Friday, July 08, 2005

Movies opening this week

Dark Water (Jennifer Connelly, Ariel Gade, John C. Reilly, dir. Walter Salles)
Ultimately, this J-horror remake (based on a film by Ringu director Hideo Nakata) does the same thing that all the other ones have done: It takes a creepy little girl who died a tragic death and puts her in a cold urban setting (depicted with washed-out colors) to terrorize a young woman. It's less obtuse than The Ring or The Grudge, but having a more concrete ending doesn't necessarily make for a better movie. In between the genre conventions, though, there are some pretty interesting subtextual things going on here. This is perhaps the first horror movie about the failure of modern social services. Connelly's single mother is in a bitter custody dispute with her husband in which she's not at all helped by the mediators, she has to get a crappy job so she can have health insurance, she moves into a run-down building with bad plumbing because that's all she can afford, the building owner and her lawyer both lie to her to avoid helping her, and the villain of the movie is a leak, of all things.

Salles builds the story very slowly and mostly on atmosphere in the first half, and while people who are just looking for quick jolts might be bored, there's an interesting portrayal of urban isolation and the indifference of the city to people's suffering that really comes through strongly. It kind of peters out after a while, though, and while Connelly is excellent as always, and totally sells the fragility of a single mother trying to make life better for her child, the horror just doesn't work and the J-horror cliches are too much by the time the movie is over. Wide release

Fantastic Four (Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, dir. Tim Story)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I had such low expectations for this movie that merely by not being the worst superhero movie ever it managed to pleasantly surprise me. (Check out Walter Chaw and my friend and colleague Jeannette Catsoulis for some excellently savage reviews.) Still, I'd hesitate to call it good, and turning out mediocre movies that are not as bad as they could have been is not exactly the best way for Marvel to continue its movie success. I despair for Ghost Rider. Wide release

Saving Face (Michelle Krusiec, Joan Chen, Lynn Chen, dir. Alice Wu)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It's too bad that gay cinema (and, to a lesser degree, ethnic cinema) hasn't evolved to the point at which every movie about gay people (or, say, Asian-Americans) isn't expected to make a definitive statement about the culture. The best place for movies about gay people or ethnic minorities will be when they are just as varied, in quality and subject matter, as movies about straight white people. All of which is to say, this is a cute and amusing little movie, but it certainly doesn't say all there is to say about Asian-American lesbians. Not that it should have to. Opened limited May 27; in Las Vegas this week

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