At least it can be said that there’s something for everyone at the movie theater this weekend – from action fanatics to sci-fi freaks (Vulcan ears optional) to romantic comedy sweethearts to aficionados of harrowing French dramas about civil war in an unnamed African country… What? Nobody? Well, you’re getting it anyway!
The biggest, loudest, most aggressive movie of the weekend is undoubtedly Tony Scott’s ‘Unstoppable‘. I unfortunately haven’t seen it yet thanks to the pre-Oscar pile-up of more “worthy” movies. (Thanks a lot, good taste – I wanted to see that train smash into stuff). ‘Unstoppable’, reportedly based (quite loosely) on a true story, tells the tale of a runaway train carrying hazardous chemicals (are there any other kinds?) that must be, you know, stopped. By Denzel Washington and Nü Kirk, Chris Pine.
Tony Scott has become one of my favorite directors, particularly over the summer when I did an impromptu retrospective of his work instead of making meaningful connections with other human beings. For all his flash and dazzle, he’s a wonderful experimentalist who boldly, gleefully pushes the directions of mainstream cinema. I can’t wait to see ‘Unstoppable’, and not just because it looks like an unauthorized sequel to ‘Speed‘.
Also opening is ‘Morning Glory‘, a new romantic comedy produced by certifiable genius J.J. Abrams and directed by Roger Michell, who helmed classic rom-com ‘Notting Hill’. (It should also be noted that he directed the wonderful 2004 thriller ‘Enduring Love’ – put it in your Netflix queue now, monkey!) In the film, Rachel McAdams plays a young producer of an ailing morning chat show who spices things up by bringing back a grumpy old host (Harrison Ford). I haven’t seen this yet either, but it looks like charmingly slick, fluffy stuff.
And then there’s ‘Skyline‘, which the studio (Universal) didn’t screen for critics… But that didn’t stop me from seeing it. (I have my ways!) The tale of alien invasion set against modern day Los Angeles (since we’ve never heard that one before) is boring and trite and never picks up steam. The movie has a clever conceit: that it’s showcasing an intergalactic attack but keeping the locations limited to a tidy, pre-fab Los Angeles apartment. It’s just that, as soon as the action starts to heat up, the limited perspective shtick is dumped for typical end-of-the-world nonsense. Instead of watching this film, in which brain-sucking alien behemoths attack trendy youngsters, read Jonathan Lethem’s recently published book on ‘They Live’, John Carpenter’s kicky alien invasion flick. (Or, rather, aliens-are-already-here flick.) The brief, absolutely brilliant book will take you about as long to read as it takes to sit through ‘Skyline’, but infinitely more enjoyable.
Oh, and on the art house side of things, there’s Claire Denis’ brilliant, unblinking ‘White Material‘. It’s about a family (led by the always stellar Isabelle Huppert, reclaiming some of the dignity she lost by appearing in the sappy clone drama ‘Never Let Me Go’ earlier this fall) being led out of an unnamed African country by corrupt officials and child rebel soldiers. I knew the movie was a drama, but was unprepared for the thriller aspects, which play out as a siege drama along the lines of ‘Assault on Precinct 13‘. (Yes, this is the second John Carpenter shout-out in this post, so sue me.) You know who else is in ‘White Material’ and is totally great? Christopher Lambert! The Highlander himself! The last time I remember seeing him was in Richard Kelly’s train wreck/masterpiece ‘Southland Tales‘, in which he played a ranting madman. Here he does fine, measured work as a husband losing control as his country crumbles around him. Great stuff.