Friday, February 16, 2007

Movies opening this week

No comics post this week, as I will be in New York for the next few days.

Breach (Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, dir. Billy Ray)
In what's traditionally considered the dregs of the major-release schedule, namely January and February, I have in the past week or so seen three very strong films that are at least as good as most of the awards bait from the end of 2006 still trickling into theaters around the country. This is one (the other two, The Astronaut Farmer and Seraphim Falls, open in Vegas next week), and it's every bit the movie that The Good Shepherd should have been. A tight, focused and realistic look behind the scenes of American espionage, it manages to be extremely suspenseful even though we know from an opening news clip (if not from remembered reports of the actual event) exactly what the ultimate outcome will be. Like Ray's first film as director, Shattered Glass, this film expertly explores office politics in an office where the work is seen as of life-and-death importance (it wasn't, really, in Shattered Glass, but here it genuinely is). This is also a film about loyalty, and how that loyalty is challenged when faced with evidence that the person it's devoted to has engaged in nothing but betrayal. Cooper is phenomenal as the religious patriot who's also a pervert and a traitor, and Phillippe, though not as revelatory as Hayden Christensen in Shattered Glass, stands up quite well. This is the kind of movie that gets forgotten by the end of the year, but is proof that serious, high-quality studio films are not the sole purview of the year-end crunch. Wide release

Breaking and Entering (Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn, dir. Anthony Minghella)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I think this is the last of the movies I saw for awards consideration back in December to finally make its way to Vegas, and it's certainly one of the least notable. I loved Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley, but he seems like a detached and sort of emotionless filmmaker, and this earnest treatise on class and immigration doesn't suit him very well. It's muddled and stilted, and the characters all come off like plot devices. It also hints at a certain nastiness that would have been a bolder and more interesting move, but instead retreats from that into a bland, safe ending that doesn't say nearly as much as it should. Opened limited Dec. 15; in Las Vegas this week

Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley, dir. Mark Steven Johnson)
Johnson sure has carved a niche for himself in adapting B-level Marvel Comics characters into mediocre movies. This is about as good as his Daredevil from 2003 - not horrible, but not really worth recommending, either. It's actually quite campy, which I found amusing but which fans of the dark, horror-centric comics character may not. Cage cannot help but bring his twitchy Nicolas Cage-ness, which is probably entirely inappropriate for the character but nevertheless adds a weird layer of existential dread. Mendes is appealing as the love interest, but the plot really fails in the villain department. Bentley looks like a cast-off from Good Charlotte, and his Blackheart is more whiny than menacing, and defeated way too easily. The effects when Cage changes into Ghost Rider look silly, and it doesn't help that he then speaks in a voice that sounds like Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. Any movie in which a character actually laughs maniacally can't possibly expect to be taken seriously. Wide release

Music and Lyrics (Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Haley Bennett, Brad Garrett, dir. Marc Lawrence)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Really, as far as inoffensive romantic comedies go, this is not that bad. It's got likeable leads and some amusing moments, but it lacks any real conflict or energy. It just sort of slumps to its conclusion without any real justification for its existence. Just once, I'd like to see a movie use '80s culture as a plot element and deal with it seriously and honestly (even if the movie was a comedy), rather than use it as a lazy gimmick. Wide release

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