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Ty's movie picks for Friday, September 26

Posted by Ty Burr  September 26, 2008 10:15 AM

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exiles.jpg
from "The Exiles" (see below)

A rainy weekend in New England and the new releases are... average. A lot of watchable but not a lot of memorable, which includes "The Duchess," a lavish 18th century period drama about a titled ancestor of Princess Di's with some of the same problems. Keira Knightley is quite good in the lead and Ralph Fiennes is better (if not onscreen as much as we want) as her brutish nerd of a husband. Despite all the topiary and melodrama, the movie doesn't stick to the ribs the way you want it to.

"Miracle at St. Anna" is Spike Lee's WWII movie, and as a longtime Fan of Spike, I wish it were better. He bites off so much here -- war re-enactment, racial consciousness-raising, history lesson, Italian Neo-Realism homage, murder mystery, art history mystery -- and tries to chew it all at once. The quieter scenes work best but some of the action sequences are shockingly poorly done for a major filmmaker, and the Italian partisan played by Valentina Cervi sums up all of Lee's problems with women in one untrustworthy character. This movie should have been so much better, but perhaps it's the weight of that "should" that threw the director off his stride.

The big moneymaker of the weekend will probably be "Eagle Eye," which takes a good hook (surveillance technology can follow you anywhere) and slathers it in noise, hyperactive editing, and things going boom. I know, some of you are saying, "And the problem is...?" Well, the problem is Shia LeBeouf, who doesn't yet have the heft to anchor one of these things (let alone play opposite Michelle Monaghan in any way that makes sense). Also, director D.J. Caruso has been emboldened by "Disturbia" to mulch more Hitchcock movies and even Kubrick's "2001" in ways that just make the originals look better than ever. But the kids won't know that, bless their pointed little heads.

Wesley sez excellent performances by Tim Robbins, Michael Pena, and Rachel McAdams are the best, if not only, reason to seek out "The Lucky Ones," a road movie about (shhhh) three returned Iraq War vets. He also says that even Richard Gere and Diane Lane cannot save the bathetic treacle of "Nights in Rodanthe," a Nicholas Sparks sog-athon brought to the screen by respected New York stage director George C. Wolfe.

"Choke" is a disappointingly slack adaptation of a Chuck Palahniuk novel; Sam Rockwell's an engagingly amoral anti-hero as usual but the movie's no "Fight Club." It's not even a "Sissyfight Club."

Two other new releases, both at the Kendall, show the strengths and weaknesses of politically progressive filmmaking. "Flow" is a sobering documentary about the misuse and increasing corporate control of water around the planet, while "Battle in Seattle" semi-fictionalizes the 1999 street protests that greeted the WTO conference with a big cast (Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, etc) and mixed results. The problem with both films -- and with many left-leaning documentaries of recent years -- is that they're not interested in persuading audiences that don't already agree with them. For all the issues examined, the filmmakers' underlying assumptions remain unexamined, an approach that's at best complacent and at worst disingenuous. That said, "Flow" is certainly a good, noisy way to jumpstart policy arguments over who owns water and who should own it.

Up from the vaults: "The Exiles" (in photo up top), a terrific 1961 drama about Native Americans in the old Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles at the MFA.

Midnight on Saturday at the Coolidge: renowned zombie-flick impresario J. Cannibal presents "Feast of Flesh VII," an evening of psychotronic rock, cheesy burlesque, and a screening of the outrageous New Zealand splatter flick "Dead Alive," made by Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson back when he had nothing to lose.

The United Nations Association Film Festival hits the Brattle tonight and tomorrow with a number of worthy documentaries and shorts spanning issues and the planet. Also at the theater: "Beautiful Losers," a doc about the DIY art movement that Globe correspondent Michael Hardy likes a lot.

At the Harvard Film Archive, a very rare weekend-long soak in the works of Bay Area diarist/experimentalist Warren Sonbert (1947-1995), whose films triangulate Dziga Vertov, Kenneth Anger, and Andy Warhol. If any of those names get your beanie propellor whirling, get thee hence.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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