My favorite movie so far this year is Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men. I caught it on New Year's Eve at The Grove (which is, I guess, the only place it's playing right now). It's a sci-fi piece set in 2027, in a sort of post-apocalyptic Britain. It stars Clive Owen and it--more than anything else--is ostensibly a genre piece: an action/road movie with lots of guns. But it's also a movie about the end of the world, the miracle of birth, and humankind's capacity for both cruelty and generosity. I completely loved it. It's funny and imaginative and brilliantly scripted, not to mention beautifully shot by Emmanuel Lubeszki. Go.
Another Mexican film I saw recently is Guillermo Del Toro's El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth), which is an imaginative fantasy/horror story set against the backdrop of 1944 Spain. The story follows a little girl who escapes from the tyranny of her stepfather by imagining (or is he real) a giant faun who assigns her magical tasks to complete and tells her she's really the daughter of the king of the underworld. It's a magical, beautiful movie full of spectacle and gore. I totally dug it.
Last night I also caught Bill Condon's Dreamgirls. Now, you probably know that I love this musical (the original production was on Broadway in 1982), and while I was very excited for the film version, I wasn't too excited about the way it was looking from all of the clips and interviews I watched about it. The film is pretty much all I expected it to be. Jamie Foxx, as the film's headliner, is near terrible; he is the focus of the film and its empty heart of a center. He pouts and sneers his way through the movie and comes across as unlikeable and frustrated. The character is odious, of course, by the film's end, but it would have been nice had the character had a bit of a journey. Foxx picks a note and keeps playing it for two hours. Eddie Murphy is fantastic as James Thunder Early. He gives a fierce, enjoyable performance that's sure to get awards play with the Academy (about time, too, if you ask me). Beyoncé Knowles is excellent as superstar Deena Jones, and looks gorgeous in the film, almost impossibly so. I forget how beautiful this woman is. She also had a song written for her for the film. It's called "Listen" and she sings it in act three with power and vehemence (it's a touch earnest, but her only real belt number). The person everyone will be talking about after this movie, though, will be Jennifer Hudson, the lead of the film and the person with the biggest voice. She has an extraordinary singing voice and her performance as Effie is a great tribute to the original Effie, Jennifer Holliday. Her two huge numbers are showstopping film moments--the movie's worth it just for her. The film itself is a bit of a mess, I'm afraid. I found myself bored quite a bit. Dreamgirls takes a lot of time focusing on Jamie Foxx's character, and he's so dour that he just can't hold interest. Condon, too, has crafted a musical (the same way he worked Chicago) where the singing doesn't happen organically as a part of the narrative, but happens during specific "singing" moments. He makes the music a realistic part of the story. I thought this technique was sort of clever (though unnecessary) in Chicago, but it doesn't work at all in Dreamgirls. Condon has cut songs and parts of songs in order to force the musical into this construct, but he is compelled to keep certain numbers, particularly the act one finale "And I Am Telling You," and so the musical jumps in and out of Condon's reality in a way that rings false. I'm not sure why Condon tries to make this work in the first place. If the audience will buy the actors singing to one another at certain points, then why not all the time? And we know audiences don't really mind singing as an integral part of the show--pretty much everyone I know enjoyed Moulin Rouge! and it's musical number after musical number--so why does he bother? Anyway, I liked the movie alright, but it's the music that's the star of the show here, and I could probably survive by just listening to the soundtrack over and over again and not revisiting Condon's film.
One more: The Oh in Ohio is a little indie with Parker Posey and Paul Rudd. Parker Posey is a seriously frigid wife who Rudd can't make cum. The film is set in Cleveland (although the Walt Disney Concert Hall makes an appearance) and also stars Mischa Barton, Danny DeVito, Keith David and Liza Minelli. I pretty much rented this because I love Parker Posey, I think Paul Rudd is hot and I wanted to see Liza (she plays a sex therapist who says "vagina" about fifty times.) This movie's fairly stupid and almost totally plotless. It's funny briefly. It was good to see Liza, Paul Rudd is still hot, and Mischa Barton gives a horrible, boring performance as a student who seduces Rudd. Posey and Rudd work hard and provide honest, interesting acting, but there's just nothing happening in this film. It's harmless, but a waste of time.