Friday, January 18, 2008

Movies opening this week

Cloverfield (Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, Odette Yustman, dir. Matt Reeves)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
As much as I am usually reluctant to jump on the fanboy bandwagon, which is all about unquestioning devotion without critical analysis, I really did like this movie, and I think some of the criticism that paints it as some cynical, manipulative 9/11 cash-in is completely off-base. I didn't find the 9/11 references overbearing, and I really don't think that the movie is unduly focused on them, either; it's a deconstruction of the idea of the monster/disaster movie as much as it is a more topical allegory, and I think it works in both ways. Certain elements that are missing, including character development and a broader sense of what's going on with the monster attack, are left out by design as a consequence of the mode of storytelling, and I don't think their absence is a negative. Strangely enough, this feels far more real than Brian De Palma's Redacted, which used a similar narrative structure to tell a story based on an actual event. As ridiculous as a giant-monster attack may be, the filmmakers make the situation identifiable and oddly plausible, while De Palma manages to make actual horrors appear fake and staged. That honest sense of being right there with the characters is what makes this movie work as a story and an experience, all external references aside. Wide release

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Anne Consigny, dir. Julian Schnabel)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I think I am just immune to the uplifting power of these movies about people overcoming adversity and triumphing in the face of incredible odds. This is admittedly much better than the typical pseudo-uplifting disease-of-the-week crap, but I wasn't moved by it in the way so many critics seem to have been. It's often pretty, and has a few powerful scenes, but ultimately it's a little repetitive, and I think has become overrated during awards season (Schnabel best director? I don't think so). Opened limited Nov. 30; in Las Vegas this week

The Savages (Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, dir. Tamara Jenkins)
This one has gotten rather lost in the awards-season crush, and although it features predictably solid acting from Linney and Hoffman (along with a good performance in a tough role from Bosco), I think it's probably justifiably being overlooked. Jenkins tackles a really tough subject - how adult children deal with caring for an aging parent in declining health - but she loses focus, dispatching the dad into a nursing home early on and spending more time on the much less interesting problems of the two kids. Both are whiny and self-absorbed, and the ways that they grow by the end of the movie feel false and contrived, like the dad dying was just a catalyst for the kids maturing, which really short-changes his story. Only the two actors keep things grounded enough to be mildly interesting. Opened limited Nov. 28; in Las Vegas this week

There Will Be Blood (Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
I've seen this movie twice now, once at an awards screening last month and once just the other day, and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it. I definitely don't see it as the new classic that so many critics have proclaimed it as, but I can understand the enthusiasm that many people have, and I fully expect it will become a cult phenomenon that some people will obsess over (and it already sort of has; just check out this site). There's no doubt that the movie is a technical accomplishment and a massive step forward in many ways from Anderson's previous work, but for all its visual mastery, expert use of an unconventional score and powerful performances, it never really engaged me. Day-Lewis' oil mogul Daniel Plainview is clearly a horrible person, as is Dano's preacher Eli Sunday, and the battle between them really has no winner. The relationship between Plainview and his son is more interesting, but it fizzles out in the finale, which flashes forward and puts another actor in the role of the son. And although that finale has been justifiably criticized for being over the top, I kind of liked it a little bit the second time, because it felt like the only time the movie had any real emotion, or allowed itself to get beyond such a carefully controlled and aloof style. Anderson's previous movies may have been messy and self-indulgent, but I almost prefer them because they felt more personal and more real. This movie is in many ways brilliant, and yet after seeing it, I pretty much felt nothing. Opened limited Dec. 26; in Las Vegas this week

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