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Film Reviews: 3:10 to Yuma, Exiled, Hatchet

{mosimage}PICK 3:10 TO YUMA Walk the Line director James Mangold’s update of Delmer Daves’ 1957 Western runs about a half-hour longer than the Columbia Pictures original, but it still feels like a quickie Western in an era that has abandoned quickie Westerns. Then and now, 3:10 to Yuma doesn’t have the deep emotional crevasses of the great Westerns, either the ones that built up the legend of the West (Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) or those that demolished it (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Unforgiven). But under Mangold’s sure if uninspired hand, the new Yuma is reasonably exciting and terse, and, like its predecessor, built around a memorable villain of ambiguous villainy. In the 1957 version, the fearsome bandit Ben Wade was played by the late Glenn Ford with a canny mixture of sadism and gentlemanly manner — the sort of man who would just as soon shake your hand as shoot you. In Mangold’s spin, Russell Crowe steps into Wade’s spurs, and the result is a performance arguably more rooted in a ’50s idiom than Ford’s was at the time. That is, Crowe commands the screen with the effortless authority and mythic aura of the Golden Age movie stars — that alchemic interplay of an actor’s own personality and that of the character he’s playing — and he brings to the part a multitude of shadings that weren’t there before. As he is marched toward the titular locomotive by a band of volunteer deputies led by the impoverished farmer Dan Evans (Christian Bale), Crowe’s Wade becomes something more than just a sinisterly charming self-preservationist: He’s a Darwinian gunslinger with a flash of dangerous intelligence in his eyes, as if he had thought long and deeply about the role of man in the universe and come to the conclusion that he was no different from any other animal. (Citywide)  (Scott Foundas)

THE BROTHERS SOLOMON There is nothing sadder, either in real life or on the movie screen, than an unlikable idiot, and what we have with this dreadful comedy — the longest 90 minutes of the film year — is the sight of not one but two charm-free fools. Saturday Night Live vet Will Forte wrote the screenplay and stars with Will Arnett (Arrested Development) as, respectively, John and Dean Solomon, two geeks who were raised in Antarctica by their father (Lee Majors, wasted, believe it or not) and now want to give him the grandchild for which he longs. Since they cluelessly insult every woman they meet, the brothers are forced to hire a surrogate, Janine (SNL’s Kristen Wiig), to bear their child. Forte and director Bob Odenkirk (he of the late HBO sketch comedy Mr. Show) clearly intend for John and Dean to come across as sheltered innocents who are transformed into caring adults by approaching fatherhood, but it’s just not that endearing when they repeatedly toss their practice doll down a stairwell, or when Dean declares to Janine, “By the time you pop that thing out of your baby hole, we’ll be ready.” (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

THE BUBBLE See film feature.

CZECH DREAM Hey, Prague — you got punk’d! In this subversive Central European slice of reality TV, Czech film students Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda protest the kudzu creep of globalization with a stunt worthy of the Yes Men. As “hypermarkets” (i.e., homegrown Wal-Marts) invade the Czech Republic, the directors commission a massive ad campaign for an everything store called “Czech Dream.” Thousands show up for the grand opening, expecting implausibly huge discounts on everyday staples — only to get a rude surprise, one that gives the emptiness of “Czech Dream” a whole new meaning. The filmmakers sometimes come off as smug jerks, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about the insidious impact of chain colonization, or the infernal effectiveness of something-for-nothing come-ons even in political pitches (as was happening during filming, with the Czech government’s push for the European Union). If their outrage about the evils of advertising seems ho-hum, no wonder: To Americans, shilling is like air. (Grande 4-Plex) (Jim Ridley)

DANS PARIS A tousled Gallic Lothario (Louis Garrel) babbles his precious pensées to the camera with — yes, that is the Eiffel Tower in the background. Cliché, or experiment with cliché? Really, it’s not worth sticking around to find out, since the action mostly involves the monotonous Romain Duris standing around in his underpants or sitting on the toilet banging on about why love has fled. That’s when he and his very slightly cheerier younger brother (Garrel) aren’t leaping into the Seine and surviving to whinge some more. To judge by an ostentatiously displayed copy of Franny and Zooey and a near-total absence of narrative forward movement, director Christophe Honoré is looking to wedge Salinger into a tribute to the New Wave (a despondent sister even lurks in the wings, casting a damper on the already-damp emotional weather). When Honoré reaches for light, he comes up cloying, and when he tries for deep he comes up burbling. Worse, there’s simply no one with whom to place our affections in this endless chatter fest, unless it’s the restfully quiet father (Guy Marchand), who keeps offering chicken soup. I’d take it, just to shut his boys up. (Music Hall; One Colorado) (Ella Taylor)

