Opening Today

December 14, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

It's a busy weekend at the multiplex, in part because several films that have previously opened in only a few theaters are going wider. Two of those are Starting out in the Evening, an affecting tale of the relationship between an aging writer and a young woman with a great performance by Frank Langella, and The Walker, about Woody Harrelson in Paul Schrader's murder thriller about the only honorable man in Washington D.C. The third is Juno, upon which I have heaped effusive praise. This story of a witty, smart young girl who finds herself pregnant after one unplanned sexual encounter is one of the best acted and most endearing comedies of the year. It's on my end-of-the-year Top 10 list and is my pick of the week. It's opening wide enough that it should be playing at a theater near everyone.

Juno won't come close to winning the battle at the cash register. This week's box office champion will be Will Smith's I Am Legend, a generally compelling adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel and a better cinematic version than either of its predecessors (The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man). It's a competent science fiction adventure. It loses a little steam toward the end but is worth plunking down ten hard-earned dollars. When it comes to big-budget movies, this and last week's dud, The Golden Compass, are the only players out there for the moment. (That will change next week.)

A close runner-up for pick of the week is The Kite Runner, a faithful adaptation of the bestselling novel. If you cried while reading the book, you'll likely have tears in your eyes by the movie's final frame. And if you aren't familiar with the source material, you owe it to yourself to spend two hours in a theater immersed in this examination of pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

There are a couple of high-profile movies I skipped this week. The first is Perfect Holiday, a film that seems in premise to be similar to This Christmas. After the debacle of Fred Claus, I soured on any Christmas-themed motion pictures, so don't expect me to see any more in 2007. It's galling how mediocre the field is, and I'm not just talking about this year. It's possible to count on one hand the number of good Christmas films released in the last fifteen years. Most are little more than money grabs – blatant attempts to cash in on the season. I leave them feeling like the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge and since that's not a feeling I like, I made the decision after the Vince Vaughn debacle to give up the rest of the field for Advent. As for Alvin and the Chipmunks, I hated the squeakers when they were on TV and I don't think there's much chance that my opinion has changed. You'll have to go elsewhere for a review of that.

Next week: Nic Cage returns to go on another treasure hunt, Charlie Wilson goes to war in one of the year's best, Dewey Cox walks hard with a little help from Judd Apatow, and Johnny Depp turns in his pirate garb for a few straight razors and a singing lesson or two.