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Movie Stars

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July 5, 2008

"Brick Lane" One of those cultural displacement dramas full of sexual awakening and self-discovery. It means well, but it's as leery of the world outside its shabby title London housing complex as its heroine is. Taken by Laura Jones from Monica Ali's novel and directed with watchable downiness by Sarah Gavron, the movie revolves around a Bangladeshi woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) who after two decades in an arranged marriage discovers herself during an affair with a younger, more assimilated man (Christopher Simpson). Satish Kaushik, as her jolly, stubborn, surprisingly wise husband, is the best thing in the movie. (105 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" A muscular fantasy epic that marks an improvement if not a leap in inspiration over 2005's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." The four Pevensie children return to Narnia to find a swarthy band of invaders running the show. The series is a junior-league "Lord of the Rings"; this entry is, less happily, a primer on the benefits of holy war. (144 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

"The Edge of Heaven A great new melodrama from Fatih Akin, the director of "Head-On," that explores the fault line of the current Turkish-German situation through familial skirmishes carried out between generations. The terrific cast, including Baki Davrak, Nurgül Yesilçay, and, best of all, Hanna Schygulla, bears out the movie's uncertain but vaguely optimistic identity politics. (122 min., unrated) (Wesley Morris)

"Encounters at the End of the World" Werner Herzog heads down to Antarctica to chat with the scientists, free spirits, and lost souls who make their lives there. Since the director assumes the human race is headed for extinction anyway, the movie's not a global-warming lecture but a funny and wise foray into natural wonder and man's groping attempts to grasp it. (99 min., G) (Ty Burr)

"Finding Amanda" A TV writer and gambling addict (Matthew Broderick) goes to Vegas, supposedly to find his hooker niece (Brittany Snow) but really to feed the monkey on his back. It's a comedy, and a remarkably unpleasant one, glibly backing off from its characters' darker impulses. Scripter Peter Tolan ("Analyze This," "Rescue Me") makes his directing debut; he should have stayed in the writers' bungalow. With Maura Tierney and Steve Coogan. (96 min., R) (Ty Burr)

"Get Smart" Missed it by that much. The new version of the beloved 1960s spy-spoof series surrounds likable players and a handful of solid bellylaughs with $80 million worth of formulaic summer-movie mediocrity. Steve Carell is a sympathetically hangdog Maxwell Smart, Anne Hathaway makes an elegant Agent 99, and Alan Arkin is a crisp joy as the Chief. While many things explode, the movie never detonates. (110 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

"Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts" Composer Philip Glass, with his mainstream celebrity and doleful, undulating music, is a unique phenomenon in the field of classical music. Filmmaker Scott Hicks was granted loads of access to Glass's personal and professional worlds, and the result is a surprisingly close-up portrait of a man typically heard much more than seen. Still, the question of how - or more deeply, why - Glass churns out the film scores, operas, symphonies, and chamber music he does is not answered in this at times frustrating feature-length documentary. (115 min., unrated) (Jeremy Eichler)

"Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson An overview of Thompson's pioneering journalism and his states of mind. It's serviceably presented as a fond, somewhat nostalgic glance in the rearview mirror of recent American history, clumsily connecting the travesties of the Nixon era to the travesties of our current one and banally loaded with music of the era. Thompson - his brilliance, his self-destruction, and the ground he broke - is always at the center, but the scope occasionally loses its focus. Directed by Alex Gibney, who won this year's documentary Oscar for "Taxi to the Dark Side." (119 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

"Hancock" The idea of a misanthropic superhero is a good one. The idea of putting him in a comedy is even better. Having Will Smith play the hero? Genius. And maybe some future blockbuster in search of global box-office domination will find a way to bundle it all into a thrilling work of entertainment. In the meantime, there's this lousy vehicle. The movie does suggest a racial odyssey that culminates with an intriguing metaphor for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's endless tussle for the Democratic nomination. The makers of "Hancock" had an opportunity to write a cool ticket (commercial not presidential). But the movie has a depressing lack of imagination. With Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron, as among other things, Bateman's wife. Directed by Peter Berg ("The Kingdom"). (92 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"The Happening" M. Night Shyamalan's new movie is far scarier for the ideas behind it than for anything actually in it. The director asks what would happen if Earth decided to reject the species bedeviling its surface, and the best he can come up with is a slack, increasingly ludicrous B-movie about people running in terror from . . . wind. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are left twisting in it. (91 min., R) (Ty Burr)

"At Home in Utopia" Michal Goldman's documentary tells the story of "the Coops," a Bronx housing project built and owned by immigrant Jewish garment workers in the 1920s. A narrow but rich core sample of 20th century history, the film charts the long, strange journey of American left-wing idealism before and after WWII. At times the mixture of courage and naivete is enough to break your heart. (57 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

