Saturday, May 07, 2005

Movies opening this week

Crash (Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, a bunch of other famous people who want Oscars, dir. Paul Haggis)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I definitely hated this movie, although I didn't find it quite as vile as other self-righteous, pretentious films like Spanglish and The Upside of Anger. I don't have trouble necessarily with Haggis' overall message, that racism is still prevalent in our society and colors many of our social interactions, and that it's sometimes a cover for other emotional problems. That's all true and there's nothing wrong with pointing it out. The problem is that Haggis points it out over and over for 113 minutes, completely blinded to the possibility of any other motivations existing for anything anyone does, ever. By turning race and racism into the be-all, end-all of human interaction, he actually ends up belittling it. Because the problem with racism isn't that it's out there, front and center, in all of our interactions, but that it's insidious and sometimes unconscious and mixes in with all the other thoughts and feelings that go into how we deal with one another. That's the philosophical problem. Dramatically, the problem is that Haggis is so single-minded in pursuing his profound thoughts on racism that he creates completely unbelievable characters who exist only to provide whatever lesson Haggis is looking to promote. This is the worst kind of preachy, ineffective film, because people clearly think it's profound (most reviews are glowing). I didn't much care for Haggis' work on Million Dollar Baby, but at least that script had the advantage of Clint Eastwood's direction and some classy acting. Haggis' direction is sloppy, and most of his actors overdo it. I think I probably didn't convey my vitriol well enough in my review; both A.O. Scott and David Edelstein offer more elegant take-downs than I was able to manage. Wide release

Kingdom of Heaven (Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, dir. Ridley Scott)
I'm not much for these period war epics in general, although I liked Gladiator and I think that Scott can be an excellent director given the right material. He doesn't really cut it here, though, and the best moments are all done better in Gladiator anyway. I didn't mind Bloom as the hero, who is this kind of soft-spoken, reluctant leader; I thought he had the right amount of gravitas while retaining the right amount of innocence. Someone like Russell Crowe probably wouldn't have worked in the part. But the story is so confused; Scott makes the Crusades into this battle for human rights, and while I admire the sentiment the writing isn't clever enough to get the politics into the story in a way that makes sense. No one would give the speech that Bloom gives about defending Jerusalem not for God, but for men; it just wasn't the way anyone thought back then. I think those issues ultimately take a back seat to the fact that it's just plain not a very good movie, slow and boring and with uninspired battles. Rent Gladiator instead. Wide release

Palindromes (Sharon Wilkins, Ellen Barkin, Debra Monk, dir. Todd Solondz)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Most people seem to have these very strong opinions about Todd Solondz, but seriously I could give a shit. I saw Welcome to the Dollhouse a while ago, and I remember being very underwhelmed. I didn't hate it, but it wasn't some revelation to me as it was to many. I never saw Happiness or Storytelling, and I don't have much of an urge to. As far as this one goes, some critics really hated it, but I am somewhat sympathetic to Solondz's nihilistic viewpoint, so what bothered me mainly was the narrative device of having the main character played by all the different actors. It was distracting far more than it was illuminating, and it just served as misdirection from the fact that Aviva was annoying and uninteresting. I think Solondz's main problem is less his toxic worldview than his increasing inability to tell a compelling story. Opened limited April 13; in Las Vegas this week

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