Friday, October 13, 2006

Movies opening this week

The Grudge 2 (Amber Tamblyn, Edison Chan, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, dir. Takashi Shimizu)
At this point, Takashi Shimizu has directed six movies in the American and Japanese The Grudge series, so it's no surprise that he's run out of new territory to explore. I actually thought the first American Grudge was semi-decent, but this one loses even the rudimentary strengths of its predecessor. The scares are repetitive, relying on the same tired jump techniques and sound effects and scary-haired girl as the first one. They basically just repeat the same moments over and over again, and the plot, divided into three very loosely connected stories, has no urgency or momentum. The first one actually made for a somewhat interesting allegory about Americans confused or bewildered by an alien culture, and that culture being literally deadly. But this one already has a third of the action taking place in America itself, and a predominantly American cast that wipes away even the hint of interesting subtext. Wide release

Infamous (Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, dir. Douglas McGrath)
Pity poor Infamous, which will not make it out of a single review without being compared to Capote, with which it shares pretty much its entire subject matter. Even flattering comparisons reduce it to "that other Capote movie" status. And look, I'm doing it now, too. Anyway, my stance is that this is actually a better movie than Capote, which was bult entirely on Philip Seymour Hoffman's (admittedly very good) performance, and didn't give anyone else much to do. This movie is lighter and brighter and opens up the story more, spending more time in New York with Capote's society friends, and giving supporting characters like Harper Lee and Perry Smith more to say and do. Jones does perfectly well as Capote, making him more flamboyant than Hoffman did, but to me Bullock was the real surprise of the film, bringing a sympathy and pathos to Harper Lee that Catherine Keener did not convey (to be fair, that's because she had little to work with in the script). Honestly, after the way McGrath and Bullock subtly conveyed Lee's own frustrations at her missed opportunities and insecurities, I found myself hoping for an entire biopic on Lee, starring Sandra Bullock. Limited release

Man of the Year (Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Christopher Walken, dir. Barry Levinson)
Even though the trailers looked terrible, I was sort of amazed at how this movie managed to be awful in ways I never would have anticipated from seeing the advertising. I knew it would be full of unfunny, tired Robin Williams shtick (and it was). I guessed that it wouldn't be very politically astute (and it wasn't). But I had no idea that it would be less a comedy and more a half-assed political thriller, with gigantic plot holes and a weak concept that completely undermines any possibility for relevant political commentary. It's sad that this comes from the guy who made Wag the Dog, which is just as accurate and insightful today as it was back in 1997. This movie isn't even relevant for 1997, or 1987, for that matter. It's one of the saddest squandered opportunities I've ever seen. Wide release

One Night With the King (Tiffany Dupont, Luke Goss, John Rhys-Davies, James Callis, dir. Michael O. Sajbel)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I'm devoutly anti-religious, and I'm certainly not the audience for a Christian film, but even though I didn't think this movie was very good, I have to give the filmmakers credit for making an effort to appeal to a wider audience while still telling a clearly religious story, and for putting their budget to use with impressive location shoots and a cast with some pretty good actors. The next step, of course, is to find talented filmmakers who are willing and interested in making religious films, and not just handing writing and directing duties to people from the same insular community. Wide release

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