THE ALAMO Forget The Alamo... again. John Wayne's 1960 take on the historic battle of 1836, the one detailing the valiant if futile efforts of 200 Texans to defend their fort against thousands of Mexican soldiers, was fairly useless as history and barely involving as entertainment, but it at least had the benefit of a sterling cast (Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey) and a marvelous Dimitri Tiomkin score. This new version can't even match those modest achievements -- it's the equivalent of one long drone from a stiff Social Studies teacher who can scarcely be bothered to add any sort of relevance to the topic. The movie's attempts to whip up patriotic fervor (especially in a clumsy final act meant to keep American audiences from feeling too sad about what happened) seem at odds with the gloomy approach of the entire production, as if the filmmakers viewed their jingoism as medicine that should be taken simply because it's good for you (at least Wayne's version was sincere in its nationalist zeal). Even with his charisma largely kept in check by director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), Billy Bob Thornton still fares best as Davy Crockett, the frontiersman-cum-politician trying to maintain the proper balance between Crockett the man and Crockett the legend. The other top-billed performers -- Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Patrick Wilson as William Travis and especially Jason Patric as Jim Bowie -- resemble waxworks at a history museum; if the characters they're portraying had been this boring, they simply could have lulled the Mexican army to sleep. 1/2
CONNIE AND CARLA It still remains to be seen whether writer-actress Nia Vardalos' mega-smash My Big Fat Greek Wedding will have served as the launching pad for a prosperous career or merely fall under the "15 Minutes of Fame" designation, but with Connie and Carla, the spunky moviemaker shows she's not content to take her millions and run. Although it cribs shamelessly from both Victor/Victoria and Some Like It Hot, this new comedy at least finds Vardalos breaking away from her established bread-and-butter -- on the heels of Wedding and the short-lived TV series My Big Fat Greek Life, I was dreading My Big Fat Greek Divorce, My Big Fat Greek Funeral, etc. Instead, this new piece finds Vardalos working opposite Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), with the pair cast as struggling airport lounge singers who take it on the lam after they witness a murder. Hoofing it to LA, they hide out by posing as drag performers at a local nightclub -- in short, they're girls pretending to be guys pretending to be girls. As writer, Vardalos couldn't be less interested in the movie's plot -- the crime escapades wouldn't even have been approved for Hawaii Five-O -- but she has great affection for all her characters, and the on-stage routines of Connie and Carla (covering everything from Webber & Rice to Rodgers & Hammerstein) are fun to watch. Vardalos-Collette won't supplant memories of Lemmon-Curtis, but you could do worse. 1/2
INTERMISSION The opening scene of this scrappy Irish import finds Colin Farrell's small-time crook going from sweet to shocking in an eye blink -- and the film that follows closely mirrors this unpredictable action. Conceived by two figures from Irish theater -- director John Crowley and playwright Mark O'Rowe -- Intermission is a slice-of-life film, the type of sprawling, multi-vignette movie whose success is almost always defined by how interesting we find its characters. Here, there isn't a single person who wears out his or her welcome, and it's a sign of a well-written movie when all of the individual episodes carry equal weight. Beyond Farrell's casually cruel thug, other central players include a young woman (Topsy-Turvy's always-terrific Shirley Henderson) so destroyed by a previous relationship that she doesn't even bother to shave off her tiny mustache or doll herself up in any way; her lovely sister (Kelly Macdonald), who has just entered into a relationship with a doltish older man (Michael McElhatton); the sister's ex-boyfriend (Cillian Murphy), so desperate to win back his true love that he agrees to take part in an ill-advised kidnapping; and a hard-nosed cop (dependable Colm Meaney) who feels he deserves his own "reality" TV series. Crowley and O'Rowe had trouble scraping together the funds to bring this to the screen (even with Neil Jordan on board as a producer), but their perseverance will be appreciated by anyone looking for a meaty film that will stick to the ribs.
DAWN OF THE DEAD George Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead has long been hailed by both critics and cultists as one of the few great "splatter" flicks ever made, so expecting anything but harsh words for a rehash would be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of its creators. But hold on. This new version is that rare bird: a remake that actually succeeds on its own terms. Director Zack Snyder and writer James Gunn clearly knew that simply offering a lumbering retread of the original would be a fatal mistake; instead, it wisely presses forward in its own direction, retaining the mall location but offering different characters, different situations and a different outcome. The result is a crisp horror flick, a fast-paced picture that's exciting, icky and often quite funny.