Saturday, January 17, 2009

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with comedian and filmmaker Jason Harris on this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast.

Last Chance Harvey (Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, dir. Joel Hopkins)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It's a testament to how desperate the Hollywood Foreign Press is for "respectable" comedies to honor that this mediocre-at-best rom-com got two Golden Globe nominations. I suppose it's a safe bet nominating people like Hoffman and Thompson, but this is the very definition of forgettable. I'm already struggling to come up with something useful to say about it. One thing that does bug me is the way this is touted as a great showcase for older actors to play romantic roles, sort of ignoring the fact that Hoffman is still more than 20 years older than Thompson. A more refreshing and appropriate love interest for him might have been, say, Judi Dench or Helen Mirren, but I don't think producers are quite willing to take that risk yet. As it stands, Hoffman comes off more like a father figure than a love interest for Thompson, and it adds a layer of creepiness to the otherwise extremely dull story. Opened limited December 25; wide release this week

My Bloody Valentine (Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, dir. Patrick Lussier)
It's certainly the season of the shitty horror movie, as we learned last week with The Unborn, but this one at least is amusingly trashy and knows its limitations. There aren't any pretentious Holocaust references or appeals to Jewish mythology here; just a dude with a pickax and a gas mask hacking people to bits. Plus, it's in 3D (well, in most theaters; there's no point in seeing the non-3D version), and Lussier knows that, despite all the hype from people like James Cameron and Jeffrey Katzenberg, 3D is an inherently cheesy gimmick. So we get all sorts of things (pickax, gun, naked breasts, etc.) pointing out at the audience, very graphic three-dimensional gore, and things flying directly at the screen. It's all reasonably good fun if you like horror schlock, although of course also the plot is ridiculous, the acting (especially from Ackles) is terrible, and the twist ending is moronic. Still, if I didn't get such a headache from those damn 3D glasses, I would have had a pretty good time. Wide release

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O'Donnell, dir. Steve Carr)
I expected last week's Bride Wars to be the nadir of this typically dead movie period, but Mall Cop was actually a much more painful experience, despite not being quite as dire a sign for the state of American society. Completely unfunny, with an annoying, unlikable lead character, terrible acting all around, a plot stolen ineptly from Die Hard, lame fat jokes, lame slapstick, an absurdly unrealistic love interest, pointlessly extreme sports-oriented villains, a horrible soundtrack, stilted dialogue ... I could go on. Suffice to say, already easily a top contender for worst movie of the year. Wide release

Revolutionary Road (Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, dir. Sam Mendes)
I come at these big Oscar-bait pictures with extreme skepticism, and this one never quite won me over. I think Winslet and DiCaprio both do impressive work, and I think that the examination of the deep underbelly of suburbia is still interesting if done right. But Mendes is a very careful and methodical director, and the movie comes off like a furniture catalog when it ought to be more emotionally affecting. Michael Shannon's overpraised performance is a complete cliche (the crazy guy who says what everyone is secretly thinking), and even Winslet and DiCaprio never seem to quite connect with each other. The novel is highly acclaimed and no doubt better at illuminating the inner lives of these characters, who seem just out of reach throughout the movie. Opened limited December 26; in Las Vegas this week

The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This one, on the other hand, was much more successful at winning me over, although I still didn't exactly love it. Rourke gives a great performance, Aronofsky effectively overhauls his style, and Tomei brings depth to a stock stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold part. But the script does hit all the expected beats, and Wood's role especially is very paint-by-numbers. I'm a sucker for any movie that takes a profession or hobby that usually gets little respect and approaches it seriously, so I really like the movie's take on pro wrestling. And the stripped-down style and realistic performances do make the cliches go down easy. Reservations aside, this is a good movie, and an entirely worthwhile comeback for Rourke. Opened limited December 17; in Las Vegas this week

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