Film Openings

Week of November 24, 2004

Alexander Oliver Stone. (R) Opens today at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.

Bang Rajan Thanit Jitnukul. (unrated) In 1765 the titular town was the site of a fierce conflict against 100,000 Burmese invaders, held off for five months by humble Siamese villagers who melted their cooking pots into makeshift cannons and sharpened their agricultural tools into weapons. Veteran Thai director Thanit Jitnukul (Crime King) basically arranges his version of this classic national tale in two stacks -- rich humanity and extremely graphic warfare -- then topples them into one another until he can barely wipe the mud and blood off the lens. Fortunately, although the carnage frequently skews way past gratuitous, the director and his capable screenwriters and cast breathe vibrant life into their heroes. An entire movie could have been made about just the intrepid young couple played by Winai Kraibutr and excellent newcomer Bongkod Kongmalai. Lacking the narrative complexity and subtlety of Chatrichalerm Yukol's The Legend of Suriyothai, presented by Francis Ford Coppola, this film is instead shepherded by Oliver Stone, who was wowed, apparently, by its bludgeoning self-righteousness. It's still worth a look. Opens Friday, November 26, at the Tivoli. (Gregory Weinkauf)

Christmas with the Kranks Joe Roth. (PG) Based on the John Grisham book Skipping Christmas, this lump of coal offers an obnoxiously condescending portrait of Regular People who live in the red states and wouldn't think of getting blue at Christmastime. They're suburban automatons dressed in dull shades of muddy brown and smoke-stained yellow, pale schmucks who buy their tans in mall kiosks, uptight and overweight empty-nesters married to skinflint pricks. Tim Allen sleepwalks his way through the movie as Luther Krank, a middle manager who decides to ditch town for the holidays and take wife Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) on a cruise. Nora's terrified at what the neighbors will think, and her apprehensions are well-founded: Burly, buzz-cut neighbor Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd), with his 1950s-dad apparel and Chicago accent, runs the street like a suburban ward boss, handing out veiled threats along with holiday greetings. Director Joe Roth (America's Sweethearts) does all he can to humiliate Allen and Curtis, and the screenplay by Chris Columbus injects Grisham's book with maliciousness. This is Christmas spirit laced with arsenic. Opens today at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)

Finding Neverland Marc Forster. (PG) Johnny Depp's penchant for playing fruits and nuts is on proud (if subdued) display in his portrayal of Peter Pan's creator, James Matthew Barrie. Inspired by the young sons (particularly terrific Freddie Highmore) of widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet, strangely steely), Barrie neglects his despairing wife (Radha Mitchell), annoys the lads' grumpy grandmother (Julie Christie, still sexy, even though she never changes clothes) and bewilders his curmudgeonly producer (Dustin Hoffman, mumbling and loitering) -- all for the sake of priceless youthful whimsy. Hardly an accurate biography, the film is more a fantasia upon reality, the very stock-in-trade of Barrie himself. It's a peculiarly chaste and subtle project for director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball), sometimes soggy and maudlin, with the "heartwarming" score ratcheted up to eleven (and way beyond), but gradually it rises from the syrup to become remarkably touching. Does anyone actually find Neverland? Yes, happily, they do, and these days at the movies we couldn't ask for a better guide than Depp. Opens Friday, November 26, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)

Kinsey Bill Condon. (R) Opens Friday, November 26, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.

Undertow David Gordon Green. (R) Opens Friday, November 26, at the Tivoli. Reviewed in this issue.

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