Friday, December 05, 2008

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with my good friend Jason Harris of the Frat Boys of Comedy in the triumphant return of the Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast. (Actually, maybe not so triumphant - the second half appears to be missing. Should be fixed by Monday.)

Cadillac Records (Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Columbus Short, Beyoncé Knowles, dir. Darnell Martin)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Not knowing a whole lot (read: knowing nothing) about pioneering R&B record label Chess, I came into this movie hoping to learn something and gain a little insight. But the film is perfunctory and apparently not very historically accurate, so all I really got out of it was the chance to hear some decent music, albeit not sung by the original performers. I'm not sure what the best way would be for filmmakers to make movies about real-life people without falling into biopic formula, but combining several movies' worth of the same clichés into one certainly isn't the answer. Wide release

Milk (Sean Penn, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, dir. Gus Van Sant)
And speaking of biopic formula, here's our requisite critically overpraised Important Biopic just in time for Oscar season. This is a better movie than Cadillac Records, certainly, generally well-acted and solidly constructed, but it still hits all the expected beats in a pretty generic way. Van Sant has spent the last several years making ponderous, arty, sometimes interesting movies in a style that embraces long takes and minimal dialogue, but here he's in full-on mainstream mode, and aside from a handful of stylistic flourishes, this is a pretty anonymous Hollywood product. Unlike Cadillac Records, this movie does actually provide some interesting historical insight, although certain moments are clearly engineered for filmic convenience. I wouldn't object to seeing Penn get an Oscar nomination for this, but I wouldn't call it anything close to one of the best movies of the year. Opened limited November 26; in Las Vegas this week

Punisher: War Zone (Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, dir. Lexi Alexander)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Under no circumstances would I call this a good movie, but I did laugh several times at the absurd, campy violence. I am the kind of person who can definitely find the humor in someone getting their face punched off, so your mileage may vary. But as far as dumb, heavily stylized action goes, this was in fact sort of entertaining at times. Wide release

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