I confess. I have not yet seen Snakes on a Plane.
Not that I don’t want to. I’m curious, and it sounds like fun. But I don’t have time to see every movie that attracts me, and there are plenty of other new films out there right now that are higher priorities (top of the list: Little Miss Sunshine). Besides, the Castro’s 70mm festival has drawn me away from new pictures this week (more on that below).
SoaP (as the picture’s been abbreviated) may be the first successful, interactive theatrical B movie. But it was only interactive before it was released. That’s when fans (can an unreleased movie have fans?) convinced the studio to reshoot some scenes and bring the planed-as-PG-13 feature up to an R. They also insisted that the suits keep the artless but direct working title (which, I suspect, was also the pitch used to sell the story to studio executives).
Something bothered me about SoaP’s pre-release media coverage. Many early articles, written before the picture was even finished, assumed that it would be a bad movie. Okay, we knew from the title that it would a thriller with a ridiculous plot, but that’s no reason to assume it’s bad. New Line Cinema increased these suspicions by declining to preview SoaP for critics, generally a sign that the studio knows the movie stinks.
The funny thing is, it’s been getting pretty good reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the reviews are 68% positive (as I write this), probably a record for a movie not screened for critics. While SoaP ruled the box office last weekend, I plunked my money down for two films that had been screened for critics, Lower City (which I really wanted to see) and Step Up (my 10-year-old daughter’s choice). Their Rotten Tomatoes scores were 58% and 22%, respectively. I probably would have had a better time with Snakes on a Plane.
But life wasn’t all bad. I also saw Hamlet, Cleopatra, and Titanic in 70mm at the Castro. Hamlet is a much better movie than I remembered; the good parts easily overwhelmed the bad. The beauty of 70mm presentation turned the first half of Cleopatra into a very good movie, and the second half into a watchable one (well, often watchable). Since Titanic was shot in 35mm, 70mm presentation didn’t make the difference that it did for the other two, but it’s still the best way to see that movie. (By the way, my attending the Titanic screening Thursday night is the reason this didn’t get posted until Friday morning.)
I’d like to commend the Castro’s staff for the excellent job they did with the 70mm presentation, especially for Cleopatra, a movie designed for old-fashioned roadshow engagements. The house lights came down slowly throughout the overture, with the curtain opening on the studio logo as the music finished. Just perfect. There were some sound problems with Hamlet, but not enough to mar the otherwise spectacular presentation.
If I ever do see Snakes on a Plane, it will probably be at the Parkway. Somehow, the movie seems fitting for a theater that sells pizza and beer. In the meantime, here are some other films worth checking out, all without serpents onboard fixed-wing flying vehicles.
Recommended: Capote, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday, 8:00. I can’t think of a historical figure more challenging for an actor than Truman Capote–you can’t do that voice without sounding like a broad comic parody.Â Yet Philip Seymour Hoffman makes it work in an Oscar- winning performance. The story sticks to the years that Capote researched and wrote his last and most-praised book, In Cold Blood. Hoffman creates a witty and self-centered Capote, utterly unable to handle his mixed feelings about a cold-blooded killer, or the sudden literary success of his research assistant, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). Like all Film Night in the Park presentations, this one is on DVD.
Recommended: Half Nelson, Rafael, opening Friday. Half Nelson is about drug addiction the way Citizen Kane is about journalism. The drug addict in question (Ryan Gosling in the best performance of the year so far) teaches history in an inner-city middle school, and teaches it well. But when school is out, he consumes as much cocaine as he can buy, smoking crack when he can’t afford the expensive stuff. His drug-fueled life is coming apart at the seams, but he can’t step outside of his destructive path. And one student whose difficult life may be turned around by his teaching (Shareeka Epps) discovers his habit and finds herself tempted by the business ends of the drug economy. Filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden have created a work about high ideals and low achievements that avoids clichés, melodrama (even the drug dealer is sympathetic), and easy answers.
Recommended: Scoop, 4Star, opening Friday. It’s official: Woody Allen is back in form. Match Point was a good movie, but Scoop is better than good; it’s funny. Scarlett Johansson proves herself Allen’s best muse since Diane Keaton, while Allen himself returns to the luckless schlemiel of his early work, and discovers the character to be even funnier as an old man. Johansson plays a journalism student following a hot tip on a serial killer (given to her by a ghost), and Allen plays a magician who helps her against his better judgment. Hugh Jackman does the romantic lead chores as the suspect who turns Johansson’s thoughts to love.
Recommended: Who Killed the Electric Car?, 4Star, opening Friday. In the mid-90’s, General Motors released an electric car so wonderful that Chris Paine made this documentary about it. But GM leased these cars rather than selling them, and very few people got their hands on one. Then GM pulled the plug (so to speak) on the entire line, ceasing production and reclaiming all existing cars. Paine turns all of this into an informative, very partisan, yet breezy documentary. Interview subjects include a GM saleswoman turned activist, NIMH battery inventor Stanley Ovshinsky, and movie stars who were among the few people allowed to lease these cars (this may be the only progressive documentary with a positive image of Mel Gibson).
Not Recommended: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Saturday, 8:00. An object lesson in how to turn a good book into a bad movie. Screenwriter Steven Kloves and director Chris Columbus follow J.K. Rowling’s novel almost scene by scene, but what worked on the page seems flabby and excessive onscreen. At least it’s better than its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, if only because Kenneth Branagh has so much fun as Professor Lockhart. To make things worse, this is a Film Night in the Park DVD presentation.
Recommended: Best In Show, Dolores Park, Saturday, 8:00. Christopher Guest’s dog-show mockumentary has more than its share of hilarious moments. The rest of it is pretty funny, too. Yet another Film Night in the Park DVD presentation.