars movie, but this time it’s animated. Rated PG. 133 m. At the Broadway.

STEP BROTHERS. Immature, middle-aged men become step bros and wreak havoc trying to make their new family happy. Rated R. 98 m. At The Movies.

TROPIC THUNDER. Self-absorbed actors working on epic war film find themselves caught up in real life combat. Rated R. 108 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

WALL-E. Robot love/adventure story from the director of Finding Nemo. Rated G. 98 m. At The Movies.


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