DEATH SENTENCE There’s no degree of separation between risk-assessment executive Kevin Bacon and the gangbangers who killed his son in the first of this season’s you-toucha-my-family-I-keel-you thumbscrewers — a gory anti-revengers’ tale seemingly resurrected from the catacombs of Cannon Films. (It’s based on a novel by Brian Garfield, reportedly written to counteract the pro-vigilante slant Hollywood gave his Death Wish.) The director, Sawteur James Wan, lays the genre mechanism bare — innocents are placed in harm’s way; the hero retaliates and becomes no better than the bad guys, until the bad guys do something even more heinous — and we, with a combination of sympathy and bloodlust, respond to each new zap. Or we would, if the movie weren’t so laughable in every common-sense detail — starting with Bacon’s instant transformation from pencil pusher to demolition man. A motif of father-son eye-for-an-eye overkill and some choice talk about the futility of war from an otherwise ineffectual detective (Aisha Tyler) raise the possibility that this is some kind of au courant post-9/11 allegory. But the only things anyone’s likely to remember, besides Bacon’s crazy-eyes act, are John Goodman’s soon-to-be-legendary turn as a bilious, bug-eyed gun dealer and a hellacious back-alley/parking-garage chase shot from a careening fender-level camera. Like much of the movie, it’s as hammily dynamic as it is impossible to swallow. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

PICK EXILED Johnnie To is the lone Hong Kong action director who’s done his best work in the aftermath of the crown colony’s reversion to China. In a sense, the feverishly active To is out of step with history and, as its title suggests, his latest gangster opus, Exiled, revels in that sense of anachronism. Set in Macao during the waning days of Portuguese rule, Exiled is a crepuscular paean to male group loyalty and rueful joie de vivre as precipitated by the attempt of a Triad affiliate named Wo (Nick Cheung) to retire from the bloody fray. The movie opens with a fabulous set piece on a quiet street in sleepy Macao, in which hit men visit Wo’s Mediterranean-style home. The furnishings have yet to arrive but Wo’s wife (Josie Ho) and their infant child provide essential baggage. For 15 minutes, To plays with conventions lifted from spaghetti Westerns as the rival plug-uglies make extended eye contact, the tension underscored by twangy guitar reverb and ratcheted in escalating close-ups. The situation — a classic Mexican standoff — is resolved in characteristically ambiguous fashion, and from there following Exiled’s plot development requires a certain amount of concentration. By Hong Kong standards, To’s policiers have been fairly down-to-earth, but Exiled , which begins with a tribute to Sergio Leone and ends by acknowledging Sam Peckinpah, exists solely in the world of the movies. (Sunset 5; One Colorado) (J. Hoberman)

FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN Jennifer Fox’s Flying should be a supremely irritating movie. For starters, it’s a six-hour meditation on the filmmaker’s love life. It’s accompanied by an accordion-heavy score. And Fox’s voice-over narration is slow and deliberate, as if she were talking to a class of first-graders. Also, she insists on referring to her two boyfriends as “lovers.” And did I mention that the movie is six hours long? Still, the cumulative effect of so much personal footage is hypnotic. I know how Jennifer cracks eggs, how she eats cereal when she’s alone. I also know that she has spent the better part of the past few years obsessing over Kye and Patrick, the aforementioned lovers. I’ve seen Jennifer’s naked body as she bathes, and her naked face as she learns that she’s had a miscarriage. (I’ve also, unfortunately, seen several of her gynecological exams.) But what truly redeems this self-indulgence is that Fox uses her overwrought personal crises as a jumping-off point to explore the emotional lives of dozens of women around the world — women who tend to be more interesting than Fox herself (and certainly have more common sense). In the end, Flying is a gentle monstrosity, swollen and silly, but shot through with some wonderful stories. (American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre) (Julia Wallace)

