A curious collection of filmmakers populates this week’s opening films — from well-established veterans to foreign masters to newbies to practitioners of Hollywood product.
Pedro Almodovar’s entertaining Broken Embraces is laden with the Spanish master’s now signature traits: a rich narrative rife with emotional u-turns and sex galore; a healthy splash of mood-altering color; beautiful females, including longtime muse Penelope Cruz; and ample technical chops informed by a clear nod to film history.
Speaking of technical achievements informed by past glories, Tom Ford’s impressive directorial debut brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo filtered through the personal vision of a depressed gay man instead of a sexually repressed heterosexual.
The Hughes brothers (Menace II Society), who have had one of the most puzzling careers in modern Hollywood, return via The Book of Eli, which is their first effort since the appropriately menacing (and slightly underrated) From Hell nearly nine years ago — which seems more a Denzel Washington vehicle than a showcase of their unique talents.
Speaking of returns, Lord of the Rings' mastermind Peter Jackson is back with The Lovely Bones, an adaptation of the best-selling novel that doesn’t look destined to erase the sour aftertaste of Jackson’s bloated, effects-infested version of King Kong.
Last and certainly least, longtime Hollywood populist/lackey Brian Levant offers up something called The Spy Next Door, which involves Jackie Chan in family movie mode (translation: He needs a paycheck).
THE BOOK OF ELI — Falling on the heels of The Road, here is a similarly themed vision of a post-apocalyptic dystopia where cannibals and criminals make up what’s left of the human species. Unfortunately, the Hughes brothers directing team are more interested in firing Gatlin guns than imparting thematic logic or character development. Stars Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: C
BROKEN EMBRACES — Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar applies technical and narrative tricks like sheer fabric to create allure and mystery and a bit of misdirection, although his aim is not to twist the logic as so many current directors and writers might. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: B
THE LOVELY BONES — Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and his writing and producing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens were obviously drawn to the fantastic elements in Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel, and on some level this is part of what works best in the film. Jackson appreciates and expertly renders the fantasy and otherworldly qualities of dark hearts, but he doesn’t show how the bones mend or the strength that exists in those reconstituted parts. Now that would have been lovely indeed. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B-
A SINGLE MAN — Tom Ford arrives on the filmmaking scene fully formed, no doubt the product of a man who has been cultivating and manipulating images for nearly two decades as a bigwig fashion designer. His adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel benefits from strong performances, evocative, detail-rich production design and an effectively melancholy mood that only occasionally drifts into slick stylization. (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Grade: A-
THE SPY NEXT DOOR — Longtime Hollywood populist/lackey Brian Levant (Beethoven, The Flintstones and Snow Dogs, among other middling fare) directs this story of a former CIA spy (Jackie Chan) who now must take care of his girlfriend’s three children. Co-stars Amber Valetta, Billy Ray Cyrus and Madeline Carroll. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.