The Weekend Blend 1/14 – 1/16

1/14 – 1/16 New movies come out each weekend; many of them are not worth your time. Many of them are. So make a stop here before heading out to the theater to figure out which newly released inner city coach kicks ass movie you’ll be avoiding. It’s January, which means Hollywood hates you. The best movies in theaters were technically released in 2004, but are only now expanding wide enough for people outside of New York to see them.

Those “people” would be me, and those “people” would be you. Unless you’re a New Yorker, in which case don’t you have better things to do? Catch a Broadway show or a hooker or something while I help the rest of America hack their way through the local megaplex.

RACING STRIPES (Opens nationwide 1/14) Racing Stripes is the story of a zebra who wants to become a race horse. Unlike most zebras, he’s really really fast, which sort of helps. Of course the concept is ridiculous, but then the animals talk so it’s not like you’re supposed to take it seriously. Whether or not it is for kids, the movie sounded like an utter turd. So I was pretty shocked to see it and discover that it isn’t. It’s certainly not a particularly good film, but it is an ambitious one for a movie that could easily have been sloughed off as a straight-to-video project. Dustin Hoffman is a delight as the voice of a scruffy little miniature horse and the film has a weird sort of emotional resonance that I can’t explain. Still, this is a movie with farting, dancing, horse flies. That sort of thing means that though it is a lot better than it ought to be, Racing Stripes is still not particularly good. It’s merely tolerable. For a movie with a rapping David Spade, that’s quite an accomplishment.

COACH CARTER (Opens nationwide 1/14) Samuel L. Jackson stars as one of those inspirational coaches/teachers who makes inner city kids learn things against their will. In this case he does it by locking them out of basketball practice and beating them the hell up. Recently, Samuel L. Jackson’s best work was in Kill Bill Vol. 2, a movie where he had only a two line cameo, which ought to tell you something about what he’s doing to his career. Samuel L. is better than this rethreaded, tired, beaten down material. Still, it is Sam Jackson. His mere presence means that there might be at least something worthwhile in Coach Carter. After all, the movie is going to present plenty of opportunity for him to get mad and kick ass. Sam the man is pretty good at that. Think of this as a badder, blacker, crappier version of Hoosiers, then lower your anticipation appropriately.

ELEKTRA (Opens nationwide 1/14) Elektra is likely the best new release opening this weekend, since it features mildly entertaining Kung Fu and the supposed hotness of Jennifer Garner. Garner is reprising her Daredevil role of Elektra, though reportedly the movie makes little reference to that previous film in which the character was killed. This one finds her battling a cast of Mortal Kombat-like villains and engaging in unrealistic wire-fu. Because we’re all perverts at heart, most of the big buzz seems to be about her lesbian kiss, which isn’t a lesbian kiss at all. It’s more of a solid lip press. Garner is overrated, Elektra is overrated, and superhero movies are starting to wear out their welcome. Elektra may provide a few fun thrills, but the superhero genre should stick to the big names like Batman and Spider-Man.Adapting comics into movies is quickly falling out of vogue. Let’s give up on trying to give movies a comic-book feel and move onto making real films.

HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (Expands nationwide 1/14) I’m a little tired of these overly colorful, Chinese wire-fu movies, but House of Flying Daggers sets itself apart by setting aside the helium and focusing on developing its characters. The first half of the film is absolutely beautiful and perfect, as the tale of an ancient Chinese police officer playing double agent to capture the trust of a beautiful rebel princess. He starts to fall for her and she for him. But the film drops the ball in the latter half as it becomes lost in an over-complicated series of crosses, double-crosses, and Shyamalan like twists. Still, it’s a beautiful film and the first half shines bright enough to make it worth a look. It’s vastly superior to much more hyped films like Crouching Tiger or even Hero, and deserves a little more attention. The film has been on screens for a few weeks, but this is the first time it has expanded out of extremely limited release into over 1000 theaters. That means that this weekend it should be easily available to anyone who wants to hunt it down.

IN GOOD COMPANY (Expands nationwide 1/14) I’ve yet to see In Good Company, but am already kicking myself for passing up an opportunity to review it. Written and directed by Paul Weitz, the man behind About a Boy, In Good Company is a comedic drama in a somewhat similar vein. The cast is stellar, featuring talented up and comers like Topher Grace, and proven actors like Dennis Quaid, and Lost in Translation star Scarlett Johansson. Quaid plays a middle aged executive faced with a boss half his age. To make matters worse, his new baby-faced boss is dating his daughter. Lucky Topher Grace. The film is getting fantastic reviews, and if Weitz can bring half the wit, originality, and charm he displayed in About a Boy to this, In Good Company will be a movie you won’t want to miss. Like House of Flying Daggers, this one has been languishing in extremely limited release for a few weeks. This weekend it hits in 1500+ theaters, so now is your opportunity to seek it out. I’ll see you there.

Still In Theaters and Worth Your Time: The Aviator, The Incredibles, Finding Neverland, Kinsey, The Woodsman, Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events, Spanglish, Sideways, National Treasure