Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Poor Richard's Roundup: April 2005

A look at the theatrical releases on the docket for the remainder of April confirms my theory that 2005 is shaping up to be one of the most creatively flacid years for film in recent memory. It will be a year of small pleasures. Scouring the art houses to find this year's Sideways. Enduring countless overrated foreign dramas to uncover this year's City of God. Diehard film fans will be reduced to prospecting-- and we won't unearth many of this year's gems until we finally catch up with them on DVD.

As for Hollywood-- has their been a more yawn-inducing slate of big studio releases in recent memory? This may indeed be the year that George Lucas finally fulfills his contract with Star Wars fans by releasing a picture that delivers the emotion and high drama that we all loved about The Empire Strikes Back. But other than a few upcoming tentpole releases-- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (see below), Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, Spielberg's War of the Worlds-- there's precious little to get excited about. It's going to a long year of drudgery at the movies.

My job will be to wade through the swamp of mediocrity to bring back for you those few rare orchids. With that said, here's a look at a sampling of the notable releases for April 2005.

***Opening April 15***

Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ellen Barkin
Directed by Todd Solondz

Remember ten years ago, when Welcome to the Dollhouse gave us hope that we had discovered a curmudgeonly combination of Woody Allen and David Lynch? Solondz must miss those days too. This 2004 film, making its theatrical debut in New York and Los Angeles after a year on the festival circuit, begins with the funeral of Dollhouse protagonist Dawn Wiener-- which is either a symbolic act of rejection of Solondz's most humanistic film, or a shameless attempt to link back to what passed for his glory days. Palindromes features a 12-year-old girl named Aviva (her name is a palindrome-- get it?), played by a succession of young and old, fat and thin actresses that includes the once-great Jennifer Jason Leigh, who encounters abortion, abuse and tragedy that rivals the worst of Solondz's dips into the cesspool of human depravity. Once lumped in with fellow misanthrope Neil LaBute, Solondz has developed a pathologic need to abuse his audience, his actors and his investors in the service of his dark art. Confrontational cinema at its best-- or worst.

VERDICT: Wait for cable.

The Amityville Horror
Starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George
Directed by Andrew Douglas

I read the original Jay Anson book and believed every word of it-- when I was 10! The 1979 screen version, starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder and a scenery-chewing Rod Steiger, was about as frightening as a sock puppet, but good for a few laughs. By all accounts, this no-name remake will feature lots of wretched phony scares, pointlessly ominous orchestration and plenty of CGI blood running down the walls. It's going to miss the mark entirely, which should be obvious to anyone with a brain. The Amityville Horror is not about haunted houses or demonic possession or any of that happy horseshit. Much like Tobe Hooper's infinitely superior homage Poltergeist, Amityville is really a metaphor for that sense of dread we all feel when we sign our lives away to become homehowners-- what if we really, really regret our decision? What this material needed was a complete reimagination. What it's getting is a window treatment.

VERDICT: Rent the DVD for Bad Movie Night.

***Opening April 22***

A Lot Like Love
Starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet
Directed by Nigel Cole

Cole has several airy, mildly agreeable confections to his credit, including 2000's Saving Grace and 2003's Calendar Girls, so expect more of the same from this love story that begins with a chance encounter at an airport. Those who can stomach Kutcher's presence may find something to like. As for me, Kutcher is now on my Sandler List: the list of actors whose presence precludes me from seeing a film, no matter how good it's supposed to be (i.e., Punch Drunk Love). Anyone who sees it, please feel free to write a review for the site. I'll be busy that day.

VERDICT: Avoid like an Amway salesman.

The Interpreter
Starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn
Directed by Sydney Pollack

Kidman is the UN interpreter who overhears an assassination plot; Penn is the detective assigned to her case. The presence of Pollack at the helm of this thriller assures us that, at the very least, it won't insult your intelligence. Likewise, the screenplay is credited to a pair of heavy hitters-- Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York) and Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report)-- as well as newcomer Charles Randolph. First rate directors, actors and screenwriters: this is the kind of picture you and I should support, even if we don't end up loving it.

Verdict: To the multiplex!

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Documentary, Directed by Alex Gibney

If you love documentaries, particularly those designed to inspire moral outrage, then this picture, by the director of The Trials of Henry Kissinger, ought to fit the bill. The picture centers around the California energy crisis and Enron's wilful manipulation of the State's energy supply in order to enjoy obscene profits. It's opening in limited release, so it'll be a while before it reaches the hinterlands.

VERDICT: Top of the Netflix queue.

***Opening April 29***

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Starring Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def and Sam Rockwell
Directed by Garth Jennings

I remember vividly sitting with my little geek buddies in the theater before our 17th matinee viewing of Raiders of the Lost Ark, regaling them with tails from Douglas Adams' brilliant sci-fi spoof and having them in stitches. This 20-years-in-the-making adaptation hits me right where I live, and I can do naught but enter the theater on opening night hoping it will be brilliant. Adams himself cowrote the screenplay and was intimately involved with the production up until his 2001 death, so we have that going for us. My guess is that the purists will howl about changes, but come on-- from BBC Radio series to book to television serial, THGTTG has mutated in each incarnation. The trailer, at least, makes it appear that the filmmakers have hit the nail pretty squarely.

VERDICT: Don't panic, just get to the theater.

XXX: State of the Union
Starring Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson and Willem Dafoe
Directed by Lee Tamahori

As I am outside of the target demographic for this picture-- 15-year-old suburban white hip-hop boys and urban, baggy white T-shirt wearing hoods-- my opinion hardly matters. Anybody counting the days until this turkey is released ain't reading this blog, I can tell you that. Originally conceived as an action franchise for Vin Diesel, Columbia pictures is making the relatively novel attempt to build the brand without the star-- in effect, speeding up the natural evolution of the Bond franchise. Ice Cube being eminently replaceable, the franchise can now continue without succumbing to the demands of egotistical stars. If it at least makes its money back, look for 50 Cent to star in XXX: This Time It's Personal in 2007.

VERDICT: Watch only if stuck on an airplane.


At 2:19 PM, Blogger sojourning crow said...

the fact that hollow wood has been running out of anything that resembbles a good title in the past 5 years (!!) was the first hint that the stories would soon follow the swan dive trend.


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