The week after Thanksgiving is traditionally a slow one for wide releases, but for all the duds that have come out in either limited or wide release this week, there are also one or two of gems working their way into the year-end mix...
'The Warrior's Way': This samurai western starring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth and Korean action star Dong-gun Jang didn't screen for press, but Peter Martin went ahead and found out why: "Fleeting moments of pleasure can be found: a rain of black-clad ninjas fall from the sky; a dance under a starry, starry night; the kooky colors of a computer-generated town; the beauty of Kate Bosworth. Unfortunately, they're barely sufficient to fill a three-minute trailer. And when the filmmakers have to rely on the reactions of an incredibly cute and expressive baby to fill out the 100-minute running time, you know you're in trouble."
Mike Hale of the New York Times sympathized: "The sometimes impressive visual effects make these battles entertaining, in a mindless way, but it's impossible to work up any feeling about them."
'The Nutcracker in 3D': Andrei Konchalovsky's bold re-imagining of the classic ballet is expanding its run this week, expanding just wide enough to allow yours truly to catch it and confirm its reported dreadfulness: "The whole thing is just so astoundingly wrongheaded: it's 'The Nutcracker,' only with no ballet and a story culled together from 'Peter Pan,' 'Pinocchio,' 'Alice in Wonderland,' 'The Wizard of Oz,' 'Toy Story,' 'Metropolis' and the Third Reich in general, all topped with a steampunk streak, awful songs and an even worse after-the-fact 3D conversion."
Roger Ebert knows what I'm talking about: "You may be in disbelief. I was. 'The Nutcracker in 3D' is one of those rare holiday movies that may send children screaming under their seats."
'Black Swan': Darren Aronofsky's bold re-imagining of 'Swan Lake,' on the other hand, is getting much love, especially for Natalie Portman's lead performance. Eric D. Snider reviewed it back at Telluride, calling it "a wholly engrossing, almost unbearably tense drama about a fairly mundane thing: backstage anxiety in the performing arts. Countless movies have addressed the same subject, but I feel safe in saying none have addressed it in quite this way... Here you'll find psychological thrills, body horror, sexual awakening, symbolic self-discovery, hallucinatory trickery, and the terrifying calf muscles of ballet dancers, all in one movie."
Movie City News' Kim Voynar agreed: "A bold, brave, gorgeous, crazy yarn of a psychological thriller, one of the ballsiest, most intellectually ambitious films I've seen this year."
'I Love You, Phillip Morris': This long-delayed gay prisoner romantic comedy (based on a true story!) stars Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor and is finally getting a proper release. Jette Kernion saw it at the Austin Film Festival and felt that it "manages successfully to overlay a sweet and occasionally tragic romance -- if an unconventional one -- with great galumphing comedy and a stellar performance from Carrey."
Bill Gibron of PopMatters thought that "as a comedy, [it's] sly and genuinely clever... As a biopic - yes, these men actually existed - the film is breezy and beguiling... Finally, as a love story, [the film] is genuine and heartfelt."
'Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale': If you see one Finnish killer Santa movie this year, better make it the one Jason Murphy called "a rousing adventure full of comedy, sentiment, and some intense creepiness."
Noel Murray of The A.V. Club said it's "slight but fun: a potential new holiday classic for moviegoers who always suspected that any old dude who sneaks into houses can't really be as jolly as his reputation."
'All Good Things': Inspired by true events, this drama stars Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst as a young couple whose relationship isn't as perfect as it seems. Per Magnolia's distribution model, the film has been available on demand for the past month and is now playing in theaters.
Brian Orndorf remarked that "the challenge for [Andrew] Jarecki (director of 'Capturing the Friedmans') is to establish a tone that directly confronts the viewer with a riveting construct of wicked business, leading to a fulfilling package of lies and crimes that effectively conveys a twitchy life of suspicious, horrific behavior. 'All Good Things' doesn't nail that riveting tone, or any tone for that matter. It grazes along a field of clichés and anemic confrontations, leaving David a bizarrely unchallenged enigma of a man from the first frame to the last."
'Night Catches Us': In the 1970s, suspicion is cast over the return of a young man (Anthony Mackie) to his Philadelphia neighborhood. This film has similarly been available on demand and iTunes for the past month and is now playing in theaters.
Michelle Orange of Movieline said: "Meant to pique and hold our attention, the script's strategy of opening up blanks so that it can eventually fill them in contributes to a feeling of inertia, in part because three-quarters of the film pass with vague references to what sounds increasingly like a more interesting story."