Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Jan. 11

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TOWER HEIST Cineastes won't allow something as trivial as Tower Heist to dislodge Dassin's Rififi or Kubrick's The Killing as their caper film of choice, but as far as seasonal multiplex blockbusters go, this one's not bad at all. The much maligned Brett Ratner, whose last two features were the godawful Rush Hour 3 and the series-sapping X-Men: The Last Stand, basically stays out of the way of his four writers and 10 stars, allowing them to strut their stuff in this comedy about a group of working stiffs who decide to take financial revenge on the crooked Wall Street fat cat (Alan Alda) who swindled them out of their savings. The characters are far more interesting than the actual heist that eats up the final portion of the film, so it's a good thing we're allowed to spend plenty of time getting to know them during the first hour. Ben Stiller is fine as the building manager who plots the robbery; Eddie Murphy displays some of that '80s brashness (long buried under family-film complacency) as a career criminal who lends a hand; and Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena and Precious star Gabourey Sidibe contribute some well-timed laughs. Then there's Tea Leoni as a diligent FBI agent; her drunk scene is one of the highlights of the film and makes me wish that Hollywood would remember to employ her on a more consistent basis. ***

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN — PART 1 TTS:BD-P1, the latest in Stephenie Meyer's wildly successful page-and-screen franchise, opens with 18-year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) preparing to marry the considerably older — but still Tiger Beat pinup-worthy — vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Although she plans to allow Edward to eventually bite her and turn her into a fellow vampire, she decides to remain human for the honeymoon — a fact that disturbs romantic rival and part-time werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Jacob believes that hanky panky between a vampire and a human might lead to the latter's death, a theory he possibly picked up from enjoying too much hentai. At any rate, the inadvertent S&M sessions between the newlyweds yield something more unexpected than a few bruises on Bella: a pregnancy that will result in either a human baby, a vampire suckling or some ungodly combination of both. Writer-director Bill Condon, who deservedly won an Oscar for penning the adaptation of Gods and Monsters, has only been assigned helming duties here, with Melissa Rosenberg retaining her job as scripter of all the films. They both deserve equal blame for the first half of this picture, which plays like a drably lit, monotonously written and indifferently acted soap opera. But as the movie is set to reach a point of no return (around the time Bella and Edward gaze into each other's eyes for, oh, the 268th time), some interesting dynamics come into play. Jacob's love for Bella forces him to side with the hated Cullens against the rest of the wolf pack, while the Rosemary's Baby-esque drama results in some modest tension. Even during the superior second half, there are so many pop tunes crammed onto the soundtrack that viewers might feel like the movie was made only to support CD sales, and a sequence involving talking wolves ranks among the most risible of the year. But critiques really have no weight when it comes to movies like this. The haters are gonna hate, the fans are gonna love, and everyone else will check the movie listings and their own wallets before deciding if this is the best option for a night on the town. **1/2

WAR HORSE Steven Spielberg is no novice when it comes to presenting moviegoers with the horrors of war, whether it's the muted screams of Schindler's List, the frontline carnage of Saving Private Ryan or even the knotty retaliations of Munich. While all those films deservedly earned R ratings, don't be fooled into thinking the PG-13 War Horse takes a softer approach to the subject at hand — with one specific scene, Spielberg establishes that his World War I epic, like some of the platoons marching through it, won't take any prisoners. Before that sequence arrives, we're introduced to the majestic title animal, a horse (named Joey) who bonds with youthful farmhand Albert (Jeremy Irvine) before being sold to the British army. A sensitive captain (Tom Hiddleston) promises Albert that he'll take good care of Joey, but the horse doesn't remain in the officer's hands; instead, Joey finds himself passing between soldiers and civilians, between Brits and Germans, between kindly souls and abusive monsters. A young girl offers him a home; a German officer plans to work him until he drops dead; soldiers from each side team up to save him. And so it goes. Based on the smash stage hit, War Horse has been opened up in breathtaking fashion for the screen, vibrantly bringing each vignette to life and allowing them to collectively address how war diminishes not just humankind but irrevocably destroys surrounding environs. War Horse is a movie of rage, but it's also one of empathy and understanding — it's to Spielberg's credit that he knows the storyline is emotionally wrenching enough that he doesn't need to manipulate tears out of anyone (believe you me, many viewers won't need any coaxing to reach for those hankies at the appropriate moments). Only with the final shot selections does the director succumb to the sort of artistic grandstanding that's sometimes in his nature, but these screensaver images hardly negate the power and the fury of the hard-charging movie that precedes them. ***1/2


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