A comedy opening at Yuletide with Reese Witherspoon and a cast of wonderful supporting actors (Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Dwight Yoakam)? Sounds unbeatable, but this emerges as something of an anti-holiday film and has left legions of critics mirthless. Witherspoon and hubby Vince Vaughan are forced to visit the homes of each of their divorced parents for the holidays, something they have always tried to avoid. The problem is, the couple themselves might be just as insufferable for the viewer as their parents.
The sourness of Four Christmases is initially all over Smart People, which has cranky, widowed literature professor Dennis Quaid coping with a less-than-perfect family of smart but cheerless people — of which he is the less-than-perfect patriarch. An accident brings Quaid to the hospital and triggers a relationship with doctor Sarah Jessica Parker. Meanwhile, back home, there’s redemption in store when Quaid’s adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church from Sideways) moves in and turns the tables on everyone. Also stars Ellen Page (Juno) as Quaid’s daughter.
This is an adaptation of Will Eisner’s decades-old comic strip that follows Sin City’s stylistic lead, and is written and directed by Frank Miller, who helmed that groundbreaking film. The hero here is a policeman (Gabriel Macht) who is killed and revitalized as a crime fighting, mask-touting, womanizing vigilante. Samuel L. Jackson, as “The Octopus,” is the main villain and Scarlett Johansson is his companion in crime. Variety was singularly unimpressed, calling it “relentlessly cartoonish and campy” and “a work of pure digital artifice,” among other unkind words.
A theatrical extension of the award-winning Japanese TV mystery series Galileo, Suspect X pits a young and slightly eccentric physicist-cum-sleuth (“Detective Galileo”) and his policewoman collaborator against an old friend of Galileo who craftily sets up an alibi for the titular suspect (or is it suspects?) who committed a murder. Smatterings of whimsy, comedy and science make this a digestible mystery for non-converts to the TV show.
The Gift to Stalin
Not many films from Kazakhstan come our way (Borat doesn’t count). In this one, a young Jewish refugee escapes death when he is taken home by a local Muslim man. But this is the Soviet bloc under Josef Stalin, with purges and appalling mistreatment of minorities, so there’s something nasty in store for the old man and his charge. Location photography and heartwarming elements will charm viewers, but there’s a history lesson at the climax that will leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
The “rain” in this made-for-TV flick is a comet storm that threatens a Colorado town whose mayor is a woman with burdens of every description: work, family and a traumatic past. The setup borrows from Twister, and retains that movie’s technique of milking drama from people battling their obsessions in the face of a natural disaster. Also known as Anna’s Storm, this is being released briefly as a DVD promotion. Starts tomorrow.
Man, Woman and the Wall
Crossover porn star Sora Aoi stars as the girl next door in this more mainstream Japanese erotic drama, though in this case the “door” is an incredibly thin wall between apartments that leads our antihero to eavesdrop on and finally stalk the poor lady, before discovering that she suffers even rougher treatment from her boyfriend. Screening at the Baixue theater in Ximending, which ordinarily screens Aoi product that we don’t bother covering. Like Hell’s Rain and Bangkok Dangerous below, this is a promo for a DVD release.