my week at the movies: ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,’ ‘This Christmas,’ ‘Dan in Real Life,’ ‘Slipstream,’ ‘War/Dance,’ ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’

I have this friend who looks a lot like Philip Seymour Hoffman. My friend used to live in NYC but he moved to L.A. a few years back, and since he’s been known to pop back into town unannounced. And more than once I’ve been walking down a Manhattan street and caught a glimpse of a guy out of the corner of my eye and done a double take and said to myself, “Hey! There’s Allen!” And then I do another double take and say, “Oh, no. It’s only Philip Seymour Hoffman.” Anyway, Philip Seymour Hoffman is in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead [opens limited October 26], which is Sidney Lumet’s new heist crime thriller thingie, which also stars Ethan Hawke, who used to look a little bit like my brother before he (Ethan) got so skinny, and Marisa Tomei, who looks a little bit like some of my cousins, and Albert Finney, who doesn’t really look like anyone I know at all.

The tagline for This Christmas [opens wide November 21] is “You can’t exchange family.” It looks exactly like every other movie that says, “Hey, you think your family is crazy? Check out these folks.” And then they turn out to be depressingly ordinary like everyone you know, which is supposed to be heartwarming and reassuring, apparently, and isn’t. The difference this time out is that this family is black, and the message will, I’m guessing, be that black folks are just like white folks: they make sappy sentimental crap Christmas movies, too.

I think I’ve broken the secret movie code of Steve Carell. When he’s an unshaven mess, like in Little Miss Sunshine, he’s awesome. And when he’s cleanshaven, like in Evan Almighty, he’s awful. As you can see from the poster, he’s an unshaven mess in Dan in Real Life [opens October 26], which is giving me that Little Miss Sunshine vibe (I loved that flick) and is also from Peter Hedges, whose Pieces of April is surprisingly better than it probably should be. Alas, Dane Cook, who has just been begging to be added to my Mortal Enemies list of late, is in this, so there’s a mark against it. Oh, and wait a second: Carrel starts off all smooth-faced in Evan, but he ends up with that long Noah beard, doesn’t he? And if the beard/no-beard thing holds, that means that next year’s Get Smart movie will suck, and that can’t be. Damn. Never mind. The code remains unbroken.

Anthony Hopkins made a movie! No, I mean actually made a movie, not just starred in it. (Actually, it looks like he’s made a few before, too.) Hopkins writes and directs — and stars in — Slipstream [opens limited October 26], which has a trippy trailer about time traveling in your subconscious, or getting imprisoned in your own mind, or something. I want to be all excited about how Christian Slater and John Turturro and a bunch of other interesting actors are also starring in this, but mostly I’m suddenly struck by how there’s something seemingly bubbling up in the zeitgeist at the moment about time traveling in your subconscious, or getting imprisoned in your own mind, or something. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that I’m completely addicted to Life on Mars and its time-traveling-cop-in-a-coma at the same time this movie is coming along, and at the same time that this week’s episode of Heroes had Mohinder and Matt locked in their own minds by the Nightmare Man. Maybe I’m trapped in my own mind imagining all these things. Things could be worse.

Have you heard about all the horrible, horrible things that have been happening to little kids in the Uganda civil war? Well, it seems that dancing, and organized dance competitions, are helping some of those kids cope with the trauma and recover and get on with some semblance of life. War/Dance [opens limited November 9] won the Best Directing prize in the Documentary Competition at Sundance this year. I’m sure it’ll be a good film, and yet not a fun one to watch.

Director Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly [opens limited November 30] is based on a true story, too, of a French magazine editor who suffers a stroke and then — what’s this? — he gets trapped in his own mind. Is the universe trying to tell me I’m stuck in the Matrix or something? Do I need to be waking up from something?

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