The latest in a pack of ultra-realistic '70s-style horror films in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre vein, Wolf Creek (Weinstein) was derided in some circles for its gratuitous violence, perhaps because it's so queasily effective. After an eerily placid opening half sends three young adventurers to the outback, things takes a turn when their car stalls out and a stranger tows them to safety. In the space of one stomach-dropping cut, the film turns into a waking nightmare, punctuated at one point by the creepiest appropriation of a catchphrase since Jack Nicholson's "Heeeeeeere's Johnny" bit in The Shining
Ellie Parker (Strand) began life as a grimy, micro-budgeted 2001 Sundance short shot on home-electronics-level equipment. Its existence should have ended there, but its lead, Naomi Watts, rocketed to super-stardom, and she inexplicably chose to return in a feature-length adaptation that offers a grating, lo-fi take on a noxious assemblage of show-biz clichés. Watts' decision to return to Parker after becoming such a big star speaks well of her loyalty, but speaks poorly of her taste and judgment
Any satirical ambitions Dean Parisot's slick remake of Fun With Dick And Jane (Sony) might have nursed died a swift death once mega-star Jim Carrey signed on to star in full-on pandering-populist mode. Though setting the comedy just as the tech bubble dramatically burst could have paid rich dividends in a smarter, more ambitious comedy, the film ultimately eschews satire or social commentary in favor of strained slapstick and manic mugging
A story of people and secrets and family tensions and zzzzzz Oh, you didn't want to see Lasse Hallström's An Unfinished Life (Miramax), starring Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, and Morgan Freeman, when it was in the theaters. Don't pretend you care about it now
And don't pretend you care about The Greatest Game Ever Played (Buena Vista), either. Because you don't. Or shouldn't, anyway. Sure, the always-terrific Shia LaBeouf stars, and it's based on the interesting story of a golfer who broke through class boundaries to carry out, yes, the greatest game of golf ever played, according to some. But here, actor-turned-director Bill Paxton piles on CGI simulations and stock characters until nothing like real emotion has a chance to come to the surface.