Friday, March 28, 2008

Movies opening this week

21 (Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, dir. Robert Luketic)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
In Vegas, the anticipation for this movie is very high, and there have been tons of articles on it in the past week or so. But we can easily chalk it up to another movie that doesn't capture the spirit of the town, and isn't even much of an entertaining distraction like Ocean's Eleven. I haven't read the book this is based on, but by all accounts it's a fascinating piece of reporting, and the movie definitely doesn't capture that. I don't hold out much hope for a brilliant, insightful Vegas movie to show up any time soon, but they could have at least made this one a little less cliched. Wide release

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, dir Cristian Mungiu)
It's a testament to the sort of insular, film-obsessed world I live in that for me this is one of the most hyped, highly anticipated films of the year, while the average person has never heard of it (as I learned from the blank stares of co-workers). It won the top prize at Cannes last year and was on a number of critics' top ten lists, despite not actually having been released in the U.S. in 2007. So I've been hearing rapturous praise for this movie for almost a year now, and my expectations were high. I don't know if they were met, exactly, but this is definitely a well-made movie, nearly on par with the other recent bleak Romanian drama, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Death was a little more engaging and more nuanced; at times this film feels like a bludgeon, especially given Mungiu's penchant for long, static takes, forcing the audience to focus on uncomfortable, painful situations. He seems to be reveling in taunting the audience a bit, especially in the oft-noted very long, almost tedious dinner-party scene, which makes its point early and then goes on and on, showing every little bit of horror on the face of Marinca's college student as she imagines what her friend is dealing with back in a hotel room, waiting for her abortion to take. Then there's the shot that lingers on the aborted fetus on the bathroom floor, which almost goes from unflinching to sadistic, and is the only time I felt the movie really faltered. Otherwise it is a depressing but fascinating character piece, and a stark portrait of life during the communist regime in Romania. Opened limited Jan. 25; in Las Vegas this week

Run Fatboy Run (Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria, dir. David Schwimmer)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I suppose this is a step up for romantic comedies, in that it's only forgettable rather than hateful. And Pegg and Newton are pleasant and likable enough. But, really, this is the rom-com equivalent of Ross Geller, the famous character played by its director: A meek, ingratiating presence that's acceptable mainly because all the other choices are even less appealing. Wide release

Stop-Loss (Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, dir. Kimberly Peirce)
In the spectrum of Iraq War dramas, this one falls near the top, although that isn't really saying much. It's less heavy-handed and pretentious than Lions for Lambs or Redacted, but it still has plenty of dramatic problems, and ultimately isn't much of a success as a story. It starts out well, with a serious and gripping depiction of soldiers being ambushed in Iraq, along with some nice, low-key portraits of their downtime. And then when the three main characters come home to their small Texas town, the film does a good job of depicting their difficulty in readjusting to civilian life. If she had stayed with that, Peirce might have had the kind of film she was hoping for, a sympathetic portrayal of soldiers and the toll that war takes on them, how hard it makes it for them to live normal lives. But then the plot kicks in, and Phillippe's dedicated soldier goes AWOL rather than being sent back to Iraq, and the movie turns into a road trip through a bunch of well-worn arguments against the war, rather than a depiction of people and their difficulties. Phillippe struggles with the material and his Texas accent, but he occasionally pulls off some affecting moments. The narrative is too unfocused to be as powerful a drama or as persuasive an argument as it hopes to be. Wide release

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