Now in Cinemas: Reviews for April 19, 2007

Sunshine, Alpha Dog, TMNT, Perfect Stranger

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

It´s wonderful to watch a sure-handed director work within genre confines; Danny Boyle elevated 28 Days Later well above your average zombie flick, did the same the family film Millions, and does it once again with his sci-fi Sunshine. The premise is simple: the sun is dying and a crew of astronauts are sent to detonate a nuclear bomb to re-ignite it. Similar concepts have been handled in junk food like Armageddon and The Core, but that´s where the similarities end; it´s refreshing to watch what a director like Boyle can do with the material. He doesn´t re-invent the genre, nor does he intend to – instead, he gives us a tight, introspective film that hits all the right notes up until the final reel.



Sunshine
Rating:
Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans, Troy Garity, Cillian Murphy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mark Strong, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh. Written by Alex Garland.
Showtimes
IMDb link
Stark design and intimate focus recalls the best of what the sci-fi genre can offer, from Kubrick´s 2001 to Tarkovsky´s Solaris. The crew of the Icarus II is halfway through their mission to the sun, and out of the range of communication of the Earth. They come across a distress signal from the previous ship – Icarus I, which has been missing for seven years – and a decision is made that will set forth a disastrous sequence of events that will endanger their lives, and more importantly, their mission. The cast is top-notch – Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans stand out as opposing forces fighting toward the same goal, Cliff Curtis excellent as a psych officer with a sunlight fascination, Hiroyuki Sanada quietly effective as the commander. Plot derails at the very end, with slasher film elements almost haphazardly bringing the film to conclusion, and an unnecessary final shot, but these don´t diminish the effectiveness of the rest of the movie. Set design, music, and other tech credits are all top of the line. Intelligent, philosophical, and rewarding sci-fi.

***


Alpha Dog
Rating:
Written and directed by Nick Cassavetes. Starring Bruce Willis, Matthew Barry, Emile Hirsch, Fernando Vargas, Vincent Kartheiser, Justin Timberlake, Shawn Hatosy, Harry Dean Stanton, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin, Sharon Stone, Dominique Swain, Alan Thicke, Lukas Haas.
Showtimes
IMDb link

Two-thirds of a fascinating film, a vivid and compelling look at suburban youth culture powered by an overwhelming sense of dread; unfortunately, director Nick Cassavetes lets everything completely derail by the end. Film tells the true story of Jesse James Hollywood (here called Johnny Truelove due to real-life litigations), small time drug dealer who kidnaps and eventually orders the murder of young Nicholas Markowitz (here Zack Mazursky). Young cast is excellent all-around: particularly effective are Anton Yelchin as the unknowing victim, Ben Foster as his strung-out brother, and, surprisingly, Justin Timberlake, portraying a character with startling moral complexity. For ninety minutes, this is masterful storytelling; then the story ends, and the film, incredibly, continues. The split-screen faux-documentary footage that dominates the remainder of the movie, with Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone (in a fat suit no more convincing then Jiminy Glick) as confused parents, threatens to ruin everything and very nearly does; many will find these directorial indulgences unforgivable. Rarely does a film provide the good and bad in such stark contrast, but it´s on grotesque display here. Recommended with reservations.

***

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Rating:
Written and directed by Kevin Munroe. With the voices of Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Patrick Stewart, Laurence Fishburne, Ziyi Zhang, Mitchell Whitfield, James Arnold Taylor, Mikey Kelley, Nolan North. Based on the characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.
Showtimes
IMDb link
Potentially welcome return for the Turtles to the big screen provides some wonderful CG animation and grand design, but forgets to include a story any more significant than an average 30 minute Saturday morning cartoon. Internal story mostly involves conflict between Leonardo, who has been training in South America for a year, and Raphael, who has become a street vigilante in his absence. The other two Turtles – Michelangelo and Donatello – barely register at all as the plot reunites the team to take on a horde of robots and monsters threatening to destroy the world. But these baddies lack the color and humor of the classic villains – characters like Shredder, Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady are sorely missed. As a whole, the film rests uneasily between the dark nature of the original comic book and the kiddie/marketing feel that took over the franchise throughout its various forms on TV, film, and video games over the past twenty years. For fans of the Turtles only, though they should enjoy it; besides the nice animation, however, there´s little crossover appeal. Onscreen title: TMNT.

***

Perfect Stranger
Rating:
Directed by James Foley. Starring Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Dourdan, Richard Portnow, Florencia Lozano, Nicki Aycox. Written by Todd Komarnicki, Jon Bokenkamp.
Showtimes
IMDb link

Perfectly dreadful thriller, strictly late-night cable fare that should have stayed that way but somehow managed to attract a talented cast and director. Halle Berry stars as journalist Rowena, who infiltrates Bruce Willis´ ad agency to solve her friend´s murder. Not out for justice, or anything like that; she just wants a good story. Berry looks nice but is far too bland in the lead, Willis is given nothing to do, and the movie is stillborn right from the start. No sex, no nudity, no violence – it´s like Basic Instinct, edited for TV, and they went and took out all the suspense too. Astonishing fascination with instant messaging is laughable; complete lack of tension generates a prevalence of documentary-like IM chatting sessions that treat the medium as a new and exotic method of communication. Too dull to be offensive, but that doesn´t stop them from trying: the ending is so ridiculous it would have completely sunk an otherwise decent movie; here, we embrace it as a sign that this endurance test is finally over. Poor James Foley, who survived Who´s That Girl to give us an excellent adaptation of Mamet´s Glengarry Glen Ross; it´s been downhill since then, however, and this might be the bottom.

AND: Also opening is Irena Pavlásková´s highly anticipated Bestiář (showtimes | IMDb), from the acclaimed novel by Barbara Nesvadbová. Film is playing with English subtitles at Village Cinemas Andel´s Gold Class; this is the third straight major Czech release, following I Served the King of England and Vratné lahve, to premiere its English-subtitled print solely at VC Andel´s Gold Class, as distributors appear to be trying to eke a couple hundred extra CZK out of the English-speaking community in Prague.


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