Friday, June 27, 2008

Movies opening this week

How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer (Elizabeth Peña, American Ferrera, Lucy Gallardo, dir. Georgina Garcia Riedel)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
For the first maybe half of this movie, I actually thought it was pretty great, but Riedel lets the story meander on a little too long and heads into a few too many fairly obvious places. Still, the acting (especially from the consistently underappreciated Peña) carries the movie through the rough spots, and it's a nice little indie drama that deserves to be seen. Opened limited May 16; in Las Vegas this week

Mongol (Tadanobu Asano, Khulan Chuluun, Sun Honglei, dir. Sergei Bodrov)
I saw this movie probably at the height of my festival fatigue in the middle of CineVegas, so that may be part of the reason why I found it so dull and uninvolving. Despite featuring a number of huge battle sequences, it's basically about Genghis Khan the devoted husband, and the love story is completely boring and bland. Even the battles seem rote and unoriginal, echoes of other, better historical epics past. That's not to say that there aren't some decent sequences; Bodrov gives the story a suitably grand feel, and there are interesting insights into Mongolian culture. It's nowhere near as bad as last year's abysmal Kazakh historical epic Nomad, which Bodrov co-directed; it's just consistently mediocre, and its focus on Genghis Khan's early years (as the alleged first part of a trilogy) means that many of the bloodiest, most exciting parts of his life are passed over in favor of a trite love story. Opened limited June 6; in Las Vegas this week

WALL-E (Voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, dir. Andrew Stanton)
The praise for this movie has been overwhelming, so I don't want to overstate its quality (pity the four poor souls who've posted negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and earned a flood of insulting comments as a result). But it's quite good, easily one of my favorite Pixar efforts. Just a few weeks ago I was complaining that Kung Fu Panda had a high level of technical sophistication but very little in the way of style or artistry. This movie is the opposite: Obviously it too is very technically accomplished, but it's also clearly a unique artistic vision with style and purpose. It's a little simplistic and quite predictable, but Stanton turns the simplicity into part of the appeal, doing away even with dialogue for much of the movie. WALL-E's antics are deserving of the Charlie Chaplin comparisons, although the social message of the movie is just as broad and loosely defined. It's not an unqualified masterpiece, and I still think Stanton's last film, Finding Nemo, is better, but it's a wonderful example of ambition and artistry in big-studio filmmaking, and I'd be happy to see it make a ton of money. Wide release

Wanted (James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, dir. Timur Bekmambetov)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I feel much the same way about this movie as I did about 300: It's been crafted with a great deal of impressive-looking and distinctive flash that both distracts from and highlights its morally reprehensible core; it will appeal strongly to a certain class of fanboy (i.e., probably the same people who loved 300); its fans will love it unconditionally and defend it vehemently; and yet, it's a cynical, manipulative appeal to the baser instincts of people with pent-up rage and no concern for story or character development or humanity in the movies they watch. I really don't mean to get up on a moral high horse, and I am certainly the last person to pass judgment on someone else's values, but something about this movie's callous disregard for both human life and human emotion really bugged me. I read the first issue of the comic this is based on and felt equally disgusted, and the movie bears out all those arrogant, self-satisfied, solipsistic themes in a big ol' action movie that 14-year-old boys of all ages will, sadly, eat right up. Wide release

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