Capsule reviews of recently released movies | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Capsule reviews of recently released movies 

Dreamgirls, The Good Shepherd, Rocky Balboa, others

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DÉJÀ VU The latest from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott is movie porn for the electronic media set, a techno-thriller deeply in love with its own hardware. It's also a disappointment, a high-gloss action film that grows increasingly silly as it introduces each new wrinkle in its spiraling plot. Although the decision to stage a massive disaster (the bombing of a ferry) in the heart of Katrina Country will strike many as an unfortunate lapse in judgment, it's the early scenes that prove to be the most compelling, as ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) uses his wits to stockpile various clues that will lead him in the right direction. The film is so accomplished as a straightforward thriller, in fact, that it feels obtrusive when it starts focusing on satellite spyware and even time travel. By the time Carlin climbs into a time machine, you realize that a Marty McFly cameo might be the only way to salvage this dreary plunge into preposterousness. No such luck. **

DREAMGIRLS Jennifer Hudson couldn't even make it to the top on American Idol, so what could she possibly bring to the big screen? If Dreamgirls is any indication, plenty. Delivering a knockout performance that all but dares the Academy to ignore her for a Best Supporting Actress nomination, Hudson is a revelation in the role of Effie, the lead singer for the R&B outfit the Dreams who's relegated to backup vocals once savvy yet sleazy manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) decides that the noticeably thinner Deena (Beyonce Knowles) would better help the Supremes-like group hit it big (the third member, well-played by Anika Noni Rose, is content to remain in backup mode). On the narrative level, this adaptation of the Broadway smash is only too happy to wallow in its show biz clichés, content to let other ingredients (the glitz, the acting) carry it along. Yet Hudson is so powerful that the film suffers whenever we're left with just Beyonce or Foxx. Luckily, Eddie Murphy is on hand providing some prickly tension as fading star James "Early" Thunder, while writer-director Bill Condon stages the musical numbers for maximum impact. But it's Hudson who owns Dreamgirls; her delivery of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" is worth a standing ovation -- or at least a recount on American Idol -- all by itself. ***

ERAGON This draggy dragon yarn bored me silly, but I imagine it might appeal to folks who have never before seen a fantasy flick. Specifically, it might fill the bill for kids who have somehow managed to miss all the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings films (are there any?). The movie is based on the popular book written by Christopher Paolini when he was a mere lad of 15, and if it's faithful to its source material, then the lawsuit-happy George Lucas corporation has grounds to sue for plagiarism. Let's see, a naive farmboy decides to take on an evil empire with the help of a wisdom-spouting mentor and a devil-may-care maverick; he also has to rescue a beautiful princess from the clutches of an evil ruler and his supernaturally endowed enforcer. The key difference is that instead of a lightsaber, the lad comes equipped with his very own dragon -- and there's no Death Star in sight, just a deadly star in the form of lead Ed Speleers. As Eragon Skywalker, newcomer Speleers is about as charismatic as a comatose possum, and even capable actors like Jeremy Irons (as Brom Kenobi), Djimon Hounsou (as Ajihad Calrissian) and Robert Carlyle (as Darth Durza) are soundly defeated by the dreadful dialogue and indifferent pacing. *

THE GOOD SHEPHERD A fictionalized look at the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency, The Good Shepherd is methodical in its style and intelligent in its execution, which in some circles will translate as dull, slow-moving and impenetrable -- hardly words anyone wants to hear during the hustle and bustle of the cheery Yuletide season. Yet patient viewers will find much to appreciate in this chilly yet absorbing drama, which takes the cherished ideal of patriotism and turns it on its head. On the heels of The Departed, Matt Damon delivers another bold performance that seeks no audience empathy -- here, he's cast as Edward Wilson, whose role as one of the founders of the CIA finds him over the course of several decades having to contend with all manner of Cold War shenanigans, including the presence of a mole within his own agency. Directed with a fine attention to detail by Robert De Niro (who also appears in a key supporting role), The Good Shepherd repeatedly runs the risk of losing viewers with its flashback-laden structure drafted by scripter Eric Roth. But the strength of the film rests in its clear-eyed vision of Edward Wilson, whose fierce devotion to his country in turn strips him of his humanity and reduces him to a suspicious and paranoid cipher, an American too busy fighting unseen enemies to enjoy the freedoms and privileges that his nation provides for him. ***

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