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Film Clips: Doom, The Legend of Zorro, more 

LOOKING SHARP Antonio Banderas masks his contempt for villainy in The Legend of Zorro
  • LOOKING SHARP Antonio Banderas masks his contempt for villainy in The Legend of Zorro

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DOOM Stating that Doom is probably the best of the numerous flicks based on a video game ranks as the feeblest praise imaginable. It's akin to noting that benign genital herpes is the best sexually transmitted disease to acquire, or that strawberry is the best-tasting Schnapps flavor. Still, in a sub-sub-genre that has subjected us to the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Resident Evil, we'll take our favors where we can get them. Doom rips off Aliens at every turn (at least its makers steal from the best), as a group of military grunts find themselves combating vicious creatures at a manned outpost in outer space. Led by the gruff Sarge (The Rock), the outfit consists of the usual stock characters: reluctant hero, nervous novice, perpetual whiner, wisecracking black guy, monolithic black guy, and so on. And, of course, there's a pretty lady scientist (Rosamund Pike) to mollify red-meat moviegoers by functioning as eye candy to go along with the expected quota of guns 'n' gore. For a good while, director Andrzej Bartkowiak actually attempts to make a real movie rather than just a video game simulation: There are some character conflicts in the mid-section that spark the proceedings, and Bartkowiak opted to go with old-fashioned monsters (read: guys in cool costumes) rather than using the expected crutch of shoddy CGI. But eventually the movie runs out of steam, pretty much at the point when Bartkowiak finally succumbs to the project's video game genesis (the final slaughter is filmed from the POV of the grunt doing all the shooting). The ludicrous hand-to-hand skirmish that ends the film further sours the deal. **

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO It's been seven years since the delightful swashbuckling adventure The Mask of Zorro hit theaters, and the lengthy interim suggests this follow-up was largely an afterthought on the part of Columbia Pictures. Maybe so, but at least nobody can accuse it of being hastily put together to cash in on the success of the first film. In fact, considering how long it's taking Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford to find a suitable script for their ill-advised Indiana Jones sequel, one wonders why they didn't snatch up this property and modify it to their needs -- it certainly exhibits the proper measure of breathtaking adventure and dramatic derring-do. Set approximately nine years after the conclusion of Mask, this finds Don Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) having trouble shedding his day job as Zorro in order to spend more time with his lovely wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and rambunctious young son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). External pressures force the couple to split, with Alejandro drowning himself in booze and Elena taking up with a Frenchman (Rufus Sewell) who's clearly up to no good. But once Alejandro learns of a criminal plan that threatens not only California but the rest of the nation as well, he steps back into his role as the other Man In Black, receiving some unexpected help along the way from his own kid. The presence of Anthony Hopkins (who played the original, aging Zorro in the first film) is sorely missed, but Banderas and Zeta-Jones remain a sexy and spirited screen couple. Their fiery passion, combined with some solid action scenes, results in an undemanding good time. ***

STAY Don't they mean Stay Away? Stay is a pretty ironic title for a film that will be hard-pressed to keep audience members in their seats for even 15 of its pretentious minutes. Skewing closer to tripe like The Butterfly Effect and The Jacket than twisty gems such as Memento and Mulholland Drive, this movie mind-bender stars Ewan McGregor as Sam Foster, a psychiatrist with a formerly suicidal patient as his girlfriend (Naomi Watts) and an intriguing new case study under his care. That would be Henry Lethem (The Notebook's Ryan Gosling), a disturbed artist who plans to commit suicide on his 21st birthday, which is only a few days away. Desperate to save his moody charge from doing anything so drastic, Sam scours New York City for clues on how to help his young patient. But clearly, nothing is as it seems, as Sam repeatedly bumps into people who are supposed to be dead, experiences overwhelming instances of déjà vu and further subjects himself to strange sights usually reserved for people on strong hallucinogens. Even if the mystery at the center of Stay wasn't fairly obvious from the get-go, it isn't enough for a movie to simply play a game of "Gotcha!" with viewers -- there has to be an internal logic at work at all times, as well as a sense that something's truly at stake. Stay fails on both counts, though film students might at least derive some pleasure from the film's technical exuberance (it's like an experimental student film gone wild). Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) and scripter David Benioff (25th Hour, Troy) are both gifted practitioners of their form, but here's an example of when two positives do equal a negative. *1/2

