Opening Friday, June 27, is the action/thriller Wanted, from director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch; Day Watch). Based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, Wanted features James McAvoy as an executive who discovers that his father used to belong to a group of assassins called the Fraternity, who got a little help in their job by having some special abilities. Set in Chicago, the executive decides to follow in his father’s footsteps by enlisting the help of a Zen master played by Morgan Freeman and a tough woman played by (who else?) Angelina Jolie, who apparently didn’t completely satisfy her shooting urges in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. In his previous films, Bekmambetov displayed a nice visual sense. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality. 110 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
The box office winner for the weekend, though, is likely to be the computer animated film Wall-E, a science fiction tale about a Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth Class (thus the acronym). Wall-E appears to be the last robot on Earth, and he was programmed to clean up environmental messes. His programming becomes a little messed up itself, however, when he falls in love with Eve, a robot that arrives on a probe from space. What’s a cute little load lifter to do? This is Pixar’s latest offering, directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo). Rated G. 97 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and the Minor.
The latest Will Smith flick Hancock, a comedic, romantic action/adventure flick, opens July 2. Smith plays an unpopular superhero who saves the life of a PR executive. Naturally, the PR executive returns the favor by launching a campaign to save Hancock’s image. Hotties Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman accompany Smith in this film directed by Peter Berg. Rated PG-13. 92 m. At Fortuna.
THE VISITOR: One of the intriguing aspects of TheVisitor, the second feature from writer/director Thomas McCarthy after The Station Agent, is that it often seems to be slipping into easy sentimentality but somehow pulls back every time. I’m not sure who to credit for this refusal to give into a standard Hollywood mode, but surely some of the credit goes to lead actor Richard Jenkins (the dead father whose ghost appeared regularly in Six Feet Under) who is getting to carry a film for the first time. He is clearly up to the task.
Jenkins is Connecticut College economics professor Walter Vale who, to put it kindly, seems to have lost his enthusiasm for teaching. But he does not delude himself; he knows he is in a rut of old notes and stale ideas. His life takes a totally unexpected twist when he reluctantly travels to Manhattan to deliver a conference paper for an indisposed colleague.
Entering the apartment he owns there, he is startled to discover that it has been “rented” to Tarek Khalil (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira). Since both are in the country illegally, they hastily pack and leave but, of course, Walter relents as he realizes they have no place to go, and the relationship that develops between the three, particularly between Walter and Tarak, recharges and animates Walter’s life.
Tarak is a drummer from Syria and, improbably, he persuades Walter to try drumming himself, opening up a world the academic never knew existed. This narrative strategy is hardly fresh, but thanks to the two actors and the director’s careful hand, it works in this film. Jenkins wisely keeps his character’s reserve while letting Walter’s newfound energy illuminate him from within. Walter does not suddenly become a wild man; he simply and quietly finds a new reason to live.
The story becomes complicated when Tarak is arrested for a presumed infraction at a subway station and is subsequently incarcerated in a detention center in Queens. Walter’s futile attempt to help Tarak brings him closer to Zainab and to Tarak’s mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), who travels to Manhattan from Michigan. If the film missteps, it may be in the relationship that develops between Walter and Mouna. Occurring late in the film, it seems both rushed and unnecessary, adding complication to a story that already has enough plot lines.
But this is a minor quibble. McCarthy has written a screenplay that, in summary, seems to be another version of the tired, over-the-hill white guy given new energy by a young immigrant, and who needs that? But as a director, he avoids many of the pitfalls of that deadly familiar story. Perhaps more to the point, Jenkins’ careful and precise acting choices when his character is faced with new
information earns Walter a nobility that surmounts the potential stereotypes of the situation. Even better, Jenkins frequently surprises the viewer. It’s hard to ask for more than that from an actor. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. 108 m. At the Broadway.
GET SMART: I haven’t had a logic class since my undergraduate days (and I know it shows) when I carried a minor in philosophy (the balance to my “practical” mathematics major), yet here I was this weekend faced with a terrible dilemma. Confronted with two unpalatable choices, seeing either Get Smart or The Love Guru, I knew I had limited logical options. I could, of course, have escaped the horns of the dilemma by simply staying home and seeing neither. In fact, one might conclude that I created a false dilemma altogether; after all, it’s not as though I was choosing between anything real, such as eating or breathing. Nonetheless, I decided to be impaled on the horns of my invented dilemma, and the lemma I chose to be gored by was Get Smart.
After all, I knew I couldn’t stand Mike Myers, even if he was making fun of new age “thinking,” while Steve Carell was more of an unknown quantity (no, I never watched The Office). It probably helped that I barely remember the late ’60s TV series starring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart — he gets a dedication in the end credits here — although, for some reason, the telephone booth sticks in my mind (and I hope I’m not confusing this with the Clark Kent thing).
At any rate, I found myself watching the big screen version on what some viewers consider a classic bit of TV from an earlier time. To his credit, Carell’s version of the central character consists mostly of deadpan takes, although there is the requisite amount of physical humor from him and all the other actors. Unfortunately, I found my reaction to the film to be mostly deadpan as well (my companion reliably fell asleep; what does she do at night?) and I kept wondering what the rest of the audience found so amusing. Furthermore, spy spoofs may have been somewhat fresh back in the cold war days and the early heyday of James Bond, but the genre has been around the block a few times since then.
To the extent that the film works, Carell’s mostly understated Smart should get the credit. The chuckles I did get from the film were due to his comic takes or to ephemeral characters, such as the Mom in the car toward the end of the film (who would have been funnier if I hadn’t seen the previews a gazillion times). Or to the sometimes clever references to other films and even TV series (“Look, it’s trying to think” from Twin Peaks, for example).
The best supporting role is that by Alan Arkin as The Chief, while Anne Hathaway, after a series of very good performances beginning with Brokeback Mountain, is a bit more than adequate here as Agent 99. Dwayne Johnson might want to get his rock back as he seems excessively bland as Agent 23.
At any rate, I assume my reaction to Get Smart will be a minority one and the only thing this review will prove is that I should have paid closer attention in the logic class. Rated PG-13 for some rude humor, action violence and language. 110 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN. Newest installment of series based on C.S. Lewis’s sci-fi/fantasy books. Rated PG. 144 m. At The Movies.
HAPPENING.Episodes of strange, chilling deaths suddenly erupt in major American cities. Rated R. 90 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
INCREDIBLE HULK.Live action film features classic character from Marvel Comics’ series. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Intrepid archaeologist becomes entangled in Soviet plot to uncover secret behind mysterious Crystal Skulls. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway.
IRON MAN. Action/adventure flick based on Marvel’s iconic comic book super hero. Rated PG-13. 126 m. At The Movies.
KUNG FU PANDA. Po the Panda Bear lays down bamboo shoots, takes up martial arts. Rated PG. 92 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
LOVE GURU.American raised by gurus in India lends his expertise to save a celebrity couple. Rated PG-13. 89 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
SEX AND THE CITY.Continuing adventure of HBO series four main characters as they live out their Manhattan lives. Rated R. 145 m. At the Broadway.
STRANGERS. Couple’s getaway turns terrifying when masked strangers invade their home. Rated R. 85 m. At The Movies.
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS. Two strangers wake up married after a night of debauchery in Sin City; comic chaos ensues. Rated PG-13. 99 m. At The Movies.
YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN. Adam Sandler as the titular Israeli commando-turned-hairdresser. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At The Movies.