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

Shut Up & Sing. (PG-13) Not quite the Bush-bashfest its publicity might lead you to believe, Shut Up & Sing is closer to the Metallica movie Some Kind of Monster than to Fahrenheit 9/11. Like Metallica, the Dixie Chicks begin the movie as a multiplatinum band looking to move their sound forward on a new album, only to have external circumstances throw a wrench into the works and send things in a vastly different direction than anyone expected. The political angle is the film's hook, but its real goal seems to be to persuade non-country fans who support the band's politics that, hey, y'know, their music's pretty good too. And we see how the controversy both helped and hurt, gaining the Chicks national magazine covers and unprecedented crossover exposure, even as they were systematically shut out of country radio/TV and lost substantial U.S. ticket sales. It's easy to look at these lovely ladies for 93 minutes; that they have fantastic vocal chops is a major bonus, and their disdain for Bush is merely icing atop a significantly layered cake. (Luke Y. Thompson) TV

Tenacious D in "The Pick of Destiny". (R) That we're even discussing a Tenacious D movie more than a decade after Jack Black and Kyle Gass formed their heavy-metal homage/parody suggests they're too late to their own party. Already there have been myriad Saturday Night Live and Mr. Show appearances, the short-lived HBO series and the 2001 album, not to mention Black's role in School of Rock, which capitalized on his performance as, well, more-or-less Jack Black in High Fidelity, which exploited his stint in Tenacious D. It all seems more than a bit too familiar, and by the time Tenacious D gets to the protracted car chase, you'll wonder whether Gass and Black are on a mission from God or Satan — who, d'oh, finally shows up in the form of Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. Directed by Liam Lynch (responsible for the time-wasting musical sequences in Sarah Silverman's concert doc Jesus Is Magic), Tenacious D is utterly harmless and totally pointless. Black and Gass have been at this so long, their dirty little joke has all the punch of a Catskills routine. (Robert Wilonsky) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, TS12

This Film Is Not Yet Rated. (NC-17) Perhaps the most chilling material in Kirby Dick's raucous exposé of the film ratings board (MPAA) is a simple statement of little-discussed fact: More than 95 percent of the movie industry is controlled by a half-dozen studios whose larger conglomerates own more than 90 percent of all media in the United States. Ethical regulation of the industry — in terms of how much of Maria Bello's pubic hair can be seen in the indie drama The Cooler, for example — naturally remains of vital importance to the MPAA and its studio signatories. With its sex- and joke-filled survey of what has and hasn't been deemed appropriate for wide distribution, This Film is for buffs, but ironically, it works best in the rare moments when it seems to be about more than just movies. Indeed, to the extent that the systematic sanitizing of content to serve big business interests is hardly unique to Hollywood these days, Dick's slapstick historical record does stand to have what they call a long "shelf life" — even if they refuse to stock it at Blockbuster. (Rob Nelson) TV

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