Sunday, December 31, 2006

Quick Recap of Holiday Films

The Pursuit of Happiness (***). Will Smith is terrific in this likeable, uplifting underdog story. It may be hokey at times, but for the most part, the movie avoids a lot of the feel-good claptraps of the genre and truly earns its ending.

We Are Marshall (**1/2). Another one of those underdog sports stories that are pretty much impossible to mess up. This is going to connect with audiences who like Hoosiers and Miracle and Remember the Titans and . . . See, that's the problem. There's just too many films like this one.

Rocky Balboa (***). A fitting conclusion to one of film's most legendary franchises. If you watch this and the first Oscar-winning Rocky, it makes for the perfect bookend. Sylvestor Stallone reinvigorates both the character and his career, and overcomes what seemed to be the impossible odds against him for this movie to be any good.

Dreamgirls (**1/2). A disappointment given all the pre-release hype. The songs weren't up to snuff, and like most musicals, the second act is awful. This is a shame because director Bill Condon has assembled such a fine cast. It's an entertaining movie alright, and everyone seems to be talking about former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson, who's very good here, but can't live up to all the hype surrounding her. Eddie Murphy's performance was the highlight for me.

Night at the Museum (**). Somewhat inventive at times, but devoid of any real laughs, this is strictly kiddie fare, with no real entertainment value for adults. That's a problem for a supposed family film.

The Good German (*1/2). Snooze-a-thon. Despite a pedigree cast (Clooney, Blanchett), a respected director (Steven Soderbergh), and talented writer (Paul Attanasio), The Good German is a big flop. It's stylish (shot in crisp black and white), there's no doubt about that, but that's really the only good thing you can say about it.

The Good Shepherd (**1/2). Robert DeNiro directs this ambitious, multi-layered story about the birth of the CIA. He's got a great cast and an intelligent script, but it runs a little long (2 hrs. 40 mins.) and it's a pretty cold, emotionless piece. It's definitely entertaining at all times, but I found myself wanting to connect to it more. I guess you could say it entertains you at arms length.

Pan's Labyrinth (***). Walking out of the theater, I didn't like this movie much. It did not match the expectations I had for it, and kind of went in a different direction than what I was hoping. But I can't stop thinking about it, and that's definitely a sign of a good film. Director Guillermo Del Toro is obviously a visionary and has crafted a film similar in style and tone to his The Devil's Backbone. That was a ghost story, this one's a fairy tale. But don't bring the kids: it's violent and features one of the creepiest scenes I've ever seen.

The Queen (***1/2). An excellent depiction of the week following Princess Diana's death, and remarkable performances by Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen (as Tony Blair). The Queen is not some stuffy period pic, it's a juicy, entertaining, and enlightening look at the Royal Family and English government. Great film.


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