The summer must sees and reads

‘Up’ dazzles but falls short

The movie’s first half is wonderful – a black and white montage beautifully chronicles Carl’s childhood, courtship and marriage. Carl’s reluctant banter with young Russell is consistently amusing, and the unveiling of his balloons floods the screen with dazzling color.

To escape the trappings of old age and to fulfill his one childhood dream, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) uses thousands of helium balloons to lift his house off the ground and set sail for South America. He unwittingly takes 8-year-old Russell along with him, who reminds Carl of himself as a young adventurer.

But where the first half is poignant, the second half is silly. Though the computer animation remains superb, the plot unravels, taking too many twists and turns to keep the audience’s attention. In the end, however, as Carl’s grouchy exterior cracks and he inspires the young, curious Russell, we are left with a rare movie that actually appeals to people of all ages, both an entertaining and a compelling rumination on lost and new-found dreams.

‘The Hurt Locker’ shows reality of war
“The Hurt Locker,” directed by former painter Kathryn Bigelow, gets inside the heads of bomb diffusion specialists in Iraq to show how addictive war can be. Mark Boal’s script, based on his research with an actual bomb squad, is more character study than war movie, with more insights than explosions.

Set in 2004, the film focuses on Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner), the new leader of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team. The movie centers on the idea that “war is a drug.” James’ experience suggests that war is an addiction that leads to other addictions, such as adrenaline, egotism, and heroism. This  personal understanding of James’ condition, coupled with Bigelow’s incredible camera work (sometimes frantic, other times quiet and still), gives the movie a documentary-like realism.

—Nathan Fuller

Black Comedy hilarious in Whatever Works
Leave it to Woody Allen to make a comedy out of existentialism.

In the latest from the master of sarcasm, “Whatever Works,” the middle aged Boris Yellnikoff, played by none other than “Seinfeld” creator Larry David, shares his pessimistic view of humanity with any of the “inch worms” of New York. Against his wishes, his most avid listener is former Mississippi beauty queen Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood), who has run away from a “loving home” and ended up at Boris’ doorstep.

While the elements of cliché were accessible in the movie, Allen craftily dodged any sense of typical romantic comedy flavor with peculiar plot twists and character relationships, especially upon the introduction of Melodie’s conservative, and equally impressionable parents.

Though Boris’ existential rants are crucial to his hysterical inability to interact with humanity, it creates an overall haunting effect. Through Boris’ failed suicide, obsessive compulsive habits, and constant panic attacks, Allen reveals the helplessness in facing the inevitable end of life through the lense of one man who thinks he is alone in viewing “the big picture.”

Despite the morbid quality of the movie, Allen manages to make the bizarre circumstances of the plot acceptable. Though Borris warns the audience that the movie will not be the “feel good of the year,” the ending provides an unexpected, yet rational optimism.

Katie Brenzel

‘Brüno’ Aims to Shock

If the nude wrestling scene was “Borat’s” most outrageous moment, then “Brüno” out-does it once… twice… too many times. “Brüno” takes the absurd gags from “Borat” and escalates them as far as an R rating will allow.

“Brüno” is consistently hilarious, aided tremendously by economical editing, which brings the film to a scant 83 minutes. As a result, virtually no joke in the film falls flat.

Highlights include a failed television pilot featuring a talking penis (arguably the film’s biggest laugh) and an attempt to heal conflict in the Middle East over hummus.

Despite similarities to its sister-film, “Brüno’s” ultimate goal differs slightly from  that of “Borat.” If “Borat” skewered America’s racial intolerance, then “Brüno” does the same for homophobia. The film never quite delivers its message as strongly as its predecessor, though, muddling its intent in earlier scenes.

Brüno is also a more divisive character than Cohen’s other incarnations. Where Borat gleefully disguised himself as a racist for satire, Brüno pokes and prods to incite a reaction.

Cohen’s strategies might not be as fresh as they were three years ago, but his talents as a comedian are kind of “fantastiche.”

—Steven Avigliano

Harry Potter films still box office magic

J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world has succeeded in captivating audiences, like many engaging fantasy stories, by elevating an unassuming person to heroic status. Director David Yates’ adaptation of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the penultimate book in Rowling’s series, effectively translates this formula of the hero’s journey onto the screen.

The sixth installment delivers a balance of amusing, teenage predicaments coupled with an unnerving exploration of the young Tom Riddle’s gradual devolution into the Dark Lord, Voldemort. While it is clear that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson can carry a film, the most memorable scene has Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore on the wrong side of the wand of Severus Snape, played with brilliant coldness by Alan Rickman.

The film, however, is not without its faults. The pace is slow until the revelation that Riddle split his soul into seven pieces. This forces the vital climactic action to be hurriedly lumped together in the final scenes. Also, the awkward kiss between Harry and Ginny Weasley was cringe-worthy.

Nevertheless, “The Half-Blood Prince” is entertaining enough to merit a ten dollar admission.

—Rebecca Suzan

Depp overshadows the Dark Knight in Public Enemies

“Public Enemies” proved this summer that isn’t all about the hype, but the quality.

“Public Enemies” is the story of the most famous gangster of all time, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), and FBI agent Melvin Puris’ (Christian Bale) attempt to catch him. As usual, Depp delivers a masterful performance through his ability as a character actor. Depp is effortlessly convincing as the most dangerous man of the era. Depp’s portrayal of the criminal genius is the focal point of this film and should earn Depp an Oscar nomination for best actor.

On the other hand, Christian Bale’s character is easily forgettable. Bale gives a better performance than in his last movie, “Terminator Salvation,” but has yet to reach the height mastered in his role in “The Dark Night.” Though his character wasn’t meant to be much more than complimentary to Depp’s role, Bale does little to distinguish himself.

“Public Enemies” delivers in every aspect a great movie should. With its amazing shootout scenes, to its clever plot twists, it will leave you with the feeling that you got your money’s worth and a little more.

Danny Pazos

Book : “When You Are Engulfed in Flames”

While best-selling humorist David Sedaris can sometimes seem forced and self-important when he is at his most cynical, Sedaris truly shines in his humble “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.” This is Sedaris’ sixth collection of personal essays, in which his talents shine so brightly, they … well … burn.

I tend to judge the greatness of a book by whether it prompts me to question my life (which almost always means it makes me cry while reading it), and/or by the number of excerpts from it that I feel compelled to reread to my mother while chasing her around the kitchen. “Engulfed” did not make me cry, but it did compel me to read aloud to my mom, my sisters, and everyone else I could corner. I couldn’t help it — they say misery loves company, but when it came to Sedaris’ off-beat, insightful and sometimes downright macabre sense of humor, I found that I wanted company to laugh with, from Sedaris’ brief dalliance with external catheters, to his awkwardly “revealing” experience in the waiting room of a hospital in France.

Sedaris has the ability to milk all his life experiences, from the most awkward situations to the smallest observation, for all their comedic worth, with equal parts sarcasm and self-depreciation. “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” is testament to Sedaris’ greatest gift: to get us to see the absurdity we all hold within ourselves.

—Laura Herzog