NEW THIS WEEK:
TWILIGHT SAMURAI (NR) Twilight Samurai paints a more prosaic but no less moving portrait of the same time and place as The Last Samurai. At the center of The Last Samurai's portrait is Tom Cruise, brow handsomely furrowed or megawatt grin in place, a larger-than-life character riding off to do epic battle with the forces of soulless modernity. Twilight Samurai, meanwhile, presents us with a hero of somewhat less daunting proportions. Seibei (played by Hiroyuki Sanada, who, curiously enough, also turned up in The Last Samurai) is a petty samurai who is anything but obsessed with the glories of combat or calcified codes of honor. Seibei toils away as a clerk to support his two young daughters and senile mother, a job that consumes so much of his time and energy that he's begun to neglect his physical appearance and personal hygiene. Not insignificantly, Seibei's mounting debts (expedited by an expensive funeral for his late wife) have even forced him to sell that one prized possession upon which a samurai relies above all others — his sword. There are only two fight scenes in the entire film — the final duel and one at the beginning — and those scenes, both crucial to the narrative, are presented in ways that deflate any potential mythic properties. The film's narrative may be slight, but veteran director Yamada Yoji (who has produced nearly 80 films in a career spanning four decades!) displays a breathtaking control of tone and nuances. (Opens Dec. 10 at Burns court Cinemas. Call to confirm.)
OCEANS 12 (PG-13) Much like its predecessor, there's nothing to be taken too seriously in Oceans 12, but the movie is permeated with such quantities of tongue-in-cheek wit, style, and all-around grooviness that it's often all we can do not to stand up in our seats and start dancing. Master thieves George Clooney, Brad Pitt and the rest of the Oceans gang are back in a gleefully convoluted plot that involves a couple of heists, a sexy detective (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in hot pursuit, a showdown with a rival criminal mastermind and an assortment of glitzy Euro-destinations including Rome, Paris, Amsterdam and Lake Como. The actors all appear to be having a grand old time and director Steven Soderbergh moves the film along at a clip, with a pleasantly off-kilter, loosey-goosey style that, not to put too fine a point on it, evokes the energy and attitude (not to mention the jump cuts and radical temporal shifts) of the early French New Wave. The movie nearly breaks its own spell in the end with a final plot twist involving Julia Roberts' character that's so postmodern meta-meta it nearly breaks the film's flow, but it turns out to only be a minor disruption in what is basically a very good time at the movies. The soundtrack is pretty stellar, too. Also stars Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle and Vincent Cassel. (Opens Dec. 10 at local theaters.) 1/2
RED LIGHTS (PG-13) A thriller in the French countryside directed by Cedric Kahn, and based on a novel by Georges Simenon. A husband (Antoine) and wife (Helene) bicker more and more heatedly while driving on the highways of south France. Antoine, against Helene's wishes, stops for a drink, only to find his wife gone upon returning to the car, leaving behind a note that says she's continued on by train. After a bit of racing around, Antoine ends up in another bar, where he buys a drink for a sullen stranger, who eventually asks him for a ride. After coming to a police roadblock, Antoine begins to suspect the stranger may be the escaped fugitive the police are looking for. French with English subtitles. (Opens Dec. 10 at Burns Court Cinemas. Call to confirm.) (Not Reviewed)
AFTER THE SUNSET (PG-13) Although there are worse ways to wile away 90-some minutes, After the Sunset isn't really exciting or original enough to engage us as a heist movie, and it's not funny enough to succeed as a comedy. Pierce Brosnan (further distancing himself from the 007 image in flip-flops and a gray, gristled chin) and Salma Hayek are retired jewel thieves playing elaborately pointless cat-and-mouse games with FBI agent Woody Harrelson while they consider that inevitable one last heist. The movie is pleasant to look at (particularly the island locations and a frequently semi-clad Hayek), and some of the dialogue is fairly clever and quirky, but we've seen this Elmore Leonard-lite shtick too many times before. Also stars Don Cheadle. 1/2
ALEXANDER (R) Shorn of the shock cuts and other postmodernist tricks of the trade that have typified his style, Oliver Stone's three-hour biopic of Alexander the Great is, at best, a curiously uninvolving affair. Alexander is notable for being Stone's attempt to craft a historical epic more or less in the traditional mold, but the film gains little from this strategy and in fact falls prey to many of the bugaboos of the form. There are lots of long, boring speeches; hokey dialogue; an unintentionally silly melange of accents (from Irish brogues to faux-Slavic); a couple of extended battle scenes where the cry of "Glory!" becomes a four syllable word; a horribly manipulative soundtrack (courtesy of Vangelis); and a narrator who tells us about key events in the hero's life so that we don't have to actually witness them for ourselves. Colin Farrell makes a surprisingly lackluster Alexander, playing the great conqueror as a whiney, poofy-haired surfer dude with mother issues and an eye for the boys. In place of his usual conspiracy theories and cinematic provocations, Stone layers in heaping helpings of pop psychology, mainly manifested by Angelina Jolie as Alexander's dominating, guilt-tripping, weirdly sensualized mother (she does some interesting things with snakes, too). Stone throws in everything but a vagina with teeth, but he doesn't seem to really understand the elements he's tinkering with, and doesn't have enough control over them to keep everything from turning into some ludicrous, quasi-camp interlude that seems to exist outside of the main body of the movie. Likewise for the depiction of Alexander's sexuality, which give us lots of come-hither stares between Farrell and various doe-eyed boys but leaves the only on-screen sex to a strictly hetero coupling between the star and a mightily breasted Rosario Dawson. In the end, the movie's simply confused and a bit of a bore, like a long-winded drunk who stayed too long at the party. Also stars Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto and Christopher Plummer.