Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man) tries his hand at a low-budget, found-footage horror movie with this story of the residents of a seaside town in Maryland who become infected with a virus likely caused by an ecological disaster in the Chesapeake Bay. Then chaos erupts over the course of 24 hours. The structure feels manipulative in terms of revealing key details. Yet the film’s intimate approach smartly mixes genre conventions with modern technology, and the script is just plausible enough to generate some real suspense. Plus, Levinson throws in some clever scientific evidence and social commentary amid all the blood and gore. (Rated R, 85 minutes).
Café de Flore
The effects of separation on young families is explored with moderate insight in this French-Canadian drama from director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria) that tells the parallel stories of a divorced Montreal father (Kevin Parent) and a single mother (Vanessa Paradis) of a child with Down syndrome whose stories aren’t connected except in themes of love and reconciliation. The film contains some powerful moments, both visually and narratively (not to mention a great soundtrack), but the pace is too deliberate and the nonlinear structure starts to feel arbitrary and pretentious, which detracts from the film’s emotional resonance. The cumulative effect is more tedious than profound. (Not rated, 120 minutes).
Sweating the small stuff leads to big problems for a suburban family in this quirky and mildly pretentious dark comedy from director Jacob Aaron Estes (Mean Creek). It starts when raccoons infiltrate the impeccably manicured lawn of a suburban doctor (Tobey Maguire) and his wife (Elizabeth Banks), whose disapproval of the solution leads to marriage problems that eventually spill over into tales of infidelity, blackmail and even murder. The script by Estes is somewhat provocative in its examination of relationships during absurd circumstances, but its twists eventually become less compelling. The film squanders a supporting cast including Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert and Ray Liotta. (Rated R, 91 minutes).
A Late Quartet
A first-rate cast makes some beautiful music in this otherwise shallow and contrived melodrama involving a prestigious Manhattan string quartet that threatens to be pulled apart after 25 years by a host of personal conflicts, including an aging cellist (Christopher Walken) diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and a violinist (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is having an affair and is involved in a power struggle with a fellow violinist (Mark Ivanir). The heartfelt film succeeds when focused on the inner workings of the quartet, and it features some fine musical numbers. However, despite a terrific performance by Walken, much of the domestic soap opera is clichéd and obvious. (Rated R, 105 minutes).
Almost 20 years after they struck gold with Clueless, Alicia Silverstone and director Amy Heckerling team up again for this lackluster comedy about the romantic misadventures of Goody (Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter), who are vampires living in contemporary Manhattan and must disguise that secret from potential suitors or risk losing their immortality. At times, Heckerling’s script feels as though it’s been sitting in a coffin, as the film takes on a campy tone with its endless array of anachronistic sight gags and one-liners, even if the two leads achieve a charming bubbly chemistry. The supporting cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Richard Lewis and Malcolm McDowell. (Rated PG-13, 92 minutes).