An artist biopic, a Mexican heist film, and a much-hyped sports sequel are among the metro Phoenix movie openings for Friday, November 23. Openings were accurate at the time of publication and are subject to change. For showtimes and more film and television coverage, check out the Phoenix New Times film page.
At Eternity's Gate (critic's pick) — Much like its tormented subject, Julian Schnabel's marvelous film about the last days of Vincent van Gogh stares at and savors its world and then renders what it's seen in incandescent art. Far from another reductive life-of-the-artist Oscar job, At Eternity's Gate is committed to what its subject saw — how its subject saw — rather than just how commandingly its star reels through his big speeches. Since the star in this case is Willem Dafoe, viewers likely would be satisfied watching a great actor let rip, but Dafoe's performance is searching and tender, his van Gogh struggling to bear the weight of the beauty he sees. He and Schnabel have crafted a uniquely illuminating and non-didactic portrait — not of the artist himself, exactly, but of the artist's perceptions. Probing the painter's senses as he tramps about the south of France, Schnabel's film is drunk with light, a little touched in the head itself, giving over to van Gogh's perspective through gorgeously disorienting POV shots. Flares of light seem to singe the camera lens, and often the lower third of the screen goes a little hazy, the foliage no longer specific stalks and leaves but now its smeared essence. That, of course, suggests van Gogh's work; a painter of significance himself, Schnabel (Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) has mastered the depiction of artistic creation onscreen. Here he shows us one painting's journey from conception to near completion. His film omits the wiki-history info-dump scenes common in lesser biopics, instead steeping us in the mind and senses of a painter who never got the word that his way of seeing would one day shape the world's. Rated PG-13. (Alan Scherstuhl)
Creed II — For all their triumphant simplicity, the original Rocky and the original Creed were what we used to just call "movies," by which I mean Hollywood underdog fables told with sincerity and an attention to life as it's actually lived. Creed II, like Rocky II, is something less. It's a Rocky movie, just the latest go-round, its story more formulaic, its people less specific, its rhythms as wheezily familiar as a workout you should have changed up weeks ago. It's a diminishment of Creed, a dumbing down, just as Rocky II was a diminishment of Rocky. Its makers seem to think so little of viewers that they enlist, during all three of this sequel's boxing matches, jabbering sportscasters who exhaustively explain to us every lunge and jab that we've just seen. "What a turn this fight's taken!" they exclaim. "It all feels so Shakespearean!" they insist. Imagine it: The filmmakers think you're too dumb to follow the emotional thrust of a Rocky movie. The story concerns sort of a play date between the kids fathered by the first generation of Rocky boxers: Creed versus the son of Dolph Lundgren's Ivan Drago, who in Rocky IV was built up as the most devastating weapon in the Soviet nuclear arsenal. He's the one, you may recall, who killed the first Creed father in the ring. It's all ludicrous. Still, for all that, Creed II does have a pulse. The training sequences, always the series' highlight, again build and build and peak in an endorphin rush. The climactic fight, too, is satisfyingly staged; people sitting near me in the theater gasped and sucked in their breath right along with the most brutal blows. Rated PG-13. (Scherstuhl)
Museum (Museo) (critic's pick) — The year's best and strangest and most searching heist movie, Alonso Ruizpalacios' Museo, among many other things, offers an inspired inversion of the fantasy of Indiana Jones. Its centerpiece is a breathless break-in at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, as two 30ish suburbanites, played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Leonardo Ortizgris, attempt to loot artifacts from what is known as the Mayan room. Ruizpalacios shot in the real museum, a monumental location as arresting, in its shadows and sweeping concrete aprons, as the sites plundered by most movie tomb raiders. The robbery crackles with awed suspense, alternating between reverence for the objects to be stolen, silent terror that something might go wrong, and a painstaking interest in the tools and techniques of theft. And that's just the most crowd-pleasing chunk of an ambitious, restless film that more than fulfills the promise of 2014's Güeros, Ruizpalacios' audacious debut. Museo's 128 minutes mostly concern questions of character and history, of who owns the past and what to make of the present. The thieves go after the Mayan artifacts hoping to sell them, and because mastermind Juan (Bernal) has been fascinated with them since his days as an intern at the museum, but mostly because they're bored. Juan and Benjamin (Ortizgris) are veterinary students living with their mothers in the suburban enclave Satellite City; suburban prosperity, of course, begets suburban ennui, and Ruizpalacios finds brittle comedy in an early set piece of Juan bored out of his skull at a family Christmas celebration. Eventually, as he finds he can't sell hot Mayan relics, his dilemma becomes intensely moving: He's shouldering history and has no idea what to do next. Not Rated. (Scherstuhl)
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Robin Hood — Imagine a 2018 Robin Hood done right: a real wealth-redistributing, anti-fascist hero fighting against a rich tyrant who uses political power to only get richer. That Robin Hood could have been a real hoot, some biting commentary for these times. This latest retelling, which arrives only eight years after Ridley Scott's Russell Crowe-starring version, remains a haphazard action thriller taking place sometime during the Crusades, with Taron Egerton basically reprising his breakout Kingsman role. "This is no bedtime story," the narrator insists early on, in an attempt to incite excitement, but the story immediately becomes a snooze. There is little to enjoy in making Robin Hood more a buff mascot than a real working-class hero. At one point, the camera lingers on a shirtless Robin as he nurses a leg wound (for some reason his pants are on but his shirt is not, and I'm no medical expert but that seems rather unnecessary). But the film doesn't even commit to a "sexy Robin Hood" — which, if that's what you're going for, then by all means, go for it — despite the flirty tête-à-tête with Marian (Eve Hewson) in the opening scene. Little John gets an interesting update in the form of Jamie Foxx, playing him as a Moorish commander set on overthrowing the English leadership. John taps his once Crusader foe, trains him in archery, helping create the masked avenger known as "The Hood." The double life gives this Robin Hood a superhero arc, which could've been noteworthy if not for the video game-like rendering of fight scenes with slow-mo sequences and POV shots. There's quite a lot of fighting, but it's too chaotic to be effective. Rated PG-13. (Kristen Yoonsoo Kim)
Other openings — Ralph and his sidekick, Vanellope, travel to the World Wide Web to find a replacement part to save Vanellope's video game in Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to the wildly popular Wreck-It Ralph.