Friday movie roundup – Oct. 12

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Good heavens, we sure have a lot of new films opening this weekend. A trend I note among several of them: beautiful cinematography. There are some really good-lookin’ movies here.

The best of the lot is “Michael Clayton,” which is also my review for this week. It’s an excellent piece of work, a legal thriller that will appeal to film snobs as well as regular ol’ moviegoers.

A film that I assumed would be excellent but that turned out not to be is “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” a sequel to the splendid “Elizabeth” from 1998. Cate Blanchett plays Queen Elizabeth I again, only this time the story isn’t very cohesive and the film feels listless and dull. ‘Tis a pity.

(I wasn’t a movie critic yet when “Elizabeth” came out, and somehow I never saw it until last weekend, when I Netflixed it in preparation for the sequel. It’s a very engaging and entertaining historical flick. Do see it, if you have not.)

“The Final Season” is a lame Inspiring Sports Drama starring Sean Astin (aka Rudy) (aka the fat tricksy hobbit) (aka the narrator on “Meerkat Manor”) as a high school baseball coach, and it’s their last season, and they’re underdogs, and pfffft.

“We Own the Night” has a great cast — Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Robert Duvall — but is a morose and uninspired cop drama with absolutely nothing new to offer.

New reviews also of some limited release films of varying degrees of quality: Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited” (typical Anderson, but is his style getting old?), Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” (too much of both), and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (don’t spoil the ending!). Those three, along with “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” are what I was talking about when I said there were some good-lookin’ movies. Quite a feast for the eyes, and occasionally for the brain, too.

(The picture at the top of this entry is from the Wikipedia page on Jesse James as of yesterday afternoon. Sadly, it has since been edited.)

Oh, and “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?” opens today, but they didn’t screen it for critics, so pfffft.

Speaking of which, there were a couple of strange situations with this week’s films. First, “The Assassination of Robert Ford” opened in a few cities a couple weeks ago and has been slowly expanding. On Monday, Warner Bros. decided, apparently on a whim, to open it in a hundred new locations today.

That meant publicists in many major markets were scrambling Monday afternoon to set up press screenings in time for the local newspapers’ deadlines. This was a roll-out release, so people wouldn’t be aware that it was opening in their city unless they saw advertisements and reviews and so forth. With a wide release, of course, people know because they see TV commercials that say, “In theaters everywhere Friday.”

We managed to get a screening set up for Tuesday afternoon here in Portland, but a number of cities couldn’t manage it. And even here, Tuesday was too late for our two weekly papers, which come out Wednesday and Thursday, and a lot of onliners couldn’t make it because of the short notice.

Which means Warner Bros. basically dumped this widely acclaimed film, a possible Oscar contender, and now they’re going to be surprised when it doesn’t make any money anywhere. Dumb. And it’s Warner Bros.! Not like they’re some new studio that’s still ironing out the kinks in its distribution system.

The other strange thing had to do with Columbia Pictures and “We Own the Night.” There was a screening for it last week, but only for newspaper critics. I e-mailed the publicist to ask when the screening for the rest of us would be, and she simply never replied. (Ignoring you is one of a publicist’s two preferred methods of communication. The other method is lying. I’m not sure which I prefer.) I never got an announcement of any screenings, either, the way I usually do.

Using my own reconnaissance methods, I determined that there was a free promotional screening last night, and I went to it. I decided beforehand that if the movie was lousy, I’d hurry up and post my review ASAP, and include it in the “In the Dark” podcast. If it was good, though, I’d take my time, maybe write the review over the weekend. I’m not going to bust my butt and stay up past my bedtime to tell people how good a movie is if the studio didn’t even want me to see it. Let them do their own publicity! But if it’s bad — heck, I’m glad to help spread the word. I’ll do that on my own time!