Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 25 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 25

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THE READER The Reader, adapted from Bernhard Schlink's bestseller, arrives with all the obvious trappings of a year-end "prestige" picture. But since more time is spent exposing the milky white breasts of Kate Winslet than exposing the horrors of the Holocaust, viewers might be forgiven for thinking they stumbled into a big-budget remake of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. Winslet's Hannah Schmitz is a streetcar conductor in post-WWII Germany who enters into an affair with 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross); as a form of sexual foreplay, she likes him to read to her from the classics. She soon drops out of his life, and it isn't until a few years later, while he's attending college, that she reappears – as a former Nazi guard on trial for the atrocities she allegedly committed during the war. The Reader is a thorny story, and its failing isn't because it elects to answer key questions about its characters in shocking fashion – after all, many great movies are about less-than-admirable figures – but because it waves off these revelations with all the impatience of a restaurant patron shooing away a waiter attempting to remove the soup bowl before it's drained. At first glance, the movie's shifts through time periods (Ralph Fiennes is suitably moody as the older, troubled Michael) keeps us on our toes, but they eventually reveal themselves to be gimmicky to the point of distraction. The picture does head toward a major secret, but I wasn't sure if the answer to this mystery was supposed to provide insight or shift our sympathies or what exactly. All it does is reveal that, despite Winslet's strong performance, Hannah isn't really worthy of our attention – or perhaps even this movie. **1/2

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD This reunites Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and they're both exceptional in this adaptation of Richard Yates' novel. Whether the film itself will satisfy moviegoers expecting to see the pair again in the throes of starry-eyed passion is another matter, since romance is kept at a minimum in this edgy drama, a must-see for adults who don't mind getting their hands dirty on messy emotions. Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of American Beauty, has made another American beauty, this one a powerful examination of a young couple trying to deal with the plasticity of 1950s suburbia. Set in Connecticut, the story (adapted by Justin Haythe) concerns itself with Frank and April Wheeler, who view themselves as being different from everyone else in their pristine neighborhood. But time spent toiling away within the boundaries of the so-called American dream quickly takes its toll, so in an effort to revitalize their dreams as well as salvage their marriage, April suggests that they move to Paris and start a new life. Flush with excitement, the couple start to make plans, only to find that old routines – no matter how detested – die hard. Those with a willingness for navel-gazing will be receptive to this material far more than those who prefer to keep blinders fully attached, but there's no denying that Mendes and company have created an unsettling piece that gets under the skin. "You jump, I jump," the lovers in Titanic told each other. Here, the two aren't as united, each standing on the brink of uncertainty, peering into the dark abyss of an unknown future, and trying not to tumble into the chilly depths of American ennui. ***1/2

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE I'm not sure how a film in which a small boy gets blinded by someone deliberately pouring hot liquid onto his eyeballs while he's unconscious ends up being hyped as the "feel-good" movie of the year, but that's the story with Slumdog Millionaire. The modern-day sequences find lanky, likable Jamal (Dev Patel) working his way through the questions on India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jamal has coped with poverty all of his life, and it's his unlikely ascension that has the entire nation rooting for him. But Jamal isn't doing this for money; he's doing it for the love of beautiful Latika (Freida Pinto), who, as we see in ample flashbacks, grew up on the streets alongside Jamal and his hotheaded brother Salim (Madhur Mittal). Initially, the movie's structure is ingenious in how it feeds on incidents from Jamal's past to allow him to get the right answers on the TV game show, in effect suggesting that what's most important in this life is what we learn firsthand. As for the sequences revolving around the characters' rough childhoods, they're refreshingly raw and uncompromising, a cross between Charles Dickens and City of God. It's a shame, then, that director Danny Boyle and scripter Simon Beaufoy toss aside all innovation in order to bind the final half-hour into a straightjacket of rigid formula plotting. The boy-finds-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-tries-to-save-girl angle is flaccid enough, although it's the arc involving bad bro Salim that's especially groan-worthy. Still, three-quarters of a stellar movie is nothing to sneer at, meaning that those who take a chance on Slumdog Millionaire will get their money's worth. ***


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