"The Incredible Hulk" When the title monster is not barreling through computer-enhanced Brazilian favelas and destroying most of Harlem in the finale of this flavorless contraption, he's sleeping deep down inside a lean, not-as-green Edward Norton. In the filmmakers' bid to make an exciting action movie, they forgot to make an interesting one. With Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, and, best of all, Tim Blake Nelson as a scientist who seems like an actual scientist. (114 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"A Jihad for Love" A courageous documentary about homosexuality in the Islamic world. Filmed over almost six years in nine languages and 12 countries, the film portrays gay Muslims struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their religion. Director Parvez Sharma shows the wide range of conditions in the Islamic world, from brutal repression in Iran to relative freedom in Turkey, where we see a lesbian couple walking in public. (81 min., unrated) (Michael Hardy)

"Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" The first "American Girls" movie is so warmly old-fashioned that it feels brand new. Abigail Breslin smacks of gingham and Ovaltine as the title character, a 1934 kid weathering the Depression with friends and family. Aside from a brief, silly mystery subplot, the movie has the nerve and the grace to show people pulling together to save each other from disaster. (101 min., G) (Ty Burr)

"Kung Fu Panda" The star of the new computer-generated family film isn't Jack Black but the design-and-render gurus at DreamWorks Animation. Black provides the voice of a goofball panda in medieval China, desperate to prove himself to a Yoda-like master (Dustin Hoffman). A lushly beautiful, even soulful, visual experience has been yoked to a storyline that wouldn't fool a 3-year-old. Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, and Seth Rogen provide additional voices. (91 min., PG) (Ty Burr)

"The Love Guru" Some movies are polite enough to save their outtakes for the closing credits. Others wait for the DVD release. This comedy doesn't have that kind of patience. It's a pitiful assortment of bad ideas and dud gags. Mike Myers plays a crass pseudo-Indian spiritualist, and this cruddy-looking trial is essentially a vehicle for Myers's indulgences as an entertainer and his iniquities as an egotist. This is the first time we've seen him in the flesh since he committed assault and battery on Dr. Seuss, and you'll wish the cat had stayed in the hat. (86 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

"Mongol" This foreign-language Oscar nominee is Sergei Bodrov's grand rendering of Genghis Khan before all the conquering and slaughter, when he was just a young warrior in love. Bodrov's restraint is the movie's most interesting virtue. It's as if he's surveyed Genghis's grisly resumé and distilled the tempestuousness to a contemplative calm. Violence is made to seem like a last, ugly resort. In Mongolian, with subtitles. (126 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

"My Father My Lord" A short, poetic tale about a Tel Aviv rabbi (Assi Dayan) and his beloved young son (Ilan Griff) that illustrates the bonds of family and the dangers of faith with an unexpected wallop. Out of the slenderest of materials, Israeli writer-director David Volach has created a drama that feels positively biblical. Co-starring Sharon Hacohen-Bar. In Hebrew, with English subtitles. (73 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

"WALL-E" Pixar takes the long-awaited great leap forward. A major visionary work, it follows the last robot on a trash-ravaged Earth as he reconnects with the remnants of human civilization on an interstellar cruiseship. Funny and family-friendly? Yes, but also a sci-fi parable of astonishing scope and depth, anchored by an adorable bucket of bolts and yoked to a sensibility that is - there's no other word for it - furious. (97 min., G) (Ty Burr)

"Wanted" A preposterous, luridly entertaining entry in the angry-young-man-power-fantasy genre, about a cubicle weenie (James McAvoy) who learns he's descended from a medieval league of super-assassins (they take orders from a loom). Angelina Jolie, sleek and bulletproof, plays Beatrice to his Dante (or something); Morgan Freeman is their boss. Russian whizkid Timur Bekmambetov galvanizes the action but loses the subversive tone after an hour, and the film gets dumb fast. (110 min., R) (Ty Burr)

"War, Inc." A work of passive-aggressive political fury from star/co-writer/co-producer John Cusack: a splattery farce envisioning a war that has been 100 percent outsourced to a giant US corporation. The star plays a hit man assigned to mythical Turakistan and falling afoul of a left-leaning reporter (Marisa Tomei) and an oversexed Central Asian pop diva (Hilary Duff - yes, that Hilary Duff). Despite lethally sharp ideas, the film's an overstuffed near-disaster. (107 min., R) (Ty Burr)

"When Did You Last See Your Father?" British poet Blake Morrison's 1993 memoir of a difficult father has been adapted into a thin, formulaic generational drama. The problem's in the casting: Jim Broadbent may be too likable as the smothering dad and Colin Firth is too cold as the grown son wrestling with his emotions. With Juliet Stevenson and newcomer Matthew Beard as the young Firth. (92 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

"You Don't Mess with the Zohan" If this isn't the bravest movie ever made about current Arab-Israeli relations, it's at least the bravest movie ever made about current Arab-Israeli relations featuring a former Mossad agent who shags Lainie Kazan. Adam Sandler is said agent, who comes to America to style hair and winds up fighting old enemies. The film is a mess but a funny, ethnically roiled one that shows Sandler in an encouraging new mode: political farceur. (113 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

An archive of movie reviews may be found at Boston.com, the Globe's online service. Use the key words "movie reviews."

Globe critics rate films: excellent, good, fair, poor.

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