Friday, September 23, 2005

Movies opening this week

The Baxter (Michael Showalter, Michelle Williams, Elizabeth Banks, Justin Theroux, dir. Michael Showalter)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This movie has gotten some pretty bad reviews, but I found it perfectly charming and enjoyable. Not great, no, and probably with the potential to be better than it is, but not worth such a low rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's far too likeable for that. It's also got a great performance from Michelle Williams, who has made by far the smartest career choices of any Dawson's Creek alum. Take a look at her IMDb listing, and all she's done post-Dawson's has been challenging, often obscure indie movies. Hell, the only crappy mainstream thing she did even during the show was Halloween: H20, and that was seven years ago. Granted, some of those indie movies turned out to be lame, but she's clearly constantly taking chances and pushing herself; the roles also span a number of different types. It seems like it's paid off, too, since she's got a big role in one of this year's prime Oscar-bait movies (Brokeback Mountain), and is already receiving awards buzz for it. Meanwhile, Katie Holmes's big career move involves dating an insane megalomaniac. Opened limited Aug. 26; in Las Vegas this week

Corpse Bride (Voices of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, dir. Tim Burton & Mike Johnson)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I really love Tim Burton, so I had high hopes for this movie and was a little disappointed. It's very Tim Burton-y, but it sometimes feels like he's getting dangerously close to self-parody, phoning it in by just falling back on all his familar motifs. I doubt it helped that he was trying to direct two movies at once. It does look great, though, and I sort of feel like a hypocrite for complaining in my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory review that Burton ought to do something original, and then complaining when he films an original story that it's not exciting enough. But doing a film that isn't based on source material isn't enough; what I want is for Burton to break new ground, to be original, while still retaining what makes him Burton. Maybe my standards are too high. Opened limited Sept. 16; wide release this week

Flightplan (Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean, dir. Robert Schwentke)
I thought this was a really effective thriller for about an hour, when you didn't know what was going on and Schwentke was swooping his camera all over the gigantic double-decker plane, really evoking the frustration and paranoia of Jodie Foster's character. And she does a good job with it, too, playing a slightly less fierce version of her character from Panic Room (which was a much better movie). But once the pieces fall into place and the plot is revealed, the whole thing goes downhill very quickly, and I'm not sure if the well-executed suspense of the early part of the movie makes up for the stupid action cliches of the last part. Although, I'm not really sure what sort of explanation would have lived up to the suspense. I thought Red Eye was better because they didn't make a big deal about piling on twists; they just let the action speak for itself. But it wasn't like the plot of Red Eye was brilliant. It was just enough to facilitate the suspense, which was really effective. In Flightplan, the writers seem to think they have this awesome twist, when really all they have is a building of tension. Jeremiah Kipp makes an interesting point in his review in Slant: He says that this is a story that couldn't possibly have a satisfying outcome. And in a way he's right; the script writes itself into a corner building up suspense, and only sets itself up for failure. That's why Red Eye worked: There was no twist. The bad guy showed up, stated his motive and acted on it. We weren't sitting around waiting to find out what the big secret was. We were just caught up in identifying with Rachel McAdams. On a completely different note, it was quite serendipitous that I just saw The Lady Vanishes a couple of weeks ago, since this has a very similar plot, right down to the gimmick of the missing person writing something in mist on the window. The Lady Vanishes also had a nonsensical reveal, but at least it remained entertaining while bouncing through inane twists. Wide release


Katie said...

I actually really liked the plot twist in Flightplan, mostly because I didn't see it coming from a mile away, which is rare. (Ahem, see my plan for more on this subject.) But I agree that Red Eye is better.

I was watching Batman Returns recently, and I thought: what happened? Okay, to be perfectly honest, I think Burton is overrated. He has this penchant for cuteness that tends to overwhelm his films. I think this is why the Batman films work so well: they're completely dark, and it's impossible to identify with anyone in them.

But I guess this is all just personal taste. I just don't feel like Burton is working up to his full potential. It's even worse with Gilliam. Brazil is such an incredible, brilliant film that I feel like everything afterwards ranged from very good (Twelve Monkeys) to crap (The Brothers Grimm.)

Josh said...

Maybe you didn't see it coming makes no sense? (Sorry, but I definitely didn't like this one as much as you did.)

I agree that Burton has been a little cutesy lately, especially with Charlie and with Corpse Bride. I would love to see him do something serious and really dark, like Batman or Edward Scissorhands. I've liked all of his recent movies (yes, even Planet of the Apes), but I haven't loved any of them, or felt that they were innovating in the way his early work did. I think he'd do well to back away from studio movies and do something small and more daring.

The buzz on Gilliam's new one (Tideland), which is very dark and made outside of the studio system without big stars, is overwhelmingly negative based on its premiere in Toronto. So it makes you wonder if he's just lost his way, even when he's got complete control over the product the way he didn't on Brothers Grimm (which I kind of liked anyway).