Capsules

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For Your Consideration
Using the part-fiction/part-improv style of all Christopher Guest's movies, with Consideration Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy are basically making four different films. Mostly, they've got a satire of vain narcissists, like Waiting for Guffman. The actors in a WWII period piece called Home for Purim start tasting Oscar nominations thanks to a vague Internet rumor. We see parts of that film itself, together with the actors' real lives and the vacuous PR around them. Consideration feels lazy and underdeveloped, as if Guest has settled into that Woody Allen low-budget groove, where no one forces him to rewrite or reshoot. Like Allen, he's complacently using the same actors over and over again, working in a bubble of aging white boomers and idly spinning variations on his greatest hits. B- (Leo Charney)

The Fountain
This movie is so passionately sincere and heartfelt about its own silly awfulness that it eventually grows somewhat pitiable. Fountain stars Hugh Jackman as an angsty, furrowed-browed research scientist frantically working day and night with lab monkeys to find a cure for cancer before his loopy, ethereal wife (Rachel Weisz) succumbs to a nasty brain tumor. She also happens to be writing a romance novel about a 16th-century Spanish Conquistador (Jackman again) dispatched to find the ancient Mayan mythical "tree of life" by Queen Isabella (Weisz again). Humorless pseudo-profundity abounds, and in lieu of actual characterization, these sad ciphers stare directly into the lens and utter blanket statements like, "Death is the path to awe." C- (S.B.)

Happy Feet
The tale of a tap-dancing penguin, Happy Feet looks like the crassest of calculations--a movie less written than assembled by a mall's worth of market testing subjects. But look at the credits and you'll see something promising: George Miller's name. The Australian filmmaker--best known for the Mad Max movies--was one of the few genuine film stylists to emerge during the '80s. Boasting the kind of barely subliminal liberal messages that keep Michael Medved employed, Happy Feet kind of overplays its eco and cultural hands. But Miller doesn't slack off aesthetically, maintaining his usual knack for rhythm, shot selection and emotional beats. B- (M.P.)

The History Boys
Nicholas Hytner's movie version of Alan Bennett's award-devouring play crassly plays to your Goodbye, Mr. Chips/Dead Poets Society/Mr. Holland's Opus/Dangerous Minds/Private Lessons emotions--but in reality you're likely to not even break the seal of a Kleenex pocket pack. Onstage the play was largely defined by the repartee of its cast, which is so madcap that at one point everything stops dead for a three-minute section of unsubtitled French banter. But while teachers Richard Griffiths and Stephen Campbell Moore tone down their performances for the camera, the boys themselves are still aiming for the cheap seats. At least as a film, The History Boys is more defined by what it isn't (an inspiring teacher movie, for one) than what it is. C+ (M.P.)

The Holiday
Kate Winslet stars as a dowdy spinster (only in Hollywood, kids) brokenhearted by Rufus Sewell's slick newspaper columnist. For reasons too nonsensical to get into, Winslet swaps houses for the holidays with Cameron Diaz's type-A Los Angeles-based trailer-cutter. Nancy Meyers' Something's Gotta Give proved she could elicit wonderful performances from Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, and still somehow find a way to fashion a crummy movie around them. The Holiday is far more threadbare and half-assed than her previous picture, and it surrounds Winslet with the likes of Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black--a virtual roll call of the most antic, annoying people in movies right now. D+ (S.B.)

The Last King of Scotland
Scotland's co-writer Peter Morgan also penned the screenplay for The Queen, which takes a complex look at assumed-to-be robotic Queen Elizabeth II. And yet there's no such dissection of Scotland's resident world leader, Uganda's infamous Idi Amin, a general who claimed the presidency in 1971 and, until he was deposed in 1979, wiped out somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 of his people. Forest Whitaker plays Amin and seems to have the personality down: a blood-freezing mix of jocular drinking buddy and paranoid psychopath. But we never get a steady diet of him, and the performance--despite Whitaker taking advantage of every second of screen time--never truly takes hold. C (M.P.)

