Capsule reviews of films opening this week:
"Miral" — Like "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Julian Schnabel's latest comes at us in pieces. But instead of coalescing into a complete and powerful story, it merely feels unfocused as it meanders through the lives of four Palestinian women living in Israel. It has some vivid, lovely imagery and provocative uses of perspective — as you would expect from any film this longtime artist makes — as well as a couple of strong performances, but ultimately seems overlong and unsatisfying. Based on the semi-autobiographical book by journalist Rula Jebreal (who also wrote the screenplay), "Miral" actually begins just before the birth of Israel in 1948. Three of the women (Hiam Abbass, Yasmine Al Massri and Ruba Blal) respectively serve as the mentor, mother and aunt of the fourth, the title character Miral. She's played by a distractingly miscast Freida Pinto, star of the Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire." Miral is supposed to be the heart of the film, the one who provides perspective. But she doesn't show up until about halfway through, and then because she's uncertain of herself as she evolves in her personality and ideology, it leaves us feeling disconnected, as well. PG-13 for thematic material, and some violent content including a sexual assault. 114 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Sucker Punch" — For even Zack Snyder, this is some nonsense. The director of "300" and "Watchmen" temporarily has abandoned comic books as source material, if not inspiration. "Sucker Punch" is based on Snyder's own concept and written by him and Steve Shibuya, but retains his hyper-stylized violence and adolescent sense of reality. Set vaguely in the '60s and even more vaguely in Vermont, the film stars Emily Browning as Babydoll, a 20-year-old orphan locked away in a mental hospital by her cruel stepfather. There, the film repeatedly shifts to other layers of fantasy, as the hospital is replaced by a nightclub with a harem of trapped burlesque beauties (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Babydoll leads an escape, which is shown not in the nightclub world but another symbolic realm of video game-like tasks. You know, the normal stuff: dragon slaying, zombie German soldiers. Snyder packs the film with rock tunes revamped as laden, nihilistic marches. He leads his girls into battle and away from anything resembling life. PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language. 110 minutes. A half star out of four.
— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"Win Win" — After making just two movies — "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor" — writer-director Tom McCarthy already had established himself as a filmmaker with a real knack for creating beautifully fleshed-out characters, full of humor and believable flaws. He continues to impress here, and once again amasses an excellent cast; a longtime supporting player himself, McCarthy always brings out the best in his character actors. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a small-town New Jersey attorney who agrees to take on the guardianship of an elderly client (Burt Young) who's starting to suffer from dementia. Mike thinks he's got a good little deal going: Instead of caring for the old man on a daily basis, he sticks him in a nursing home and pockets the $1508 stipend every month. It's a win-win, he figures. His wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), and two young daughters could use the money, and the client gets better care this way. What Mike doesn't count on is the arrival of Kyle (Alex Shaffer in his film debut), the client's wayward grandson. Mike just happens to be a part-time high school wrestling coach, and Kyle just happens to be a part-time high school wrestler. Whaddya know? Another win-win. But you can imagine the unraveling happening before it even starts. Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor co-star. R for language. 106 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic