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Public Enemies *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS )

Public Enemies provides a welcome shock to the system. This tough-minded, visually electric movie about Depression bank robber John Dillinger ( Johnny Depp) takes audiences into the center of the action in its opening minutes. It keeps them there as it expands into a bristling chronicle of a country in flux. Depp goes all the way with the role of a wry, wily Midwesterner. He really nails this character - the scion of an age of speed who says he wants "everything" and wants it "right now." And Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar for her bravura performance as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, brings a passionate limpidity to the role of Dillinger's true love, a Chicago hatcheck girl, Billie Frechette, who's tired of rich people judging her by her clothes and men rejecting her because she is half-Indian. These stars act with dynamic subtlety, and that's how Michael Mann has made this movie. He puts viewers right on the running board of speedy cars, the vehicles that were key to the "golden age of bank robberies." But Mann also puts them in Congress with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ( Billy Crudup) when he argues that he should lead America's War on Crime - though Hoover had never made a single arrest himself. The movie is about the mistakes that gangs, agencies and countries make when they begin to think that it takes cold-blooded tactics to restore order. Hoover's War on Crime starts to resemble the War on Terror. On the other side of the law, "organized crime" cracks down on freelancers like Dillinger. P ublic Enemies soars as a revisionist piece of American folklore, like those terrific films about the James gang, The Lo ng Riders and The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. This movie sees the public relations that went into the Dillinger image, but Depp still manages to imbue him with stature and mystery. Public Enemies proves that emotional truth is what becomes a legend most. Rated R. Time 133 minutes.

Ice Age:Dawn of the Dinosaurs **

The relentlessly gimmicky use of 3-D in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs helps reduce what could have been a genial piece of slapstick into a cartoon that's not just in-your-face, but in-your-eyeballs. You should have been able to treat this film as a grab-bag and pull out some plums. Instead it goes grabbing after you. The film doesn't hurl things at the camera in the manner of Monsters vs. Aliens. But any snout, tongue or tail that lends itself to stretching and snapping gets quite a workout in this movie. By the end you feel as if you've been caught between the strings of a toy ukulele. The movie starts out as a satire of gung-ho fatherhood. When Manny the woolly mammoth (Ray Romano) and his wife, Ellie (Queen Latifah), get ready for parenthood, they ignite uncontrollable parental feelings in Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), who ends up hatching three dinosaur eggs; they also catalyze a midlife panic in saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary), who fears that alternative-family life will make him lose his special carnivore edge. But the movie shifts radically when the dinos' T. Rex mother comes looking for her babes. She drags them and Sid to a lost world beneath the ice. Mannie, Ellie, Diego and possums Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck) then go under the frozen surface themselves, to rescue Sid. It's revealing that in a movie about advancing maturity, the most engaging character is a veritable Peter Pan of the animal universe: Buck, the wiry, swashbuckling, one-eyed weasel who makes the dinosaur world his prairie oyster. The British comic actor Simon Pegg, who plays him even has a glitter in his voice. Pegg has become an asset to any movie, good (Star Trek), bad (Run Fatboy Run) or indifferent (Ice Age 3). Rated PG-13. Time 94 minutes.

Cheri *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS)

Cheri is a voluptuous movie about two voluptuaries who fall in love. Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Colette's 49-year-old courtesan, Lea de Lonval, provides a rare sensual depiction of maturity and aging. She creates a portrait of a woman whose essential honesty and taste enable her to create an elegant private pocket in a thoroughly cynical world. When a rich, vulgar, semi-hated friend, Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), gently nudges her into an affair with her son, Fred (Rupert Friend), whom Lea calls Cheri, the mother, an ex-courtesan, wants the boy smartened up and finished right. Nobody expects Lea and Cheri to fall in love, least of all themselves. Cheri nails what so many conventional romantic pictures try and fail to capture: the mysterious rightness, as well as the heartbreaking risk, of falling in love with the "wrong" person. Pfeiffer puts across the euphoria Lea feels at the peak of her affair; she gives the movie a superbly sculpted mid-section. But what brings home the surprising authenticity of their love is the persuasive way both actors express their characters' gnawing emptiness after Cheri's departure. Frears moves the film with an alacrity and sureness that puts across the caresses of lovers and high life with greater potency than directors who linger on production design. Frears recently said, "A lot of the film has to do with tone because it deals with someone who is frivolous and, as it were, tragic underneath. I was constantly trying to get the right tone." Ninety percent of the time, he did. Cheri is a thing of beauty and a joy for movie lovers.

Rated R. Time 100 minutes.

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