Film Openings

Week of October 19, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers. (R) Reviewed in this issue.. (Scott Foundas) ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL Flicka. (PG-13) It takes a pristine gift for mediocrity to ruin Mary O'Hara's muscular children's novel about a wild boy and his wild horse, but director Michael Mayer has brought off the massacre with aplomb. En route from the 1943 movie through the beloved 1956 television series into this sorry remake, the boy has become a Katie (Alison Lohman), and we can tell the kinship between girl and horse by the teased hair they both toss whenever adversity heaves into view. Mayer is primarily a theater guy, and his way with actors is stiff and awkward, though I can imagine that country singer Tim McGraw (who plays Equally Stubborn Dad, a man who should be locked in a room with "Feelings" on the turntable) would pose a challenge to almost any director. The harsh, livid lighting gives the movie a distressed Ralph Lauren look, the score is Brokeback-plaintive, and the few scenes of genuine rodeo excitement are marred by the fact that Katie, by way of masculine disguise, has dressed herself up to look like Johnny Depp, the pirate version. Rain falls, sad things happen, and as we left the theater, I could have sworn I could hear horsy girls all over America, crying — with laughter. (Ella Taylor) ARN, CGX, DP, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL Keeping Mum. (R) Exactly the sort of coy, patronizing pap you'd imagine actors like Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith take merely to pay debts or mortgages, Keeping Mum involves a country vicar (Rowan Atkinson), his sexually frustrated wife (Thomas, pining for Atkinson's attention), and a dotty busybody maid (Smith) who seems to solve the family's various problems with just a twinkle of her watery eye. If the exquisite, heather-thatch-and-old-churchyard-village ambiance doesn't assail your blood sugar, Dickon Hinchliffe's non-stop, abusively rosy-cheeked soundtrack will. (It seems perpetually on the verge of bursting into "Que Sera Sera.") But — and this is where I imagine Richard Russo's original story comes in — we know thanks to an opening flashback that Smith's coot is actually a quiet sociopathic husband-killer, and the bodies begin to primly drop. (One of them, thank Christ, is Patrick Swayze, as a seductive-lech golf pro jeopardizing the family's struggling equilibrium.) Obvious, simplistic, and never funny, Niall Johnson's movie may be useful only as real-estate porn — Cornwall and the Isle of Man never looked so super-cute. (Michael Atkinson) PF

Marie Antoinette. Reviewed in this issue. (J. Hoberman) DP, RON, TV

Poster Boy. (R) Henry Kray (Matt Newton) is a gay student at a fictional private college in New York. His freedom to be as miserably self-involved and openly sexually active as his peers is curtailed by his father's position: Republican Senator from North Carolina. When the Senator (played, with a wavering Southern accent, by Michael Lerner) asks his son to step up to the campaign podium on his behalf, the closeted Henry has a crisis of conscience, and his father's perfect-family PR charade begins to break down. Poster Boy's frame, in which Henry spills the details of the now-infamous scandal to a self-interested reporter, reeks of contrivance. And the drama that fills the flashbacks is painfully hyperbolized, so that emotions are broadcast rather than felt and relationships advertised rather than developed. Worse, despite the screenwriters' attempts to make him sympathetic, Henry is surly and coy, so we don't care whether he escapes his father's heartless machine. Rather than creating believable characters engaged in nuanced conflict, Boy proffers a pair of obvious symbols and hopes that they'll make a statement about the personal and the political. You can't blame the actors, who have little to work with. It's the script that should have undergone a soul-searching edit. (Melissa Levine) TV

The Prestige. (PG-13) If the greatest magicians never reveal their tricks, then Christopher Nolan wouldn't make it past the children's birthday-party circuit. It's not that Nolan has anything against the old hocus-pocus, but it's the practical side of magic that appeals to him most — the nuts-and-bolts explanation behind the seemingly "impossible" feat. Magic lies front and center in Nolan's latest, The Prestige, about two rival illusionists (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) who obsessively pursue each other from turn-of-the-20th-century London to the wilds of Colorado and from the stages of the West End to the laboratory of the mad-genius inventor Nikola Tesla (played to paranoid perfection by David Bowie). Set at a historical moment perfect for a rationalist thinker like Nolan, as the last vestiges of the Victorian era give way to the dawning of the Machine Age, it's a lopsided but compulsively absorbing movie in which the director seems drawn less to his main characters than to those on the periphery — to Tesla and to Angier's wizened illusion-designer Cutter (Michael Caine) and, by extension, to all those other men through the ages who have sought to bridge the gap between the real and the illusory, the natural and the supernatural. (Foundas) ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, PF, RON, SP, STCH

 
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