Killing Them Softly: I loved Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, so I couldn’t be more excited for his reteaming with Brad Pitt (who gave his best-pre-Tree of Life performance in Jesse James), unless it also costarred Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Casey Affleck, and Zooey Deschanel, and it doesn’t, so just prepare yourselves now. The Weinsteins appear to be following my general why-not-just-release-this-movie-wide-and-see-what-happens distribution strategy, and, ok, seeing it in action, realizing that a talky crime drama from the Jesse James team is going out on 2,000 screens, maybe I’m starting to see why people don’t just do this for whatever projects whatever movie stars have in the pipeline. Then again, Killing Them Softly is one of only two wide releases this weekend, and next weekend general audiences only get access to some Gerard Butler movie, so maybe consider the Killing Them Softly option a courtesy, albeit one that audiences will probably roundly ignore.
The Collection: The other wide release this weekend is a sequel to a horror movie called The Collector which I could’ve sworn played for a week at the AMC Empire before disappearing forever. Anyway, that’s where I saw the trailer for The Collection, and it sure looked like an AMC Empire one-week horror movie. But no, apparently: 2,000 screens for something that looks like a slasher throwback with some Saw stabbed in for good measure.
But multiplexgoers need not settle for The Collection, and might even be forgiven for ignoring Killing Them Softly; it’s been a surprisingly excellent month and change at mainstream movie houses. Cloud Altas has probably dissipated in the November rush, but it was cool while it lasted, and I can’t really begrudge many of the movies that chased it out of theaters: Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, for example, is an unabashed delight, and I’m not even close to a gamer; I just loved the Simpsons/Futurama style barrage of gaming-world (and, within a sweets-centric game, candy-world) jokes (former Groening-series director Rich Moore took the reins on Ralph) and the heartfelt characters voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman (Silverman quietly had a banner movie year, with her work here and in Take This Waltz). The new Bond picture Skyfall extends and solidifies Daniel Craig’s run as Best Since Connery, with visual help from Sam Mendes. I haven’t seen all of the Bond movies, but I have been catching up this year, and I can say that the Shanghai sequence that Mendes orchestrates early in Skyfall is easily one of the finest sustained set pieces of the series.
As good as Ralph and Skyfall are, their big-hit status wouldn’t be surprising even if they both sucked; even the less successful Disney cartoons and Bond movies outgross a lot of their competition. But the acceptance so far of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, which outperformed other new movies over the Thanksgiving weekend, surprises me a little. Maybe it shouldn’t: it’s based on a bestselling novel (unread by me), it offers Avatar-style 3D spectacle, and promises spiritual enlightenment; it’s got potential hucksterism, in other words, all over. But it’s also got Ang Lee, one of the most sincere and eclectic directors working, spinning the story-within-a-story of young Pi (TK), who survives a shipwreck only to find himself on a very small boat with some very unwieldy zoo animals, chiefly a tiger. Lee treats much of this tense negotiation between man and beast matter-of-factly, so the movie has extra lift when it soars into 3D-assisted lyricism; this is probably the best use of that technique I’ve yet seen. Like Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi yearns to translate an ambitious book into big-screen grandeur, and like that movie, sometimes strains to show off all of its literary symbolism (at its worst, it makes its way into dialogue). But much of the film is spellbinding, and the questions it raises about religion and storytelling are thought-provoking rather than deliberately vague. And people can see it at malls instead of Twilight 5, if they want! What an age we live in!