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January 1, 2008

Holiday Movies

I got to see a number of movies over the holiday break. Here are a few quick reviews.
Sweeney Todd – Tim Burton and Johnny Depp bring the classic Stephen Sondheim musical to the big screen. Sondheim’s score is challenging and operatic, with nearly every song sung in a minor key. Depp’s and Helena Bonham Carter’s voices aren’t quite up to the operatic qualities of the work, but they bring a kind of hip rock edge that’s unexpected but not unwelcome. A violent, depressing, dark musical,Todd is, in many ways, the anti-Hairspray, but it’s a first-rate film with great supporting performances by Sacha Baron Cohen and Alan Rickman. Look for this on a lot of award nomination short lists.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets – Nicholas Cage’s second foray into Indiana Jones territory is a lighthearted romp about lost Indian treasure and besmirched family reputation. Ultimately a placeholder while moviegoers wait for the next Indiana Jones and Mummy movies, Secrets is a good time nonetheless.

27 Dresses – The new romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy, Knocked Up) and James Marsden (X-Men, Spider-Man, Enchanted) actually opens on January 11, but we managed to take in a sneak preview. Heigl plays Jane, a woman who epitomizes the phrase “always a bridesmaid, never a bride”, to the tune of 27 appearances in awesomely bad dresses, including two weddings in one night. Her problem is that she’s secretly in love with her boss, George (Ed Burns), but she meets her match in Kevin (Marsden), a cynical wedding-page writer whose prose doesn’t match his attitude. When Jane’s flighty sister Tess (Malin Ackerman, The Heartbreak Kid), meets and falls in love with George, Jane has to decide whether to continue her tradition of helping others on their happiest day, or looking out for her own happiness.

The movie isn’t particularly deep, but it’s enjoyable and will doubtless fit right in to my wife’s rotation of chick flicks on the cable box (including The Wedding Date, Rotting Hill, and The Runaway Bride). For my part, I don’t mind looking at Heigl and Ackerman for a couple hours, and Heigl and Marsden are actually much better actors than some might give them credit for, given the usually lightweight movies they’re in. I’m betting it will carry the box office the week it opens.

Juno – Another movie you’ll likely see a great deal of at award time is Juno, from director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) and first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody. The story of a teenager who becomes pregnant following her first, fumbling attempt at sex, this one is being widely described as this year’s Little Miss Sunshine. Star Ellen Page (X-Men: The Last Stand and the harrowing Hard Candy) is a star in waiting, giving a breezy, nuanced performance as a kid who realizes she’s made a huge mistake and is determined to make the best of it. To that end, she decides, with the support of her dad and step-mom (Law and Order‘s J.K. Simmons and The West Wing‘s Allison Janney) to give the baby up for adoption, to a couple whose ad she finds in the Penny Saver. As the driven yuppy wife and pseudo-slacker composer husband, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman are pitch-perfect.

As should be expected, not everything goes as planned over the course of nine months, but the expected roadblocks sometimes come from unexpected directions. Each of the characters speaks with his or her own voice, a tribute to the skill of newcomer Cody, who’s already been tapped to write and produce the new Steven Spielberg/Toni Collette multiple personality comedy for Showtime. The movie has been doing amazingly well for the number of screens it’s on, and it’s getting ready to expand, so it shouldn’t be hard to find.

I am LegendThe third adaptation of Richard Matheson’s seminal vampirism-as-virus novel is the first one to bear its title (Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth and Charlton Heston’s Omega Man were the previous two), but it appears to be the one which differs the most from the novel.

Will Smith plays Dr. Robert Neville, a soldier and scientist who, three years after a viral devastation has destroyed 90% of human life on earth, is still striving to find a cure and watching for other survivors. The vast majority of humans (and canines) who didn’t die immediately from the virus have turned into nearly mindless, vampire-like creatures, causing Neville to lock himself and his dog Sam in his highly fortified townhouse at night, and hunt the now-wild streets of Manhattan by day.

Not much else can be said about the movie without giving away plot points, but it isn’t nearly as action-oriented as the trailers would seem to suggest. There are a number of tense action scenes, but the majority of the movie is used to establish Neville’s isolation, frustration, and determination. Flashbacks to the night Manhattan was cut off prevent much of the movie from becoming a one-man show, and give background on both Neville and the development of the virus.

Will Smith is fantastic as Neville, and the movie avoids becoming too heavy-handed in its messages, almost to a fault; the plot-turn of the original novel is hinted at here, but in such a way that it appears to have been part of a sub-plot that was cut for time. That being said, though, the movie is still extremely tense and a couple steps above average, even if it’s not the all-out action movie the trailers may suggest.

That’s it for tonight. I may try to catch the other two movies I wanted to see this holiday and didn’t (Walk Hard and Charlie Wilson’s War) in the next few days. I’ll let you know if I do.

The 300 Project 1/1

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1 Comment »

  1. Good comments all around. I don’t like musicals but we’ve seen Sweeney Todd 3 times now. Have you made plans to see The Orphanage?

    Comment by Eric K — January 5, 2008 @ 9:13 pm | Reply


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