HALLOWEEN Rob Zombie’s Halloween isn’t quite a remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher masterpiece. The first hour, which vividly and viciously imagines the dirt-bag childhood of an abject little psychopath named Michael Myers (the exquisitely wormy Daeg Faerch), might be considered a prequel. Yet even when it kicks in on familiar turf — Michael’s escape (slash) from the loony bin (strangle) and hunt (slaughter) for his sister Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) — Zombie’s up to something all his own. Horrific as it is, Halloween isn’t so much a horror film as a biopic, and a superb one at that. The life and times of a fictional monster may not be as respectable a subject as a historical monster like, say, Idi Amin or Truman Capote, but Zombie’s portrait is every bit as reverent, scrupulous and deeply felt as any Oscar-grubbing horror show. Note the strange circumspection, the discipline of tone, the utter lack of snark, the absolute denial of gore-for-gore’s sake. (Yes, Eli Roth, there is such a thing as “torture porn” — and you’re a dumb, dirty perv.) Can you feel the love? If anything, Zombie indulges too much sympathy for the devil; his Halloween deepens Carpenter’s vision without rooting out its fear. (Citywide) (Nathan Lee)

HATCHET This horror comedy is loaded with decapitations, bodies torn in two and spewing blood, and yet, unlike the grim, torture-filled gore-fests of late, Hatchet’s mayhem is so giddily over-the-top that you end up applauding the low-budget aplomb of it all. The talented writer-director Adam Green sends nine people — hapless fools all — on a nighttime boat tour of the Louisiana bayou, where they become the evening’s entertainment for a deformed, hulking ghoul named Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), who may or may not be dead, but either way is mightily pissed. The B-movie fans who’re going to make this flick a cult classic know that Hodder played Jason in four of the Friday the 13th movies, and they’ll also cheer brief cameos by Tony Todd (the Candyman) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), a horror icon trifecta that gives this movie major street cred. Character vets Richard Riehle and the great Patrika Darbo (Daddy’s Dyin’ ... Who’s Got the Will?) also join a sharp young cast that makes sure Green’s barbed dialogue lands as solidly as those human heads Victor is forever tossing about. (ArcLight) (Chuck Wilson)

THE HUNTING PARTY Simon (Richard Gere) and Duck (Terrence Howard) are hot-shit reporters in the hot zone, drinking and carousing their way through the graveyards of countless war-torn countries. Like all the war correspondents who inhabit satirical, cynical movies about their flak-jacketed ilk, they’re having a blast, until Simon cracks up on camera during a live report from Bosnia. They go their separate ways: Duck to a cushy New York gig as cameraman, Simon to God knows where. They’re reunited in Bosnia on the fifth anniversary of reunification, and as small talk turns to discussions of war crimes, Simon convinces his old pal to join him on one last adventure: to find a Serbian war criminal hiding deep in the woods, where he now hunts animals instead of men. Also along for the ride is sweet, innocent tag-along Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a network VP’s kid out to prove he’s more than just the sum of his pop’s paycheck. Like many of the best movies about war and its lingering echo, The Hunting Party is full of dark humor. Writer-director Richard Shepard, maker of 2005’s The Matador, is becoming a master at finding the right tone, balancing the seriousness of his characters’ purpose with the madness of their intentions. He’s also found his style — and it’s noisy and sentimental and crude and a total goddamned blast. (AMC Burbank 16; AMC Promenade 16; The Landmark) (Robert Wilonsky)

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON Even if you know the story of the Apollo space program, David Sington’s stirring documentary restores the thrill, the terror and the heroism of man hurling himself into the unknown. In part, that’s because the archival footage (much of it unseen and/or synched up with sound for the first time) is of astonishing quality, capturing the you-are-there-in-space effect Tom Wolfe strove for so mightily in The Right Stuff. The wide-eyed, square-jawed kid brother of the Manhattan Project’s atom-age skullduggery, the U.S. space program was the smiling face of technocratic Cold War rivalry: tug-of-war as opposed to the nuclear Stratego being played off the Florida coast. In the Shadow of the Moon swiftly sketches the speed-up of the space race: Yuri Gagarin’s preemptive flight in 1961, followed by Alan Shepard’s orbital journey a month later, and JFK’s challenge to seize the lead. But better still are the humble, wonder-struck reminiscences of Apollo astronauts such as James Lovell, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, contrasted today with their youthful rocket-jockey selves. Even as the movie laments a lost era when scientific exploration still had the romance of discovery, it brings that dashing spirit back with a rush. Need a pick-me-up after the bitter foreign-policy failures reported in Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight? Here’s every nation on Earth — even the pouting Soviets — fixed on the comet of can-do U.S. optimism streaking into the stars. Even the French loved us then. In the Shadow of the Moon recalls the wondrous moment when America had the entire world looking up, up, and not away. Essential viewing for any stargazer, then or now. (ArcLight; The Landmark) (Jim Ridley)

SHOOT 'EM UP See film feature.


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