Friday Movies: 'All the King's Men,' 'Science of Sleep'

Kate Winslet and Sean Penn

Kate Winslet and Sean Penn in All the King's Men. Columbia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Columbia Pictures
Gael García Bernal in the French film 'The Science of Sleep.'

Gael García Bernal in the French film The Science of Sleep. hide caption

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Tomorrow's the first day of fall — a great time to sit in a dark theater and ignore the upcoming colder, shorter days. NPR's Bob Mondello's gives us the scoop on this weekend's openings.

Old Joy: Two old friends whose paths have diverged go on a camping trip in a mid-life crisis movie that leaves the crisis delicately understated. One of the men (Daniel London) is about to become a father, the other (singer/songwriter Will Oldham) is more adrift in life, and as they drive and then hike, getting lost and finally finding a natural spring that was the original point of the excursion, they make a stab at reconnecting. Kelly Reichardt's direction is deft, and the gentle story registers with a gratifying wistfulness and authenticity. In short, it's a fine, if not a terribly galvanizing, independent film.

All the King's Men: Since the 1949 version won three Oscars including Best Picture, it might not seem as if refilming Robert Penn Warren's classic tale of a charismatic populist is really necessary. And in fact, Steve Zaillian, who wrote and directed the new version, doesn't really make a case for adapting Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer-winning novel afresh, though it's easy to understand why the project would attract a big-name cast. Jude Law plays the newspaper reporter who narrates the tale, while a shouting, wheedling, constantly-in-motion Sean Penn plays Willie Stark, the doomed politician modeled on Louisiana Governor Huey Long. Also featured are Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson and James Gandolfini, all of whom are doing fine work. But the film, while respectful and decently crafted, is also far too stately — sometimes outright dull — for its own good.

Flyboys: You'd think the saga of the Lafayette Escadrille — a group of young Americans who learned to pilot primitive canvas and wood airplanes for the French in the months before the U.S. entered World War I — would make for a soaring war movie. But as directed by Tony Bill, this laughably cliche-ridden picture makes everything it touches seem false. Each of the characters — the farm boy, the black boxer, the rich layabout, the military brat trying to please his dad — has a single note to strike, and strikes it repeatedly, while the big aerial dogfights that should power the picture along, are so blindingly predictable that the whole enterprise will bore the pants off folks who can't put their minds on autopilot and marvel at the sight of digital planes and blimps exploding in mid-air.

The Science of Sleep: A giddy head-trip from Michel Gondry, the guy who directed that giddy head-trip Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Stephane, a graphic artist with an amazing imagination that's given free rein in dreams that take place in what's pictured as a fantastical playground of the mind, with paper-cutout cities that twist in the wind, faucets that spout cellophane and ski-lifts powered by fishing-reels. When a young woman named Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) moves in across the hall, you can't help hoping he's finally found a playmate, but they can't actually live in a dream world, and to a dream-spinner like Gondry, that's dilemma enough to hang a movie on. He's made the kind of film that releases an audience's inner child, rather than pandering to it, and if you don't find its conceits charming, they're going to seem too precious by half. Happily, the filmmaker's also a visual virtuoso with effects that seem low-tech — as if he'd set a kindergarten class loose in a crafts store — but that are layered and digitized to a fare-thee-well. The picture looks amazing enough that audiences who buy into the dream aren't going to want to wake up.

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