Movies opening this week
September 14, 2007
You’d have to be a nostalgic boomer, a hopeless romantic or Paul McCartney to fall completely in love with this sprawling musical and all its indulgences and idiosyncrasies.
Inspired entirely by Beatles songs, with characters whose names include Lucy, Jude and Jo-Jo, Julie Taymor’s film is visually imaginative and often quite bold, as you would expect from the director of the Frida Kahlo biopic “Frida” and “The Lion King” on Broadway.
The actors, who do all their own singing, are certainly up to the challenge, including Evan Rachel Wood (besides Marilyn Manson, who knew she could sing?) and especially charismatic newcomer Jim Sturgess, who resembles a young Paul and whose character hails from ” wait for it ” Liverpool.
And while many of the arrangements are inventive (a lovesick cheerleader’s rendition of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” has an unexpected poignancy), other performances are far too literal, and the conceit wears out its welcome after about an hour.
By then it’s painfully clear that there is no strong driving narrative here, only a series of ’60s-era cliches (Vietnam War protests, hallucinogenic drug trips, etc.), tied together by tunes. The music makes you wish the filmmakers hadn’t bothered with a story at all. Bono is a hoot in his first film role, though, as an egotistical counterculture leader who sings “I Am the Walrus.” PG-13 for some drug content, nudity, sexuality and violence. 134 min.
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We have long known that Jodie Foster is a formidable force. This much was obvious from “Taxi Driver,” which earned her an Oscar nomination when she was just 14 years old.
Now, Foster gets to play a modern-day Travis Bickle as a woman who turns into a vigilante after an attack in Central Park leaves her seriously injured and her fiance dead. You can kind of imagine at first how this transformation might occur.
Foster’s Erica Bain is mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore. She’s also the host of a radio show that requires her to walk the streets of New York, exploring its sights and sounds and seeking out stories you don’t normally hear about, so it’s certainly possible that she’d have enough knowledge of the city to prowl about in search of wrongs to right.
She’s so intense, and yet so clearly shaken on the inside still, she makes you believe her ” or maybe, if you view Erica as the incarnation of some sort of urban gothic graphic novel heroine, it makes sense. Either way, all plausibility gets tossed out the window and run over by a cab in the third act of this thriller from director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) when the pieces snap way too conveniently into place to allow Erica to exact her ultimate revenge.
Foster has a comfortable, low-key chemistry with the always engaging Terrence Howard, though, as the police detective investigating the city’s sensational vigilante killings. R for strong violence, language and some sexuality. 108 min.
” It could have been epic, this tale of Russian mobsters prowling the London underworld. It could have been an instant classic ” David Cronenberg’s “Godfather,” perhaps.
But in a world where directors can’t seem to overcome their sense of self to bring in a picture at a reasonable length, Cronenberg has given us one that feels tantalizingly too short. It’s both brutally violent and breathtakingly human. In claustrophobic settings that are both bleak and garishly opulent, the film holds you in an increasingly tight grip and then it just sort of … ends, leaving you longing for more.
Until the last possible second, though, Viggo Mortensen coolly dominates as a driver for a Russian mob family who would be getting his hands dirty carrying out extra duties for them if he weren’t already wearing black leather gloves. He plays sort of a mirror image of his character in Cronenberg’s suspenseful “A History of Violence”: a dangerous man who’s capable of unexpected flashes of decency.
Tattooed, sinewy and slickly dressed, speaking thickly accented English (as well as solid Russian), Mortensen’s Nikolai is obviously someone to fear but also a source of understandable fascination for naive British midwife Anna (a vibrant Naomi Watts), who crosses his path while looking for the family of a teenage prostitute who died while giving birth in her care.
Armin Mueller-Stahl is formidable as the crime boss, and Vincent Cassel is giddily off-kilter as his son. R for strong brutal and bloody violence, some graphic sexuality, language and nudity. 100 min.
The title is a bit of a head-scratcher but the message is unmistakable. Writer-director Paul Haggis couldn’t have made it more clear if he’d blared it from a bullhorn ” and in the film’s final image, he practically does.
With his follow-up to the stirring, Oscar-winning “Crash,” Haggis gives us an indictment of the Iraq war and its effect on the returning troops and their families . A necessary and relevant topic, to be sure, but one that Haggis approaches with mixed results.
Fundamentally, “Elah” is a pretty standard procedural, with Vietnam vet and former military police officer Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) teaming up with police Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) to uncover what happened to his son, a soldier who goes AWOL after coming back from Iraq and is later found savagely killed.
The performances are so strong, though, they elevate the film beyond its limitations. Jones perpetuates the stoic, surly persona he’s perfected, but there’s an undercurrent of aching sadness that makes him more accessible and human than ever before.
And Theron, as a no-nonsense investigator who’s tired of being underestimated by her male colleagues, is every bit his equal. R for violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality/nudity. 120 min.