Holiday Season Movies: Part 3
As usual, the movie year ended exceptionally well, and I enjoyed my last four Holiday Season flicks quite a bit. Here's a quick look... and then it's on to 20-0-7!
Children of Men offers one of the most thoroughly realized, honestly rendered visions of the future I've ever seen in a movie... and it's not a pretty sight. The premise is this: it's 2027, all women are infertile, there hasn't been a live birth on Earth in 18 years, humankind literally has no future. What would people do? Well, I'll let you see for yourself, but let's just say lovingkindness doesn't figure too heavily in their motivations. Beautifully shot, unbelievably tense, rich in unforgettable images, and featuring outstanding performances by Clive Owen, Michael Caine and, especially, Chjwetel Ejiofor as the young woman whom they must transport through hell and deliver to the highly secretive, presumably benevolent Human Project, this is the kind of intelligent, provocative, transportative film that, for me (and for Debbie, who also really liked it), makes movie-going such a pleasure.
Speaking of intelligent, provocative, and thoroughly realized, Pan's Labryinth is writer/director Guillermo Del Toro's shattering portrait of a young girl caught up in a fantasy world (or is it real?) as a way to escape the horrors of 1944 Fascist Spain. The movie works superbly on many levels—as pure horror, as an historical thriller, as a tale of human courage, as a cautionary fable—in part because of the thrilling performances by 11-year-old Ivana Baquero as the brave Ofelia, and by Sergi López as the sadistic Capitán Vidal (not to mention Doug Jones as both the unsettling Pan and the terrifying Pale Male); and in part because of Del Toro's brisk pacing and unerring instincts for making his audience extremely uncomfortable. Dark, bleak, horrifically violent and creepy as hell, it's everything a holiday movie shouldn't be, and so made for excellent viewing in a packed Times Square theater four days after Christmas.
Also excellent, I thought, is The Good Shepherd, Robert DeNiro's great American epic about the rise—both in power at home and in reach abroad—of the U.S. intelligence community, first as the OSS during the war, then, of course, as the CIA. The stellar cast (Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, William Hurt, Angelina Jolie, DeNiro himself, among many others, all in top form) is led by Matt Damon, delivering a terrific, tightly wound, almost unbearably retentive performance as one Edward Wilson, and his confused, hubristic, destructive journey from Yale and Skull and Bones to wartime cloak and dagger in London to running CIA Counterintelligence during the height of the Cold War. More than one reviewer has likened this to "the Godfather for the CIA", and, in the movie's scope and funereal tone and casual tossing about of betrayal, abandonment and violence (not to mention its 2:37 running time), I'm inclined to agree.
Finally, on a completely different note, there's the lively, glittering, irresistible Dreamgirls. Although musicals can never fully engage me the way "regular" movies can, there are more than enough dazzling, amusing, and truly moving scenes here to make this story of a singing group suspiciously like Diana Ross and the Supremes worth your while. The great cast knows how to belt out these songs, Eddie Murphy is more compelling than he's been since forever ago, and everything you hear about former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson is true: she is spectacular, totally stealing the movie from her far more seasoned co-stars. In fact, when she was nearing the end of her character's pivotal song, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", the huge, sold-out Times Square theater I was in just exploded with applause and whistles and cries of "you SING it, girl!!" Truly an amazing movie-going moment.