Film Openings

Week of March 8, 2007

Days of Glory. (R) As much a political as an aesthetic event, Rachid Bouchareb's drama about the plight of Algerian soldiers who fought for France in World War II has been compared to Edward Zwick's Glory. Structurally, though, the movie recalls earnest, period war movies like William Wellman's Story of G.I. Joe. (1945), as it follows the brutal attrition of a single Algerian army unit fending off Nazis from Morocco through Italy and on into France, where their sacrifices for the "motherland" are rewarded with discrimination on every front. Days of Glory is as moving as it is ingenuous, with each doomed character symbolizing a different response to the collective dilemma these men face as Arabs with divided loyalties. Given their treatment, and the fact that the movie was made in part to shame the French government into restoring pensions it had cut when the former colony got its independence (the ploy worked), one has to wonder just how unalloyed Algerian loyalty could ever have been to its occupier. For the answer to that, look back, and forward, to The Battle of Algiers. (Ella Taylor) TV

Glastonbury. (R) Spanning 35 years of the world's longest-running music festival and the variously coiffed alternative types who attend it every summer by the tens of thousands, this odd anti-doc crosscuts its stubbornly undated footage of fans and bands with such willful disregard for storytelling that the result is like one big acid-tinged blur. Maybe the style befits the subject. Surely anyone who tripped his way through a weekend or two at the British Woodstock, an epic pop-rock bacchanalia held on 900 acres of farmland, would recognize the film as a flashback in the lysergic sense. Yet Julien Temple's film is New Journalism without the journalism — or, alas, the drugs. In one characteristic spurt of ill-considered montage, Temple cuts from a swinging Morrissey in full-on Elvis-in-Vegas mode to a hippie toddler blowing soap bubbles, a Christ-like proselytizer lugging a gigantic cross o'er the Glastonbury plains, and a proud libertine toting a sign that reads "Protest naked." Morrissey's religious effect on a crowd is well known, but are these extraneous images taken from near the time of the performance? From the same year? The same decade? After the hundredth shot of a shirtless white guy shaking his dreads to the beat, noticing the camera, and flashing a peace sign, one has the sudden urge to attend a Johnny Mathis show in cufflinks. (Rob Nelson) TV

300. (R) Long ago there reigned a clan of Speedo-wearing militaristic psychopaths called the Spartans. They lived beneath a copper-colored sky, on a copper-colored land, amid copper-colored fields, in copper-colored homes made from copper-colored stone. Legend has it they would outline their copper-colored pecs and abs with ash to enhance their manly buffness, and yet these were men of action and honor, not "philosophers and boy lovers," like their namby-pamby rivals the Athenians. Such machismo was memorialized by Frank Miller in 300, his graphic-novel retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which the titular quantity of Spartan studs fended off a billion gazillion Persian invaders. Marshalling the full resources of high-end computer imaging and the full capacities of hardcore fanboy nerditude, writer-director Zack Snyder (he of the unexpectedly decent Dawn of the Dead remake) has now brought Miller's book to "life." On first glance, the terms couldn't be clearer: macho white guys vs. effeminate Orientals. Yet aside from the fact that Spartans come across as pinched, pinheaded gym bunnies, it's their flesh the movie worships. At once homophobic and homoerotic, 300 is finally, and hilariously, just hysterical. (Nathan Lee) ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

The Ultimate Gift. (PG) In the latest release from the faith-based division of 20th Century Fox, an oil-rich billionaire (James Garner) kicks the bucket and leaves a special bequest for his trust-fund-suckling grandson (Drew Fuller) — a gauntlet of hard work and hardship designed to give the boy an appreciation for the true value of a greenback. Among the tasks: toughing it out as a Texas ranch hand, living as a homeless person, and showing some genuine compassion for a debt-addled single mom (Ali Hillis) and her leukemia-stricken daughter (Abigail Breslin). If he succeeds, the "ultimate gift" of the movie's title will be his — which, in case you haven't figured it out, is one of those things you can't buy with MasterCard. Directed with accomplished impersonality by Michael O. Sajbel (One Night With the King), The Ultimate Gift means well and has a few surprises in store — this is not a movie you expect to climax in a tense jungle stand-off with Eucadorian drug runners — but too often feels like yet another self-flagellating Hollywood lesson in the corrosive power of wealth and the benefits of getting down with the real soul people. It's The Pursuit of Happyness made from the ivory tower looking down, instead of from the street looking up. (Scott Foundas) DP, RON, SP, STCH

 
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