Friday, May 04, 2007

Movies opening this week

Black Book (Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, dir. Paul Verhoeven)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I think I was kind of hoping for this movie to be a little more nuts, after all I read about it. Don't get me wrong - it's very Verhoeven, and quite entertaining (if a little long). But the pube-dyeing scene was almost restrained, and the bucket of shit getting dumped on the heroine was somewhat anticlimactic (although that might have been the effect of hearing about it so many times). Overall, though, worth checking out even if you are bored to tears by WWII/Holocaust movies (as I am). Opened limited Apr. 4; in Las Vegas this week

Spider-Man 3 (Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, dir. Sam Raimi)
The dedicated fans will see this no matter what anyone says (and reviews overall have been rather lukewarm), and the really dedicated fans have probably seen it two or three times by now (several theaters in Vegas are showing the movie around the clock starting Thursday at midnight). And, furthermore, I'm not here to tell anyone not to see this movie - I think Spider-Man fans will find plenty to enjoy, and casual fans will probably have fun as well. But after the stellar quality of the first two movies (especially the second one), this is a serious disappointment. Although it seems likely now that there will be more Spider-Man movies, this installment plays like Raimi and his team threw everything they ever wanted to do with Spider-Man into this one movie because they were worried they wouldn't get to make another one. The frustrating thing is that most of the plot elements are interesting on their own - Franco gets a lot to do as Peter's friend Harry, and his transformation into a revenge-driven villain has been developed well over the course of the three movies. But he's only one part of the overstuffed narrative, which also compresses years of comic-book storytelling to use the black costume/Venom story, throws in the Sandman, a new love interest, the ill-advised retcon of who killed Uncle Ben, etc. It's just too much.

Even the action sequences, as well-crafted as they are, are less inspired than in the past. The early sequence with the runaway crane is exciting, but the rest feel like they have little at stake. For all the plot contortions that Raimi goes through in the movie, he has to leave Spider-Man essentially as he found him, and that makes the scattershot plot even more frustrating. The first two movies each felt like they had thematic and narrative unity, one central idea and goal, but this one doesn't have that. It's nominally about exploring Peter's dark side, but at least half the movie has nothing to do with that. And the villains have fairly ill-defined goals. I still enjoyed large parts of the film, because everyone involved clearly has their craft nearly perfected, and I think other people will as well. But it's a pretty big letdown considering what's come before. Wide release

Unconscious (Leonor Watling, Luis Tosar, Nuria Prims, dir. Joaquin Oristrell)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Foreign films are released in the U.S. (and especially in Vegas) on such a haphazard basis that generally only the biggest acting names from other countries become familiar to American audiences (and even then mainly if they act in English-language films as well). Even as a critic and a fan of foreign film, I am relatively unfamiliar with most actors in most foreign films I see. But I've now seen Leonor Watling in three movies wholly by chance (and four if you count her tiny part in The Secret Life of Words), and she's been wonderful in all of them. I don't think she's a superstar in her native Spain (although she's been in a few Almodovar films), so it's nice to see a talented, versatile character actress finding lots of work, and plenty of that work making its way to this country. Opened limited Feb. 9; in Las Vegas this week

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