The wide releases are nothing to get excited about this week, so I’m going to start off with the limited releases where things are really popping after a couple of slack outtings. We kick things off with what was one of my top 5 most anticipated films of the year:
- Che. If you’re in New York or Los Angeles, you’ll have the chance to see the roadshow version of Steven Soderbergh’s Che while the film makes its unlikely (in my opinion) Oscar bid. That means you’ll get to see all 4 1/2 hours of the epic film with an intermission in the middle and a souvenir program (the film plays with no credits. All the credits are in the program). As an extra-added bonus, star Benicio Del Toro will be at LA’s Landmark Theatre on Pico (you know, across the street from the 2nd best pie in Los Angeles county) to do a Q&A after the 1:30pm and 7:30pm shows on Saturday, December 13. I couldn’t find any mention of anything special at the Ziegfield Theatre where the film will be unspooling in New York.
So what do you get for your time besides a sore ass and a fancy program? Well, you get the kind of ballsy, no compromises, audience-be-damned cinema that Soderbergh specializes in and that tends to divide viewers into love/hate camps. Your results will likely depend on how receptive you’ve been to Mr. Soderbergh in the past and how much patience you’re able to muster for having your expectations tampered with.
In this case, Soderbergh plays at offering a classic, epic biography in the Lawrence of Arabia mold, but there’s none of the rousing highlights, simply drawn emotional conflict or easy to carry away symbolism. There isn’t even an uplifting score with a hummable theme. This is a contemplative, inward looking epic if there is such a thing and Soderbergh seems to delight in going against the grain.
A month later I’m still kind of talking around the experience of seeing it and I haven’t decided if it’s a great film or merely a good one. Either way, it’s something worth seeing for the cinematically adventurous. Check out what I had to say about Che at AFI here. Highly recommended.
- Wendy and Lucy (12/10). Kelly Reichardt’s (Old Joy) minimalist character drama is sort of the opposite of Che. It isn’t painted on the broad canvas of history but rather the fragile circumstances of a young woman (Michelle Williams) stranded in a small Northwest town on her way from Here to There with her dog. Like Ballast before it, Wendy and Lucy is another terrific American indie that charts the life of a person on the edges of society with little in the way of a safety net to save them if they should fall. Recommended.
- Timecrimes. Here’s a nifty little sci-fi/horror/thriller from Spain (soon to be remade by David Cronenberg) about a doughy middle-aged man who stumbles across a beautiful naked woman in the woods, a mysterious stalker whose head is wrapped in a pink bandage and a scientist in the middle of nowhere performing some strange experiments. How do they all fit together? You’ll have to see it to find out. Recommended.
- The Reader (NY 12/10. LA, SF 12/12. Expands 12/25). Steven Daldry directs Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes in a story that takes place in post-WWII Germany where a woman (Winslet) has an affair with a teenager half her age. Eight years later, they meet again but this time he’s studying law and she’s a defendant in a war crimes trial. I’m guessing Fiennes plays the guy in older age telling the story in flashback because I can’t imagine him in his mid-20s
- Adam Resurrected. In a film based on Yoram Kaniuk’s novel, Jeff Goldblum plays Adam Stein, former magician, circus performer, clairvoyant, American Express Card holder and Holocaust survivor rehabilitating in an Israeli asylum. Paul Schrader directs. Willem Dafoe and Derek Jacobi also star.
- Doubt. John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) adapts and directs his stage play with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a priest trying to loosen up his Bronx Catholic school in 1964. Meryl Streep plays the conservative principal who will take any measure to prevent change. Amy Adams is the young nun caught in the middle of their battle of wills and Viola Davis is the mother of a student who is used as a pawn.
- Gran Torino. Remember there for five minutes when everyone thought this was going to be another Dirty Harry movie? Well, it kind of is, but this time Harry is about 1000 years old, sounds like he’s losing a battle with throat cancer and he’s not a cop but a racist Korean war veteran named Walt who finds himself protecting his immigrant neighbors (and his lawn) from the clutches of a street gang. My initial enthusiasm for this one has worn off. I still want to see it, but expectations are modest.
- Dark Streets. Hey everybody, just in time for Christmas it’s a film noir murder mystery blues musical dance fantasy featuring original numbers performed by Etta James, Dr. John, Natalie Cole, Aaron Neville, Solomon Burke, Chaka Khan and Richie Sambora. Think I’m kidding? Think again.
- What Doesn’t Kill You. Apologies for repeating myself, but here’s basically what I wrote when the trailer for this one came out a couple of weeks ago: Two boyhood friends (Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke) on a downward spiral of crime in South Boston are imprisoned where one turns over a new leaf and the other hatches a plan for one last heist that will allow him to live a life outside of crime. The film was written by Donnie Wahlberg who also stars along with Amanda Peet.
- While She Was Out. In this feminist thriller, Kim Basinger is a housewife stalked in the woods by Lukas Haas and a pack of savage teens. Surprisingly, Andrew Sarris gave it a good review. Executive produced by Guillermo del Toro.
Opening in New York:
- Where God Left His Shoes. John Leguizamo is Frank Diaz, a Gulf War veteran who lives with his family in a homeless shelter while waiting to become eligible for an apartment. The big day comes on Christmas Eve(!), but the bad news is that Frank must hold a job in order to qualify. Jeez, how bad can it get? Does someone steal his bike?
And finally, here’s what’s opening wide:
- The Day the Earth Stood Still. The sci-fi classic is remade with Keanu Reeves and we’re left simply to wonder why. The good news is that Jennifer Connelly is in it and she doesn’t play Gort. The bad news is that’s the only good news.
- Delgo. I’m just going to reprint a comment Evan Derrick made when I made a post on this animated film back in September because it’s top shelf comedy and he didn’t copyright it: “Let me just shoot from the hip and say that that picture you’ve posted looks like a koala on an acid trip crapped a rainbow into a direct-to-video DVD case.”
- Nothing Like the Holidays. There’s nothing like the holidays when it comes to lame excuses for crappy movies that people will flock to anyway because they’re feeling loagy from turkey and an abundance of Christmas cookies and they just want to get the hell away from their creepy drunk uncle. The twist this time is that you’ve got a strong Latino cast (John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena and Melonie Diaz) filling out the inevitably dysfunctional family plus Debra Messing who must’ve sold her soul to the devil for her brief run of success on Will and Grace because she’s been shooting blanks ever since.
Thank the movie gods I live in Los Angeles this weekend. All I’m sayin’.
With a nod to the soundtrack of Gus Van Sant’s award winning film Milk, the musical sponsor for this edition of the Weekend Forecast is brought to you by David Bowie.
Filed under: Weekend Forecast