Friday, November 21, 2008

Movies opening this week

(No podcast this week, as I am actually out of town.)

Bolt (Voices of John Travolta, Susie Essman, Miley Cyrus, Robert Walton, dir. Chris Williams and Byron Howard)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This isn't quite as snooze-inducing as Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, but it's pretty dull and forgettable nonetheless. Inoffensive and semi-entertaining are high standards for kids' movies, sadly, and this is one that you could certainly take children to without worrying about it sending them the wrong message or wanting to gouge your own eyes out. Otherwise, easily skipped. Wide release

Synecdoche, New York (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, dir. Charlie Kaufman)
I still don't quite know what to make of Charlie Kaufman, who wrote one of my favorite movies of all time (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) but also penned the maddeningly precious, smug Adaptation. Here he's working without either of his regular collaborators (directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry), and their senses of whimsy and wonder are sometimes sorely missing from this dark, pessimistic and ambitious movie about artistic failure. I love a lot of what Gondry's done without Kaufman, and at times this movie seems too bleak, too heavy, too concerned with big ideas and not nearly as playful as what Gondry and Jonze (and even George Clooney) have done with Kaufman's work in the past. But for the first two-thirds or so I was really with this movie, through all the seriousness and the dourness, because it's actually very funny in a cynical way, and very real in its depiction of artistic frustration and regret. Hoffman captures the kind of hopelessness that comes with wanting to do something great and important with one's life but not knowing what that is or how to accomplish it, and the supporting actresses all convey the frustrations of romantic relationships with people who are never satisfied with anything they've done. And then somewhere around the 90-minute mark, the movie just drifts off into its own world; the thorny but discernible plot becomes inscrutable, characters lose their central motivations, and the themes get vaguer and vaguer until it's all just a morose march to the end. I wish I could give a love or hate response to this movie as so many people have, but the best I can do is tempered enthusiasm. Opened limited October 24; in Las Vegas this week

Twilight (Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Generally I don't find it necessary to read the source material for movies based on novels; the film versions should be able to stand on their own. But with certain cultural phenomena, it seems wise to get a grounding in the original in order to make an informed critique of the adaptation. So, for example, I read The Da Vinci Code, The Golden Compass and the first two Narnia novels before reviewing those movies, and thus I also diligently read the insanely popular Twilight, a 500-page monstrosity of a romance novel that drips with retrograde sexism and horribly written purple prose. Twilight the novel, written by a Mormon housewife, is sort of fascinatingly awful in the way it contructs a fantasy relationship in which the woman has no personality or will of her own, and her semi-abusive, much older boyfriend merely tells her what to do because he always knows what's best (and constantly warns her to be careful because he might "accidentally" harm her). It's rather sickening that the book's legion of overwhelmingly female fans could hold up Edward and Bella's relationship as some sort of ideal, and perhaps a sign of a deep strain of romantic conservatism that can only be expressed via fantasy stories. I think I probably would have been more satisfied writing a review of Twilight the novel, since while the movie does replicate many of these disturbing issues, it's mostly just a bland, crappy teen movie, not worthy of the attention (either positive or negative) that has so consumed the novel and its sequels. Wide release

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