Saturday, December 24, 2005

Movies opening this week

Fun with Dick and Jane (Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni, Alec Baldwin, dir. Dean Parisot)
Not fun at all. Actually, quite tedious and irritating. It's been so long since I've seen Jim Carrey do his over-the-top physical comedy that I forgot how annoying he could be, and in this movie he doesn't even have the saving grace of occasionally stumbling across something funny, or working his schtick into a well-crafted comedic story. This is a sloppily written, poorly constructed mess, and the worst thing about it is the way that it structures itself around a real and important political issue (corporate corruption scandals) not as a way to make genuine social commentary, but simply as a lazy way to get people's attention. By shamelessly jumping on the anti-corporate bandwagon and putting its message across in such a clumsy, crass way, the film actually hurts the very cause it's allegedly trying to help. Wide release

Memoirs of a Geisha (Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, Ken Watanabe, dir. Rob Marshall)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
There's not much to say about this beyond the review, which documents just how vapid and misguided this movie is despite how pretty it looks on the surface. When I sent in the review, my editor asked if I didn't think it was possible for white male Americans to make insightful movies about Japanese female cultural institutions, and of course I do. There's no reason that every movie about a particular ethnic group has to be created only by people from that ethnic group. But this is facile and condescending, and does a disservice both to the culture it represents and to people who genuinely want to understand cultures other than their own. Opened limited Dec. 9; wide release this week

Munich (Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, dir. Steven Spielberg)
I'm still sort of conflicted about what to think about this movie. On one hand, it left me fairly cold when I first saw it. On the other hand, the more I think about it and read about it, the more I respect it. The most interesting thing is how dark and fairly un-Spielberg it is. His recent films have gone out of their way to present upbeat, optimistic endings and messages even when the plots are overwhelmingly bleak (especially Minority Report and War of the Worlds), but Munich ends on a pessimistic note in keeping with its overall grim outlook. The message that violence begets more violence is an important and timely one, but the film gets its point across early on and becomes a little tiresome over its two and a half hours. Many reviews have focused on the idea that this is an effectively entertaining thriller in addition to its social message, but I think the repetitive structure dulls some of the thriller-esque excitement, and the insistence on emphasizing the soul-deadening consequences of violence takes away the enjoyment of the suspense (not that that's a bad thing). There's also a really poorly executed sequence near the end that intercuts a sex scene with the Olympic violence to illustrate a parity between the hero's tortured lovemaking with his wife and the execution of the Israeli athletes that just isn't there. Flaws aside, this film does raise important questions in a mostly effective way, and for that it deserves to be commended. Opens limited this week; wide release Jan. 6

The Producers (Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, dir. Susan Stroman)
Thankfully, this came out just in time to secure a spot on my worst movies of 2005 list. I'm always on the defensive when talking about musicals, because I'm not generally responsive to the genre, and any criticisms I have are often taken with a grain of salt. The LVW review, written by our musical-loving theater critic, is rapturous, but I'm certainly not alone in hating this movie. The film has plenty of problems that aren't music-related; for starters, it's horribly unfunny. Even though I was less than impressed with the original film, even the jokes from that version that I found funny are bungled in the remake, mostly by Broderick, who gives one of the worst performances of the year with his robotic line readings, stiff movements and endlessly buggy eyes. The only memorable songs are the ones imported from the original film, and the rest of the songs serve no purpose other than to grind the movie to a halt for three minutes or so. Every bit from the original - not exactly a model of subtlety itself - is hit twice as hard square on the nose, and the whole thing is pitched right to the back row. It's loud, awkward and hammy, and completely misses any sly humor or commentary that made its predecessor worthwhile. Absolutely dreadful. (Freudian slip: I accidentally typed "Nathan Lame" in the credits above.) Opened limited Dec. 16; in Las Vegas this week

Wolf Creek (Nathan Phillips, Kestie Morassi, Cassandra Magrath, John Jarratt, dir. Greg McLean)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Slant has named this one of the best movies of the year, and while I wouldn't go that far (they have a serious soft spot for horror movies), this is definitely the scariest and most well-crafted horror film I've seen in a very long time. I've all but given up on any studio-made horror project, since they're all remakes of 70s films or Asian films (or rip-offs of same). Only indie directors like McLean, or Eli Roth, or Rob Zombie, working usually with small budgets and unknown or little-known stars, seem to be willing to take chances and dig deeper into what's really frightening and visceral. This is an odd movie to be released on Christmas; it's likely to get lost in the shadows of all the big prestige pictures and dumb comedies, but if I had to pick one new movie to recommend this week, this would be it. Wide release

No comments: