Critical Consensus: No Debatin' Clayton, Night Almost Owns, Elizabeth Not Golden

Plus: Season Runs Foul, Universe Divided, and guess the Why Did I Get Married? Tomatometer

by Tim Ryan and Alex Vo | Thursday, Oct. 11 2007

This week at the movies we got lawyer types (Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney and Tilda Swinton), dueling brothers (We Own the Night, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg), virgin queens (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring Cate Blanchett), baseball hopefuls (The Final Season, starring Sean Astin and Powers Boothe), Beatles-inspired lovers (Across the Universe, starring Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess), and reunited college friends (Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?). What say ye, critics?

Critics frequently bemoan the fact that movies are no longer made for adults. Who better to come to their rescue than George Clooney, oft-called the Cary Grant of our generation? Clooney stars in Michael Clayton as a washed-up legal consultant caught up in a pesticide case that isn't quite what it seems, with support from Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Sydney Pollack. With strong performances all around, critics call this a challenging but rewarding movie that also doesn't skimp out on the popcorn factor. At a Certified Fresh 89 percent, critics sustain Michael Clayton's appeal.

Wilkinson preparing to celebrate Bastille Day for the next 17 years.

Actors frequently re-team with directors they've worked with before. But two principal actors? Only once in a blue moon. Such an event strikes for We Own the Night, a crime drama/thriller about two brothers on opposite sides of the law. The film reunites Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg with director James Gray, who all previously created 2000's The Yards. But the trio isn't having as much luck the second time around: critics say Night cribs from The Godfathers and The Departed, while relying too heavily on improbable plot turns to fuel the action.  But moviegoers who don't expect anything particularly original can have a reasonably good time. At 50 percent, Night gets close, but doesn't quite Own.

Who makes Mark Wahlberg a star? Who owns the night? We do, we do!

Cate Blanchett is one of the best actresses on the planet today, and with Elizabeth: The Golden Age, she revisits the role that made her a star. Big mistake, critics say. Age picks up where its predecessor left off, with the Virgin Queen navigating the rough waters of political unrest in 16th Century Europe, as well as palace intrigue closer to home. The pundits say the costume and set design are impeccable, but otherwise, this is a campy, bombastic flick, filled with silly dialogue and featuring a script that's more hysterical than historical. At 29 percent on the Tomatometer, this one ain't golden. And it's a steep drop from the Certified Fresh original (at 79 percent).

Elizabeth contemplates conquering Narnia next.

It's October, and that means it's time for some super-dramatic baseball action. Unfortunately, we're talking about the MLB playoffs, not The Final Season, which critics say is as predictable as Alex Rodriguez failing in the clutch. Directed by David Mickey Evans (who helmed the cult-fave The Sandlot), Season is the story of a tiny Iowa high school with a proud baseball tradition that may come to an end because of redistricting. Season features a strong cast that includes Sean Astin, Powers Boothe, and Rachael Leigh Cook, and the film oozes sincerity. But pundits say it's as safe as an intentional walk and as clichéd as a post-game interview. At 11 percent on the Tomatometer, The Final Season is way below the cinematic Mendoza line.

"11 percent?"

Is there anybody going to listen to this story, all about Julie Taymor's attempt to capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s through the music of the Beatles? As far as Across the Universe goes, some critics say stop, others say go, go, go. Universe is the story of Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess), a young couple who stalk across the political and social landscape of the tumultuous decade to the tune of such classics as "Come Together," "Helter Skelter," and "All You Need is Love." The critics are pretty split on Universe: some say the film is an audacious, beautiful movie that will make you feel all right. But others say it's all wrong (that is, they think they disagree), calling the film an exercise in excess with bland characters. We hope the film's 52 percent Tomatometer will Help! you decide to see it or not.

An early incarnation of The Blue Man Group.

With his heartfelt domestic dramedies, Tyler Perry has established himself as a commercial sure thing. But he's yet to win over critics, which may be why his latest, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?, wasn't screened before release. It's the story of a reunion of college friends, who, over the course of a long weekend together, begin to question their marriages. Guess the Tomatometer.

"What happened to Steve Buscemi?"

Also opening this week in limited release: Control, a biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, is at 90 percent (check out our interview with director Anton Corbijn here); Terror's Advocate, Barbet Schroder's documentary portrait of an attorney for the undefendable, is at 83 percent on the Tomatometer; Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling as a delusional guy dating a female doll, is at 78 percent (check out our review from Toronto here); Canvas, a drama about a family dealing with one member's schizophrenia, is at 71 percent; Golda's Balcony, about the Israeli prime minister, is at 64 percent; and Sleuth, an update of the 1972 murder mystery starring Michael Caine and Jude Law, is at 48 percent.

"We couldn't quite afford Jessica Alba. But we got a good replacement."

Recent Cate Blanchett Movies:
69% -- I'm Not There (2007)
32% -- The Good German (2006)
87% -- Notes on a Scandal (2006)
68% -- Babel (2006) 
85% -- Little Fish (2006)

Recent Mark Wahlberg Movies:
48% -- Shooter (2007)
92% -- The Departed (2006)
70% -- Invincible (2006)
52% -- Four Brothers (2005)
61% -- I Heart Huckabees (2004)