Friday, April 28, 2006

Movies opening this week

Hard Candy (Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson, dir. David Slade)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I first saw the trailer for this when I saw Hostel, and it immediately grabbed my interest. The more I read about it and the buzz built, the more excited I got to see it. It sounded like an intelligent and disturbing thriller, exactly the kind of movie I really like when done right. So I suppose it was inevitable that I ended up disappointed, but I think they really dropped the ball on this one. The way the movie resorts to cheap shocks and the pretense of depth, they might as well have just made a standard, gory horror movie; at least it would have been more honest. Opened limited Apr. 14; wide release this week

Lonesome Jim (Casey Affleck, Liv Tyler, Mary Kay Place, dir. Steve Buscemi)
This movie is a lot like Garden State, only mopier. There are some moments of dark comedy that made me laugh a bit, and Place is perfect as the passive-aggressive mom (she should really just play every mom in every movie), but a lot of times this movie feels like a pastiche of depressed indie dramedies about awkwardness. It's the kind of movie where no one can possibly have sex without someone walking in on them at the most inappropriate moment possible, and in its own way it's as predictable as any blockbuster. Affleck, while more subdued than his brother, still seems a little lost in the role of a guy who's pretty much a complete douchebag right up until the falsely optimistic ending. It's movies like this that make indie dramas seem like they all come off the same ugly digital video-fueled assembly line. Opened limited Mar. 24; in Las Vegas this week

Stick It (Missy Peregrym, Jeff Bridges, Vanessa Lengies, dir. Jessica Bendinger)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This was perhaps the only movie I was anticipating more than Hard Candy in the last few months. I know it seems like an odd choice, but Bring It On, which Bendinger wrote, is one of my favorite movies of all time, and this obviously strives to capture some of the same magic. The problem here is that it strives way too much - it's obvious that Bendinger knows what a rabid following Bring It On has, and hopes to replicate its success. She's also got a clear agenda to lay out against the gymnastics establishment, and her efforts to get in all her social commentary along with the regular teen movie stuff are transparently desperate. Maybe it was the hand of director Peyton Reed as much as Bendinger's smart script that made Bring It On such a success, or maybe she just needs to get over her insecurity and relax a little on her next directorial effort. Either way, this doesn't deliver on the promise Bendinger showed in 2000, but I still have high hopes that she'll develop into a capable and intelligent mainstream female filmmaker - lord knows there aren't nearly enough of those. Wide release

United 93 (David Rasche, Ben Sliney, David Alan Basche, Trish Gates, dir. Paul Greengrass)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It's always tough for me to review films like this that get so much attention for reasons beyond filmmaking - political, social. I had the same hard time writing about Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ, for example, and I remember being sort of relieved that I didn't have to write a review of Munich. I'm not interested in engaging in political commentary and, luckily, Greengrass mostly isn't either, although there's a few pointed (but subtle) jabs at the President's unavailability on 9/11. Right after seeing this movie, I was impressed with its respectfulness and power, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered what exactly there is to get out of this film. It doesn't teach you anything, it's not enjoyable or entertaining or enlightening, and it's not even really emotionally moving except in what you bring to it with what you already know about the events of that day. It's like going to a museum more than going to a movie, but I'm not sure how valuable a 9/11 museum is at this point. I ended up giving a mildly positive review, and I do think that if you want to go to the 9/11 museum, then you will get what you are looking for out of this film. But I also sympathize with what Dana Stevens talks about in Slate (and kudos to them for hiring her as David Edelstein's permanent replacement), that the film has no purpose and nothing to say, and that the positive response seems to be as much about obligation to honor the effort as any genuine appreciation. Wide release

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