THE WEATHER MAN Nicolas Cage, who throughout the past decade has been more grating than ingratiating, here delivers one of his better performances in a movie that mines much of the same emotional terrain as About Schmidt. A serio-comic piece written by Steven Conrad (who previously penned the little-seen but worthwhile Wrestling Ernest Hemingway), this finds Cage cast as David Spritz, a Chicago TV weatherman whose lack of legitimate credentials hasn't slowed down his career ascension. One of the final candidates for the weatherman position on the nationally televised morning show Hello, America, David realizes that if he lands the gig, he would have to relocate to New York City, a move that he hopes would bring his family back together. At present, though, his personal life's a mess: His ex-wife (Hope Davis) doesn't share his desire for a reconciliation, his son (Nicholas Hoult) is presently undergoing counseling with a teacher (Gil Bellows) who just might harbor a proclivity for teenage boys, his overweight daughter (Gemmenne de la Pena) suffers from a lack of enthusiasm for anything, and his own dad (Michael Caine), an award-winning author, always seems to be criticizing his every move. Gore Verbinski may have directed the smashes Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring, but he's clearly not planning on coasting the rest of his career: The man who previously gave us the only decent Home Alone rip-off (Mouse Hunt) as well as a loopy star vehicle that pissed off the masses (the Pitt-Roberts yarn The Mexican) has now tackled an affecting tale about a man who has trouble seeing the big picture because all of life's little asides keep obstructing his view. The film's sensibilities are just off-center enough to make it interesting, yet there's always a tug of universal recognition in David's travails. ***

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DOMINO By all appearances, Domino led a fascinating life: The daughter of English actor Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate), this tomboy quickly gave up the lifestyle of the rich and famous to forge her own path as a bounty hunter. That sounds like compelling material for a kick-ass biopic -- for once, it seems that truth is stranger than fiction. But armed with a script Richard Kelly, director Tony Scott instead chooses to ignore many of the smaller details of Domino's hard-scrabble existence to fashion an ugly and oft-times impenetrable action flick about a trio of bounty hunters. It's Scott's attempt to make a crime caper as tricked up as, say, Pulp Fiction or Get Shorty, but it's an unholy mess, and it subjugates the character of Domino (played by Keira Knightley) to such a degree that she ultimately feels like a bit player in her own story. *

DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY Taking a well-worn formula and adding some flavor through the rich characterizations of its leading players, Dreamer centers on the circumstances that transpire when horse trainer Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) and his young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) elect to nurse an injured race horse named Soñador (Spanish for Dreamer) back to health. Many child stars are either sloppily sentimental or coldly calculating, and while Fanning has occasionally veered toward the latter, she delivers her warmest and most natural performance in this picture. There's a heartwarming family dynamic between father and daughter, and the scenes between Russell and Fanning are especially good -- so memorable, in fact, that they almost make us forget that we've seen all this before. **1/2

ELIZABETHTOWN Always a personal filmmaker, Cameron Crowe here seeks to honor the memory of his father, who died of a heart attack in 1989. It's a noble endeavor but a disappointing movie, as engaging individual scenes fail to disguise either the slackness or superficiality of the piece. Orlando Bloom, nothing special but getting the job done, stars as a failed shoe designer who temporarily shelves his own demons in order to attend his dad's funeral back in the title Kentucky town; along the way, he meets a chatty flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) who stirs him out of his stupor. Too often, Crowe employs his personal CD collection in place of a story. Dunst is passable as Bloom's kooky, life-loving confidante, though I preferred Natalie Portman in the role in the similar (and superior) Garden State. **

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK In his second stint as director, George Clooney (who also co-wrote and co-stars) looks at an inspiring moment in US history, when legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) did the unthinkable by standing up to Joe McCarthy, the Senator who was destroying lives left and right in his maniacal pursuit of Communist infiltrators. Clooney has his sights set, and the targets are all big game. Like All the President's Men, the movie celebrates journalistic integrity in the face of political corruption, and like Quiz Show, it shows how this marvelous invention that has the ability to educate millions of Americans simultaneously has instead been dumbed down to placate the lowest common denominator (in the grand scheme of things, it didn't take long for Edward R. Murrow to be replaced by Trading Spouses). Comparisons to the insidious Bush Administration abound, and Clooney decries the lack of modern-day media heroes who could compare with Murrow. ***1/2

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE A Canadian filmmaker, David Cronenberg here resembles nothing so much as one of his fellow countrymen glimpsed in Bowling for Columbine, gazing at our land across the lakes and wondering why we're always so obsessed with carnage. In much the same manner that David Lynch deconstructed the myth of the squeaky-clean small Southern town in Blue Velvet, so too does Cronenberg take a hatchet to the façade of bland Midwestern homeliness. His protagonist is Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a family man who becomes a national hero after killing two psychos in self-defense. But the exposure brings a stranger to town, a gruff mobster (menacing Ed Harris) who insists that Tom was once a homicidal kid back in Philadelphia. Cronenberg and scripter Josh Olson create a dizzying examination of this country's love-hate affair with brutality, exploring numerous gray areas with the help of a powerhouse cast. ***1/2

