Film Openings

Week of November 23, 2006

Bobby. (R) Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, HP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, TS12

Deck the Halls. (PG) What is it about the holiday season that brings lazy filmmakers to pitch meetings with Frank Capra knockoffs clutched in their sweaty paws? 'Tis Noel in Massachusetts: Fake snow glistens hokily on every patch of, er, Vancouver ground while wholesome suburbanites Steve and Kelly Finch (Matthew Broderick and Kristin Davis) lie chastely strapped to their marital bed, planning for the nth time the world's most traditional family Christmas with their eye-rolling offspring. Enter vulgarian: new neighbor Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito), a car salesman equipped with D-cupped wife (Kristin Chenoweth), twin blond bimbettes, and big dreams of Xmas lights so bright, they'll be seen from outer space. Male competitiveness surges hither and yon as tight-assed Steve and brassy Buddy try to outdo one another. Several hundred sight gags later, Buddy's house is a hi-tech gingerbread nightmare, while Steve stews helplessly in the juice of his own hubris until both see the error of their adolescent ways. Though DeVito and Chenoweth bring a rough plebeian charm to the proceedings, it's nothing short of tragic to see the great Ferris Bueller relegated to grimacing straight man. (Ella Taylor) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

Déjà Vu. (PG-13) So yeah, Déjà Vu: You've seen it all before. Take that, Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer! Except you haven't quite. The story goes like this: The ferry blows up (seen it), Denzel Washington struts on the scene to investigate (seen it), clues are discovered (seen it), a dead girl is found under mysterious circumstances (seen it), Val Kilmer arrives looking kind of pudgy ( . . . ), and everyone heads off to a top-secret government base and climbs into a gigantic spark plug. There, joined by the usual group of wiseass technicians, they begin to retrace events with the help of Snow White, a next-level surveillance system linked up, naturally, to seven satellites. The console renders real-time composite images of anything that happened four days ago, from any angle, through all obstacles, and in the visual vocabulary of the 21st-century blockbuster. Except that actually it's a time machine. (Now here is something new.) Of course, Scott and his screenwriters (Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio) are less interested in concepts to explore than high-concept gimmickry. But why complain when it results in a car chase that simultaneously blows shit up on two different time planes? (Nathan Lee) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

For Your Consideration. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue. (Lee) DP, PF, RON

The Fountain. (PG-13) Solemn, flashy, and flabbergasting, The Fountain — adapted by Darren Aronofsky from his own graphic novel — should really be called "The Shpritz." The premise is lachrymose, the sets are clammy, and the metaphysics is all wet. The screen is awash in spiraling nebulae and misty points of light, with the soundtrack supplying appropriately moist ooh and aahs. Not nearly as pleasurably tacky as a description might make it sound, Aronofsky's historical phantasmagoria jumps between three time zones. There's the 16th-century derring-do in which Rachel Weisz's glamorous Queen Isabella sends Hugh Jackman's conquistador to find the Tree of Life and bring back the Sap of Immortality. There's a present-day melodrama in which Weisz appears as the free-spirited Izze, dying of brain cancer while her renegade medical-researcher spouse, Tom (Jackman), races against time to create a cure. Adding to the mystery, Izze is writing a novel titled The Fountain, which is actually the conquistador story. Finally and least explicably, there's Tom's 26th-century bald astronaut. Izze who? Are you what? What The Fountain lacks in coherence it makes up in ambition. Aronofsky has aspired to make not only the most strenuously far-out movie of the 21st century, but the greatest love story ever told. (J. Hoberman) ARN, DP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, PF, RON, SP, STCH

Shortbus. (Not Rated) The sex is real in John Cameron Mitchell's experiment in hardcore moviemaking; only the setting — an animated New York cityscape, benignly watched over by a fluorescent Statue of Liberty — is fake. To an extent, that describes the movie: a sexually daring, dramatically timid roundelay that employs unsimulated twosomes, threesomes, and even solos for skin flute in the service of subplots reminiscent of late-night cable soap. Working with a cast of eager unknowns, Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator Mitchell convenes a sexually frustrated sex therapist (Sook-Yin Lee), an auto-fellating ex-hustler (Paul Dawson), a morose dominatrix (Lindsay Beamish), and other pleasure-seeking New Yorkers at an orgiastic Brooklyn lounge called Shortbus, where anything goes, regardless of age, body image, or kink. The attempt to convey character through sexual behavior is admirable, but watching the participants through sex goggles alone eventually filters out almost everything else that's interesting about them. Yet there's something refreshingly frisky and celebratory about Mitchell's film that offsets its flaws. Given the recent cinema's track record of unfaked hate sex (Baise-Moi), diseased sex (Anatomy of Hell), or just plain lousy sex (take your pick), Shortbus' messianic sex-positive cheer seems more startling than its straight-up intercourse. Be sure to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner." (Ridley) TV

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