Friday, June 09, 2006

Movies opening this week

Cars (Voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, dir. John Lasseter)
Although the reviews on this have been mostly positive, a lot of them have been of the "it's pretty good but it's no Finding Nemo" variety, and I find even that a little generous. Honestly, I found this movie boring and dopey, and the only thing that kept my attention was the absolutely amazing animation, at which Pixar just keeps getting better and better. Compare this with Over the Hedge, from DreamWorks - Pixar's closest competitor - and you can see that they're not even in the same league. Of course, the thing about Pixar used to always be that their stories were as accomplished as their visuals, and this time that's just not the case. The story is sappy and predictable, which wouldn't necessarily be a problem (so is Finding Nemo) if it were funny or had compelling characters or were told its story in a unique way. Many reviews have noted the similarity of the story (which finds Wilson's hot-shot race car stranded in a small town and learning to appreciate traditional values) to Doc Hollywood, which I haven't seen in years, but it shares elements with many movies about self-centered big-city types learning to slow down and take life less seriously. Which, again as many reviews have noted, is a fairly condescending premise, and the blanket rural-good urban-bad condemnation that this film engages in is disappointingly simplistic. The jokes are mostly cheesy and the plot meanders all over; the film comes in way too long at almost two hours. I won't call this Pixar's first misstep, since I wasn't that crazy about A Bug's Life or Monsters, Inc., either, but both of those were better than this. DreamWorks might not be able to create amazingly lifelike natural landscapes, but Over the Hedge is much more entertaining than Cars, so as far as I'm concerned, this summer, they win. Wide release

Down in the Valley (Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, Kieran Culkin, dir. David Jacobson)
I really wanted to like this movie more than I did, because it has such an excellent cast and an interesting, daring premise, with Norton as a modern-day cowboy in the San Fernando Valley, acting like he just walked out of Gunsmoke and getting Evan Rachel Wood to fall head-over-heels for him. And the first half is often lyrical, poignant and powerful, driven by solid performances from its main cast and some stunning cinematography. But the more we learn about Norton's character, the less interesting the movie becomes, until it turns into a rather conventional and pointless thriller, with heavy-handed symbolism to boot. Points for ambition, but not enough follow-through. Opened limited May 5; in Las Vegas this week

A Prairie Home Companion (Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline, dir. Robert Altman)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I think that any fans of Keillor's radio show will like this movie a lot - I went to the screening with a friend of mine who's a regular listener, and he appreciated the movie much more than I did. Altman fans may be a little underwhelmed, since it's not exactly a movie with a lot on its mind, and any efforts at drama are pretty weak. A co-worker of mine saw this film at ShoWest back in March and proclaimed it the best movie of the year, and early reviews were gushing, so I think I was disappointed that it was so insubstantial and rambly. The songs are nice and some of the stories are amusing (and Meryl Streep gives a wonderful performance), but it definitely did not make me want to turn on Keillor on NPR this weekend. Wide release


SaRaH!! said...

you should go see the davinci code. i saw it today. it was a great movie but it took about 1 hr to get to the plot. great story though. its amazing that someone can have the imagination to create something so believable. well done dan brown!!!

Josh said...

I did see Da Vinci, which I didn't much care for. You can check out my comments and a link to my review here.