LAND OF THE DEAD (R) Twenty years after he wound up his legendary zombie trilogy with Day of the Dead, director George Romero unexpectedly offers up a fourth installment in the series, with a premise that builds intriguingly on what went before. The world pretty much belongs to the living dead this time out, as the remnants of human civilization (including Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo) pretend it's business-as-usual behind the walls of a fortified city. For horror buffs, this could be one of the high points of this or any other summer. Also stars Asia Argento. Opens June 24 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)
RIZE (PG-13) Former music video whiz-kid and Vanity Fair fashion photographer David LaChapelle forgoes the glossy imagery that made his rep for a tough, stripped-down style in this documentary on dance as therapy and battle zone in urban America. Grainy black-and-white footage of the Watts race riots and a revisiting of the Rodney King calamity serve as a prologue to Rize's real agenda: the intense, physically torturous dance forms that emerged in the African-American community as a reaction to racism and as an alternative to gang life. The movie focuses on clowning - a speeded-up style popularized by Tommy Johnson, a community healer in a rainbow-colored fright wig and full clown make-up - and then examines the ways of krumping, an even more extreme and radical off-shoot of clowning that's taking America's inner cities by storm. Rize devotes quality time to both styles, which have the effect of watching a strobed image or someone being electrocuted, and various dancers with names like Termite, Dragon, Tight Eyez and Miss Prissy wax eloquent on their seemingly impossible moves and what makes them do it. The dancing is incredible - fast, aggressive and pushing all sorts of limits whereby anger and negativity are transformed through art - and it all culminates in a massive clowns vs. krumpers show-down in a big, downtown L.A. arena that must be seen to be believed. Opens June 24 at local theaters.
3-IRON (R) This latest offering from South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) is the enigmatic tale of a young man (Jae Hee) who, while breaking into a supposedly vacant home for a little inscrutable but harmless pranksterism, encounters and hooks up with a curiously likeminded woman (Lee Seung-yeon). The film unfolds in dreamlike fashion, told through images and the silences between actions, and with a minimum of dialogue. The cumulative effect is often just short of hypnotic. The tone here is considerably less nasty than in Kim's previous Bad Guy and The Isle, but that won't save the film from the scorn of viewers with little patience for connecting the dots of a deliberately open-ended (some might say ambiguous) narrative puzzle. Moviegoers who can deal with minimalist action, measured pacing and who like a little metaphysical sizzle in their cinema - and you know who I'm talking to - will be amply rewarded. Also stars Kwon Hyuk-ho.
THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL IN 3D (PG) Much like the Spy Kids movies, Robert Rodriguez's new Sharkboy and Lavagirl has an awful lot of silly, sloppy, barely coherent fun tapping directly into something purely childlike. The plot, such as it is, amounts to bursts of frenetic, video-game-like activity in which our protagonists navigate various levels while propelling themselves to a finish line, and pacing and logic just fly out the window. For all its goofiness and clumsiness, Sharkboy feels like the real deal. I bet Bunuel and the original surrealists would have gone nuts over Sharkboy and Lavagirl, and you don't get a better endorsement than that - except maybe from your pre-schooler. Stars Taylor Dooley, Taylor Lautner, Cayden Boyd, George Lopez, David Arquette and Kristin Davis.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (R) A remake of the much-loved but not very good haunted house flick from 1979, this new Amityville begins with creepy noises and quickly escalates into squabbles and open rifts between the various family members inhabiting a malignant house that's clearly seeking to possess and destroy them. Shortly thereafter, Amityville '05 tips its hand and then peaks way too early - less than half an hour in, the house is dripping blood all over the place and ghostly, ghoulish visions are leering over every shoulder - all but deflating the movie's more subtle, psychological side.
BATMAN BEGINS (PG-13) Less a re-invention and more a bare knuckled reaction to Batman - or at least to what the Dark Knight Franchise has become in its last few big screen incarnations - Batman Begins is good enough to almost make us forget the wretched excesses of those last two Joel Schumacher-helmed outings. Don't come expecting a knock-your-socks-off action/special effects love fest, but rest assured that Batman Begins is a damned good comic-book movie for grown ups, by far the best we've had since the last X-Men flick. There are no nippled bat-suits, few bad puns during the heat of battle and, blessedly, no Robin to be found here, with director Christopher Nolan (Memento) taking the high road in terms of mood, atmosphere and even narrative - all unsullied by the faintest whiff of camp, surprisingly literate (at least for a summer blockbuster) and, for the most part, dark, dark, dark. Nolan and scripter David S. Goyer contemporize the Caped Crusader (capably played by Christian Bale) by turning him into a sort of terrorist-battling vigilante ninja, while making him more mythic than ever by exploiting the psychological and emotional issues that lie at the heart of the Batman/Bruce Wayne persona. Gotham City is no longer the cool amusement park ride Tim Burton made it out to be, but the version here - a tasty blend of Lang's Metropolis and Fellini's Satyricon - will suffice; the supporting cast is mostly impeccable, and Liam Neeson even shows up spouting a mix of Zen riddles and Nietzsche by way of the Sith. Also stars Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Rutger Hauger and Morgan Freeman.