IN HER SHOES An initially acrid look at sibling rivalry, this stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette as Maggie and Rose, two sisters who have nothing in common except their shoe size. After a falling out, irresponsible Maggie heads to Florida to meet the grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) she never knew, while insecure Rose remains in Philadelphia in an effort to get her own life back on track. It isn't hard to guess how this will play out, but the pleasures rest in the journey more than the destination. Diaz and Collette are both excellent, though they're effortlessly matched by MacLaine. Even when the movie surrounding her turns soft, this wily veteran remains its pillar of strength: Espousing tough love at every turn, she provides In Her Shoes with its own hard-won terms of endearment. ***

NORTH COUNTRY North Country is loosely based on a true story, and it'd be interesting if transcripts from the actual trials surrounding this tale were made available at the film's screenings. That way, we could see for ourselves if the courtroom shenanigans were really as difficult to swallow as the ones that conclude this film. Up until this point, North Country works fairly well as a raging polemic against sexual harassment in the workplace, with Charlize Theron cast as a single mom whose cruel treatment at the hands of her male co-workers at the mining company leads her to take the outfit to court. The film is worth catching for its important issues and Theron's galvanizing performance, but when it comes to sticking up for its shameless last-minute theatrics, the defense rests. **1/2

SERENITY Fans of the short-lived TV series Firefly will doubtless want to add another couple of stars to the rating for this big-screen spin-off: The show's devotees who attended the advance screening were cheering as lustily as Romans watching Christians being fed to the lions. But for those who haven't already built up a rapport with these characters and their struggles, Serenity is a long slog through sci-fi tedium, mixing elements from the countless space operas that preceded it without bringing anything new to the party. Offering next to nothing in the way of character development or even simple introductions -- and scrambling fortune-cookie philosophies in the hopes of coming up with something profound -- this tale about the members of a rickety spaceship (but not the Millennium Falcon) squaring off against an evil empire (but not the evil Empire) is a cinematic flatline, only perking up for a bravura finale. *1/2

TWO FOR THE MONEY Al Pacino's back in full manic mode in this malnourished morality tale not dissimilar in structure to other Pacino vehicles in which he serves as a shady mentor to a hot young actor (The Devil's Advocate, The Recruit, etc.). He plays Walter Abrams, the head of a sports consulting firm who finds his protégé in Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey), a naïve guy with a near-psychic ability to accurately handicap gridiron match-ups. Brandon's picks make both men rich, but personality conflicts threaten to derail their careers. The film's entertainment value can be found in its incoherence -- this movie is so ludicrous on so many fundamental levels (unexplained character motivations, clumsy scene transitions) that it almost crosses over into camp territory. The football game recreations seen throughout the movie rarely look convincing, more Marx Brothers (a la Horse Feathers) than Manning brothers. *1/2

WAITING Writer-director Rob McKittrick obviously views his pet project as the new Clerks, but whereas that Kevin Smith gem featured genuine wit (not to mention some killer quips) beneath the rampant vulgarity, this toxic dump is merely puerile, crammed with incessant employment of the "F" word (fag, that is) and featuring more unkempt pubic hair (male and female) than any picture this side of a 50s-era stag film. Ryan Reynolds, recycling every smart-ass dating back to Tim Matheson in National Lampoon's Animal House, plays the veteran employee at a chain eatery who's assigned to show the new kid (John Francis Daley) the ropes. The story kicks into high gear once he explains to the rookie that every male employee must try to trick the other guys into looking at his exposed genitalia. As a compelling plotline, I think it's safe to say it doesn't quite compare to Chinatown. *

WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT Clay animator Nick Park first showcased his characters -- befuddled, cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his more intelligent canine companion Gromit -- in a trio of award-winning short films, then gave the pair a rest as he put his efforts into the delightful Chicken Run. This is the first feature-length W&G outing, and it's a gem -- endlessly witty, it's the best animated effort of 2005. In this yarn, Wallace (voiced as always by Peter Sallis) and his silent sidekick form a pest control outfit (Anti-Pesto) to humanely take care of their burg's bunny population, but they soon have their hands full dealing with a monstrous rabbit that's been destroying all the neighbors' crops. Tom & Jerry? Mutt & Jeff? Chip & Dale? Amateurs all. It appears that in the toon world, the clay's the thing, with Wallace & Gromit as the new pioneers of Plasticine. ***1/2

OPENS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28:

CAPOTE: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener.

G: Richard T. Jones, Blair Underwood.

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

PRIME: Meryl Streep, Uma Thurman.

SAW II: Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell.

THE WEATHER MAN: Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine.

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