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

Opal Dream. (PG) Rush screaming from anything that announces itself as "a movie for children and grown-ups of all ages." Slight and shamelessly saccharine, Opal Dream is devoted to the proposition that it takes an Australian outback village to validate the imaginary friends of a blond child who is too sensitive for this world but not, alas, for this sappy movie. Adapted from what I suspect is a much better children's novel by Ben Rice, the story turns on eight-year-old Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce), an arty type who takes after her precious-stone-prospecting dad (Vince Colosimo) and does the pale-and-consumptive thing when her ethereal buddies Pobby and Dingan disappear. Everything goes wrong, until suddenly everything goes right when Kellyanne's practical brother Ashmol (Christian Byers) and their long-suffering mum (Jacqueline McKenzie) rustle up all the crusty salt-of-the-earth types in their dusty village to bond in sympathy for the vanishing dreams of children large and small. Awkwardly directed by Peter Cattaneo, who also made The Full Monty, Opal Dream is burdened with lashings of that movie's schmaltz, but none of its raucous comedy. Pardon my disbelief, but even G-rated tots will roll their worldly little eyes. (Taylor) PF

Pride. (PG) The feature debut from South African director Sunu Gonera is straight from the sports-film playbook, the one in which an underdog team coached by an obstinate overachiever overcomes obstacles and adversity to take home the gold. It's Hoosiers in a swimming pool — well, Glory Road, anyway, given this is about a group of black swimmers competing against all-white teams who wouldn't toss the brothers a life preserver if they were drowning in the deep end. Like most sports pics, Pride is based on a true-life tale, that of Jim Ellis (played here by Terrence Howard), a former college swimmer who, in the 1970s, resuscitates a Philly rec center by filling the pool with water and some neighborhood kids with hope. Destined to be drug-runners for a dangerous but ultimately dim neighborhood thug, the kids instead excel between the lane ropes. If everything about the movie is overly familiar, at least Gonera and his writers get the details right: The pool sequences capture the isolation of the competitive swimmer who crawls for miles in lonely, aching silence. Howard, playing Ellis with equal measures of desperation and determination, is terrific — when is he not? Better still is Bernie Mac as the rec center's janitor, who is suspicious of Ellis' motives until at last he dives in. If nothing else, Pride has the best sports-film soundtrack ever — Philly funk and soul, '70s style. And hell, that'll get ya wet. (Robert Wilonsky) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

Reign Over Me. (R) As Charlie Fineman, a New York dentist who lost his wife and three young daughters in one of the September 11 plane crashes, Adam Sandler sports a mass of bedraggled locks and walks with his head hung low, the sounds of the city drowned out by the Who or Bruce Springsteen blaring from his ever-present iPod. The central figure in writer-director Mike Binder's Reign Over Me, Charlie is the sort of troubled but good-hearted character Hollywood movies yearn to heal or redeem. And Reign Over Me offers up its potential savior in the form of Charlie's former dental-school roommate, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), who bumps into Charlie by accident one night and slowly starts to reconnect with his traumatized friend. But particularly in its harrowing third act, the movie proves surprisingly honest and unsentimental about survivor guilt, mental illness, and the inability of time (or therapy or Hollywood movies) to heal certain wounds. As in his 2005 picture The Upside of Anger, Binder loads down his screenplay with too many clunky metaphors and superfluous subplots, but Reign Over Me remains buoyant because the feelings in it are immutable and because Sandler has never before held the screen with greater intensity. (Scott Foundas) CPP, DP, OF, RON, SP, STCH

Shooter. (R) Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CMP, DP, J14, KEN, MR, MOO, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

TMNT. (PG) There may be no finer phrase in the English language than "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," but given how kids these days are super into that whole internet thing, the latest adventure of the crime-fighting, sewer-dwelling, slang-dropping pop-culture phenomenon is called simply TMNT. Unlikely to achieve BFF status with the MMORPG set, this CGI feature is light on the LOL factor, heavy on the ADD action scenes, and, like, TOOIFM (Totally Out Of Its Freakin' Mind). To wit: 3,000 years ago, a power-mad warrior opened a nasty magic portal that granted him immortality, turned his four brothers into stone, and unleashed 13 monsters upon his foes. Cut to the present, where the immortal warrior turned melancholy industrialist (voiced by Patrick Stewart) has rounded up his rocky brethren and enlisted Karai (Ziyi Zhang) and her ninja Foot Clan to capture the monsters, thereby reversing the curse. Meanwhile, the color-coordinated turtle dudes reunite to foil the plot with the help of Splinter (Mako), their Fu Manchu rat guru, and two dorky white kids (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Chris Evans). Oodles of madcap digi-fu ensues, along with some halfhearted life lessons for the shelled heroes. Writer-director Kevin Munroe parties like it's 1989, grooving on the Xtreme sports set pieces and vintage slang to generally cowabusted effect. (Lee) ARN, CMP, DP, EG, GL, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

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