Capsule reviews: ‘Avatar’ and others


Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

“Avatar” — James Cameron’s 3-D epic has all the smack of a Film Not To Miss — a movie whose effects are clearly revolutionary, a spectacle that millions will find adventure in. But it nevertheless feels unsatisfying and somehow lacks the pulse of a truly alive film. The plot is a little like the American frontier circa the 1800s, only transposed to the year 2154 on the faraway moon Pandora, the home of Native American-like, aqua blue, 10-foot tall creatures called the Na’vi. Arriving are imperialistic humans to plunder, and scientists to study. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) leads a team that explores in Na’vi bodies, avatars, controlled remotely. A sense of discovery — of Cameron’s digital world of Pandora, of the impressive techno-filmmaking — makes “Avatar” often thrilling. The environmentalist and anti-war messages resonate with contemporary troubles, but they also seem odd coming from such a swaggering behemoth of a movie. One senses Cameron’s zest lies in the battle, not in peace. With Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana. PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking. 161 minutes. Two and half stars out of four.

— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer

“Crazy Heart” — In some not too far-fetched parallel universe, Jeff Bridges really might be living the life of a boozy country singer. Bridges seems like the real thing in this musical portrait, rasping out songs in the comfortable remnants of a whiskey-and-tobacco-seared voice that you might swear you’ve heard on a hundred jukeboxes in a hundred anonymous roadhouses. Bridges plays the aptly named Bad Blake, a country-music veteran performing in dive bars and bowling alleys as he continues to drink and smoke himself toward an early grave. Accustomed to one-night stands, Bad falls for a single mom and small-town journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who interviews him. Robert Duvall co-stars as Bad’s buddy and Colin Farrell plays his old protege, now a superstar hankering for Bad to write him some new songs. Bridges may not have a great singing voice, but it’s a soulful one, and he matches it with one of the finest performances of his career, just playing the hell out of this guy whose self-abuse has carried him to a precipice where he either leaps into the pit or turns back and cleans up.

R for language and brief sexuality. 111 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— David Germain, AP Movie Writer

“Nine” — On a scale of 1 to 10, this musical update of Federico Fellini’s masterpiece “8 1/2” comes in somewhere around a 5, maybe 5 1/2. Despite stars with enough Academy Awards hardware to start their own metal works, Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the stage musical ends up as an amiable but muddled music-video rehash of Fellini’s study of a filmmaker adrift in personal and creative turmoil. The crises of a pampered, fawned-over filmmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) come off as trifling as he meanders from real life to grand fantasy sequences with co-stars Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench and Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie. The musical interludes are overly stagy and not well integrated into the story. It feels as though the actresses lined up single-file waiting for their big number, each woman getting a chance to croon a little something about the meaning of their man’s life before wandering off into the background of the film. PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. 118 minutes. Two stars out of four.

— David Germain, AP Movie Writer

“The Young Victoria” — The first Queen Elizabeth has been the It Girl of the British monarchy for years in Hollywood. Queen Victoria now gets royal treatment with this fresh film biography starring Emily Blunt as the empire’s longest-reigning ruler in her early years. It’s good, old-fashioned period drama — not terribly lively, not terribly insightful, but rich in pageantry and fine moments of drama, with a beguiling performance from Blunt. The scene-stealer of “The Devil Wears Prada” proves just as engaging as queen bee of the corset crowd, bringing endearing zest, impetuousness and imprudence to this woman who eventually would grow into a symbol of sober, imperious widowhood for much of her time on the throne. With a supporting cast that includes Jim Broadbent, Miranda Richardson and Paul Bettany, director Jean-Marc Vallee presents a charming picture of affection and devotion between Victoria and the love of her life, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking. 104 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— David Germain, AP Movie Writer