Saturday, March 28, 2009

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with Anthony Del Valle of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast. And check out my latest video segment, on Monsters vs. Aliens (this one is a bit wacky; we are still trying different stuff to make these distinctive).

The Haunting in Connecticut (Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Elias Koteas, dir. Peter Cornwell)
A generic movie to go with its generic title, with absolutely nothing new to add to the haunted-house genre. It does skirt some interesting ideas, including positing that terminal illness can put people closer to the spirit world, but none of the characters are developed enough for their specific traits (the family patriarch has a drinking problem that only shows up when it's convenient for the plot) to have any bearing on the story. Also loses points for featuring another "bad things are happening, I think I will take a shower" moment, which should be banned from horror movies forever. Wide release

Monsters vs. Aliens (Voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Hugh Laurie, dir. Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
My podcast guest this week brought up an interesting point this week that we often are more forgiving of unambitious movies that hit their mark than we are of ambitious failures, but I think there's room to praise both. To be clear, this is a movie with modest ambitions that mostly succeeds, and while I wouldn't urge adults to rush out to see it, if you end up having to go with kids, I think you'll be entertained and engaged at least most of the time. That's a big step up from a lot of animated kids' movies (including a number also from DreamWorks). Wide release

Friday, March 20, 2009

Movies opening this week

(Apologies for the general sparseness of posts lately. Things have been pretty busy with various new and old projects, but I hope for some extra time soon.)

Hear me chat about these movies with Las Vegas Weekly Associate Editor T.R. Witcher in this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast. There will be a video segment this week, also, on Duplicity, but it isn't quite done yet.

The Class (Francois Bégaudeau, Esmérelda Ouertani, Rachel Regulier, Franck Keïta, dir. Laurent Cantet)
This seemed like a potential frontrunner for the foreign-language Oscar this year, although it lost out to Japanese movie Departures. I would have been happy to see it win; it's generally a clear-eyed, unsentimental take on schooling, not shying away from the difficulties inherent in teaching kids who don't want to learn, or don't respect their teachers/institutions, or are just across such an enormous cultural gulf that there's no way to reach them. It also doesn't vilify anyone specifically - the teacher is well-meaning but far from perfect, and makes mistakes; some of the students are bright and dedicated, but still moody and disrespectful; the administrators can be overly bureauratic, but they genuinely want to help. I could have gone for a little more of life outside the school grounds, although I understand why Cantet stays away from it; the teacher especially was a bit too much of an enigma especially given some of his emotional outbursts. Still, overall this movie was very effective, and it makes me curious to see Cantet's other films. Opened limited December 19; in Las Vegas this week

Duplicity (Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, dir. Tony Gilroy)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I was really excited for this film: a sexy throwback caper movie starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, from the guy who made Michael Clayton? Sounds like my favorite thing ever. But while Roberts and Owen have great chemistry, they don't get to show it off nearly enough, and the convoluted plot drags along slowly, and turns out to be sort of beside the point anyway. I still think Gilroy has a lot of talent, and look forward to what he does next, and I was surprised at how happy I was to see Roberts back onscreen (even though I apparently didn't even realize she'd been gone), but this turned out to be a serious disappointment. Wide release

I Love You, Man (Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, dir. John Hamburg)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This is a minor one in the canon of Apatow-adjacent comedies, certainly, but it's a perfectly entertaining way to spend 90 minutes (unfortunately, it's 110 minutes long). I laughed multiple times, and that's enough to excuse the predictable plotting, lack of insight and occasional overly vulgar bits. Rudd and Segel could save nearly anything, as they prove here with help from a formidable lineup of comedy all-stars. Wide release

Knowing (Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, dir. Alex Proyas)
This is being read by some as a religious allegory of sorts, so I expected far more heavy-handed sermonizing than I ultimately got. Really, as my friend pointed out, it's as much a Close Encounters ripoff as anything else, in the end. But all the mystical, weird sci-fi stuff is completely unearned, and also pretty inconsistent with the first half of the movie, which is more of a conspiracy-minded thriller. Neither part works particularly well, thanks to Cage's typically awful acting (which infects the rest of the cast) and a jumble of incoherent plotting, but at least the first half has a couple of cool action sequences, one with a plane crash and another with a truly impressive train derailment. It's not enough to make the movie worthwhile, though, especially as it heads toward the totally nonsensical, New Age-y ending. Angels or aliens, either way it's a complete mess. Wide release

Friday, March 13, 2009

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with Jeffrey K. Howard of Vegas Film Critic and KVBC Channel 3 on this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast. And check out my latest video segment, about The Last House on the Left. (I think last week's was smoother, unfortunately. It's a learning process.)

