This week’s edition of “In the Dark” is packed with reviews of movies you should definitely see, but none of them are in wide release. The films that are in wide release … meh.
First in the “meh” category is “Saw III,” the requisite last-Friday-before-Halloween bloodbath that is an annual tradition in American cinema. In fact, the last two years, it was “Saw” and “Saw II.” I’m a little frightened at how fast these things are replicating.
They wouldn’t pre-screen this one for critics, but one of the local theaters had a midnight showing last night, so a friend and I attended. It’s better than “Saw II,” and just good enough (for what it is) to be recommendable, but not as good as “Saw.” You know, now that I think about it, I saw “Saw” at a midnight screening, too. Huh. I don’t know what that means, but there you go.
The other new wide release is “Catch a Fire,” a well-intentioned but ineffective film, based on a true story, about South African apartheid and the radicals who fought against it. That’s an uphill battle right there, and with no major-league stars (Derek Luke and Tim Robbins are as good as it gets) and few ecstatic reviews, I can’t imagine people flocking to see this. Especially not when they could watch people being eviscerated in the next theater over.
Getting a mid-size expansion is “Running with Scissors,” an ultra-quirky adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’ bestselling memoir. Now, you have to wonder how true a “memoir” is when the guy won’t even use his OWN real name, let alone anyone else’s, but never mind. The film is well-acted but just too self-consciously loopy for my tastes. I note that my C+ is one of the better marks it’s getting from critics. Yikes.
HOWEVER! All is not lost. Now playing in select theaters across this great land of ours are some truly outstanding films. Are they playing near you? Maybe not. But maybe! If they aren’t, keep an eye out for ‘em! You’ll want to see these.
First and foremost is “The Queen,” starring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in the days following Princess Diana’s death in 1997. Read my review for more raving about Mirren’s performance, but it’s absolutely wonderful, one of those roles that makes you fall in love with the performer and wonder why you never paid attention to his or her career before. Where have you been all my life, Helen Mirren?!
Since Helen Mirren will be nominated for an Oscar (you can take that to the bank) (is there an Oscar bank?), you’ll want to see “The Queen” now and beat the rush.
In the documentary department, “Deliver Us from Evil” is an enraging film about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. It’s the most damning evidence I’ve seen so far. I’m glad I’m not Catholic — in general, yes, but particularly right now, because I would be disgusted with my church’s leadership if I were. It’s a powerful movie, though I admit it’s not very “fun.” But hey, you all went and saw “Passion of the Christ,” and THAT was no picnic. So go see this one, too.
Also dealing just a li’l bit with pedophilia is “Little Children,” a sardonic satire of suburban tranquility that, its title notwithstanding, is about adults more than kids. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson play bored parents, each married to someone else, who become friends during the day while their spouses work. It’s based on a novel by the guy who wrote the book on which “Election” (the Matthew Broderick/Reese Witherspoon movie) was based, if that gives you any clues about the dark comedy at play here. It is well worth seeking out.
But wait, there’s more! Two political films, one a documentary and one a “documentary,” are also making the rounds in a few theaters. Both are from a liberal perspective, so proceed with caution.
“Al Franken: God Spoke” is a good but not great account of Franken’s efforts to start Air America Radio and to campaign for John Kerry in the 2004 election. (Not really a happy ending on either front, is there?) The film could use more focus, but Franken is a smart, quick-witted comedian, so it has some very funny moments.
The “documentary” is “Death of a President,” which raised eyebrows when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last month. It purports to be a doc from 2009, telling of the fateful 2007 day when George W. Bush was assassinated. The point is not to say, “Hooray! We want Bush to die!,” but rather to imagine the scenario and then imagine what would happen next. Would the Patriot Act be hastily rewritten to become even more wide-ranging? Would Dick Cheney be a paranoid, Nixon-like replacement president? Would all the Muslims within a three-mile radius of where Bush was killed be rounded up and interrogated? The film isn’t entirely successful, but a lot of it plausible.
So there you go. Plenty of good options this weekend if you know where to look. Good night, and good luck.