Despite Hollywood hype, recent movies are hit-or-miss in theaters

Ted Pigeon

The Aviator – ***½ (out of ****)

Director Martin Scorsese’s latest work is a celebration of golden age Hollywood and old-fashioned movie making with this film, which chronicles the life of Howard Hughes, a gifted entrepreneur that spent millions of dollars making films and advancing the technology of aviation. Leonardo DiCaprio does a fine job of portraying a man with a passion for flight and who conquered the world around him, but was defeated by his own inner demons. Running nearly three hours, “The Aviator” never lags, mostly because it showcases one of the most sensational productions in years and so many fascinating characters and great performances to bring them to life. This is easily one of the year’s best and another solid entry in Scorsese’s illustrious career.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – *** (out of ****)

Jim Carrey has a habit of upstaging everyone and everything around him when he goes over-the-top with a performance, yet what is so refreshing about this film is that although it has another zany performance by the actor, it is Carrey who is upstaged, and by a couple of kids no less. In the tradition of “Harry Potter,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is a visually dazzling achievement in the realm of fantasy based on a series of best-selling books. The film hits you from the beginning not just with haunting visuals, but also a certain cleverness and wit in the form of narration by the author. The story is about three children whose parents are killed and are relentlessly pursued by the odious Count Olaf (Carrey), who seeks the fortune their parents possessed. The movie is entertaining throughout and surprisingly dark, with the narrative unexpectedly amounting to a rather poignant ending.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – **½ (out of ****)

As much as I have enjoyed director Wes Anderson’s previous work, I can’t help but wonder if the man is capable of doing anything else. His strange, but fascinating visual style coupled with his eccentric characters, as seen in “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” has always been an interesting combination, but now it’s starting to feel old. His latest film includes the same elements, a host of offbeat characters in an absurd but engaging story with a very subtle sense of humor. And although Bill Murray is terrific as Steve Zissou, the film overall isn’t as good as Anderson’s previous work, but that may be because all of his tricks and gimmicks, which felt so fresh in his previous films, actually feel like tricks and gimmicks this time.

Meet the Fockers – *½ (out of ****)

The original “Meet the Parents” was very episodic and perhaps too much like a sitcom, but it was also briskly paced with a lot of laughs along the way. It relied on a good chemistry between Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro and it didn’t try too hard for its comedy but still had plenty of it. The sequel, “Meet the Fockers” tries much harder for its laughs and banks on material that is at times so lame and effortless, that it’s quite evident that this quick and dirty sequel is nothing more than a fat paycheck for everyone involved. As the Fockers, Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand are flat out annoying and not in the slightest bit funny. Oh, what depressing feeling it is seeing Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, two great actors who were at time in good movies, embarrassing themselves in a film this bad.

Ocean’s Twelve – **½ (out of ****)

Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the 60’s Sinatra movie, “Ocean’s Eleven,” was a pleasant enough diversion that solidly entertained for two hours. If only the same could be said for its sequel, a movie that’s fun and entertaining for about an hour and then wears itself thin with an over-complicated plot and too much going on of too little interest. The entire cast of the original remake is back, and though the huge ensemble worked in the first film, there are just too many characters here and it seems like the actors fight for screen time. Soderbergh gives this film the same quirky and colorful visual style as its predecessor, but the film simply goes on for far too long and isn’t entertaining enough to maintain that trademark “coolness” the first film achieved.

Spanglish – *** (out of ****)

James L. Brooks is one of those filmmakers that has mastered the art of character-driven crowd-pleasers with some real dramatic depth. His previous work includes “Broadcast News,” “As Good As It Gets,” and last year’s “Something’s Gotta Give,” three very entertaining “feel-good” films with real and memorable characters. His latest film, starring Adam Sandler and Téa Leoni is yet another solid work that is easily one of last year’s hidden gems. The story seems simple but is really quite complicated due to its many different characters. And though its attempt to focus on too much holds the film back from greatness, it also gives the movie a certain uniqueness not found in mainstream films. Nevertheless, the characters are very well-drawn and the film is ceaselessly entertaining with occasional flourishes of brilliance.