Ample scares abound this week with
Frank Darabont‘s
latest adaptation of a
Stephen King
tome, The Mist. The big-screen version of bestselling novel
The Kite Runner


also comes to DVD, keeping good company with black romantic comedy

Wristcutters: A Love Story
,
Jonathan Demme‘s
celebrated documentary
Jimmy Carter Man From
Plains
, and more.


Stephen
King’s The Mist


Tomatometer:
69%

Frank Darabont
has twice before adapted Stephen King to critical acclaim (The
Shawshank Redemption
,
The Green Mile
)
but this time around he may have picked the wrong story. Set in a small town in
Maine, The Mist finds a group of townspeople trapped in a grocery store
enveloped by a thick, mysterious fog — vapors that conceal terribly hungry
monsters that may or may not be punishments from God. Critics were split on the
flick, which stars
Thomas Jane and Marcia
Gay Harden
; while perfectly fine as a creature feature, some thought
Darabont failed to seamlessly merge horror pic with message movie. A director
commentary, eight deleted scenes, and a Stephen King — Frank Darabont featurette
appear on the standard DVD release; five more featurettes and a black and white
version of the film comprise a 2-Disc Special Edition.


The Kite Runner


Tomatometer:
67%

Marc Forster‘s
The Kite Runner has nearly as compelling a production story as the
fictional lives of its protagonists, two childhood friends from Afghanistan.
Well-to-do Amir is best friends with Hassan, the son of his family’s servant,
but their friendship is shattered by one pivotal traumatic event. Years later,
Amir must come to terms with his childhood act of cowardice and return to Kabul
to set things right. Critics gave credit to Runner‘s strong performances,
though at two hours (and with the best of intentions) the film may feel
plodding. The filmmakers’ decision to film partially in the native Dari language
and to evacuate the child actors and their families from Afghanistan were bold
choices that make this film all the more intriguing.




Wristcutters: A Love Story


Tomatometer:
66%

Patrick Fugit,
Shannyn
Sossamon
, and
Tom Waits
(in a supporting role) star in this indie black comedy about
suicide victims still searching for answers after death. Lovelorn Zia (Fugit)
wakes up to find the afterlife is a vast alternate world of unhappiness (quite
like our own), setting off on a road trip when he hears his ex-girlfriend has
also arrived. Absurdist and artful — what
Roger Ebert slyly
terms “the birth of the Post-Slasher movie” — Wristcutters tackles a difficult
subject but does so bittersweetly. Music by
Gogol Bordello
perfectly compliments the feeling. A filmmaker commentary, storyboards,
making-of, deleted scenes and Fugit’s own on-set photo gallery round out the
release.


Jimmy Carter Man From
Plains



Tomatometer: 78%

What exactly do presidents do when their four years are up? Some of them, like
39th United States President
Jimmy Carter,
turn to public service with seemingly more gusto and more freedom then they did
while in the Oval Office. The peanut-farming, best-selling author and Nobel
Peace Prize winning Carter — who hails from Plains, Georgia — only served a
single term (1977-1981) as America’s leader, but has devoted his
post-Presidential life to humanitarian work. Director
Jonathan Demme,
who went from his directorial debut,
Caged Heat
, to
winning an Oscar for
Silence of the
Lambs
, followed Carter on a book tour for three months to make this
documentary, resulting in an intriguing and candid portrait of the former
president.


Bonnie and Clyde
Ultimate Collector’s Edition



Tomatometer: 93%

Arthur Penn‘s
seminal 1967 classic about real-life criminal couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde
Barrow enjoys a much deserved spot in the annals of film history; now the newly
re-mastered cut can enjoy a much deserved spot in your DVD library!
Faye Dunaway
and Warren
Beatty
star in the revisionist tale of Depression-era criminals Bonnie and
Clyde, who shot and robbed their way across America in the 1930s. Penn’s comic
touch and grisly violence broke new ground in American cinema and influenced
generations of filmmakers. Pick up the 2-Disc Special Edition with over two
hours of bonus material like a History Channel documentary about Bonnie and
Clyde, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, Beatty’s wardrobe tests, and a
theatrical trailer; a hardcover collectible photo book and the 1967 original
press book come in a separate Collector’s Edition.


Sliders:
The Fourth Season



Tomatometer: N/A

Ah, Sliders. Watching Quinn Mallory (Jerry
O’Connell
) jump between parallel worlds with a homemade but undependable
“timer” made for some fun television back in 1995. Cancelled by Fox after its
first season, the show was revived thanks to fan intervention; eventually the
show would fire
Jonathan
Rhys-Davies
, lose original token girl Wade (Sabrina
Lloyd)
to an actress-on-actress spat, and inexplicably replace O’Connell
with his own brother, Charlie O’Connell (playing Quinn’s brother, Colin). But
before Sliders lost the original O’Connell — right when the storylines
turned to the awkward Kromagg war — there was Season Four, out this week on
DVD. Re-watch the last starring season of the apex of Jerry O’Connell’s career
once more!


This week at the movies we have Alaskan vamps (30
Days of Night
, starring
Josh Hartnett
and Melissa
George
), imprisoned citizens (Rendition,
starring Jake
Gyllenhaal
and
Reese
Witherspoon
), private eyes (Gone
Baby Gone
, starring
Casey Affleck
and
Michelle Monaghan
), grieving adults (Things
We Lost in the Fire
, starring Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro),
biblical figures (The
Ten Commandments
), athletes (The
Comebacks
), and teen detectives of the supernatural (Sarah
Landon and the Paranormal Hour
). What do the critics have to say?

Many horror films go to great lengths to create a dark atmosphere. 30
Days of Night
does them all one better, venturing to a place where it’s night for
a month: Barrow, AK, the northernmost point in the U.S. Unfortunately, critics
are left cold by this one. Night stars Josh Hartnett and Melissa George
as an estranged couple defending their town against a horde of bloodthirsty
vampires. Critics say the film has some frightful moments that should please
gorehounds, but overall, the film lacks the nuance and sustained tension to
really put this kind of genre exercise over. At 39 percent on the Tomatometer, Night
doesn’t shine.



Hartnett and company check for undead termites.
 

Reese Witherspoon stars in Rendition as a housewife whose husband is imprisoned
and tortured by the U.S. for his suspected involvement with terrorists. Jake Gyllenhaal co-stars as a government employee trying to set him free, with
Meryl
Streep
as a bureaucrat intent on keeping him there. While critics commended the
film for exploring the issue of torture within the context of combating
terrorism, they say the plot is spread thinly across an abundance of characters
and doesn’t give the film the emotional drive it needs, while arriving at an
oversimplified conclusion of this very complex subject. At 39 percent, this
Rendition is less than extraordinary.




Who needs work when you have Snood?
 

Ben Affleck has had a rollercoaster career, but critics say his feature
directorial debut, Gone
Baby Gone
, is one of the high points. Treading
the same rough Boston streets as
Mystic River
(also adapted from one of
source writer Dennis
Lehane
‘s novels), Gone Baby Gone tells the story of
a pair of private eyes (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) searching for a
lost four-year-old, a quest that delves into the dark shadows of the city, from
the criminal underworld to corrupt cops. Critics say Baby is grim, but
also deliciously noirish and morally complex, featuring standout performances
from its leads, as well as
Morgan Freeman and
Ed Harris. With a score of 89
percent on the Tomatometer, Gone Baby Gone‘s critical reaction should
assuage Ben’s depression over the current state of his beloved Red Sox. (Check
out this week’s Total Recall, where we examine some of Affleck’s notable
cameos).



Affleck ponders another imminent Red Sox defeat.
 

Susanne Bier, famed in her native Denmark for her dark and complex melodramas,
makes her American debut this week with Things
We Lost in the Fire
. Halle Berry
stars as a grieving widow who invites Benicio Del Toro’s character, her
husband’s childhood friend and heroin addict, to move in with her and her
children. Though it frequently drips into maudlin territory (something Bier
avoided with her previous effort, the Certified Fresh
After the Wedding
),
critics recognize it as at least a sincere tearjerker, and an honest and
emotionally raw portrayal of two tortured people. At 64 percent, Fire isn’t
red-hot but should appease viewers out for a soapy drama.




A therapeutic game of thumb war.
 
Movie lovers who lack the patience to sit through the
The Decalogue
are
in luck:
The Ten Commandments
tells the story of Moses in less than an
hour and a half, and in animated form, no less. But is it any good? Well,
critics are forbidden to bear false witness, and they say it isn’t. The Ten
Commandments
follows Moses’ journey from infancy to the point where he leads
the Chosen People to the Promised Land, and features voice work from the likes
of Ben Kingsley and
Christian Slater. But critics say the film’s middling
animation and lack of nuance make for a dull take on one of the Bible’s most
rousing tales. At 20 percent on the Tomatometer, critics say thou shall not
enjoy The Ten Commandments.

