New in theaters Across the Universe (PG-13)
Director: Julie Taymor. With Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Bono. (133 min.)
Julie Taymor's flower-powery phantasmagoria is ambitious but ultimately tiresome. Set in the 1960s, it's about a gaggle of free-spirited young people who endure the era's highs and lows. The narrative is strung together with 33 songs by The Beatles and John Lennon, and the result is like an interminable MTV tape loop. The attractive cast, many of whom do their own singing, includes Evan Rachel Wood and newcomer Jim Sturgess. Grade: B– – Peter RainerEastern Promises (R)
Director: David Cronenberg. With Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl. (96 min.)
David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" plays like a companion piece to his overrated "A History of Violence." Viggo Mortensen, continuing his collaboration with the director, is Nikolai, a Russian mobster in London who is the driver to a gangland restaurateur (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Naomi Watts is a midwife who is drawn into the seedy underworld and Vincent Cassell plays the gang chief's psycho son. Cronenberg has a distinctive style – deadpan absurdism laced with fright and all executed with slow deliberation. But too much of "Eastern Promises" is cultish and silly. Grade: B–– P.R.
Mr. Woodcock (R)
Director: Craig Gillespie. With Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon. (87 min.)
A gratingly one-note Billy Bob Thornton plays a sadistic middle school gym teacher dating the mother (Susan Sarandon) of a former student/victim (Seann William Scott) who has gone on to stardom in self-help books. Maybe the writers dwelled on some trite self-help mantra to delude themselves into thinking that the giggles that the title inspires would carry for 90 minutes. Grade: C – Robert Newton
Still in theaters 3:10 to Yuma (R)
Director: James Mangold. With Christian Bale, Russell Crowe. (133 min.)
Dan Evans (Bale) joins the posse escorting notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) to federal court in Yuma. The problem with most morality plays, this one included, is that the villains are almost always more exciting than the champions of decency. On the other hand, the stronger the bad guy, the better the film. By that measure, "3:10 to Yuma" is excellent. Grade: B+ – P.R.