This week at the movies, we’ve got a complex tale of heroism (Clint Eastwood‘s "Flags of Our Fathers," starring Ryan Phillippe), a story of dueling magicians (Christopher Nolan‘s "The Prestige," starring Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, and Hugh Jackman), a yarn about a girl and her horse ("Flicka," starring Alison Lohman and Tim McGraw), and a post-punk-scored period piece about the least punk human being ever (Sofia Coppola‘s "Marie Antoinette," starring Kirsten Dunst). What do the critics have to say?
Is America a great country? Yes. Do the soldiers who fought in WWII, the Greatest Generation, deserve our utmost praise for their sacrifices? Without a doubt. Is the truth often more complicated than the myth? Definitely. Clint Eastwood‘s latest, "Flags of Our Fathers," tells the story of that famous photo of the servicemen raising the flag atop Iwo Jima, and the trials and tribulations their celebrity caused. Critics say the film is so rich with historical information and inherent drama that it’s occasionally a little too much, but strong performances and Eastwood’s sure directorial hand keep things on track. At 69 percent on the Tomatometer, "Flags" may not reach the heights of Eastwood’s last film, "Million Dollar Baby" (92 percent), but it’s still flying pretty high. (Check out our feature on Clint’s filmography here.)
With "Memento," Christopher Nolan made a name for himself by holding his secrets close to the vest to the bitter end. Now comes "The Prestige," in which the director again serves up a brain-teaser, this time involving a pair of public manipulators in their own right. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman star as bitterly competitive magicians in turn-of- the-century London who play a deadly game of one-upmanship. While some scribes say the movie is uneven in spots, "The Prestige" is winning praise for its remarkable production design, sharp performances, and more than enough cinematic sleight-of-hand to keep audiences interested. At 68 percent, this is Nolan’s worst reviewed film, and it’s still getting its share of prestige.
There is no shortage of stories involving adolescents and their beloved equine friends, from Steinbeck‘s "The Red Pony" to "The Black Stallion" to last year’s "Dreamer." Critics say "Flicka," itself a remake, is a strong and affecting entry into this sub-genre. The film stars Alison Lohman as a 16-year-old who loves her untamed horse and the freedom of the open range, and Tim McGraw as her father, a man with different ideas about her future. Some critics say "Flicka" is an old-fashioned, solid family drama with a notable lack of schmaltz, but others say the material is too well-trodden to really hit home. At 60 percent on the Tomatometer, "Flicka" ain’t Secretariat, but it’s not ready for the glue factory, either.
In the song "Natural’s Not In It," the socialist British post-punk band Gang of Four sarcastically lamented "the problem of leisure / what to do for pleasure," words that are especially resonant if you’re a teenage monarch ruling a country you know little about, and your subjects are calling for your head. Sofia Coppola‘s long-awaited (and already controversial) "Marie Antoinette" tells the story of the queen (Kirsten Dunst), her inattentive husband, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), her gossipy, silver-tongued court, and all the empty fun she had before she gets her head chopped off. Critics say Coppola’s film offers a wealth of visual riches and makes Marie’s hardships somewhat empathetic, but they’re split over its apparent lack of substance, as well as the anachronistic use of music by the likes of New Order, the Strokes, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. At 64 percent on the Tomatometer, this is definitely a cut (pun intended) below Coppola’s last feature, "Lost in Translation" (95 percent), but it’s still a pretty tasty piece of cake.
Also opening this week in limited release: "51 Birch Street," a documentary exploring the hidden lives of the filmmaker Doug Block’s parents, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; "Requiem," a German tale of epilepsy/demonic possession, is at 100 percent; Tim Burton‘s stop motion anti-holiday classic "The Nightmare Before Christmas," getting a re-release, is at 96 percent; "Sweet Land," a sweeping tale of the American immigrant experience, is at 93 percent; "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple," a documentary about cult leader Jim Jones and his flock, is at 92 percent; "Hair High," a perverse animated comedy about a strange high school, is at 63 percent; "Sleeping Dogs Lie," Bobcat Goldthwait‘s sweet, taboo-busting rom-com, is at 59 percent; and "Running with Scissors," a tale of therapy and growing pains starring Annette Bening and Gwyneth Paltrow, is at 17 percent.
Recent Kirsten Dunst Movies:
28% — Elizabethtown (2005)
62% — Wimbledon (2004)
7% — Kaena: The Prophesy (2004)
93% — Spider Man 2 (2004)
93% — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)