This week, the folks behind both The
Comebacks
and Sarah
Landon and the Paranormal Hour
declined to screen their films for pundits. The
Comebacks
spoofs inspirational sports movies, while Sarah Landon is
about a 17-year-old who discovers spectral activity in her hometown. Our only
guess is that it was assumed each film would receive a critical (buzzer)
beating, or wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance with the scribes. (Thank you.
I’ll be here all week.) Guess those Tomatometers.



"I’ve got a bad case of athlete’s spoof."
 
Also opening this week in limited release:
Meeting Resistance
, a doc
about Iraqi insurgents, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer;
Trigger Man
,
an indie about a harrowing hunting trip, is at 100 percent;
Wristcutters: A
Love Story
, a dramedy about the afterlife starring
Patrick Fugit, is at 71
percent; the Spanish import
DarkBlueAlmostBlack
, about the familial
responsibilities of a young janitor, is at 67 percent;
Out of the Blue
, a
fictional retelling of New Zealand’s largest mass-murder, is at 67 percent;
Summer
Love
, a Polish take on the spaghetti western genre, is at 60 percent;
Weirdsville,
a wacky tale of stoners and satanic cults, is at 58
percent;
The Girl Next Door
, a tale of torture beneath the placid façade
of 1950s suburbia, is at 58 percent;
Reservation Road
, a tale of familial
grief starring
Joaquin Phoenix,
Jennifer Connelly, and
Mark Ruffalo, is at 37
percent (check out our interview with director Terry George
here); and
Klimt
,
starring John Malkovich in a biopic of the great painter, is at 30 percent.




"You have a beard but you’re not the bad guy? That’s weird."
 
Finally, props to Bloody Mathias for coming the closest to guessing
Tyler
Perry’s Why Did I Get Married
‘s 48 percent Tomatometer. Try putting a
bandage on it, and perhaps then you won’t be bloody, Mathias.

Recent Ben Affleck Movies:
—————————————-
26% — Smokin’ Aces (2007)
38% — Man About Town (2006)
63% — Clerks II (2006)
70% — Hollywoodland (2006)
7% — Surviving Christmas (2004)

Recent Casey Affleck Movies:
—————————————-
73% —
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
(2007)
69% — Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
46% — The Last Kiss (2006)
55% — Lonesome Jim (2006)
55% — Ocean’s
Twelve
(2004)

With Senh, Jen, and Terrible Tim Ryan roaming the streets of Park City, the Tomato readers have had plenty of Sundance reports to pick through. But I thought I’d contribute my own two pennies to the coverage, and give you the best-to-worst lowdown on the myriad movies I took in.

Ratings run on a 1-5 scale. I’ll keep the commentary brief because I have a whole lot of work to do!

The Descent – ***** – I see every horror flick under the sun. And this one actually scared me. And it gets even better the second time around.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated – ****1/2 – Master documentarian Kirby Dick takes a few shortcuts in this demolition of the MPAA ratings board, but I can’t imagine a movie geek who won’t have a darn good time with this doco.

Awesome; I F–kin’ Shot That! – ****1/2 – For Beastie Boys fans only. Like me!

Art School Confidential – **** – First half: really, really funny. Second half: Focuses on a less than fascinating subplot and the laughs sorta dry up. Still, if you’re a "Ghost World" fan, or you just love seeing the "art kids" get a nice satirical skewering, you’ll dig it fine.

Little Miss Sunshine – **** – One or two unwieldly subplots prevent this one from getting a higher rating, but I still liked it a whole lot. Carell, Kinnear, and Alan Arkin deliver some really solid, weird laughs here.

Off the Black – **** – A low-key and melancholy character study with Nick Nolte at the top of his game. (He plays an emotionally isolated umpire who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a high school pitcher.)

Factotum – **** – Matt Dillon as a pseudo-Bukowksi, and the guy delivers one of his best performances ever.

Special – **** – Michael Rapaport plays a guy who may or may not have inherited "super powers" after testing a freaky new prescription drug. Imagine if Kevin Smith had directed "Unbreakable."

Sherrybaby – ***1/2 – A rough-edged and sobering character study with Maggie Gyllenhaal at the top of her game. (She plays a recovering junkie fresh out of prison who’s trying to re-connect with her young daughter.)

