(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson, Brian Miller and Ella Taylor)
Unstoppable In Unstoppable, an unmanned runaway freight train, laden with toxic waste, is careening across Pennsylvania! There's another train with innocent schoolchildren on the same tracks! Who will save them? Denzel Washington and Star Trek's Chris Pine--that's who--under the direction of hectic action auteur Tony Scott. Train movies are as old as the movies themselves, and it's almost impossible to make a boring railroad flick. We expect--and Scott duly delivers--scenes of trains smashing through cars, trains smacking into other trains, and people trying to jump aboard moving trains from helicopters, trucks, and other moving trains. Inevitably, Washington ends up leaping from atop one speeding box car to the next, all according to unstoppable formula.
The movie is based on actual 2001 events, but it could just as well be set in the shining sun of Reagan's 1980s. It's like a compendium of classic commercials for Ford pickup trucks, Bud Lite, and Hooters (where, God help us, the daughters of Washington's character are working their way through college). That the veteran and the rookie railroad workers--two populist paladins--should take it upon themselves to stop the runaway train is no surprise. Yet Unstoppable also places the blame for this near-disaster on the little guy--not the corporate cost-cutting that's caused numerous rail accidents in the last two decades. Our heroes may save their jobs and their town, but their company's CEO certainly gets the larger bonus. Brian Miller
98 minutes Rated PG-13Waiting for Superman
Davis Guggenheim's call-to-arms documentary on the failures of the U.S. public-education system--thoroughly laudable in intention if maddening in its logic and omissions--originated with his own guilty conscience. As he drives his children past crumbling public schools to an expensive private one, Guggenheim, an Academy Award winner for 2006'sAn Inconvenient Truth
, admits, "I'm lucky--I have a choice," then asks an important question: What is our responsibility to other people's children? Maybe, for starters, demanding a stronger social safety net. But macroeconomic responses to his query go unaddressed inWaiting for Superman
, which points out the vast disparity in resources for inner-city versus suburban schools only to ignore them. Instead, Guggenheim comes up with a proposal that no one could object to: We need better teachers (but, he argues, fewer teachers' unions). The film's heroes are the reformers who support charter schools--which rely on lotteries, a highly arbitrary system. But it is precisely these acts of sheer chance that the director spends too much time documenting, tracking five bright, adorable children hoping to get into charters. To film their agony as they wait to hear their names called doesn't really advance Guggenheim's arguments so much as work against them--and provide borderline exploitative melodrama. Will heartbreaking scenes like this drive an audience to action? Following the final credit exhortations, we're told we can text "POSSIBLE" to 77177. For a crisis so dire, this comes across as absurdly glib.Melissa Anderson
103 minutes Rated PGYou Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Kept afloat by an excellent cast, Woody Allen's fourth movie about callow Londoners recklessly pursuing emotional wreckage begins with wisdom from the Bard, but thereafter it's the same old Bergman-lite.You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
is as careless with plot and structure as any recent Allen movie--the price, perhaps, of sustaining hectic productivity into old age while abandoning his beloved New York for photogenic European capitals. As always, desire and illusion fuel this paper-thin tale of a graying Englishman (Anthony Hopkins) trying to beat the mortality odds by dumping his wife (Gemma Jones) for, whaddayaknow, a bimbo hooker named Charmaine (Lucy Punch). His daughter (Naomi Watts) grows a crush on her art-gallery boss (Antonio Banderas), while her novelist husband (a terrific Josh Brolin) whiles away his writer's block watching his neighbor (Slumdog Millionaire
's Freida Pinto) undress at her window. That the movie is not more dull is due in part to the adorably flamboyant Punch (Dinner for Schmucks
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), drawing on ancient British vaudeville traditions as the prostitute whose instinctive carnality makes Hopkins's character feel first young again, then totally tapped out. At almost 75 years old, Woody Allen, committed nihilist, still believes we need "the eggs"--the buzz of relationship however crazy or forbidden. So we do, but what a pity that lately, from him, they come parboiled.Ella Taylor
98 minutes Rated R