The Last House on the Left (Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt, Sara Paxton, dir. Dennis Iliadis)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I watched the original Wes Craven movie last week for the first time in a number of years, and it's clearly a very amateurish, rough production with a lot of elements that don't work. I love Craven, but of his most highly regarded films, it's definitely one of the worst. Still, part of the reason it's valuable at all is that roughness, that sense of its being a personal vision that comes across regardless of the limitations. Its political engagement may be a little overstated, but it's definitely there, and that lends the movie some weight and makes it seem less crass. This new version has the full power of Hollywood filmmaking behind it, but it thereby loses the personal touch, the sense of making a statement, and becomes another assembly-line horror movie, albeit with much nastier violence (Jeff, on the podcast, was extremely disgusted with the violence). It's very much like Watchmen in that it stays fairly faithful to the original narrative (although more things are changed here, some that seem pretty important) but completely misses the spirit and thus ends up meaningless. And that's even with Craven as producer (though he's probably just doing it to make some money and further extend his brand). Maybe it will point people toward the original, or Craven's films in general, though, and that wouldn't be a bad thing. Wide release

Miss March (Zach Cregger, Trevor Moore, Craig Robinson, Raquel Alessi, dir. Zach Cregger & Tervor Moore)
I really dislike Cregger and Moore's sketch-comedy show The Whitest Kids U' Know, so I suppose I was predisposed to dislike this movie. But it really is awful, and in a different way from the TV show, which is full of bizarre, absurd gags that stretch out interminably. Here, the gags are mostly conventional and obvious (although there are a handful of weird bits), and aren't quite flogged to death, but they're just as awful and unfunny and tone-deaf (perhaps even more so). Moore is one of the most grating screen presences I've ever experienced, and he basically is the movie, despite Cregger's straight man being the ostensible main character. File this one in the increasingly large pile of horrible movies of 2009, somewhere below Paul Blart but probably still above New in Town. Wide release

Friday, March 06, 2009

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies (mostly just Watchmen) with Jay Bosworth of Maximum Comics on this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast. Also, as if reviewing movies in print, online, on the radio and in podcasts weren't enough, I'm now doing weekly video segments as well, which are online now and will eventually (hopefully) be part of a TV-show launch by Las Vegas Weekly's parent company in a few months. Check out the first one (about Watchmen) here. Feedback encouraged (it's my second time on camera, ever).

Two Lovers (Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, dir. James Gray)
I haven't seen Gray's earliest films, but when watching We Own the Night I got the distinct impression that he was more interested in family dynamics than in cop drama, so I suppose it makes sense that he's finally dropped the crime stuff and made a movie that's all about relationships. Like We Own the Night, this movie is definitely plodding and awkward at times, and a touch melodramatic. But it's buoyed by strong performances - Phoenix (in his allegedly final role) does the insecure, needy codependent well, and Paltrow, who's known more these days for being famous than for being an actress, proves that she still has the skill to embody a real person. Both of their characters are essentially selfish and unlikeable, but the story manages to engage nonetheless, building a sort of sick, depressing inevitability to it as it reaches the end. (It's the first movie in the relaunched CineVegas arthouse series, now at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms, which always brings interesting movies to town. I'm glad to see it returning, and now at a theater that people actually go to.) Opened limited February 13; in Las Vegas this week

Watchmen (Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, dir. Zack Snyder)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I'm definitely already feeling Watchmen overload, and there isn't much to say beyond what I said in my review. I feel like I'm coming at this from an in-between place; I'm not some overexcited fanboy just hyped up by the fact the movie exists, but I'm not unfamiliar with the comics medium like a number of mainstream critics seem to be (Anthony Lane's snide, willfully ignorant dismissal of the movie and pretty much the entirety of comic books is especially unforgivable). I love the original graphic novel, and I would have loved to see a great movie version of it. I give Snyder credit for trying, but he was probably doomed from the start, and the slavishly faithful approach doesn't make for a satisfying movie. At least this might spur more people to read the original. Wide release