Now in theaters: Formula 51, Bowling for Columbine, Abandon, Autofocus, The Grey Zone, The Ring, and Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.
Formula 51 — It's an English movie, with a Hong Kong director, starring Samuel L. Jackson in a kilt. That alone is a surefire formula for just plain fun at the movies. Grade: B
Bowling for Columbine — I don't like Michael Moore. He cheats. When a film is presented as a documentary we expect some kind of journalistic search for truth. But he sets out only to reinforce his prejudices. But questions he raises about guns and violence, especially in light of the Washington-area sniper case, add an immediacy to questions he asks that we all need to answer. Grade: B
Abandon — Abandon is well-acted and very well-directed, with a neat surprise and a Hitchcockian twist. It doesn't pander to its young audience with gross-out humor or horror. But, ultimately, it's a suspense thriller in dire need of more suspense and more thrills. Grade: C+
Autofocus — A biopic about Bob Crane, a TV star (of Hogan's Heroes) virtually no one remembers. In this trip down memory drain, we learn how his sexual obsessions cost him his career, two marriages and, eventually, his life. But the film isn't the least bit erotic, or prurient — or even interesting. Grade: C
The Grey Zone — Sometimes a film can be too real. The studied reality in Tim Blake Nelson's Holocaust drama makes it almost impossible to watch. This is the true story of an uprising at Auschwitz by the sonderkommando — a group of Jews at the concentration camp who were given a few months of life, but only at a very high price. They carried out the Nazis' extermination plans, gassing fellow Jews and burning the remains. If they gave an Oscar for best ensemble acting, and I think they should, The Grey Zone would get my vote. Grade: B+
The Ring — The premise: Watch a videotape and you'll be dead in seven days. Which makes it very difficult for me not to say, "Watch this movie and you'll wish you were dead in an hour and a half." But, nope, it's not that bad. This remake of a hugely successful Japanese horror film is very well acted by Naomi Watts. It's just not that scary. Grade: C+
Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie — A feature film first: Faith-based, computer-animated Bible stories. It's a nonsectarian (but still religious) look at the Book of Jonah. Very well done. My son Dylan, 4 ½, thought it was a whale of a story. Grade: B.