Marie Antoinette
A hypnotic confection that works wonderfully for maybe half its distended running time, Sofia Coppola's audacious third feature is a bold and unique piece of work--albeit one so narrowly conceived it probably would've been better as a short subject. Kirsten Dunst stars as the displaced Austrian, who was married to Louis XVI at the tender age of 15 in order to cement an alliance between her native country and France. A historical biography exhibiting no particular interest in history or biography, Coppola's goofy, at times cheerfully anachronistic film is all about textures and moods. But there's simply not enough going on in the performances and the writing, and the movie stumbles badly every time it tries to venture beyond the shimmering surface of things. C+ (S.B.)

The Nativity Story
It's all but impossible for a reasonably intelligent adult not to spend the entire 101 minutes of this movie snorting with contempt at the patently absurd antihistorical cobbling together of assorted pagan and Jewish fairy tales. That said, Nativity's attention to historical detail is astounding. Not only do all the cast members look passably Middle Eastern, but the clothes, the ploughs, the cheese--even the uniforms worn by wicked King Herod's evil tax collectors--everything smacks of old-school first-century Palestinian authenticity. But what's the point of getting all gritty and sweaty and real--and then having angels with mad, starry eyes and neatly trimmed beards swanning about doing ooga-booga spooky magic tricks? Nativity is in no way as entertaining as Jesus Christ Superstar, Monty Python's Life of Brian or How the Grinch Stole Christmas--all of which cover pretty much the same ground. C (Steven Wells)

The Queen
The Queen, which relates the week when the royal family proved comically reluctant to publicly mourn the death of Princess Diana, is nowhere as vehement as the British public was during the late summer of 1997. And Helen Mirren doesn't play Elizabeth as a stone gargoyle, but instead effortlessly signifies her humanity through the subtlest of facial expressions. But despite its empathetic tilt, The Queen is hardly rah-rah. In fact, it's so complex, so much more thoughtful than a film-trailer-deep battle between tradition and modernity, that it's entirely possible director Stephen Frears and co. don't even like Elizabeth, even when they try to grant her the benefit of the doubt. B+ (M.P.)

Roving Mars
This IMAX release tells the story of the 2003 Mars landing that revealed the red planet was once speckled with pools of wine-colored water. Animated segments are used to make up for gaps in NASA's footage as scientists ask the question: Was there life on Mars? (Not reviewed.)

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Tim Allen's same Santa shtick, this time saving Christmas from Martin Short's Jack Frost. (Not reviewed.)

Stranger Than Fiction
Will Ferrell stars as woebegone IRS auditor Harold Crick, a completely miserable shell of a man with no hopes or dreams of his own, trudging through his sorry day-to-day existence, until one morning he starts to hear an omniscient female voice (Emma Thompson) describing his every move in lugubrious, overwrought prose. Proving once and for all the suits in Hollywood can co-opt and dumb down anything remotely resembling an original thought, director Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction boils a lot of complex considerations down into basic banalities. This is a Charlie Kaufman movie for people who are too stupid to understand Charlie Kaufman movies. D (S.B.)

Tideland
With some judicious editing, one could transform Tideland into a pretty terrific 45-minute short. Adapted from a well-received first-person novel by Mitch Cullin and directed by Terry Gilliam, the film revolves around a young girl (the remarkable Jodelle Ferland), whose druggie parents overdose one after the other. Left by herself in a dilapidated Texas farmhouse, Ferland blinks away the tragedy, instead disappearing into her own finely tuned imagination. But just as Tideland looks primed to become a one-person show, in struts Janet McTeer as a one-eyed taxidermist dressed in a black cape, followed soon thereafter by Brendan Fletcher as her spastic simpleton brother, and suddenly every dread word you've heard lobbed at this movie rings frighteningly true. C+ (M.P.)

Turistas
After a bus accident, an improbably attractive group of tourists is marooned in a Brazilian beach town with a dark secret. (Not reviewed.)

Unaccompanied Minors
Kids make their own holiday after being snowed in over Christmas at an airport in Chicago. (Not reviewed.)

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