With the cooling weather comes the Oscar bait; you’ll notice there are plenty of Serious Movies coming to those theaters near you. Fortunately, there are a couple of great little pictures opening today; here’s hoping you decide to see them instead of the pretenders to the quality throne.
“Feast of Love“: Robert Benton’s spectacular flameout is either the work of a director who’s either asleep at the switch, or feverishly convinced he’s giving the people what they want. And what they want, it seems, is a preposterous multicharacter roundelay of booty, as embodied (and displayed) by the likes of Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Selma Blair, Alexa Davalos, Billy Burke and Toby Hemingway. I am very disappointed that Morgan Freeman’s character doesn’t turn out to be the devil, meddling in the affairs of these idiot mortals to kill some time before the apocalypse.
“Into the Wild“: Sean Penn’s compassionate take on the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who abandoned his family and pretty much everything else with his name on it to indulge his wanderlust — and wound up dead in Alaska two years later is a marvelous combination of filmmaker and subject; it’s also the first time I’ve ever really liked Emile Hirsch in anything. And yeah, the Eddie Vedder songs get a little wearying, but I understand why they’re needed.
“The Jane Austen Book Club“: The trailer gave me hives. The movie did not. Robin Swicord — screenwriter of Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation of “Little Women” — makes a solid directorial debut here, getting terrific performances from her great cast and even taking the time to knock Patricia Rozema’s cockeyed reworking of “Mansfield Park”. One small complaint: If you’re going to mention “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in the context of a movie’s world, it’s weird when a cast member from the show turns up as a character in said movie.
“The Kingdom“: After “The Rundown” and “Friday Night Lights”, which I will defend to the death (or first blood, anyway) as movies that transcend the limitations of their respective genres, Peter Berg overreaches with this semi-political thriller about FBI agents investigating a terrorist attack on Westerners in Riyadh. Jamie Foxx is the ostensible star, but it’s Jason Bateman who steals the picture as his cranky associate. Incidentally, this is another film undermined by its trailer.
“Shake Hands with the Devil”: Romeo Dallaire is a genuine Canadian hero. Roger Spottiswoode’s plodding dramatization turns his time in Rwanda into a bad TV-movie. People will be bending over backwards to find good things to say about this facile, CBC-miniseries-flavored film; don’t believe them. Just watch Peter Raymont’s chilling 2004 documentary again, or chapter-skip through “Hotel Rwanda”, where Nick Nolte does more to reveal Dallaire’s moral outrage and impotent status in a handful of scenes than Roy Dupuis is allowed to do in two long, long hours.
“Silk“: Francois Girard very badly wants to pick up the middlebrow torch dropped by Ismail Merchant at his death; with “Silk”, he’s made one of those expensive international prestige pictures in which a great deal of money is thrown at the screen — say, in the art and costume departments — to distract the audience from the gaping emptiness at its center. In this case, that’s Michael Pitt. Your tax dollars at work, folks.
Also opening today: “The Game Plan”, which screened too late for Friday’s papers, and Nicolas Roeg’s long-awaited return to features, “Puffball”. You can find Rick’s review of that one here, and Chris’ “Shake Hands with the Devil” review here.
Sometimes it’s good to share.