*½/**** starring Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penélope Cruz, Lambert Wilson screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and John C. Richards and James V. Hart, based on the novel by Clive Cussler directed by Breck Eisner
by Walter Chaw For as difficult as it is to read a Clive Cussler novel, it's no more or less difficult to read something by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Robert James Waller, Dean Koontz, or Nicholas Sparks. A Cussler book is exactly what it is: a bestseller written specifically for people who base their reading decisions on how many other people have bought and ostensibly read a given book--bad grammar, bad sense, and ridiculous narratives be damned. So Sahara, Breck "Spawn of Michael" Eisner's feature debut (and what star Matthew McConaughey hopes is a franchise starter despite Cussler disowning the picture and threatening to sue), is an utterly faithful adaptation of the source material in that it's destined to become one of those movies people see or avoid depending on how low their expectations are going in or how irresistible the Friday night peer-pressure gets. It's a soulless picture, a wisp of a whimsy layered across what wishes it were an epic adventure, playing fast and loose with character and charisma while slathering on the boom-crash opera. The result isn't something awful so much as a spectacle without a hint of a human centre: a blockbuster played by action figures and written by children.
SUGAR ***½/**** starring Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Ann Whitney written and directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
TOKYO SONATA ****/**** starring Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyôko Koizumi, Yû Koyanagi, Kai Inowaki screenplay by Max Mannix, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Sachiko Tanaka directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
by Walter Chaw In case you haven't noticed, there's a cinematic trend afoot that looks to the fringes for stories of survival in a world where it's suddenly chic to shop at the thrift store. I credit Harmony Korine and David Gordon Green with first finding the poetry in destitution in this new American cycle, with maybe Gus Van Sant (with his Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho) acting as the accidental primogenitor. If it's not Frozen River's trailer-park heroine and her dalliance with human trafficking, it's Wendy & Lucy's despair from the bottom of the capitalist food chain. In the mainstream, there's Sean Penn's fantastic Into the Wild and the reboot of 3:10 to Yuma, which at its heart is a drama about the toll of being the breadwinner. Even Hancock, a movie that keeps improving in the rearview, can be read with profit as a document of how tough it is for the everyday Joe to eke out a living in a culture designed for the affluent, the physically gifted, the innately well-spoken. Like any social movement in film, however, a lot of the stuff is minimally affecting, message-oriented garbage that seems very pleased with itself as it, like the exec pushing a broken cart through Goodwill, wears its limitations as if dragging a cross uphill. There appears to be a race to the bottom: the first to total, Warholian inertia wins the booby prize. Most of it's destined to be remembered as symptoms of the affliction and not as the illness itself; the runny nose, not the Plague.
**/**** starring Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand written and directed by Nicole Holofcener
by Walter Chaw Nicole Holofcener follows her marginal success Lovely and Amazing with the equally marginal failure Friends with Money, presenting a series of interpersonal apocalypses as awkward dinner parties and scenes made unwisely at Old Navy by super-successful fashion designers. It's not subtle in its broad strokes, and once the layers of Angelino self-mortification and obfuscation are plumbed, it's not subtle in its character strokes, either. What it is is a caesura in the middle of those pictures that don't care about their characters that's only interested in its characters--a film that might be shorthanded as "European" in that nothing much happens as words and glances billow in carefully ventriloquited clouds. It's about how people talk to one another among friends and then lover/confidants on the drive home, and as such it provides a clearer look at conversation in any single exchange than does the whole of Crash. Friends with Money is a comparison of our intimate with our open lives; in the comparison, it suggests a third persona, an interiority--though not entirely successfully, making it only as good, really, as the conversation that it may itself inspire on the ride home.
*½/**** Image A Sound B Extras B starring Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery screenplay by Gregory Widen and Peter Bellwood & Larry Ferguson directed by Russell Mulcahy
by Walter Chaw It is perhaps the very definition of a cult classic: a film so bad it breaks through that fetid envelope into the heady climes of "camp." So much is forgiven when a picture's earnest ineptness translates into that subterranean rhythm heard by those "in the know," and the twelve-year-old in me remembers the derision I ladled upon those who just didn't "get" the coolness of Russell Mulcahy's Highlander. The passage of seventeen years brings the realization that not only have I gotten very old very fast, but that I may have arrived at the age where it is no longer wise to revisit films that I liked as a child.
*/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B- starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris directed by Brett Ratner
by Walter Chaw Because Thomas Harris's haunting novel of the same name is flawed in someone's eye, Red Dragon hacks and slices the piece with a rude imprecision that would inspire pop icon Hannibal Lecter to sharpen his carving tools. The picture opens with a ridiculous and awkwardly-staged Lecter backstory (meaning it plays like the rest of the Lecter additions) that gives a self-parodying Anthony Hopkins a ponytail in place of the self-respect to which he can no longer lay claim, bringing to mind the unwieldy cameos of Cannonball Run.
ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras D+ starring Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel, Melissa George screenplay by Stuart Beattie directed by Mikael Håfström
by Walter Chaw Okay, here's the deal: if I tell you that Derailed has a big plot twist, you're going to figure it out from the trailers; and if I don't, you're going to figure it out at around the ten-minute mark--it's just that stupid. So I'm simply going to say that Jennifer Aniston is like an old studio starlet trying on her ill-fitting acting shoes in a thriller that wants to turn her into a bad girl done wrong but quails at every moment of truth. The ultimate effect of her "metamorphosis" from America's sweetheart is the uncomfortable feeling that you just saw Donna Reed (or your best friend's mom) in an S&M outfit. It makes the already-spoiled rape scene (unless ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY is an underground publication nowadays) a non-event because as you're watching it, tickling at the back of your head is the knowledge that they'd never rape Rachel in a mainstream middlebrow thriller (even if professional creep Vincent Cassel is the rapist). More, because the whole thing unfolds from the point of view of a very groggy paramour Charles (Clive Owen), the rape becomes something that's only very inconvenient for our married white male adulterer. It's despicable is what it is--compounded by a lie later on and ultimately invalidated by our tired twist, which finds at the end our Charles the spitting image of Travis Bickle but without any trace of irony.