Reviews in Short

By Cole Smithey

Angels & Demons. For all the Catholic Church hullabaloo over Dan Brown’s novels, Ron Howard’s "Da Vinci Code" sequel is an exuberant cinematic adaptation that combines elements of horror, religious tradition and high-tech suspense to give audiences a non-stop thrill ride. Tom Hanks returns to his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who gets urgently summoned to Rome to assist the Swiss Guard, led by Stellan Skarsgard’s Commander Richter, and the Vatican in solving a mammoth crisis. The recent death of the pope has left the Camerlengo, the temporary acting head of the Vatican State (Ewan McGregor), overseeing conclave proceedings marred by the kidnapping of four eminent cardinals by the infamous Illuminati, who have promised to kill one cardinal each hour leading up to midnight, when it will explode an antimatter bomb of unfathomable devastation. Aided by Italian physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), Langdon jockeys between the Vatican’s sealed archives to various churches, attempting to follow the Illuminati’s path, save the lives of the cardinals and locate the bomb in time to diffuse it. The story goes into an extended triple climax that is so preposterously over the top that any concern for the sanctity of religion or historic fact falls to the wayside. It may not be the best thriller you’ve ever seen, but it is the best one of the year, so far. (Sony Pictures) Rated PG-13. 138 mins. (B )

X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Although it wears out some of its welcome with an extended ending that ineffectively introduces a slew of imprisoned mutants and a ghost-in-the-machine appearance by Professor Charles Xavier, this movie is a super-action extravaganza made engrossing by dynamic performances from Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber as sibling uber rivals. An epic, fast-twitch credit sequence encompasses decades of brutal wartime participation from the good-hearted Logan, AKA Wolverine (Jackman), and his cold-blooded brother Victor Creed, aka Sabertooth (Schreiber), who each possess mutant qualities that make them somewhat immortal. A covert military mission in Nigeria under a corrupt Colonel Stryker (Danny Houston) divides the brothers, with Logan choosing a remote logging existence in the Canadian mountains with girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), who has mutant powers of her own. A malicious visit from Sabertooth sets Logan up to participate in Colonel Stryker’s latest military experiment that will make Wolverine indestructible by painfully transforming his skeleton with a material called adamantium. Stryker’s plan backfires inasmuch as it ensures the effectiveness of Wolverine’s revenge. %u2028Rated PG-13. 107 mins. (B)

Star Trek. Fusing a carefully chosen cast with a stunning sci-fi spectacle and a storyline that retains the workmanlike elements of Gene Roddenberry’s original television series, director J.J. Abrams ("Mission Impossible III") successfully forms a new beginning for the Star Trek franchise. Going back to the calamitous astral circumstances of James Tiberius Kirk’s birth, the story builds as the young rebellious Kirk (Chris Pine) joins the Starfleet Academy at the advice of U.S.S. Enterprise veteran Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Fast friendships, rivalries, and romantic overtures connect Kirk to Dr. "Bones" McCoy, Spock (Zachary Quinto), and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) before the crew is thrust into the thick of its first mission aboard the latest version of the Enterprise. Dark Romulan leader Captain Nero (well played by an unrecognizable Eric Bana) sets a trap for the Enterprise to enable the destruction of the planet Vulcan and Earth. Abrams savors establishing the relationships and quirks of Roddenberry’s Star Trek characters that arguably outshine every other sci-fi on-screen legacy. The ensemble succeeds in capturing the essence of his or her iconic character, and an extended cameo by Leonard Nimoy adds considerable flavor to the exhilarating spectacle. (Paramount) Rated PG-13. 126 mins. (B )

Battle for Terra. Too thematically dim to hold the interest of adults and too alienating and violent to appeal to children, "Battle for Terra" is an offputting, animated sci-fi flick for no one. The 3-D planet of Terra is inhabited by a fundamentalistbased utopian society of large-eyed tadpole-like creatures that swim and fly through their planet’s atmosphere, where everything resembles some form of plant life. An invasion force of earthlings are viewed as gods, until their mission of genocide becomes clear, and the Terrareans take to the skies with battle planes of their own. Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is a freethinker and plays Juliet to the crash-landed earthling astronaut Jim (Luke Wilson), whose affection for Mala might be the only thing to save her fragile planet that the would-be occupiers seek to take over. Impressive 3-D computer generated graphics are the only thing to recommend about this thematically tonedeaf sci-fi disaster. Rated PG. 85 mins. (C-)

Earth. The voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, narrates this lively and majestic nature documentary that traces a year in the life of our planet by way of some its most enchanting species. Fledgling birds take their first flight, monkeys contort their little bodies while crossing a river, and a polar bear floats on a lone iceberg looking for his next meal. Beautiful, lush photography from the team of highly skilled filmmakers behind the Emmy-winning "Planet Earth" take the audience on an unforgettable global adventure that includes a close look at the behavior of lions, penguins, whales, exotic birds and elephants as they carry on their daily struggle for survival. (Disneynature) Rated G. 90 mins. (B )

Fighting. Writer/director Dito Montiel drops down a few rungs after his promising debut film, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," with an undernourished drama about small-town fighter Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) who comes to Manhattan, where he meets twobit hustler Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard). Harvey introduces Shawn to a world of underground street fighting, and Shawn proves himself a viable money-maker with an early steak of hard fought wins. The well-filmed impromptu bouts are appropriately gritty and energetic, but it’s the film’s romantic aspirations between Shawn and cocktail waitress Zulay (played by newcomer Zulay Valez) that provide a much-needed emotional lift to the otherwise dead-end social atmosphere. The ever-watchable Howard mixes things up with a quirky, slowed-down accent that keeps you hanging on his every word, and Montiel cranks up the suspense with a third-act surprise climax that pays off nicely. (Rogue Pictures) Rated PG-13. 105 mins. (B-)

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