also opening today

October 03, 2008

Blindness ** ( 2 STARS)

Director Fernando Meirelles doubtless had good intentions in adapting Jose Saramago's 1995 novel of a world gone suddenly, inexplicably blind. Too bad they're all lost in this belabored allegory that fails to even set up any rules, much less abide by them.

For reasons never explained, a sudden scourge of blindness afflicts a nameless North American city. Apparently, only one person retains her sight - an optometrist's wife (Julianne Moore), who nevertheless pretends to be blind, so she can stay by her husband's side when he's quarantined.

Things devolve quickly, as man's basic inhumanity to man inexorably takes over, and before long everyone's being hateful to everyone else - none more so than Gael Garcia Bernal's street thug, who quickly declares himself king of the ward and starts demanding money, sex and whatever else he desires in exchange for food.

Cinematographer Cesar Charlone shoots everything in glaring overexposure, making the film intentionally hard on the eyes. That's understandable. What isn't understandable are the questions the film never tries to grapple with: Why is Moore's character the only one able to see? Why doesn't she use her sight to better protect the others? How does Bernal's character seize power so easily? Within 15 minutes, you get the film's message - that mankind does not react well when challenged by unpleasantness it can't explain away. That leaves the filmmakers with more than 100 minutes to belabor the point.

Rated R for violence including sexual assaults, language and nudity . Time 120 minutes.

Chris Kaltenbach

Battle in Seattle ** ( 2 STARS)

They call it "Battle in Seattle," but it's safe to say that the mayhem that took place in that city's streets over five days in 1999 does not have the name recognition for most Americans of Gettysburg, Iwo Jima or even Bunker Hill. Stuart Townsend's new film attempts to change all that, with mixed results.

Townsend's sincerity, his admiration for the idealism of the people behind the anti-World Trade Organization protests, is never in doubt, but combining drama with historical re-creation is a challenge his filmmaking skills are not up to.

Battle in Seattle claims to be an uplifting film detailing how the power of the people brought the oligarchy down, but it plays more like an epic of futility and cross-purposes. When one of the protagonists says that what most Americans will take away from the protests is the notion that "I don't know what the WTO is, but I know it's bad," he is summing up the film's inevitable effect as well.

Rated R for language and some violence . Time 158 minutes.

Kenneth Turan, L.A. Times

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People : * ( 1 STAR)

Right around the point that horndog magazine writer Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is frantically scouring a fancy garden party for cocaine so he can take advantage of the dim-bulb starlet (Megan Fox) he's been fervently stalking, this putrid showbiz comedy appears to hit Defcon 5 in mistaking its brand of moral laxity for cutesy irreverence.

Ostensibly a romantic-comedy reorganizing of British author Toby Young's 2001 satiric memoir about the self-sabotaging, cheeky swath he cut through his brief celebrity journalism career at Vanity Fair, the movie version, scripted by Peter Straughan, drops its surrogate into a soul-imperiling scenario at the fictional rich rag Sharps: Will Sidney cozy up to celebs or be allowed to take them down in print? (And can he do both?)

Director Robert Weide, whose stewardship of the TV series Curb Your Enthusiasm indicated an understanding of hostile laughs, can't make up his mind whether the fame-grubbing Sidney is a principled jerk, an immature closet romantic or Jerry Lewis. He's impossible to follow as a protagonist, much less care for.

Rated R for language, some graphic nudity and brief drug material. Time 110 minutes.

Robert Abele, L.A. Times

no screening

An American Carol - a Fourth-of-July twist on the classic Charles Dickens story - was not screened for critics.

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