Opening Friday, Dec. 19, is Seven Pounds, which reunites director Gabriele Muccino and Will Smith, both from The Pursuit of Happyness, in a tale about an IRS agent, depressed by the death of his wife, who decides to help seven people before he commits suicide. But the suicide is put on hold when he falls in love with Emily (Rosario Dawson), a woman with a heart condition. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content and a scene of sensuality. 124m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
Based on the 2005 biography by British humorist Danny Wallace, Yes Man is a Jim Carrey vehicle about a man required by a self-help course to say yes to everything for a year. Just say yes to drugs? Co-starring Zooey Deschanel. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity. 104m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.
The Tale of Despereaux is a computer-animated film about two rodents and a servant girl who seek to revive a fairy-tale land that has slipped into a depression. Featuring the voices of Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emily Watson, Kevin Kline and a host of others. Rated G. 100m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
Cadillac Records is a narrative recounting of Chess Records, the Chicago label famous for its rhythm and blues artists. Adrien Brody stars as the label's founder with Mos Def as Chuck Berry and Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James. Rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality. 109m. At the Broadway.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL: Forget California girls, I wish they all could be Jennifer Connelly. She may not be a surfer, but the character she plays in The Day the Earth Stood Still, Dr. Helen Benson, is brainy, attractive, sensitive, a single mom raising a stepson with a full-time job as an astrophysicist, and she seeks to understand the alien Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). Unfortunately, she appears to be about the only person on Earth who wishes to do so, a recipe for doom if I ever saw one.
Billed by publicists as a "reinvention" of the 1951 film of the same title, this version unfortunately lacks much invention or imagination. The flying saucer of 1951 becomes a sphere, the landing site is now New York's Central Park rather than D.C., and the threat of annihilation by atomic warfare becomes the imminent environmental destruction of the planet thanks to human indifference to earth-friendly practices. As Klaatu says to Helen, "If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the earth survives." Make that a realistic threat and you have the ultimate eco-terrorist.
But even more than its green agenda, the film deals with this country's (and by extension, the rest of the world's) tendency toward militarism. One would expect the Secretary of Defense, played here by Kathy Bates in authoritative stern mode, to play the violence card; it's like a surgeon recommending surgery (with apologies to my own surgeon). And, of course, after eight years of the current outgoing administration, the viewer is not surprised when the (unseen) president orders the Defense Secretary to attack when she has second thoughts, a strategy that, of course, only increases the threat (hey, as I write this, I only have 37 days and a few hours until I don't have W to bash anymore). But as it turns out, Helen's young stepson Jacob Benson (Jaden Smith) also wants the aliens destroyed because that's what his deceased father, a military man, would have done.
Reeves has certainly found a role that matches his limited acting talents. Much as he did with his character Neo in the Matrix films, Reeves speaks in a sort of monotone and suppresses expressions of emotion since, I assume, aliens never have emotions and therefore don't speak with any inflections. Connelly's character isn't really given much to do except look concerned and try to convince Jacob to trust her.
The special effects here are not so special; I prefer the cheesy ones of the b/w 1951 film. The highlight, I suppose, is the plague of locusts that threaten to end all human life along with its polluting artifacts. The film does add a major dollop of sentimentality in the Helen/Jacob story. In fact, Jacob resists calling her "Mom" in the film, opting for Helen, until the crucial climactic scene. After all these years dissing sentimentality in films, it turns out that's what saves humankind. Who knew? Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence. 103m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS: Nothing Like the Holidays is mostly like every other "home for the holidays" film you've ever seen. The family gathering, whatever the holiday (and here it's Christmas), is fraught with emotional baggage. Old wounds are reopened, secrets are revealed, arguments and hurt feelings abound, and the family seems on the verge of disintegration. But, somehow, after all the turbulence, family solidarity is reforged more strongly than before.
