This week at the movies, we’ve got smooth criminals ("Ocean’s Thirteen," starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon); ill-fated vacationers ("Hostel: Part II," starring Bijou Phillips and Heather Matarazzo); and surfing penguins ("Surf’s Up," with voice work from Jon Heder and Shia LaBeouf). What do the critics have to say?
For those who dig stargazing, "Ocean’s Eleven" must have seemed like a gift from heaven. Featuring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Don Cheadle, and directed by the always interesting Steven Soderbergh, it was a heist movie with some good laughs and a sleek design. "Ocean’s Twelve" may have been of a trifle, but it got by on the sheer fun of watching a bunch of big name stars having a good time. Now the gang is back with "Ocean’s Thirteen," and critics say it’s loaded with the same stylish, unpretentious charm as the first two. This time, the crew plots to undermine a big-time casino mogul, played by Al Pacino, who swindled one of the gang. "Ocean’s Thirteen" may not be the height of cinematic profundity, but pundits say it’s a slick, entertaining piece of mainstream entertainment. At 70 percent, this one is a lucky "Thirteen." However, it’s still a notch below the original (original remake?), which stands at 81 percent.
With the release of "Saw" and "Hostel," critics devised a label for the sub-genre of particularly grisly slasher flicks: torture porn. Within this sub-set, Eli Roth is emerging as an auteur; in addition to his howlingly funny (and completely depraved) fake trailer for "Thanksgiving" in "Grindhouse," Roth brings us "Hostel: Part II." Yet again, American college students fall into the clutches of sicko Europeans obsessed with torture. Critics say that while many will be repulsed by what they see (if they see "Hostel: Part II" at all), Roth’s filmmaking craftsmanship has markedly improved, with better developed characters and some sly political commentary — in addition to oodles of gore. But other critics say Roth’s work is still in service to brutally disgusting material. "Hostel: Part II" is at 64 percent on the Tomatometer.
Can’t get enough of cinematic penguins? How about animated penguins? Well, if "March of the Penguins" and "Happy Feet" didn’t sate your appetite for the antics of those well-dressed, flightless residents of Antarctica, now comes "Surf’s Up." Sort of a "Waiting for Guffman" for the kiddie set, the movie goes behind the scenes — mockumentary style — at the Penguin World Surfing Championships, where young upstart Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) hopes to make a splash. The critics say many of the gags will soar like eagles over the heads of the little ones, but "Surf’s Up" is a laid-back, witty frolic. At 72 percent on the Tomatomter, "Surf’s Up" is pretty tubular, dude.
Also opening this week in limited release: "12:08 East of Bucharest," a wry comedy about the fall of communism in Romania, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; "Your Mommy Kills Animals," a doc about the animal rights movement, is at 100 percent; "La Vie En Rose," a biopic about the French chanteuse Edith Piaf, is at 83 percent (check out Jen Yamato’s mini review here); "You’re Gonna Miss Me," a doc about the eccentric 13th Floor Elevators singer Roky Erickson, is at 71 percent; and "Belle Toujours," the latest from Portuguese master (and nonagenarian) Manoel de Oliveira, is at 71 percent.