Opening Wednesday, July 2, is the latest big summer film Hancock, starring the normally reliable box office star Will Smith, who plays a superhero of sorts. Hancock may be the genuine goods, but an alcohol and attitude problem means he is soundly disliked by the public he seeks to help. By chance he saves the life of public relations executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), and in return the PR guy offers the superhero an image enhancement campaign. True to form, though, Hancock becomes more interested in Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) than rehabilitation. Well who wouldn’t? I guess this is the dark side of Superman, and hopefully a more interesting character. Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) directs. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language. 92 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.
Also opening Wednesday is Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, featuring the ever-adorable Abigail Breslin as the 9-year-old American Girl Kit who grows up in Cincinnati, Ohio, during the Great Depression. This tweener film will presumably appeal to those who snapped up the magazines and other merchandise associated with the toy retailer American Girl, and to reviewers who have little else to see. Kit’s out-of-work father is played by Chris O’Donnell, her mother by Julia Ormond (this must be the adult hook), while Stanley Tucci puts in an appearance as a magician and Joan Cusack as a librarian. The fine Canadian director Patricia Rozema, who is normally helming more adult fare such as When Night Is Falling, puts the whole thing together. Extensive Internet research indicates that the Kit doll kit currently retails for $105.00. Strange depression. Rated G. 101 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
WANTED: Angelina Jolie just seems to bring out the best in bad boys and girls. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that deep down she’s a major guilty pleasure for all of those nice people out there; you know, the ones that talk incessantly about family values.
Well, the latter group can relax, because Wanted is all about family values. How else to interpret a story where a meek wuss named Wesley Gibson (a very wuss appearing James McAvoy), a bored and totally unassertive account executive, transforms himself into a fearsome assassin in order to avenge the death of his father at the hands of other, presumably rogue, assassins? I mean, how much more family friendly can you get?
So, there are glimpses of some interesting tattoos on Jolie’s naked backside and a lot of exploding heads and other body parts. If you want true family values, you sometimes have to compromise a little, sort of like voting for McCain even if you don’t totally trust him.
Based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, Wanted tells the story of how harassed at work and cuckolded at home Wesley joins the Fraternity, with a little help from the hot and dangerous Fox (Jolie), gets the shit beat out him, but persists until he too can bend bullets around objects in order to shoot the target behind, a talent apparently inherited from his assassin father.
All of this is in the name of making the world a better place, as the viewer discovers that the Fraternity exists in order to eliminate “bad” individuals. Who is bad is determined by the group’s leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman in bland mode) who interprets messages in the weave of a loom. Since he is the only interpreter, the rest of the group has to take him at his word as to who are the targets of the group’s cleansing mission. Of course, Wesley’s ultimate target is the guy who killed his father, this being a family values film and all.
There’s a little more to the story, but not much except the usual misdirection and hyper-kinetic action sequences, but does anyone really care? Director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch; Day Watch) mostly proves that he can do nothing with lousy, derivative material except goose the pace, and except for the three actors already mentioned, and Terence Stamp in a throwaway role, the rest of the cast is unknown to me and seem to have been recruited in Prague where the Chicago sequences were filmed.
One might be tempted to interpret this film as a political allegory. After all, like Sloan, we have a president who reads some sort of coded information from somewhere (and maybe he does have a loom in the basement of the White House) and then passes the truth on to the rest of us, such as the reasons for invading Iraq. He even reinterprets reports by scientists in order to bring them in line with what his loom tells him, protecting the rest of us from dangerous knowledge. And surely, all this activity is in the name of family values and a better, democratic world. Certainly, he and Sloan are equally trustworthy.
But, nah, that’s giving the film too much credit. In the end, what we have here is another summer brain-dead-guy film albeit, thanks to Jolie, one with more spice than usual. Rated R for a lot of violence, some uncivil language and Formica fornication. 110 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
WALL-E : It’s summer and the movies are … well, the fish may be jumping but this viewer is just slumping. Given the dearth of new openings, I find myself going to films I would probably skip. So, despite my general aversion to animation, I found myself at Pixar’s latest offering WALL-E.
But sometimes, if rarely for me, things turn out for the best, and that is mostly the case with this charming environmental parable featuring the plucky but emotion-starved Waste Allocation Load Lifter — Earth Class (voiced by Ben Burtt) and his would-be heart throb, the space probe Eve (Elissa Knight).
One of the joys of WALL-E is that it’s mostly without dialogue, although the effective soundtrack almost makes you overlook this fact. Particularly effective is the opening 40 minutes or so of the film, set on a deserted Earth in 2815, a bleak landscape of endless waste left behind by the human inhabitants when they fled into space.
In theory, the Earthlings left behind an army of WALL-Es to clean up the mess so the humans could eventually return. Alas, only one WALL-E survived, and though he’s not making much of a dent in the mountains of rubbish he goes about his programmed task every day without complaint, retiring at night to his base where he’s stored spare parts from other deactivated units along with a variety of objects including a Rubik’s Cube and a video cassette of Hello Dolly. Despite the bleak landscape, there is something both poetic and poignant about the world WALL-E inhabits. But into his solitary existence comes a space probe in the form of a spiffy, streamlined robot named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator).
Once the two leave Earth on the space probe and return to the mother ship, the film becomes more traditional: a love story where we see if EVE and WALL-E can save our planet and find happiness together in robot bliss. But the animation is so clever that you can forgive the dwindling into narrative from the poetic.
Not surprisingly, politics rears its ugly head here as well, and we discover that the Buy’n Large Corporation, which seems to have taken over all of Earth before leaving the planet behind, has its own agenda in space as well. Even Bush takes a lick, as the president seen only on video on the spaceship says in his message “stay the course.”
The environmental allegory is not subtle; this is a G-rated animated film. The humans have all grown fat, lazy and unable to walk as they are constantly tended to by robots, and they don’t even remember the planet they left behind except as idealized, and false, video images. But there’s something satisfying about a story where the discovery of a single growing green plant on an otherwise devastated planet holds the key for humanity’s return to their home. That’s more than those poor lost souls on Battlestar Galactica have managed. Rated G. 103 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN. Newest installment of series based on C.S. Lewis’ sci-fi/fantasy books. Rated PG. 144 m. At The Movies.
GET SMART.Maxwell Smart and his partner 99 take on arch-villain Siegfried, out to brainwash and exploit Nobel Prize winners. Rated PG-13. 111 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
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 and Mill Creek.
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 superhero. 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 Movies.
VISITOR.Disillusioned econ professor finds total strangers living in his apartment when he returns from a conference; then they bond. Rated PG-13. 108 m. At the Broadway.
YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN. Adam Sandler as the titular Israeli commando-turned-hairdresser. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At The Movies.