One twist here is that this reunion involves a Puerto Rican family who live in Chicago's Humboldt Park. But more importantly, Nothing Like the Holidays shares two traits with the best examples of the genre (such as The Family Stone): It treats its subject matter seriously and it has a good ensemble cast.
The Rodriguez family at the center of this film is headed up by the mother, Anna (Elizabeth Peña), and the father, Edy (Alfred Molina). Son Jesse (Freddy Rodríguez) is just back from Iraq; his older brother, Mauricio (John Leguizamo), is a successful lawyer living in New York married to an even more successful financier Sarah (Debra Messing). Daughter Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito from CSI:NY) is an aspiring TV actor who lives in Hollywood.
The viewer will not be surprised to discover that things are not well with either the family or its individual members. At a pre-Christmas family dinner, Anna announces to all that's she's divorcing Edy because he's cheating on her, an assertion that seems to be backed up by the frequent phone calls he takes in private (but the experienced viewer will know the calls are not what they seem). Meanwhile, Sarah comes off as arrogant and indifferent to the Rodriguez family culture despite a condescending attempt to speak rudimentary Spanish and, worse, she doesn't want children. Jesse is riddled with guilt over a dead comrade back in Iraq but even more conflicted about the girlfriend he dumped (Marissa, played by Melonie Diaz, Hamlet 2) now dating another guy. Likewise, Roxanna is becoming reconnected with childhood friend Ozzy (Jay Hernandez, Quarantine), who carries a gun and a grudge against a neighbor.
Of course, all the plot strands are resolved along with the family's problems, but you already knew that. Director Alfredo De Villa does an effective job in creating an ensemble with his cast, and the story benefits by taking place over only a few days, which is typical of the genre. I could have done without the heavy-handed metaphor of the dead tree in front of the Rodriguez house and the silly scenes built around it, but despite that and the inevitable sentimentality endemic to holiday films, I found it to be an enjoyable two hours in the theatre. I wish I could say that about more films I've seen recently. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some sexual dialogue, and brief drug references. 99m. At the Broadway.
AUSTRALIA. Epic and romantic action-adventure, set on the brink of WWII. Rated PG-13. 166m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA. Pampered dog winds up on the mean streets of Mexico. Rated PG. 91m. At The Movies.
BOLT. Canine TV star depends on his delusions of grandeur to make unexpected journey cross-country. Rated PG. 96m. At Mill Creek, the Broadway and Fortuna.
BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS. Boy develops forbidden friendships with son of Nazi commandant and Jewish boy in concentration camp. Rated PG-13. 95m. At the Broadway.
CHANGELING. Working class woman in 1920s Los Angeles faces uphill battle to find kidnapped son. Rated R. 142m. At The Movies.
DELGO. Forbidden friendship in culturally divided land sets stage for exiled empress to reclaim her rule. Rated PG. 90m. At The Movies.
FOUR CHRISTMASES. Couple forced to endure family gatherings when their exotic vacation plans are ruined. Rated PG-13. 89m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR. Teen couple lives up their senior year lest they end their romance for college dreams. Rated G. 112m. At The Movies.
MADAGASCAR ESCAPE 2 AFRICA. Penguins marooned on Madagascar jerry rig a plane and head to Africa. Rated PG. 89m. At The Movies.
PUNISHER: WAR ZONE. Vigilante hero stands up to vengeance of mob boss' formidable army. Rated R. 108m. At The Movies.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Latest installment in the line of James Bond movies. Rated PG-13. 106m. At the Broadway.
ROLE MODELS. Men arrested while on energy drink bender, then opt to mentor kids instead of doing jail time. Rated R. 99m. At the Broadway.
TRANSPORTER 3. Ex-Special Forces stud faces action and adventure while transporting sexy human cargo 'cross Europe. Rated PG-13. 100m. At The Movies.
TWILIGHT. Teen girl gets swept up in unorthodox romance with vampire. Rated PG-13. 122m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO. Lifelong friends develop romantic feelings when they make a porno for quick cash. Rated R. 102m. At The Movies.