Capsule reviews for Feb. 8

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

At least they got the casting right. Charlie Sheen seems like the perfect choice to play a sex-crazed, shades-wearing lunatic in this sketchy, self-indulgent comedy from writer-director Roman Coppola (CQ). Sheen plays the title role as an entitled yet troubled graphic designer whose slew of personal problems includes a breakup with his wife (Patricia Arquette), a car accident and schizophrenic tendencies. Coppola showcases some visual flair, but his aimless script is only sporadically amusing and mostly frustrating as it shifts between fantasy and reality, moving from one random episode to the next. The supporting cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and a few cameos. (Rated R, 86 minutes).



This character-driven coming-of-age drama is set at the end of World War II, following five German children led by the title character (Saskia Rosendahl) who are forced to flee on their own to their grandmother’s house after their Nazi sympathizing parents are threatened with capture by the Allies. Their cross-country trek is filled with danger and dark secrets. The story has its share of contrivances, yet the film offers a unique perspective and hauntingly probes childhood innocence amid difficult circumstances. Australian director Cate Shortland (Somersault) gets strong performances from her young actors, particularly newcomer Rosendahl, and captures the remote exteriors with gritty visual flair. (Not rated, 108 minutes).


The Playroom

Of all the relationships explored by this uneven character drama from director Julia Dyer (Late Bloomers), the most important is the one between alcoholism and family dysfunction. It takes place in the 1970s, when a suburban father (John Hawkes) and his flirty wife (Molly Parker) invite friends over for drinks while the four children are upstairs telling stories in the attic. Taking a page out of the Ice Storm playbook, the performances are strong and the deliberately paced film generates some modest tension from discomfort and denial. Yet a reliance on melodrama prevents a deeper and more insightful glimpse into the characters and subject matter. (Not rated, 83 minutes).


The Sorcerer and the White Snake

This hyperactive assault on the senses from Hong Kong is noteworthy only for its dazzling array of computer-generated special effects, which help to lend a cartoonish feel to the simplistic fantasy, based on a Chinese legend, about a young herbalist (Raymond Lam) who falls in love with a 1,000-year-old snake demon disguised as a woman, requiring the help of a sorcerer (Jet Li) to spare his soul. Amid all the colorful creatures and predictable plotting, there are some energetic action sequences and related swordplay to pass the time, but equally as often there’s a detour into ill-conceived romance or Eastern philosophy to stall the momentum. (Rated PG-13, 99 minutes).