Friday, October 03, 2008

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with my Las Vegas Weekly co-worker T.R. Witcher in this week's extra-long Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast (it's quite a packed week, as you can see below).

Appaloosa (Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, dir. Ed Harris)
It's nice to see a straightforward, old-fashioned Western, since so few are made these days, and many that are made end up being the sort of arty, deconstructive types (although I probably prefer those, really). There isn't anything remarkable about this movie, and if it were made 50 years ago it would probably not be noteworthy. But it stands out in 2008, and is solid enough for it to be worth seeking out for fans of the genre. Harris and Mortensen are effectively stoic tough guys, and Irons is a good menacing villain, even if he's a little underused. Zellweger has an odd role to play, and is a little too cutesy for it; the movie's whole "womenfolk ruin everything" message left me a little cold, but it's at least a slightly interesting wrinkle to an otherwise perfectly familiar story. Opened limited Sept. 19; wide release this week

Blindness (Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, dir. Fernando Meirelles)
I was expecting some sort of horrible train wreck given the negative reviews of this coming out of Cannes and Toronto, but it's more an ambitious failure than an out-and-out stinker. The long middle section, in which people who go inexplicably blind are confined and left to rot in an abandoned mental institution, is overlong and overwrought, and lacks the scope to really convey the horror of the epidemic. But the beginning, as the sickness spreads, is suitably chilling, and the end, while subject to a few post-apocalypse cliches, also gives a good sense of a world that has collapsed. There are too many plot inconsistencies, and Meirelles' flashy style tends to overwhelm the story, but the acting is solid and the idea is at least intriguing. I wish it had been executed better, but it's still a respectable stab at intelligent science fiction. Wide release

Flash of Genius (Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, dir. Marc Abraham)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
There's nothing particular hateable about this movie, but it bugged me for its dull professionalism, its insistence on smoothing out a complicated story into every inspirational underdog drama ever. I like Greg Kinnear, and I think at times he elevates this movie into what it could have been - a character study of a determined but seriously flawed and possibly unhinged man - but for the most part he's just along for the ride. Telling this kind of obscure, offbeat story in such a slick, predictable manner robs it of whatever reason it had to be made into a movie in the first place. Wide release

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Megan Fox, Jeff Bridges, Danny Huston, dir. Robert Weide)
I've never read Toby Young's memoir, which this movie is based on, but I can guarantee it's more pointed and acerbic and funny than this limp adaptation. Weide can't seem to decide if he wants to make a stinging satire of the magazine industry (which I'm sure is more in line with what Young wrote) or a fluffy romantic comedy, and thus ends up failing at both. The Dunst love-interest character, invented for the movie, never feels like her own person, and Pegg's Sidney has a different personality depending on the demands of the plot. They're both likable enough, and there are a few mildly funny moments, but overall this is a toothless take on what could have been a biting, dark comedy. Wide release

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Ari Graynor, dir. Peter Sollett)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I am totally a sucker for these kinds of movies, and this one is done right. Cera and Dennings have great chemistry (and if I may drop the critical facade for a moment, oh lord is she hot), and the story is sweet without being sappy. The gross-out comedy bits didn't work for me, but the romance did, and the throwback-'80s feel hit the right nostalgia buttons. Others may not be quite so charitable, but I still think this is a good movie. Wide release

Religulous (documentary, dir. Larry Charles)
Bill Maher seems to be a very polarizing figure; I find him funny and am sympathetic to his anti-religion point of view, but I understand why people dislike him. And if you do dislike Maher, then this certainly will not be the movie for you. He comes at the subject from a very glib, confrontational position, and only occasionally engages with average religious people or with non-extremist religious officials. Most of the interviews consist of Maher letting the subject talk for a few seconds before interjecting with something along the lines of, "Your beliefs are really stupid, aren't they?" Now, the beliefs are most of these people are stupid, but they're also so far outside the mainstream that debunking them doesn't really mean anything. Still, the interviews are amusing, and Maher gets in some good points in other segments, especially in exploring his own religious evolution and in talking to some surprisingly frank Vatican officials. No religious person is going to be convinced of the fallacy of religion by watching this movie, although some agnostics or atheists may find it strengthening their convictions. I'll give Maher the benefit of the doubt for being funny and for tackling a difficult topic, but he certainly could have come at it in a much more effective way. Wide release

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