Friday, April 06, 2007

Movies opening this week

Grindhouse (Rose McGowan, Kurt Russell, Freddy Rodriguez, Rosario Dawson, Marley Shelton, dir. Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino)
I think I managed to temper my expectations enough that this movie just about met them, which means I didn't find it nearly as giddily entertaining as some have, but I did have a good time watching it. It's really, of course, two movies, which will be released separately in every other country in the world, but as an ersatz trashy theater experience (and speaking as someone who's never really had such an experience), it was definitely effective. The fake trailers are easily the funniest things in the whole package, and Rodriguez at least commits wholeheartedly to the illusion that his film is a damaged, scratched-up old print. Aside from that, he does a pretty good approximation of B-movie style, although of course he has the benefit of CGI effects. Really, it's not like this sort of silly, over the top zombie thriller has much gone out of style; Planet Terror reminded me strongly of last year's Slither, a funnier and more exciting take on very similar material. Still, the movie kept me entertained and made me laugh enough that I enjoyed it, and McGowan is surprisingly compelling as the stripper with a machine gun for a leg.

On the other hand, I'm still not sure what to make of Tarantino's contribution, Death Proof, which must be following in some exploitation tradition that I'm not entirely familiar with. It's definitely not a horror movie, and although it's sort of a woman-get-revenge picture in its last third, the pacing is so lopsided that it seems like three different movies in the span of 90 minutes. The first third is the best, I thought, with Sydney Tamiia Poitier turning in an excellent performance as a lusty radio DJ, but then things take an abrupt turn and Tarantino treats us to lots of really long scenes of people talking in circles, which one would think might be his strength but just come off as forced and boring. And then the climax is so tonally awkward that it still baffles me. There are mentions of movies that I haven't seen (Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry) that may be reference points to illuminate some of Tarantino's intentions, or maybe not. He's certainly still a bold filmmaker, and this whole omnibus is unique and daring enough that it's worth seeing, all in one sitting in a theater as it's intended, even if everything doesn't quite add up in the way it seems meant to. Wide release

The Hoax (Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, dir. Lasse Hallstrom)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I got burned with Hallstrom's last allegedly "whimsical" film, Casanova, but this one actually was entertaining, if not much more than that. It's got nice period detail (to be fair, so did Casanova) and a jazzy lead performance from Gere, even if it's completely predictable and a little overwrought toward the end. Still, in its more restrained prestige, it's leagues ahead of Hallstrom's other recent work. Limited release this week; wide release April 13

In the Pit (documentary, dir. Juan Carlos Rulfo)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Since CineVegas started up their very welcome Arthouse Screening Series, they have been playing a lot of these good-for-you documentaries that I have scrupulously been avoiding reviewing and/or watching because I feel like I don't have much to say about them. And I know many are likely great - I have the Iraq in Fragments screener at home, and I will get around to watching it eventually - but they are often hard to break down and analyze or criticize, and not all that much fun to write about. But I finally ended up covering one, and actually writing about it was not as difficult as I expected. I still don't expect to be blown away by films like this, but they're valuable to watch, and this one is mostly well-made. Opened limited Feb. 2; in Las Vegas this week

The Reaping (Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, dir. Stephen Hopkins)
I really had no reason to see this movie, but I am drawn to these shitty horror movies by some primal urge (these are what I watch instead of edifying documentaries, usually), and thus, there I was watching Hilary Swank continue her WTF post-Oscar career by fighting off the 10 biblical plagues. There is a little bit of Southern gothic charm to this movie, which reminded me in some ways of another dumb horror movie set in the South, The Skeleton Key, although that one at least had a sort of cool and very dark ending. The ending here was just idiotic, as was the rest of the movie, a combination of elements from The Omen, The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and every other movie that ever ripped them off. At one point, a priest dumps all this exposition on Swank's character to explain what's going on, and she complains that it's contradictory and convoluted. You know the old rule: When the characters bitch about the plot, you're in serious trouble. Wide release

Sweet Land (Elizabeth Reaser, Tim Guinee, Alan Cumming, John Heard, dir. Ali Selim)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Postponed when the CineVegas series moved venues, this is now opening this week, and as I said when it was originally set to open, it's worth seeing for its well-composed visuals and pleasant, simple story, but not as good as I had hoped. Opened limited Dec. 1; in Las Vegas this week

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