Constantine (Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, dir. Francis Lawrence)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Another mediocre comics adaptation, although a surprising number of critics have given it favorable reviews. Not as bad as Elektra or, presumably, Catwoman (which I didn't see), but not exactly good either. I do think that this deluge of mediocre-to-bad comics movies is bad for the industry, and you can read my thoughts on the matter here. Sadly, this will probably make money, and only fuel more crappy movies based on comic books. Wide release
The Merchant of Venice (Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, dir. Michael Radford)
I fully admit that I don't always get Shakespeare, so I probably can't parse the social implications of this one as well as I should. I've never read the original play, so I don't know to what degree Radford (who also wrote the screenplay) changed things to make it more sympathetic to Jews. It still comes off, especially in the climactic trial sequence, as quite anti-Semitic, or at least grossly unsympathetic to the money-lender Shylock. Shylock is vengeful and cruel, but his comeuppance seems more than he deserves, and is constantly described as entwined with his Judaism. He is evil not so much because of choices he's made, but because he's a Jew and it's in his nature, and that's where things get sticky. That said, I suppose you have to admire Radford for not turning away from the ugliness inherent in the play, although he does attempt to mitigate it with a screen crawl at the beginning of the film that describes how Jews were marginalized and discriminated against in 16th-century Venice.
The problem to me wasn't so much the way the potential anti-Semitism was handled as it was Pacino's performance as Shylock. While everyone else in the cast (including Shylock's daughter) speaks with a British accent, as is usually the case in a Shakespeare film, Pacino goes with this mealy-mouthed, nebulous accent that's sort of Borscht belt and sort of Brooklyn and not at all convincing or appropriate. Also, I gather from reading reviews that much of the play is meant as a romantic comedy, but Radford takes Shylock and the thorny issue of anti-Semitism so seriously that the rest of the film feels anemic, and is not at all romantic or funny. I suppose it's hard to navigate such a minefield with grace, but ultimately Radford steps on too many explosives for his film to work. Opened limited Dec. 29; in Las Vegas this week