Thursday, November 25, 2004

Movies opening this week

Alexander (Colin Farrell, Jared Leto, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, dir. Oliver Stone)
Every bit as awful as you've heard. Not only bad, but three hours' worth of bad. It's hard to know where to begin with the missteps on this film. There's little things, like the fact that they dye Colin Farrell's hair blond but do a really bad job of it, so you can see the roots. It looks like he dyed his hair poorly, except they didn't have hair-care products like that in 323 B.C., did they? There's the mish-mash of accents, from Farrell's Irish lilt to Jared Leto's put-on mild British accent to some commander's Scottish brogue to Rosario Dawson's "I vant to zuck your blud" voice to Angelina Jolie's awesomely bad Boris-and-Natasha whatever accent. There's a script that is full of long, dull speeches about heroism, and only two battle sequences. Two battle sequences in a three-hour movie about a conqueror! Is anyone even paying attention? There's the laughable gay subtext, which consists of smoldering glances and some really passionate hugging. There's Stone's annoying narrative device of showing the bird's eye view from an actual bird, which he clumsily and pointlessly identifies with Alexander. There's Anthony Hopkins narrating the whole thing like it's a show on the History Channel. There's bad acting all around, except from Jolie, who seems to realize she's in a camp classic in the making and goes over the top sexy/evil with Olympias, fondling her snakes (not a euphemism) and sexually harassing her son. She's so entrancingly ridiculous that's it's almost worth seeing the movie just for her. Wait, no it's not. Wide release

Finding Neverland (Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Freddie Highmore, dir. Marc Forster)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
One of those Oscar-bait pictures that's totally hoodwinking most critics. Really just sentimental claptrap with a reliably good but not exceptional performance by Johnny Depp. The kind of movie undemanding soccer moms will like, which is probably why the woman next to me at the screening was bawling her eyes out. Opened limited Nov. 12; wide release this week

Kinsey (Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, dir. Bill Condon)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Another Oscar-bait picture, but a much better one. Not as unconventional as Condon's last biopic, Gods and Monsters, but still a good exercise in the genre, better than Ray and a whole lot better than Finding Neverland. Notable for not pulling any punches on the sexually explicit material, although it does elide some of the criticisms of Kinsey's research methods. Still, it's ridiculous how worked up some conservative groups are over this movie, and sad that honesty about sexuality can still anger right-wing Christians 50 years after Kinsey's studies were first published. Opened limited Nov. 12; in Las Vegas this week

The Machinist (Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Sharian, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, dir. Brad Anderson)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I think Brad Anderson is one of the most underrated directors in American cinema right now. He's a better filmmaker than those two other, overrated Andersons, Wes and Paul Thomas. He's at least as good as other young turk hotshots like Spike Jonze, David O. Russell and Sofia Coppola. And he's more consistent, working in the confines of genre films (here the Twilight Zone-esque thriller) to bring out insightful truths about humanity. This film suffers a bit from being Anderson's first that he hasn't written himself, but he does more with the sometimes-obtuse script than almost any other filmmaker could (David Fincher comes to mind as someone else who could have made this film). He knows how to choose the right collaborators, from a cinematographer who'll make every frame match the mood, to an actor (Bale) who'll shed 60 pounds to properly convey the intense agony of the lead character, to a composer who'll write a score that perfectly evokes the works of Bernard Herrmann. This is a creepy, disturbing film, worth seeking out. Also worth seeking out are Anderson's last two little-seen films, the freaky 2001 haunted mental hospital movie Session 9, and the totally bizarre 2000 sci-fi rom-com Happy Accidents. See these films and you'll see why Anderson deserves at least to be mentioned in the same breath as those other neo-auteurs. Opened limited Oct. 22; in Las Vegas this week

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