PICK OF THE WEEK:
Fright Night (****). The original Fright Night is one of those campy fun horror flicks with an edge that has grown a little soft with the passage of time. This remake does the original proud, and puts just enough of a modern spin on the tale of a boy and the hunky vampire next door to justify its existence. In fact, this is actually one of the better mainstream entertainment offerings of the year. Colin Farrell may not be a movie star (as evidenced by the weak opening box office take), but over the last three years he has truly blossomed into one of film's most reliable and enjoyable character actors. Farrell is clearly having a blast on screen as Jerry, using just the right amount of sinister charm in the role. There's plenty of blood on display in Fright Night, but the movie operates more as comedic thriller than horror. This one's a prime candidate for "In Defense Of" treatment in a few months. One of my favorites of the summer - though an October release probably would have suited it better. In Theaters Now.
Barney's Version (***). Paul Giamatti earned a Golden Globe last year for Best Actor in a Comedy for his work in this, which, oddly enough, is more of a drama. Sure, there are comedic elements, and Giamatti has those down to a science, but this is ultimately a more serious, somber look at one man's life, loves, and regrets. It runs way long at about 135 minutes, and can be a chore to watch in one sitting, but Giamatti makes it work. He acts the hell out of the role, and makes it his own to a degree that I couldn't even picture anyone else playing it but him. Dustin Hoffman has a few nice scenes as Barney's father, but most of the female characters are sketched pretty thin. On DVD.
The Devil's Double (***). Strong subject matter drives this narrative account of the daily, private hell suffered by Uday Hussein's body double (Dominic Cooper, playing both roles). I wasn't too familiar with the life of Uday and the extent of his psychopathic tendencies before seeing this, but it definitely perked my interest. I just wish the movie were better executed. Director Lee Tamahori never makes any giant missteps, but he doesn't imbue the material with any real color either. Apart from a handful of out-of-nowhere scenes of horrific violence, Tamahori never fully embraces the dark, gritty tone that the material begs for. I would love to see what someone like David Fincher could have done with it. Cooper is tremendous here though, giving both Uday and body double Latif Yahia distinct personalities, vocal tones, and postures. He's excellent and makes The Devil's Double worth a mild recommendation as a result. In Theaters Now.
The Freebie (**1/2). Fans of FX's The League probably owe it to themselves to see Katie Aselton's feature debut as writer-director. She also stars alongside Dax Shepherd in this serio-comic look at love and fidelity. Shot on a shoestring budget and largely improvised, The Freebie is one of those mumblecore indie movie that's more impressive for its acting and execution than ideas. I liked the scattered structure to the story, with frequent jumps back and forth in chronology. That's probably the only thing keeping the audience's interest though. This may not be the first film to explore what happens when a couple is given one night of freedom to cheat (Hall Pass, anyone?), but the set-up still smacks of unbelievability. Shepard and Aselton do their best to sell the flimsy premise, but still come up short. For Aselton, however, it's mission: accomplished - she shows real dramatic chops here and proves she can do more than just guy-centric comedy. On DVD.
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (**). When Robert Rodriguez first started making Spy Kids movies back in 2001, it was kind of cute. Now, it's just pathetic. Seriously, has there ever been a director who has squandered his talent more than Rodriguez? The guy started out around the same time as Tarantino, but, apart from Sin City, Rodriguez' filmography in recent years leaves a lot to be desired. This new Spy Kids is lazy and panders to the lowest common denominator. The poop and fart jokes are plentiful, and not since Arnold took on Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin has there been this many bad puns in a single film. The acting is dreadful across the board - kids, adults, voiceover actors (Ricky Gervais as a robot dog), extras, etc. You know you have a problem when Jessica Alba gives one of the best performances in the movie. As for the "Aroma-scope" fourth dimension you hear about in all the ads, it's worthless. The scratch and sniff card doesn't even work. A better title for this would be, Spy Kids: Robert Rodriguez, pull your head out of your ass. In Theaters Now.