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January 23, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 23, 2009 |

Because of the Oscar nominations, there are a slew of movies that had limited releases last month (and were reviewed then), that are being released wider today (or being re-released, in the case of The Dark Knight), so even y’all out in the sticks should be able to see most of them. So, in addition to the reviews for the other two wide releases (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and Inkheart — reviews forthcoming), here are some capsule reviews of the other wide releases. Clink on the titles to read the full version:

Frost/Nixon: Frost/Nixon is the best film Ron Howard’s ever made, as well as a telling reflection of his skill as a director and the path he’s taking. Written by Peter Morgan, who adapted his own play, Frost/Nixon is an intelligent, brisk, engaging, wonderfully acted film that benefits as much from Howard’s skill with set-ups and pacing as it does his complete inability to take something and make it his own. It’s a good film precisely because of what Howard doesn’t bring to it, or rather, what was already there before he arrived. It’s the kind of deft, interesting, skillfully told tale that could only be directed by a man this invisible. Howard is able to both peel back the artifice inherent in his film and also amp it up to the point where it feels like a solid re-creation of fact. It’s another in a long list of seeming dichotomies that mesh beautifully, turning a historical drama into an honest meditation on the price of power, the cost of fame, and the perils of an imperial presidency run rampant. Though based on fact and using real people, the film never comes across as satirical or abusive, and even though a “number of the events have been fictionalized,” the story is, on an emotional level, undeniably true. — Daniel Carlson

Revolutionary Road: Revolutionary Road isn’t a bad movie, nor should it be with the level of talent or the source material involved (Richard Yates’ remarkable 1962 novel). The movie is technically flawless — DiCaprro and Winslet act up a storm, and Mendes direction is perfect. A little too perfect, actually. Revolutionary Road feels like a movie that went from the novel to the storyboard to the screen flawlessly, but then again, there’s no messiness to cling to. In a technical sense, Revolutionary Road is kind of that perfect friend you hate — it’s too well done, too meticulous. Even the arguments between the Wheelers feel too controlled — Mendes has so perfectly constructed Revolutionary Road that he’s sucked the life out of the story. It’s impossible to really feel for the characters because they have no soul — they’re just perfectly dressed vessels who hit all the marks and deliver their lines perfectly — hell, even their mussed hair looks perfectly tussled. But the frustration and yearning in Yates’ book doesn’t translate onto the screen, in part because it doesn’t really feel like Winslet and DiCaprio inhabit their characters. It’s too dismissive to say that they walk through the motions because they walk through them so well. It’s as if they were giving Mendes exactly what he wanted, but Mendes never asked for a little goddamn spirit. — Dustin Rowles

The Dark Knight: The Dark Knight is a harrowing, frightening, uncompromising, flat-out great superhero movie, wonderful in sad ways, hitting the perfect mix of characterization and humor, bouncing between phenomenal action set pieces and the brutally human moments that place the film in a recognizable world even as it soars into comic book fantasy. Put simply, Christopher Nolan just gets it. He’s a believer, and he’ll make one out of you, too. By crafting another superb movie that’s as believable as it is entertaining, he elevates the entire film and achieves that most unattainable of goals: A believable superhero movie. Even the nameless citizens aren’t caricatures but actual characters, and that makes their pain that much sharper and their decisions to do right that much truer. The Dark Knight is all about what it means to fight a losing battle knowing the outcome in advance, and why. For Bruce Wayne and Christopher Nolan, the answer’s simple: Because you believe in it. — Daniel Carlson

Slumdog Millionare: Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is the latest example of why the director is so good at making movies in different genres: It’s got the connective thread of emotional honesty, fidelity of character, and devotion to the story’s specific universe that links it with everything from Boyle’s drama Shallow Grave to the horror of 28 Days Later to the children’s film Millions. Boyle can jump from one style to another because he always brings a level of truth to his films, and that’s one of the many things that makes Slumdog Millionaire such a joy to watch. The film is beautiful, sad, sweet, uplifting, and thoroughly entertaining, but above all it’s honest, a paean to life and love that stands firmly rooted in reality even as it reaches for the heavens. The story bounces around in time and often rapidly shifts location or mood, flirting with everything from comedy to drama to a blend of fantasy and reality that’s completely engaging and works on every level. Boyle has made a true coming-of-age film that balances technical skill with emotional heft, and that marries heartbreak with hope. It speaks of joy and sacrifice, of redemption and atonement, and the sense of destiny attendant with the unstoppable perseverance of selfless love. Perhaps the ultimate testament to Boyle’s skill at crafting a story that’s engaging on every level and an actual pleasure to watch is the inability to say more than that: It’s almost impossible to sum the film up or even get close without either completely blowing the plot or wandering into dangerous abstraction, into wonderings about fate and love and the feeling of being infinitely strong and young. What else can I say? It is written. — Daniel Carlson

The Wrestler: The Wrestler lives and dies by the performance of Mickey Rourke, and it is something to behold. Robert D. Siegel’s script at times feels like an allegory for Rourke’s own less-than-glorious career. Randy is a hideous mess of a man, a sagging giant with peroxide-bleached Vince Neil hair and a turkey-basted tan. Mickey’s plastic-surgery ravaged pout, craggy face, and world-weary body add a depth to the character that no cinema star’s makeup-laden smile could have ever captured. The Wrestler is a blisteringly uncomfortable film to watch, because it’s the story of a man who doesn’t know how to be anything else. Rumor had it that Nicolas Cage was attached to be Randy the Ram, but this is Mickey Rourke’s film, both figuratively and spiritually. Rourke is a fallen star, a man who mauled himself in the name of drugs and craft, who keeps lumbering through projects like a lost bear. When Randy the Ram dons the tights to recapture glory, you feel a little like Mickey Rourke’s getting his last moment to shine as well. — Brian Prisco

Capsule Reviews / The Pajiba Staff

Film | January 23, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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