Film Openings

Week of November 26, 2003

Bad Santa (R) Terry Zwigoff. Opens today at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.

The Haunted Mansion (PG) Rob Minkoff. Kids love a good ghost story, but many cinematic ones are either R-rated or hopelessly cheesy, like Casper. This Mansion should satisfy, at least until the disappointing climax. Essentially a literal translation of the Disneyland ride, the film strands real estate agent Eddie Murphy and family in the scary house overnight and lets us watch as they encounter ghosts and supernatural phenomena well-known to regular denizens of Disney parks. For those of you who've never been able to afford a trip, even those of you who simply don't want to pay exorbitant admission prices, you finally get to share in the fun. The Johnny Depp/Christopher Walken award for Outstanding Overacting in a Disney Theme Park Movie goes to Terence Stamp, for raising his voice several octaves above normal and adding a tremble to it while delivering lines such as "The storm has swollen the river!" Murphy is thankfully not the racial stereotype the film's trailer implies, and the movie's generally good fun. Opens today at multiple locations. (Luke Y. Thompson)

The Missing (R) Ron Howard. Opens today at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.

Red Betsy (PG) Chris Boebel. Set near rural Delafield, Wisconsin, Red Betsy brackets its episodic narrative between WWII and the Korean War, though both conflicts stay entirely off-screen, ceding drama to the ripple effects of fighter pilot Dale Rounds' death on his wife, the daughter he never sees and his angry father. Closely observed behavior dominates: life on a family farm, teaching in a small school, the arrival of rural electrification, a children's Christmas play, boys playing combat and tension among relatives. The film benefits from strong performances by Alison Elliott as Dale's wife Winifred, Leo Burmester as father Emmet and Courtney Jines as the daughter. But with the camera too far back too often, the interaction literally and figuratively provides only glimpses into the deep pain and the strength of these redirected lives and the elusive motivation for characters' changes. In adapting his father's script, director Chris Boebel failed to provide the narrative drive this heartfelt story needs. Though emotionally honest and admirably restrained, Red Betsy's low-key understatement demands unusual patience. Opens Friday, November 28, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Diane Carson)

Shattered Glass (PG-13) Billy Ray. Opens today at the Tivoli and the Plaza Frontenac. Reviewed this issue.

Taking Sides (unrated) István Szabó. Holocaust movie aficionados may be pleased to note that, though Harvey Keitel stars in this taut drama, he plays an actual American, so no ugly struggles with a German accent (à la The Grey Zone) mar the story herein. He's Major Steve Arnold, a former insurance claims investigator ordered by his right-wing general (R. Lee Ermey) to prove that brilliant composer Wilhelm Furtwängler (an excellent Stellan Skarsgård) deserves to be convicted for complicity with the Nazi regime. The general wants to make an example of Furtwängler, so it's Arnold's job not to be objective but merely to find the facts that would support a conviction. But what of any evidence to the contrary? It's clear that Furtwängler was favored by high-level Nazis, but is that the same as being complicit? It's left up to the viewer to decide, and given that we once again have an occupying military force in an ex-dictatorship overseas, and the son of a former Nazi is governing California, the question is up-to-the-minute relevant. Opens today at the Tivoli. (Luke Y. Thompson)

Timeline (PG-13) Richard Donner. This goofy thriller's setup is jeer-at-the-screen funny, featuring egregious quasi-scientific exclamations ("A wormhole is one of the most volatile forces in the universe!") that would embarrass the hell out of Doctor Who. Thereafter, there's a lengthy middle stretch involving aggressive Ren Faire types killing and being killed. The thing finally climaxes with a lumbering nighttime siege sequence suffering from obvious Helm's Deep envy. Based on Michael Crichton's nifty novel, adapted as accidental self-parody by novice screenwriters Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, and directed earnestly but hopelessly by Richard Donner (Ladyhawke, Lethal Weapon), the movie concerns a hapless gaggle of archaeologists (Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler) who travel back to 14th-century France (a.k.a. Quebec) to rescue their professor (Billy Connolly) via a time machine owned by a nasty über-capitalist (David Thewlis). Among competing movie studios, this isn't much of a bid for epic supremacy, but it can be said with confidence that Paramount has the loudest arrows. Opens today at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)

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