STAFF CRITICS TAKES ON THE TOP MOVIES
What it's about : A dog who plays a superhero on TV thinks he is one in real life, which presents all sorts of problems.
The scoop : The script is smart, its conceit a heart-tugger in the finest of senses, and it's the first Disney effort in way too long to be more concerned with being a movie than with being a breeding ground for product tie-ins.
Grade ***: 1/2
... Benjamin Button
What it's about : In 1918, Benjamin Button (the never-better Brad Pitt, above) is born with an old face, dilapidated plumbing and wrinkled skin over an infant body. Then he ages backward.
The scoop : Every chapter of Button's story brings a fresh air of discovery. And the movie's emotional completeness leaves you poised between sobbing and applauding - it comes from a full comprehension not just of one man's life, but of the intersection of many lives over the course of the 20th century.
Grade : ****
What it's about : Klaatu (Keanu Reeves, above), an alien in human form, and Gort, his bioengineered protector, want to save Earth, because it's one of the few orbs capable of supporting complex life.
The scoop : For a while, this movie also seems capable of supporting complex life, thanks mostly to great casting. Then the inspiration and energy run out.
Grade: ** 1/2
What it's about : In a Bronx church and Catholic school in 1964, a stern headmistress (Meryl Streep, above) suspects her priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of sexual misconduct.
The scoop : Director John Patrick Shanley tries to teach a woefully basic lesson about men and women containing more complexity than can be explained in a series of charges and countercharges. Only Amy Adams as a naive nun and Viola Davis as a schoolboy's mother resemble real, surprising human beings.
Grade : **
What it's about : Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan (who also wrote the original play) have the wit to portray British TV interviewer David Frost (Michael Sheen) and disgraced former President Richard M. Nixon (Frank Langella, above) as David and Goliath.
Rated : R
The scoop : The film whizzes by with shrewd vignettes of showbiz and political negotiations, leading to the Frost/Nixon interviews. It's media-political drama with a skin-prickling immediacy.
Grade: *** 1/2
Marley & Me
What's it about : A newly married couple (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, above) bring home a puppy. Based on the autobiographical book by newspaper columnist John Grogan.
The scoop : If you have experienced the redemptive joy of coming home from a hard day at work feeling like the saddest sad sack in the universe, only to be greeted by a dog who just knows you're the best thing in the world, then this is the movie you've been waiting for.
What it's about : The heroic attempts of a handful of German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler and thus bring down the Nazi regime.
The scoop : It sounds like surefire "what-if?" thriller material, and Tom Cruise (above) gives a game physical performance as the officer at the center of the plot. But his key moment of conscience occurs off-screen, and the director, Bryan Singer, seems paralyzed by the seriousness of his subject.
What it's about : Jim Carrey (above) plays a bank-loan officer who, personally and professionally, can't say "No!" - because he has made a covenant with a self-help guru (Terence Stamp) to say nothing but "Yes!"
The scoop : The picture evaporates halfway through because the story itself is a one-liner, yet it also has a cast, including Carrey, Zooey Deschanel and Rhys Darby, who can turn odd curves into dynamite goofballs.