Capsule reviews of films opening this week:
"Babies" — A clear line will be drawn in the sand — or the sandbox, if you will — when it comes to the way people respond to "Babies." If you've never had one or you're not into them — if the sound of cooing sends chills down your spine and the idea of changing a diaper turns your stomach — then you're unlikely to be moved by this documentary that follows four babies from around the world, starting with birth and ending with their first steps. Be warned, the cute factor is high. But if you're already a mom or dad — or especially a new mother — you'll be moved nearly to tears by the beauty of the film's universality, by moments that are so artful and intimate, they'll make you wonder how it's possible that any family would let a filmmaker in so close to shoot them. French director Thomas Balmes brings us the daily ins and outs, from mundane moments to milestones, of four infants living disparate lives in Namibia, Tokyo, San Francisco and Mongolia. He does this without narration, without marking the passage of time or even subtitles to clarify what's being said. It's a bold storytelling approach: Balmes runs the risk of alienating his audience members, the vast majority of whom won't be able to understand what's being said. "Babies" also frequently lacks momentum because there's no strong narrative drive, just an easy, casual stroll from baby to baby. PG for cultural and maternal nudity throughout. 82 min. Three stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Casino Jack and the United States of Money" — The latest from Academy Award-winning documentary director Alex Gibney exposes the clutching, clawing venality of lobbyist-turned-pris on-lodger Jack Abramoff and his cronies. It's infuriating stuff, Abramoff's arrogance symbolic of the I'm-getting-mine-and -then-some recklessness of our times. Through archival footage and interviews with former Abramoff associates, the film presents a detailed account of the man's rise to supreme Washington influence peddler, living the high life off the millions he charged Indian gaming interests and corporations looking to buy favor with the nation's leaders. Like any good story, the film has surprises and thrills, laughs and absurdities, heroes and loads of villains. The story will leave you disturbed and disgusted, though, and a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information Gibney packs in, his exhaustive portrait of Abramoff eventually becoming exhausting. You'll come away feeling a little smarter but glad that it's over. R for some language. 118 min. Three stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"Iron Man 2" — Lots of things get blown up and torn apart in "Iron Man 2," as you would expect from any self-respecting blockbuster kicking off the summer movie season. The magnitude of destruction far exceeds that of its predecessor and includes repeated instances of characters walking away from a massive fireball without looking back. 'Cause looking back is for wimps. But that's not all that gets obliterated here. The substance of the original "Iron Man," the brain and the soul that set it apart from the typical seasonal fare and made it one of the best films of 2008, also have been blown to bits. Tony Stark had purpose back then, and despite the outlandish fantasy of his Marvel Comics-inspired story, as a person he had a believable arc. Here, he's purely arrogant once more, with some glimmers of mortality and daddy issues. And Robert Downey Jr., so irresistibly verbal and quick on his feet in the first film (and in pretty much every film he's ever made), seems to be on autopilot. Sure, he's got a way with a one-liner, and his comic timing is indisputable, but he's done this song-and-dance routine before and seems rather bored with it. Then again the character — and the sequel itself — are less defined this time. Narratively, "Iron Man 2" is a mess. Director Jon Favreau, working from a script by Justin Theroux, throws in too many subplots, too many characters. Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson are among the crowded supporting cast. PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language. 124 min. 2-D only. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
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