Note: I'm just back from six weeks in Portland and despite the manifold gastronomic and cultural seductions of the city I managed to see 24 films. Among the standouts are the beautifully realized Tokyo Sonata from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, about the disintegration of a contemporary Japanese family; Everlasting Moments, a wonderful historical film from Swedish director Jan Troell set at the beginning of the 20th century, wherein a housewife with an abusive husband finds salvation in photography; and Wendy and Lucy, a quietly moving story set in Oregon from director Kelly Reichardt who also adapted author Jonathan Raymond's "Old Joy" from the same short story collection. Look for the DVDs.
Opening Friday, May 29, is the latest computer animated feature from Pixar, Up. The title is literal: a disenchanted elderly man named Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) wants to get away from it all, so he ties a bunch of helium balloons to his house and floats away. Unfortunately, he discovers an unwelcome passenger in Russell (Jordan Nagai), a Wilderness Explorer Scout. Adventure ensues. Rated PG for some peril and action. 96m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
Directed by Sam Raini (Spider-Man films), who also co-writes with brother Ivan Raimi, Drag Me to Hell is a horror film featuring Alison Lohman (Things We Lost in the Fire; Beowulf) as a bank loan officer whose life becomes a living hell when she turns down a loan for Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver). Always bite the hand that curses you. Rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language. 99m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
TERMINATOR SALVATION: The good news about the latest weekly summer blockbuster is that nine years from now there will be lots of scrap metal. The bad news is that there won't be many people around to utilize it.
The Terminator franchise has a respectable and lasting legacy. When The Terminator was released in 1984, I was pessimistic due to the casting of pre-gov Arnie, who had not exactly distinguished himself as an actor. But it turns out that he was perfect for the role of the Terminator assassin sent from the future, and the casting of the buff Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor was an inspiration. The film also firmly established the very interesting mythology of the Terminator universe, along with the famous line "I'll be back," quoted in the present film. It also had Sarah Connor's satisfying final comment to the Terminator, "You're ... terminated ... fucker," a sentiment the voters (or the 25 percent who bothered to vote) recently sent to about-to-be ex-gov Arnie. (Please don't write a letter. The line is a direct quote; I would never personally use such language.)
Now, following the very good 1991 sequel, the forgettable 2003 Rise of the Machines, and the recently terminated TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, with its sexy female cyborg played by Summer Glau, we have Terminator Salvation set in 2018 in a landscape even bleaker than that in The Road Warrior.
The movie is entertaining enough, but it does have some terminal weaknesses. The most serious may be the casting of Christian Bale as John Connor. Bale clearly has a talent for portraying dark characters in offbeat films, but here he never achieves the intensity needed to animate this story. Part of the problem may that of director McG (Charlie's Angels films) who puts so many action sequences back-to-back that they become both tedious and don't allow for any character development or complexity. Finally, unlike the first two films of the series or the TV version, there is no strong female presence, a lack made all the more apparent by the taped voice and photograph of Linda Hamilton.
Easily the most interesting presence in the film is Australian actor Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright, who may or may not be human, and who encapsulates the film's brief flirtation with a philosophical concept. Appropriately, it is Marcus who achieves salvation here; the viewer is left with a fitfully entertaining brain-dead action film. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language. 130m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
ANGELS & DEMONS: Okay, I know this film has already been reviewed in the Journal by the hired gun from The Salt Lake City Weekly, but I thought the review was a little too harsh. Not that Angels & Demons is by any stretch a good film ,even by the low standards of commercial summer releases, but it did have its pleasures and seemed, to me, more effective overall than its predecessor The Da Vinci Code.
Both films benefit from the likeable presence of Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon, who is a professionally steady actor even if he never surprises. Happily, though, Angels & Demons has found a much more effective female co-star in Israeli actor Avelet Zurer, who plays physicist Vittoria Vetra, than Audrey Tautou, who brought an off-putting cutesy quality to Code. I also particularly enjoyed the part of the plot surrounding the selection of a new pope even if the whole anti-matter narrative strand was typically over-the-top Dan Brown.
The film's primary weakness, and it is a big one, is the repetitive nature of the save-the-kidnapped-cardinals plot. The attempted rescue of the first three amounted to look-alike wild car rides across Rome where Hanks et al. arrive in time to discover a body and fail to apprehend the bad guy. I would have thought consummate commercial director Ron Howard would have been more filmicly creative in shooting these sequences. Overall, though, Angels & Demons is a reasonably entertaining couple of hours. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material. 138m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST: Whatever could have led me to see, let alone review, a romantic comedy by way of Charles Dickens, already reviewed in the Journal, that has the smirking Matthew McConaughey in its cast? I'll drop a few clues. Sure, the film isn't particularly romantic, but Jennifer Garner is in the cast. So the film isn't particularly comic except in the usual brain-dead guy way; it has Jennifer Garner as the almost co-star. Of course McConaughey is in virtually every scene while Garner is relegated to a relatively minor role and has to share the screen with the usual set of McConaughey bimbos; still, she's in the film.
Okay, I've been in love with Garner ever since I followed her exploits in the TV series Alias. I thought I could always forget her following such frothy films as 13 Going on 30 or Catch and Release, but then Juno came along and I've discovered that I've grown accustomed to the little smile that barely registers on her face before a line of dialog. I do know that she's the only interesting aspect of Ghosts, but those viewers who don't share my obsession should skip this film. When it comes to Garner, I guess I'm the one that's brain-dead. Rated PG-13 for sexual content throughout, some language and a drug reference. 100m. At The Movies.
17 AGAIN. Middle-aged father wakes up one day as a 17-year-old, so he tries it on for size. Rated PG-13. 102m. At The Movies.
DANCE FLICK. Street dancer from the wrong side of the tracks and a beautiful woman are brought together for one reason: an epic dance battle. Rated PG-13. 83m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
MONSTERS VS. ALIENS. Ragtag crew of monsters must combat an alien robot to save Planet Earth from imminent destruction. Rated PG. 94m. At The Movies.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN. Museum exhibits come to life leading to a history-packed battle of good versus evil. Rated PG. 105m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
SOLOIST. Journalist discovers former classical music prodigy living on the streets of Los Angeles; bonding ensues. Rated PG-13. 117m. At The Movies.
STAR TREK. Get the action-packed backstory on Kirk and Spock's rivalry-ridden relationship. Rated PG-13. 127m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. Film leads up to events of X-Men with story of Wolverine's epically violent and romantic past. Rated PG-13. 107m. At Mill Creek and The Movies.