TV Junkie – ***1/2 – Comprised entirely of Jim Kirkham’s home movies, in which he laughs, cries, becomes famous, and builds a family … all while battling a ravenous crack addicion.

Wordplay – ***1/2 – A lightweight but colorfully entertaining doco about the New York Times Crossword Puzzle and the various people who adore it. The presence of a hilarious Jon Stewart helps a whole lot.

Wristcutters: A Love Story – ****1/2 – Patrick Fugit finds himself in a bleached-out purgatory after committing suicide and sets off to find his old girlfriend.

American Hardcore – *** – If you’re a fan of the early-80s hardcore punk scene, this retrospective documentary will curl your toes. Felt a little redundant to me, but then again I’m not a member of the target audience.

13 Tzameti – *** – A slow-starting French thriller about a clueless kid who somehow finds himself trapped in an underground Russian Roulette tournament.

Lucky Number Slevin – *** – Too clever for its own good, but packed with familiar faces, this one’s a familiar gangster flick that’ll feel right at home on HBO.

The World According to Sesame Street – *** – Alternately fascinating, self-congrulatory, and even a little dull, this doco takes a look at the ways in which Sesame Street branches out to new markets across the world.

Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out – *** – Feels like Police drummer Stewart Copeland pulled a lot of home movie footage out of his garage, recorded a narration track, and released the thing as is. A few recent interviews might have helped … especially from someone not associated with the band. Still, fans should enjoy it.

The Hawk Is Dying – *** – A dry and fairly bizarre character study with Paul Giamatti as a sad-sack weirdo who has a (very) big sister, a (mildly) handicapped nephew, and an obsession with the capture and training of hawks. Most of the Sundancers I talked to liked this flick a lot more than I did, so take my lack of enthusiasm with a grain of salt, I suppose.

Salvage – **1/2 – The first of two horror flicks that feel like short films stretched out to feature length … and it doesn’t quite work. This one’s about a girl who keeps dreaming of being slaughtered by a brutal madman … over and over and over.

Subject Two – **1/2 – A beautiful-looking but frequently slow-moving medical thriller about a mad scientist who tries to cheat death by way of some freaky formula, only he has to keep killing his subject before he can bring him back to life.

The Darwin Awards – **1/2 – Easily the most disappointing Sundance offering (in my book, anyway), this is a clumsily unfunny comedy that starts out with a great cast and a killer concept … and does next to nothing with either.

All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise – ** – Hey this just in: Same sex parents really do love their children. Now imagine that one simple message delivered for 90 straight minutes.

Somebodies – *1/2 – The first ten minutes offered some really big laughs … and then the wheels just came off. The resulting flick feels like a "House Party 6: The New Generation," only with no-name actors in the Cedric and Bernie Mac roles. But hey, Roger Ebert raved over this one, so don’t go by me…

(Slamdance Flicks)

The Call of Cthulhu – ****1/2 – One of the coolest Lovecraft adaptations you’ll ever see, this flick is 47 minutes of pure old-school style. It’s short, it’s silent, and it’s absolutely excellent.

The Other Side – ***1/2 – A winking b-movie composed of perhaps 12 other concepts, from "The Hidden" to "Jacob’s Ladder," but it’s still just enough fun to keep you watching.

Love Is the Drug – ***1/2 – A nice-guy semi-nerd who works in a pharmacy falls in with the wrong crowd … and does some really stupid things to earn the affections of Ms. Lizzy Caplan. (Like you wouldn’t do the same!)

Things to Do – ***1/2 – A bit heavy on the Napoleon Dynamite wannabeism, but still oddly amusing enough to earn my recommendation. This one’s about an awkward office drone who quits his job and returns home to live with Mom & Dad, only to fall in with a goofy old acquaintance who inspires him to make a list of "things to do."

Find Love – ***1/2 – A mostly improvised romantic drama about the ways in which love can strike at the worst imaginable moments … kinda like a disease.

The Guatemalan Handshake – *** – Weird stuff. I kept nodding off. My apologies to the filmmakers.

The Actress – *** – Three Aussie roommates welcome a new woman into their lives, and much sex ensues.

So that’s 30 movies in 6 days. Hmph. I’ve done better. For a closer look at my festival reports have a peek over at JoBlo’s, eFilmCritic, or just stick around here at Rotten Tomatoes and see if you can spot the pic of me in which I look like a crack-addicted zombie.

Also please note that the opinions offered above are mine only, and do not represent any of the other Tomato farmers, so make sure your hate mail goes to the right email address.

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