Saturday, September 22, 2007

Movies opening this week

Eastern Promises (Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel, dir. David Cronenberg)
I sort of pine for the days before Cronenberg became this respected prestige director, because as much as I liked this movie, I miss the bizarro gross-out Cronenberg horror films of yore. He's been in and out of the mainstream for years, though, so I hold out hope that he'll get back to something dirty and twisted soon enough. In the meantime, there's this very well-crafted thriller, which is not as successful as A History of Violence but is still pretty brutal and engaging. Some people have criticized the film for coming off as too cold and detached, but that's Cronenberg's style, and the aloof tone actually makes some of the horrors in this film seem even more despicable for how matter-of-factly they're presented. The script by Steve Knight (who wrote Dirty Pretty Things) doesn't offer Cronenberg as many opportunities to indulge his more perverse tendencies as his past work has, and at times it almost seems like he's at odds with the material. But most of the time he simply brings out its inner darkness with more grace and fluidity than Stephen Frears displayed in Dirty Pretty Things, but also less compassion. Mortensen is powerful as the Russian-mob hitman with a secret, and Watts does her usual stellar work, subtly indicating so much with her facial expressions. The plot ultimately is rather conventional, and I would say this is probably minor Cronenberg, but it does have some major moments. Opened limited Sept. 14; wide release this week

In the Valley of Elah (Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, dir. Paul Haggis)
As much as I hated Crash, I tried to approach this movie with an open mind, and I will say that it is not nearly as bad as Crash, and certainly not worth the energy of hating (especially since the mixed reviews and muted buzz hardly seem to indicate it as a likely Oscar candidate). Haggis is still very taken with the idea of himself as someone with something important to say, and there are plenty of heavy-handed, manipulative moments in this film about a father trying to solve the murder of his just-returned-from-Iraq soldier son. One thing that plagued Crash, overacting, is thankfully absent here, as both Jones and Theron bring restraint and subtlety to their parts (perhaps because they've already won Oscars and aren't angling for more). Poor Sarandon gets nothing to do other than cry, though, and even the strong acting can't generate enough interest in the weak murder mystery. When the killer was finally revealed, I couldn't even remember which character they were naming, which is never a good sign. Haggis' messages about soldiers coming back from war are simplistic and not particularly insightful, and he drains too much color from the procedural story for it to be exciting. In trying to make his audience feel guilt, or pity, he only succeeds in making them feel bored. Opened limited Sept. 14; in Las Vegas this week

The Ten (Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Winona Ryder, Ken Marino, Gretchen Mol, Liev Schreiber, Rob Corddry, dir. David Wain)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Although this movie is much more offbeat than the other recent comedy from former members of The State, Balls of Fury, it's not really much funnier (I may actually have laughed more at Balls of Fury). As always, the various State alums show up to support each other, and there is a sense of goofy fun when they get together. It's too haphazard, though, which is the problem with a lot of post-State projects, and the jokes just aren't there, unfortunately. Still, I'm happy to see these guys continuing to work, and I hope they hit on the right combination for a truly great movie sometime soon. Opened limited August 3; in Las Vegas this week

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