Opening Today

December 21, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

The theaters runneth over. No matter what your likes and dislikes may be, there's something out there for you. Virtually every genre is represented: chick flicks, romances, serious dramas, comedy, horror, music, adventure, action, family fare, and so on. And as crowded a field as it is today, just wait a half-week and multiplexes and art-houses alike will be bursting at the seams. The downside is that after next week, things take a major downturn. It's entirely possible that for the first two weekends of January, nothing will be shown to critics. That will mean a lot of Friday/Saturday reviews.

A brief word about last week's box office. I expected a big weekend from I Am Legend, but the success of Alvin and the Chipmunks caught me (and almost everyone else) by surprise. If nothing else, this illustrates how badly mothers and fathers want to be able to find something "appropriate" to take their kids to see. The nostalgia element played into it as well with parents being able to flash back to their own childhoods. It raises the question of what a good movie with family and nostalgic appeal could make. Or maybe quality is irrelevant in this situation.

What about this week? I have to admit being disappointed by a lot of what's coming out. The pick of the week is Charlie Wilson's War, the sanitized but primarily true tale of how the United States ended up in a covert war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Regardless of whether or not Aaron Sorkin's script was toned down, the final result is nevertheless smart, compelling, and at times very funny. Aside from Julia Roberts' curiously lackluster performance, I can't find many negative things to say about this movie. It's not the greatest drama of the year but, because the films of 2007 have underwhelmed, this one stands a good chance of creeping into my Top 10.

The unquestionable box office champ will be National Treasure: Book of Secrets. This film, a virtual clone of its predecessor, is as dumb and predictable as movies get. It's an example of when people confuse action and movement with excitement. (The film has plenty of the former but none of the latter.) Nevertheless, people seem to enjoy turning off their minds and watching the pretty lights, so I'll concede that the worst picture of the week will be the most popular. But, as was observed with Transformers, there's no relationship between quality and popularity. (A lesson many of us learned in high school...)

A lot of people are going to like Sweeney Todd more than I did. I'm not knowledgeable about the musical (never having seen it on or off Broadway or having listened to a cast recording), so that limits my intrinsic desire to enjoy the film. I found it to be a mixed bag but I will concede that those who number themselves among the Sondheim faithful will appreciate the Burton/Depp interpretation. My wife loves the musical and I was concerned that when she saw the **1/2 review, she wouldn't speak to me for a week.

Walk Hard is an adequate comedy. It's not as good as the best from co-writer Judd Apatow's pen, but it's an improvement over many of the generic spoofs that have become increasingly tiresome over the last 25 years. (I'm referring to the likes of Date Movie and Epic Movie in particular.) There are laughs to be found here, and you don't have to wait too long for them. On balance, I thought Charlie Wilson's War was funnier but I'm not going to deny the amusement value of Walk Hard.

Finally, there's the makes-me-want-to-puke sentimentality of P.S. I Love You. The review says all that needs to be said. The film is going for the Ghost audience. In a less crowded marketplace, it might have a shot at attracting an audience, but with everything that's out there, it's likely to be D.0.A, which is what it deserves to be.

Those are this weekend's choices. Have fun. I'll be back next Wednesday (taking Tuesday off) with the year's final contenders for box office and awards glory.