This week at the movies, we ve got a rom-com in Provence ("A Good Year," starring Russell Crowe), a guy whose life is a novel ("Stranger than Fiction," starring Will Ferrell), interconnected tales of despair ("Babel," starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), a tough homecoming ("Harsh Times," starring Christian Bale), and supernatural visions ("The Return," starring Sarah Michelle Gellar). What do the critics say?
"Stranger than Fiction" is a movie about a guy named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) who discovers that his life is being narrated and controlled by a bitter, brilliant novelist (Emma Thompson) who intends to do him in. As a result, Crick tries to turn the tables and reclaim his own life story. Sounds totally meta, huh? Well, critics generally say this is one head trip that won’t trip you up, thanks to warm performances and an agreeably kooky (and not over-heady) script. At 68 percent on the Tomatometer, it’s a fact that "Fiction" is Fresh.
"Guess how much I liked ‘Mystery, Alaska.’"
There’s a new movie out called "A Good Year" that’s being described as "Under the Tuscan Sun" with a guy in the main role. Even weirder, it’s from the ultra-macho team of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe — y’know, the dudes who brought you "Gladiator." Perhaps it isn’t much of a surprise that the critics are finding this pairing of filmmakers and material doesn’t totally work. Crowe stars as an arrogant, hyper-competitive London banker who inherits a house in Provence; laughs, love and life-lessons ensue. The scribes give Crowe and Scott props for trying to stretch, but unfortunately, they also say the film is working way too hard to be whimsical. At 29 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Year" isn’t looking so…. well, you get the idea.
"Babel" is a story of a shot heard ’round the world. A boy in Morocco unintentionally shoots an American tourist, and the ramifications of his mistake are felt in the U.S., Mexico, and Japan. Critics are praising Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s latest as an elaborate, stylistically deft emotional juggling act, with fine performances from Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and particularly Rinko Kikuchi as a deaf teenager trying to make her way in the world. If there is a complaint from the scribes, it’s that "Babel" may be overly ambitious, but most concede that it’s ambition of a high order. At 73 percent on the Tomatometer, "Babel" is Certified Fresh.
"I suggest you stop killing people; it’s doing a number on your cholesterol."
"Harsh Times" is not a movie with a misleading title. However, critics are split on whether this dark, intense story of an Iraq war vet returning home is ultimately rewarding. "Harsh Times" stars Christian Bale as a man consumed by his memories of war; as he tries to integrate back into society, he finds it impossible to suppress his violent impulses. Some critics have praised "Harsh Times" for its performances and intensity, but others say it’s too relentlessly grim and brutal to really be worthwhile. "Harsh Times" currently stands at 52 percent on the Tomatometer.
"The Return" marks Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s, uh, return to the horror genre. Guess what? It wasn’t screened for critics. Guess that Tomatometer, children.
"To tell you the truth, I’ve been listening to a lot of Prince lately."
Also opening this week in limited release: the Mongolian import "The Cave of the Yellow Dog," featuring breathtaking scenery as well as cute kids and adorable doggies, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; "Iraq in Fragments," a structurally adventurous documentary about the state of Iraq, is at 82 percent; "Cautiva," an Argentine film coming-of-age tale about an uprooted teenager, is at 80 percent; "Come Early Morning," a tale of Southern small-town life starring Ashley Judd, is at 65 percent; "F***," an examination of the English language’s naughtiest word, is at 50 percent; "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus," starring Nicole Kidman as the gifted but troubled photographer, is at 33 percent; and the historical fiction "Copying Beethoven," about the great composer’s relationship with a copyist, is at 27 percent.
Recent Russell Crowe Movies:
81% — Cinderella Man (2005)
85% — Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
78% — A Beautiful Mind (2001)
40% — Proof of Life (2000)
78% — Gladiator (2000)
Recent Will Ferrell Movies:
72% — Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
41% — Winter Passing (2006)
70% — Curious George (2006)
52% — The Producers (2005)
24% — Bewitched (2005)