Saturday, January 20, 2007

Movies opening this week

Late once again. That'll teach me to go out and do things on Friday nights.

Come Early Morning (Ashley Judd, Scott Wilson, Jeffrey Donovan, Laura Prepon, dir. Joey Lauren Adams)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I didn't have much in the way of expectations going into this movie; it seemed like a typical indie drama, and Adams is decent but sometimes annoying as an actress. But even though some of it was a little too typical of indie dramas, most of it was not, and anything that could have been contrived or obvious was understated in a very affecting, natural way. This isn't a life-changing movie, but it's a good, honest character study with nice performances (as I mentioned last week, had I seen this earlier, Judd would have been on my list for best actresses of the year). At this point, I will be much more interested in Adams' next movie as a director than as an actress. Opened limited Nov. 10; in Las Vegas this week

The Hitcher (Sophia Bush, Sean Bean, Zachary Knighton, dir. Sean Bean)
Even by the low standards of cynical horror remakes, this is pretty awful. I haven't seen the original, so I can't say how this one stacks up, but my guess is pretty poorly. Nothing in this movie makes any sense - the heroes consistently do the stupidest possible thing at every moment, the villain is seemingly omnipotent and omniscient and yet has not motivation or reason for existing - and the scares are all cheap shocks. The main characters are so whiny and annoying that after 10 minutes I was rooting for the villain to kill them. The direction is showy and distracting, and exhibits the influence from producer Michael Bay by including pointless explosions and car crashes. Definitely a likely candidate for a list of the worst movies of 2007. Wide release

The Last King of Scotland (Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, dir. Kevin Macdonald)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I saw this movie back in October and wrote the review as it was set to open in Vegas. It got pulled at the last minute and not rescheduled, so I figured it was one of those smaller movies that didn't have enough success to open in Vegas and would just disappear (this happens from time to time here). But thanks to all the awards attention for Whitaker, Fox Searchlight is giving the movie a renewed push, so here it is. Whitaker deserves all his accolades, although the movie itself is merely satisfactory, and could have bypassed Vegas back in October and headed straight to DVD without anyone really losing out. Opened limited Sept. 27; in Las Vegas this week

Letters from Iwo Jima (Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, dir. Clint Eastwood)
Flags of Our Fathers left me rather cold, but, as has been noted by many others, this is a much stronger movie, even though it too has its moments of ham-handed sentimentality. I don't think, however, that the quality of this film really enriches Flags of Our Fathers in some way; they are related, yes, but stand on their own, and it's not like you can see something here that allows you to discover some nuances in Flags that you didn't see at first. Obviously, telling both sides of this story is a grand cinematic project, and it is worthwhile to see both films together. But, just as a good sequel can't really improve a mediocre predecessor, this film can't make its companion anything other than what it is. That's all really a side conversation, though, as the other film isn't relevant to the fact that this is a very good war movie, focused on the toll a futile battle takes on the average soldiers who have no choice but to fight it. There is actually very little aboveground battle action in this film, but instead a lot about the scared and confused soldiers waiting for the mysterious enemy to root them out. By narrowing the focus, showing the build-up and then the battle with only sparse flashbacks, Eastwood gives this film a more immediate power than Flags had. The sentimental moments can be a little much, but they are minimal and outweighed by the clear-eyed, sober depiction of the absurdities of warfare. Opened limited Dec. 20; in Las Vegas this week

Lunacy (Pavel Liska, Jan Triska, Anna Geislerova, dir. Jan Svankmajer)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
When I saw this at CineVegas over the summer, it seemed way too indulgent and messy, although I like the ideas behind it and the sheer bizarreness of the narrative and the cool stop-motion meat segments. Actually, a short film compiling all those segments probably would have been pretty cool. Even though it didn't quite work for me, this sold out two showings at CineVegas, and I have a co-worker who went to both and is planning to see it again this week. Svankmajer is a surrealist legend, and I do have his fascinating-sounding Little Otik in my Netflix queue somewhere, so I'm open to seeing what else he has to offer. Opened limited Aug. 9; in Las Vegas this week

Pan's Labyrinth (Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Ariadna Gil, dir. Guillermo Del Toro)
Del Toro is a director whose works always sound appealing to me but then usually leave me sort of underwhelmed. This is definitely my favorite of his films, and it seems to distill all that was interesting about his previous work into one very effective story. The images are grotesquely beautiful, and the elegy for lost childhood innocence is rather heartbreaking. Even though the real-world villain (Ofelia's evil stepfather) is too cartoonish to be a convincing representative of the real military during the Spanish Civil War, he works as a symbol of that same system, and fairy tales are all about symbolism anyway. Even though things seem to be neatly divided into fantasy and "real" worlds, really the entire thing is a fairy tale, and the ending is a reminder that things we perceive of as fantasy can become devastatingly real, and things that are real can often easily corrupt our fantasies. Opened limited Dec. 29; in Las Vegas this week

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