Friday, December 3, 2010

Movie Openings: Week of December 3rd, 2010

As we move into the winter season, movies are slowly moving away from high action blockbusters and comedies to more serious dramas and psychological thrillers. This week brings us, among others, a pair of supernatural/psychological thrillers, a pair of crime dramas and an East-meets-West action fantasy film. Quite an eclectic selection, so let's get on with it.

Let's start with the movie that is receiving a lot of buzz, "Black Swan." It stars Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder and is directed by Darren Aronofsky ("Pi", "The Wrestler" and "Requiem for a Dream"). Many of you may have heard about the much-publicized Portman-Kunis explicit lesbian scene in this movie and for this curiosity factor alone, it should be top new movie this weekend in terms of box-office take (no movie would be able to knock "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" from its perch just yet). However, the movie itself should also be able to stand on its own psychological thriller legs as well, receiving widespread praise from most critics (83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) nationwide. The movie has also received some early Oscar buzz for Portman and Aronofsky, which is a good sign. Definitely a must-see. Here is the synopsis:

"A psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet, BLACK SWAN stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis). A Fox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky, BLACK SWAN takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect. BLACK SWAN follows the story of Nina (Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter,s professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her."

Up next is a crime drama based on a real-life crime story. Inspired by the most notorious missing persons case in New York, "All Good Things" is a love story and a murder mystery that involves the wealthy and powerful Durst family set during the 1980's. Using newly discovered facts, court records and speculation as the foundation for the screenplay, writers Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling, together with director Andrew Jarecki, have crafted a taut psychological thriller that stars Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst and Frank Langella. While many critics are torn down the middle, I like all the actors in this film and at worse, I would own this movie on Blu-ray some time in the future.

"I Love You Phillip Morris" is a Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor drama/comedy that isn't receiving as much publicity as it should. No, this is not a story about the tobacco industry but is actually a true story about a conman's journey from a small-town businessman to a flamboyant white-collar criminal. It has earned a respectable 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and should be on your radar if you are looking for a comedy to watch this weekend. Here is the interesting synopsis:

"Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) leads a seemingly average life - an organ player in the local church, happily married to Debbie (Leslie Mann), and a member of the local police force. That is until he has a severe car accident that leads him to the ultimate epiphany: he's gay and he's going to live life to the fullest - even if he has to break the law to do it. Taking on an extravagant lifestyle, Steven turns to cons and fraud to make ends meet and is eventually sent to the State Penitentiary where he meets the love of his life, a sensitive, soft-spoken man named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). His devotion to freeing Phillip from jail and building the perfect life together prompts him to attempt (and often succeed at) one impossible con after another. Told with an uncanny sense of humor and a lot of heart, I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is an oddball tale of what can happen when the legal system, a daredevil spirit, and undying love collide."

Now here is a Christmas tale with a difference. A dark and funny one at that. From Finland, comes "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale," about the fantastic discovery of the real Santa Claus, but just not the cuddly and kindly Santa from age-old myths. This one is much, much different from what we've come to expect from the gift-giving North Pole dweller. If you love your comedies dark and quirky, this should be a must-see movie. And most critics love it as well (a great 89% rating on RT). Here is the hilarious synopsis:

"It's the eve of Christmas in northern Finland, and an 'archeological' dig has just unearthed the real Santa Claus. But this particular Santa isn't the one you want coming to town. When the local children begin mysteriously disappearing, young Pietari and his father Rauno, a reindeer hunter by trade, capture the mythological being and attempt to sell Santa to the misguided leader of the multinational corporation sponsoring the dig. Santa's elves, however, will stop at nothing to free their fearless leader from captivity. What ensues is a wildly humorous nightmare - a fantastically bizarre polemic on modern day morality. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE is a re-imagining of the most classic of all childhood fantasies, and is a darkly comic gem soon to be required perennial holiday viewing."

From the dark and fantastical, we fall back to reality with "Night Catches Us," a drama set in 70's Philadelphia during the midst of the Black Power Movement. It stars Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington and has received some pretty good reviews all round (83% on RT). Here is the synopsis:

"In 1976, after years of mysterious absence, Marcus (Anthony Mackie, "The Hurt Locker") returns to the Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age in the midst of the Black Power movement. While his arrival raises suspicion among his family and former neighbors, he finds acceptance from his old friend Patricia (Kerry Washington, "Ray," "Lift") and her daughter. However, Marcus quickly finds himself at odds with the organization he once embraced, whose members suspect he orchestrated the slaying of their former comrade-in-arms. In a startling sequence of events, Marcus must protect a secret that could shatter everyone's beliefs as he rediscovers his forbidden passion for Patricia."

"Dead Awake" is a supernatural thriller that stars Nick Stahl, Rose McGowan and Amy Smart. Nothing much is known about this film so far except for the synopsis below but the premise sounds pretty interesting nonetheless.

"Dylan, a young man working at a funeral parlor, is trying to unravel a mystery that shattered his life ten years earlier. After faking his own funeral to see who will show up, he befriends a mysterious street junkie and is reunited with an old love from his past. The lives of these three characters are transformed by supernatural forces as Dylan discovers that no one is who they seem to be and sets them on a path to uncover the truth that lies between the living and the dead."

Finally, we have "The Warrior's Way," sort of a East-meets-West action adventure film starring South Korean actor Dong-Gun Jang, Kate Bosworth and Geoffrey Rush. Early reviews are only so-so but this could be one of those great midnight movie outings where all you want is to be entertained. And this movie has martial arts action in spades. Here is the synopsis:

"The world's greatest swordsman abandons his warrior clan to start a new life in the American Badlands in THE WARRIOR'S WAY, a visually dazzling modern martial arts adventure with stunningly choreographed fight sequences and gravity-defying stunts. In an original, gorgeously realized journey into a mythical past, writer and director Sngmoo Lee seamlessly marries the cinematic traditions of East and West. Korean superstar Jang Dong Gun, Kate Bosworth, Danny Huston and Academy Award-winner Geoffrey Rush star in this epic story of revenge and redemption."

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