Film Openings

Week of March 22, 2007

 Color Me Kubrick. (Not Rated) John Malkovich reaches new heights of mincing, self-indulgent madness in Color Me Kubrick. That's no mean feat, but it comes with something of a mean streak here. Malkovich plays Alan Conway, a self-loathing alcoholic weirdo who hustles his way through London's gay bars, rock clubs, and B-list celebrity scenes pretending to be the famously reclusive filmmaker. Based on a true story, this sneering would-be comedy was written by Anthony Frewin, Kubrick's former personal assistant, and directed by Brian Cook, one of his assistant directors and co-producers. They may have known the man, but they've got a flimsy grasp on his doppelgänger. Conway's fraudulent picaresque would seem the ideal vehicle for satirizing celebrity obsession, punking the Kubrick mystique, and rooting into the theatrics of identity, but the CMK crew settles for a shapeless, low-grade comedy of flamboyance, giggling at Conway's histrionics and fishnet gloving. Malkovich musters a brand-new accent (always ridiculous) and body language (always virtuoso) for each new mark: an impressive if unexamined act of invention. I find it hard to believe that Conway bamboozled half of London by simply announcing his name, and regrettable that the filmmakers premise their picture on such improbable gullibility. The real Conway was assuredly slier than his biopic incarnation; he ought to have been played by Sacha Baron Cohen. (Nathan Lee) TV

The Hills Have Eyes II. Members of the National Guard battle gnomes in the hilly desert, now with more eyes! (not reviewed) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, GL, J14, KEN, MR, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

The Host. (R) Gross-out horror is never far from comedy, and The Host, Bong Joon-ho's giddy creature feature, is a broadly played clown show full of lowbrow antics — itself a sort of monster as the top-grossing movie in South Korean history. The main attraction is a killer tadpole: It's an "It." Bong's allegory is deliberately free-floating; still, that the thing has its origins in American hubris is made clear in the prologue, set in a morgue on a U.S. Army base, where an overbearing American officer orders a hapless Mr. Kim to dump gallons of toxic chemicals down the drain and into the Han River. Cut to picnickers on the riverbank, transfixed by something suspended beneath the bridge. The "It" falls into the water and swims over. Ordinary people, being what they are, merrily pelt the unknown creature with garbage until, with projectile force, it bounds ashore, grabbing the 11-year-old Park family granddaughter in its fishy clutches. From then on, it's personal. For the Parks, the monster comes to embody whatever irrational forces oppress them. Meanwhile, authorities explain (rather illogically) that the creature was carrying a mysterious virus. But is it the It or South Korea who is really the host? As amorphous as its creature, The Host has an engaging refusal to take itself seriously — and yet, however funny, it is hardly camp. The emotions that The Host churns up, regarding idiot authority and poisonous catastrophe, are raw. Is revulsion a form of revolt? (J. Hoberman) TV

The Last Mimzy. (PG) Within the first half-hour of this family-style sci-fi adventure, hamburger is outed as "chopped-up cow," special toys are touted as educational tools, and our young-sibling heroes get their important mission. "The soul of our planet was sick," a grown-up instructs. "People had become isolated and warlike." Calling 10-year-old Noah Wilder and his little sister Emma. Cute as buttons, these kids are also gifted and talented — as well as privileged enough to have parents whose Pacific Northwest beach-house tide brings a black box even more awesome than Noah's prized PlayStation. Among other things, the box contains a seashell that sounds vaguely like the monolith in 2001, and a stuffed animal, Mimzy, who comes from the future looking for DNA info with which to save the human race. The Last Mimzy, whose charmingly retro FX date to around 1985, won't post Peter Jackson figures at the box office, but you can't say that New Line Cinema topper-turned-auteur Bob Shaye lacks the magic touch. It makes sense that the film's most inspired character — played by Rainn Wilson in a playful riff on Tolkienist dorkdom — is a guy who hits winning lottery tickets in his sleep. (Rob Nelson) ARN, CMP, DP, GL, J14, MR, RON, STCH, STCL, TS12

The Namesake. (PG-13) More than a chick flick, Mira Nair's adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel combines the intimate pleasures of a family saga with a finely sustained inquiry into the difficult balance between separation and integration that shapes first-generation émigrés and their children in crucially different ways. Dividing its time between the fortunes of Ashima (ravishing Indian star Tabu), a Bengali immigrant to New York, and those of her anxiously Americanized son Gogol (Kal Penn), The Namesake carries faint echoes of the carnal physicality that makes Nair's more lightweight movies so much fun to look at. But it's a quietly mature work, shot with muted elegance by Frederick Elmes as it moves between the heat and dust of Calcutta and the ice and slush of New York suburbia. Though the movie never fully resolves the formlessness of Lahiri's novel, its looseness both defines the predicament of the second-generation immigrant and underscores his strategic edge in navigating the fluidity of urban life. We leave Gogol, still figuring out the eternal dance between adaptation to the new world, defensive reactivity to the old, and the longing for roots. Only now he understands that the dance never ends, that it has its own grace and benediction. (Ella Taylor) PF

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