Upcoming movies a sea of dull

By Hoang-Mai Hong

Alas, it’s January, so gird yourselves for the new semester, as well as a month that will offer little in the way of good escapism, new movie-wise. It sounds rather bleak, but take comfort in the fact that there are still plenty of award-nominated and critically-acclaimed films still in theatres. If you still haven’t taken in Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road, Changeling, Gran Torino, Doubt, The Reader, Happy-Go-Lucky, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Rachel Getting Married, go and do it before classes really start picking up.

As for the more mediocre new releases this month, the list is also long, but hopelessly dull, with a few exceptions. Mickey Rourke’s highly-touted performance in The Wrestler saw a wider release last week. The movie tells the story of a washed up former pro-wrestler and all-around good guy trying to make amends with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) as well as mount a comeback. Rourke is genuine and endearing in this role that has completely revived his career, and it’s also good to see director Darren Aronofsky bounce back from his last impenetrably pretentious film, The Fountain. Of note as well in last week’s releases is Last Chance Harvey, an uplifting tale of two lonely middle-aged people who find each other, which earned both Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman several award nods. Another small film with an award-worthy performance is I’ve Loved You So Long, a French film starring Kristin Scott Thomas, which will be released this week. Thomas plays a woman just released from prison who begins to open up again with help from her sister’s love.

Some easily skippable new releases this week includes Taken, a retread of the Death Wish story, with Liam Neeson badly suppressing his Irish accent as the crazed and vengeful vigilante father, and Outlander, which answers the question, “What has Jim Caviezel been doing since playing Jesus?” The answer: playing a viking who fights off a Predator-type creature from space. Another second-rate treatment of the supernatural also sees the light of day in Underworld: Rise of Lycans, the prequel of the Underworld series, which stars Michael Sheen, fresh from his performance as Sir David Frost in Frost/Nixon, and the always fun Bill Nighy. Whether this is actually a fairly decent entertainment or a paycheck for these guys will be decided when the movie hits theatres this week.

January 30 releases are rather generic and anemic-looking things, such as rom-com New in Town starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr., and The Uninvited, which is yet another bland-sounding horror film. The tepid trend continues the following week with another rom-com coming from the Sex and the City machine, He’s Just Not That Into You, with Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Aniston headlining, and Pink Panther 2 with Steve Martin mercilessly doing another terrible turn as Inspector Clouseau. It finishes with some potentially okay-looking movies like Fanboys, about a group of nerds/geeks/dorks/whathaveyou who travel cross-country to attend the premiere of Episode I of Star Wars, and Coraline, a delightfully bizarre and demented looking animated 3D film with the voices of Dakota Fanning and Ian McShane (Deadwood).

The romantic comedies keep on coming in the advent of Valentine’s Day with the release of Confessions of a Shopaholic on Feb. 13 with the appealing Isla Fisher attempting to liven up the cloying character of Becky Bloomwood. Another remake of Friday the 13th hits theatres as well. The highlight of this week is the perennial Clive Owen thriller called The International which has Owen moonlighting as a far-too-handsome Interpol operative.

Finally, in the realm of wide releases, the brilliant looking adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road apparently will be released on Feb. 20 unless it is once again pushed back. Fingers crossed.

In the world of documentaries, the Plaza Theatre is currently presenting Antonio Gaudi, which takes a close look at the famous Catalan architect’s fantastical buildings and parks in Spain. Another fascinating looking doc playing at the Plaza is Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, which bills itself as “halfway between a sports documentary and a conceptual art installation” and follows an entire Real Madrid game from the point of view of the French soccer genius.

Lastly, Cinemania at the university from now until reading break will be presenting second-runs of City of Ember, an overlooked post-apocalyptic kids flick from Walden Media with luminous child-actor Saoirse Ronan (Oscar-nominated for her performance in Atonement last year), Bill Murray and the British Office’s Mackenzie Crook, Quarantine, a decent 28 Days Later-type film and The Secret Life of Bees which earned Dakota Fanning an unprecedented NAACP Image Award nod.

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