Capsules by Michael Sragow unless noted. Full reviews are at baltimoresun.com/movies.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: **** It starts in 1918, when Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born with an old face, dilapidated plumbing and wrinkled skin over an infant body, and ends in 2005, when his true love, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), completes the telling of his story. 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. The director, David Fincher, working from a robust yet tender script by Eric Roth, weds his painter's eye to a composer's rhythm. His filmmaking has the musical beat, and the heartbeat, of a prime E.L. Doctorow novel rather than the wan F. Scott Fitzgerald story it's based on. PG-13 166 minutes
Frost/Nixon: *** 1/2 Ron Howard has made his best movie, an electric political drama with a skin-prickling immediacy. Howard and his 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) as David and Goliath. Frost's slingshot is a weapon that proved deadly to Nixon once before, during the Nixon/Kennedy TV debates: the all-seeing eye of the close-up lens. The film whizzes by with shrewd vignettes of showbiz and political negotiations, leading to their intersection in the interviews, the apex of media-political events. Langella superbly invests Nixon with Shakespearean dimension. Sheen is nonpareil at playing verbally glib characters who articulate deep feelings in subtle or fleeting expressions. His Frost is always ready for his close-ups. R 122 minutes
The International: ** 1/2 A global bank becomes the ultimate contemporary villain: Its directors hope to manipulate the world by enslaving governments to debt. The action pivots on a rocky Middle Eastern arms deal the bank has been brokering. As Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan prosecutor Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) dig closer to the truth, they grow to understand how the bank plays antagonists such as Israel and Syria against each other. Sadly, overall, the movie lacks the dash, wit, authority and character to become a first-class thinking-man's thriller. R 118 minutes
Marley & Me : *** Based on the autobiographical book by newspaper columnist John Grogan, Marley & Me is about a newly married couple who bring home a puppy. Aspiring journalist Grogan (Owen Wilson) buys the dog for his new wife, Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston), ostensibly to take her mind off wanting to have kids. Though initially listless, Marley, named for the visionary Jamaican reggae singer, quickly develops into an uncontrollable force of energy. Over the course of their years together, John, Jennifer and Marley have their share of adventures, but that's not really what Marley & Me is about. Instead, it's about the simple act of inviting an animal to share your life and marveling at how dependent you become on each other. PG 120 minutes (Chris Kaltenbach)
Milk: *** 1/2 It rests so exclusively and solidly on its performances, especially Sean Penn's marvelous characterization of Harvey Milk, that audiences won't realize how strong its mojo is until an assassin's bullets break the spell. It's not a great movie, but it is an enlivening and unusual one: an effervescent political film that also packs a knockout punch. As Milk, Penn creates a character whose passion is extroverted and infectious: Even his guile conveys a sense of play. Penn convinces you that Milk was both a self-made politician and, by the end, a natural politician. R 128 minutes
The Wrestler: ** 1/2 Mickey Rourke plays an '80s pro-wrestling star, Randy "the Ram" Robinson, a celebrity once big enough to earn his own plastic action figure, as if he were a flesh-and-blood action figure, with a sense of humor and a heart. Even when the drama proves more mournful and leveling than it needs to be on its way to a preordained tragic climax, you never see Rourke milk the character for sympathy. He saves the film because he stays true to his own sense of a guy who simply wants to die with his wrestling boots on. R 115 minutes