From the studio that brought the world “In the Name of the King” and “Dragon Wars” comes “The Haunting of Molly Hartley.” Perhaps Freestyle Releasing isn’t concerned with producing a competent film for their growing library of titles, which makes their latest effort quite a rousing success. A high school drama with colorless demonic overtones, “Hartley” is a last-minute Halloween stab at box office gold and a resoundingly idiotic one at that.
I suppose it was bound to happen sometime, and I guess I should be glad it took 14 years to arrive, but Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is a disappointment. It’s not an unpleasant film, more of a blown opportunity (no pun intended), and falls well short of the quality Smith has demonstrated with prior raunchfests. Attempting to walk precariously on a tightrope of sentimentality and smutty behavior, Smith wanders off, manufacturing a film more contrived than sincere, and with less bellylaughs than anticipated.
Contrary to popular opinion, “Changeling” doesn’t represent director Clint Eastwood fishing for Oscar gold. Instead he’s made what he usually makes: a sturdy drama with wonderful working parts, only now there’s an issue of length that’s disconcerting, and stretches the movie to a point of no return. “Changeling” is compelling and flush with outstanding period detail, yet it can’t locate the brakes, skidding from nail-biting tension into watch-checking boredom all too easily.
The experience of watching the documentary “Dear Zachary” is like trying to put together a complex puzzle inside a roaring jet engine. Eschewing a liberal, meditative approach to reverse engineer a murder, “Zachary” instead pours its heart out over the screen, piloting with unfiltered rage and tears as filmmaker Kurt Kuenne embarks on a distressing odyssey to decipher just who would want to kill his lifelong friend, Andrew.
Leave it to a member of the Beastie Boys to create one of the best basketball documentaries around. Picking up where “Hoop Dreams” left off, “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot” replaces solemnity with a streetwise perspective, examining the futures of eight high school basketball phenoms as they gather at the infamous Rucker Park neighborhood court to prove their highly trained mettle in front of an unforgiving crowd.
There’s a certain part of me that’s envious of the average “Saw” fan. I truly wish I could appreciate this horror franchise on a more visceral level, screaming along with the rest of the crowd as mayhem arrives, lives are ended, and Jigsaw’s legacy is twisted further into a mind-bending puzzle only the most patient out there have kept up with. It’s criminal that I refuse entrance into the club, but, then again, when I view a “Saw” movie all I can see are bargain-basement production values, abysmal acting, and a soggy narrative that’s spun completely out of control. The only elements holding the franchise together at this point are the blind enthusiasm of horror nuts, truckloads of distraction, and the forgiving nature of the Halloween season.
Presenting a movie like “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” to film critics is a bizarre situation. Let’s be real here: nobody who wants to see the feature will care what other people think about it, and most strangers to the “HSM” franchise wouldn’t be caught dead watching it. It’s an either ya do or ya don’t proposition.
From Sweden comes “Let the Right One In,” a film of extraordinary mood and wildly inventive directorial potency. It’s a hushed, gentle story of provisional friendship, the ordeal of adolescence, and the curse of vampiric immortality. A hypnotic motion picture from beginning to end, “Right One” is a marvel: an ingenious genre film that manages to terrify and endear in the same instant, deftly erecting one of the most persuasive, haunting film experiences of the year.
“Pride and Glory” is undeniably routine, wading into murky New York police drama waters with little hesitation. However, it takes only a minute to shake off the convention and welcome what director Gavin O’Conner is constructing here: a pummeling story of corruption and relations, spread across the battlefield of the unforgiving city. “Glory” is a marvelous installment of the psychologically tortured cop genre, and whatever it lacks in innovation it makes up in emotionally searing, superbly smashmouth execution.
A whopping 19 producers had their hands in the “Tru Loved” pie, yet nobody told director Stewart Wade that his film was being swallowed whole by melodrama. The film surely means well with enormous messages of tolerance and self-esteem, but when “Tru Loved” digs in with broad caricatures of homophobia and all-purpose intolerance, the movie can be a supreme chore to sit through.
A George W. Bush bio-pic in the calloused hands of filmmaker Oliver Stone provides so much promise, it’ll make your head throb to simply consider the potential. Would “W.” be flat-out character assassination? A screwball farce? A diseased ode to the haunted mind of a controversial president? Turns out, after all the hand-wringing anticipation and peanut gallery predictions of malicious liberal content, “W.” is total and utter kitten play; a softball portrait of Bush that resembles more of a nutty community theater production than a typical scorching Stone project. Nevertheless, the unnervingly ordinary path taken by Stone exposes something completely unanticipated: sympathy.
85 minutes long, rated PG-13, released by Fox, directed by John Moore, and a screenplay based on a video game. That’s a recipe for disaster, and “Max Payne” is more than happy to fulfill its destiny as a noxious actioner devoid of humanity, elementary cinematic language, and thespian nuance. Once again the game world collides with the multiplex, and once again I question the point of taking an interactive experience and turning it into a conventional feature film, omitting the specificity that made the property viable in the first place.
The curse of “American Pie” strikes again with “Sex Drive,” a dreary teen comedy that attempts to pass off an endless series of bodily function jokes as a screenplay. It’s dated, humorless, and miscast all around, not to mention homophobic, ineptly written, and on top of all that holds great disdain for its characters. It’s the latest in a long string of teen sex comedies where the audience just might find themselves rooting for the STDs.
Barry Levinson has returned the fun in making fun of Hollywood, and that’s saying something if one takes into consideration the last decade of motion pictures the once miraculous filmmaker has churned out. “What Just Happened” turns the tables on the industry, mounting a satire of egos, box office returns, and panic attacks without the cluster of winks typically associated with Tinseltown razzing. It’s specialized product, but it plays broadly and cleverly.