This is one of the brightest weeks for movies in a long time. We’ve got two pictures opening that I’d rank with the year’s best, a couple of others that are very, very good … and some other stuff that doesn’t measure up at all. But you have to take the good with the bad, right?
“The Burning Plain“: Guillermo Arriaga’s directorial debut features all the everybody-hurts tropes that defined his screenplays for “Amores Perros”, “21 Grams” and “Babel”, only now they’re utterly lacking in visual artistry and emotional resonance. I feel sorriest for Charlize Theron, really. She’s only trying to help.
“The Damned United“: He’s already essayed Tony Blair, David Frost and Werewolf Spartacus, and now Michael Sheen captures both the accent and the self-destructive confidence of overmatched football manager Brian Clough in Tom Hooper’s thrilling sports movie, which isn’t really a sports movie at all.
“Eating Buccaneers”: Have you ever watched a trailer for a movie and thought, ‘oh, dear, that looks like a terrible idea”? That was my reaction to the preview for Bill Keenan’s comedy about a crashed planeload of corporate types struggling to survive in the wilderness. Susan’s review would seem to suggest it’s even worse than I’d feared.
“Good Hair“: Chris Rock examines the weird world of African-American hair care in this engaging documentary, which is worth the price of admission just for the story Al Sharpton tells about how James Brown badgered him into getting his hair coiffed.
“Law Abiding Citizen”: I’m not entirely certain how much time Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx spend glowering at each other in F. Gary Gray’s latest boom-boom actioner, but judging from the trailers, it’s an awful lot. Glenn found it tolerable; Kieran, less so.
“A Serious Man“: Joel and Ethan Coen take the search for God and turn it into a farce. Not everyone can get away with that; remember what happened when Darren Aronofsky tried? That poor man drilled a hole in his head! Seriously, though, this is a terrific movie. You should see it.
“The Stepfather”: Dylan Walsh steps in for Terry O’Quinn in the remake of Joseph Ruben’s 1987 chiller. No press screenings, which is a shame, because I’m kind of curious.
“Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam”: Omar Majeed’s documentary looks at the curious subculture of secular Islamic punk rock. Rad and Kieran are both raving about it. (See what I did there? Yeah, well, it’s been a long week.)
“Where the Wild Things Are“: Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers turn Maurice Sendak’s slender children’s novel into a raw emotional whirlwind, and one of the finest expressions of a child’s mind I’ve ever seen on film. I wish I’d seen this when I was ten; also, I no longer want to smack Eggers for “Away We Go” quite as much.
“Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg“: Aviva Kempner looks at the life and legacy of Gertrude Berg, the writer-producer who created (and starred in) “The Goldbergs”, America’s first openly Jewish radio show. Berg seems like a fascinating person, but Kempner doesn’t do her any favors with this one-note portrait.
Oh, and “Paranormal Activity” opens wide today. Prepare for a huge opening weekend, and a “Blair Witch”-scale backlash by Sunday …