Saturday, July 21, 2007

Movies opening this week

Angel-A (Rie Rasmussen, Jamel Debbouze, Gilbert Melki, dir. Luc Besson)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Although some people revile him for ruining French cinema, and he has indeed as a writer and producer churned out tons of shitty action movies in the last decade or so, I am still a big fan of Luc Besson as a director, and was really looking forward to seeing this, his first movie as a director in six years (he subsequently directed Arthur and the Invisibles, which ended up opening first in the U.S.). I love La Femme Nikita and The Professional, and even have some affection for The Fifth Element (although I haven't seen any of Besson's early work). The previews for this movie made it look quite striking, and visually it is indeed marvelous. But the story is sappy and not engaging, and Rasmussen may be gorgeous, but she's no Anne Parillaud. I wish Besson had married his newfound sentimentality with a little more of the ass-kicking spirit of his classic films. Opened limited May 25; in Las Vegas this week

Hairspray (Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Amanda Bynes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, dir. Adam Shankman)
I had no intention of seeing this movie, for a number of reasons: I am not crazy about musicals, even though I am making an effort to come around on that; I am not a John Waters fan; and, most importantly, early images of Travolta in his fat suit and drag really freaked me the fuck out. Then I started reading all these positive reviews, and my sister asked if I would come along to the screening, and I started feeling like I'd be left out of the summer-movie loop if I didn't see it, so I went. And Travolta in his fat suit and drag (not to mention his bizarre Dr. Evil-style speaking voice) freaked me the fuck out, but otherwise I found this to be a charming and thoroughly entertaining movie. I haven't seen the original, so I'm not sure how fans of that will react, and I imagine at least some of them will be outraged that Waters' subversiveness has been smoothed over into one of the most crowd-pleasing, feel-good movies of the year. But the movie's resolute squareness is exactly why it works, and its earnest effort to entertain is endearing and very hard to resist.

Shankman is one of those anonymous directors that no one has heard of who makes awful movie after awful movie (The Wedding Planner, The Pacifier, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, etc.) - he fits perfectly on the AV Club's list of Directors You Didn't Know You Hated. But he's finally at home here, using his background as a choreographer (a role he reprises here) to bring confidence and authority to the direction. If he's smart, he'll direct nothing but musicals from now on. Other than Travolta, the cast is great, including the charming Blonsky in her first-ever role, the underrated Bynes, and especially Pfeiffer, who revels in playing the evil bitch. The fact that the once-daring subject matter of this movie is now thoroughly mainstream is kind of heartwarming, as is pretty much everything else going on here. Except Travolta. Wide release

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, dir. Dennis Dugan)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Dugan is on that AV Club list, too, as one of the handful of go-to directors for assembly-line Sandler movies (and Sandler-buddy movies like Benchwarmers). Unlike Shankman, he doesn't redeem himself here, although you get the sense that, as with all the actor's mainstream comedies, Sandler, not the director, is the real auteur here. I had been pre-hating this movie for months, and I admit to being prepared to tear it apart. But it's not as reprehensible as I anticipated, merely unfunny and cowardly, afraid of offending gay people and thus too timid to really be about anything (of course, it's not afraid of offending Asian people, hence Rob Schneider's unbelievably offensive portrayal of a buck-toothed wedding coordinator). Absent outrage, there's not really much to say about this movie, other than that it's yet another dumb Adam Sandler comedy. Wide release

La Vie En Rose (Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, dir. Olivier Dahan)
This was one of the hottest tickets at CineVegas and one of the movies I was most excited to see, but it's really just like the French version of Ray or Walk the Line. It's a soup-to-nuts biopic of French chanteuse Edith Piaf, whose life is filled with the requisite tragedy, tough childhood and drug addiction. Dahan slices events up in a non-linear style that only proves distracting (and confusing), but Cotillard gives a forceful performance and there are a few powerful moments (including an excellent single-take scene that conveys Piaf's dread in discovering her lover's death). This sort of movie always ends up overrated, but as biopics go, this certainly isn't bad - just standard. Opened limited June 8; in Las Vegas this week

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