Holiday Season Movies: Part 2
There's about 10 movies being released before New Year's that I'm excited about seeing. But before diving into those, here's a look at what I've gone to in the past two weeks...
Debbie and I saw The Holiday on opening night, and I can't remember being in a theater more buzzy and alive: the packed house was with this movie all the way... before, during and after. And rightly so, as this tale of two recently-wronged women swapping homes at Christmas—one's an L.A. dream house, the other an impossibly quaint English village cottage—is totally cute and funny and romantic. The beautiful, appealing cast is led by Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black and, most unexpectedly excellent, the 91-year-old Eli Wallach (thanks for the fun fact, Gorgeous!). Of course, everyone who should fall in love, does. We laughed, we cried. This is pure holiday-movie-going pleasure.
Put aside how powerfully, or insipidly, or hypocritically Blood Diamond delivers its message about the evils of conflict diamonds, and diamond corporations, and ignorant (or callous) diamond consumers, and Westerners exploiting poor nations and their people, and genocide, and greed and fear and cruelty... put all that aside, and, in my opinion, what you have is a top-notch thriller with plenty of tense, well-choreographed action sequences; an exotic, wide-open settings—it takes place in civil-war-torn Sierra Leone—and a budget big enough to see it utilized; and, at the movie's core, a terrific performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as an amoral arms dealer after a massive pink rock.
The trailer for The Pursuit of Happyness makes it look super-sentimental, which is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for on a solo Monday-night trip to the movies. To my surprise, this story of a man slipping in and out of homelessness with his preschool-age son—at the same time that he's working to win a job at Dean Witter through a competitive internship program—has far more grit and genuine anxiety and emotional depth than I imagined. And Will Smith is excellent: a dreamer of a salesman who can turn on the charm when he needs it, even when he's breaking up inside; a decent man determined to be a good father under all circumstances, who refuses to give up fighting, who refuses to give up hope, even as his world keeps crashing down on him, in waves big and small. Yes, you know how it ends. Yes, it'll make you cry. But that moment, like many in this movie, is a lot more honestly earned than you might think.
I thought Flags of Our Fathers was one of the best movies of the fall, but I must say I don't really understand all the raves for Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima. The concept is great: show the same battle, but this time from Imperial Japanese point of view. But although there certainly are powerful moments here (mass suicide by hand grenade, for one; the unbelievably cruel fate of one of the two main "grunts", for another), and the whole thing looks bleached-out beautiful, I found the dialogue trite, the narrative repetitive (WAY too many earnestly whispered speeches about dying with honor for your country) and the characters mostly disposable. Definitely see Flags, feel free to skip Letters.
Finally, Debbie and I went to the IFC Center to see Family Law, by the Argentine writer/director Daniel Burman. This is a slight film, about a man thoroughly disengaged—out of fear or boredom or both—from his family (especially his father), his emotions, his world.
Daniel Hendler, who plays the father/husband/son who has to grow up, definitely displays some slacker charm, and his confusion about life is universal enough to provoke some audience empathy, but the movie doesn't really go anywhere, and ultimately just feels kind of frustrating... like you want to shake it by the collar and shout "snap out of it for crissakes!"