Reviews in Short

Halloween II. Writer/director Rob Zombie’s onenote blood bath is a juvenile experiment in gore for gore’s sake. It remains a mystery how such an incompetent writer could ever sell the kind of monotonous drivel that "Halloween II" represents, much less get a budget to direct it. Audiences looking for any kind of story will be sorely disappointed with Zombie’s barely mapped out narrative, wherein plenty of characters with little-to-no personality are savagely murdered by a giant serial killer with a grave mommy complex. Malcolm McDowell slums it as Dr. Samuel Loomis, an exploitation author whose Halloween-timed launch of his latest book about the notorious Mike Myers attracts all kind of threats and humiliations. Even the film’s visual style is full of dumb set designs and gaudy lighting compositions that flatten out all would-be suspense. Rated R.105 mins. (F).

Extract. As prolific as writer/director Mike Judge has been throughout a stellar career, which includes such television staples as "Beavis and Butt-Head” and "King of the Hill," it’s to his detriment (and ours) that he hasn’t done more feature films. "Office Space" (1999) became a cult classic after its failed theatrical release, as did "Idiocracy" (2006). With "Extract," Judge crafts a solid comic narrative base for a flavoring-extract company run by sexually frustrated owner Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman). Reynold’s barely competent staff set off a chain reaction accident that climaxes with a severed testicle for would-be floor-manager Step (Clifton Collins Jr.). Step falls prey to the conartist attentions of Cindy (Mila Kunis), a sex-kitten opportunist determined to help Step sue the company out of business. The tone of the comedy is spot-on, but Judge never manages to bring the humor to a boil. Nonetheless, you get the sense that if Mike Judge made more pictures, he’d hit his stride alongside the likes of Judd Apatow pretty quick. (Miramax) Rated R. 90 mins. (B-)

Taking Woodstock. Ang Lee’s clumsy adaptation of Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte’s book "Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Lift" can’t decide if it wants to be a comedy, a drama or reflection on a small town community transformed by a cultural happening. Demetri Martin steps lightly around his closeted character, Elliot Teichberg, who lives with his parents at their ramshackle motel in the Catskills. Intent on protecting his parents from bankruptcy, Elliot seeks out music producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) after hearing that an adjacent town has lost its permit to host his music and arts festival. There are flashes of inspiration here, but nothing to sustain a feature film’s worth of narrative import. (Focus Features) Rated R. 120 mins. (C)

Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino has matured as an auteur, even if he’s just as prone as ever to creating funny sequences of cinematic revelry just for sport. There’s a virtuosic use of character, dialogue, suspense and surprise in each of this film’s five chapters. A tense opening sequence sets Tarantino’s darkly comic, yet heavily dramatic, tone. Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and his small group of soldiers visit the remote farmhouse of Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet), who is suspected of hiding Jews. A polite battle of wits and willpower plays out with a savory, cinematic drama that is astounding in its precise execution. The following section introduces Tennesseean Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who indoctrinates his elite squad of Nazi scalpers with a speech spun of richly humored narrative gold. The following four chapters build on one another toward a kind of World War II fantasy climax that is cathartic as it is bittersweet for its inevitable collateral damage. Rated R. 152 mins. (A )

The Time Traveler’s Wife. Adapted from Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, this sci-fi romance plays so loose with the parameters it lays out for Eric Bana’s uncontrollable time traveling in the role of Henry DeTamble that it’s like watching half a movie twice. Henry suffers from a bizarre genetic condition that causes him to disappear for years at a time. His true love, Clare (Rachel McAdams), waits patiently for him, working away as an artist in Chicago. McAdams and Bana are easy enough on the eyes to distract from the script’s Grand Canyon-sized plot holes. (Warner Brothers) Rated PG-13. 107 mins. (C-)

District 9. In spite of its waning efforts toward fulfilling a challenging allegory about the treatment of immigrant aliens, "District 9" settles into a gritty, spectacle filled, sci-fi movie that borrows liberally from films like "Robocop," "The Fly" and "Alien Nation." In a smog-filled 2010, a few million alien refugees have been imprisoned in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the last 20-years by a corporation called Multi-National United.
Interested primarily in capitalizing on the alien weaponry that humans are unable to operate, MNU orchestrates a plan to relocate the aliens and installs Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to obtain alien signatures for the illegal eviction while searching for their weapons. (Sony) Rated R. 112 mins. (B )

Ponyo. Anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki, best known in America for his 2001 film "Spirited Away," stays true to his common themes of nature, elderly people and polite children with an American-dubbed version of his Japanese mini epic "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea." This beautifully animated film is set in a small, seaside village in Japan, where 5-year-old Sosuke discovers a goldfish trapped in a glass jar in the surf near his house. He names the unusual fish with a human face “Ponyo” (voiced by Noah Cyrus).
Little does Sosuke realize that he holds the ability to transform the fish he adores into a little girl his own age, or that such a transformation could threaten the delicate balance of the global ecosystem. Rated G. 101 mins. (B )

Julie & Julia. If writer, director and co-producer Nora Ephron had better producers around to save her from herself, "Julie & Julia" could have been the movie it wants to be: a Julia Child biopic with Meryl Streep doing a fantastic job as the TV chef that taught America how to cook. Instead, "Julie & Julia" represents two very unequal stories battling toward a cinematic TKO. In the lightweight corner sits blogger cook Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams), whose blog-based book about cooking her way through Child’s 1961 cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Ephron adapted for the movie. In the heavyweight corner stands Streep, thrilling herself and the audience as the larger-than-life Child. Ephron adapted material from Child’s posthumous memoir, "My Life in France," and the book proves much stronger source material than that of a young blogger. Schocker. Rated PG-13. 123 mins. (C-)

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