Monday, January 01, 2007
Movie Reviews: THE GOOD SHEPHERD, DREAMGIRLS, THE DESCENT & A SCANNER DARKLY
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a student at Yale, is recruited to join the secret society Skull and Bones, a brotherhood and breeding ground for future world leaders. Wilson's sincere belief in American values render him a prime candidate for a career in intelligence, and he is soon recruited to work for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during World War II. Working in the heart of an organization where duplicity is required and nothing is taken at face value, Edward's idealism is steadily eroded as the country gets deeper and deeper into the Cold War. As his methods are adopted as standard operating procedure, Wilson develops into one of the Agency's veteran operatives.
Cast Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Joe Pesci, Keir Dullea, Alec Baldwin, Michael Gambon (more)
Director(s) Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola
Writer(s) Eric Roth
Status In theaters (wide)
Release Date Dec. 22, 2006
MPAA Rating R - for some violence, sexuality and language.
The Good Shepard has a stellar cast and fairly interesting subject matter, however it is paced at such a slow pace that it make the film feel tedious. Matt Damon does well as the passionless humorless Edward Wilson; his stone face expressions convey a lot of the single minded motivations of his character. Angelina Jolie is terribly miscast as his wife and really seems out of place especially when the audience is supposed to feel sympathy for her character. The acting isn't really the issue as much as the aforementioned pacing. This film is a plodding exercise in tedium and while the overall story arch is engaging, it is sapped of any life by the manner in which it's presented. With a nearly 3 hour run time this film is an exercise in patience as very little happens very slowly. This film should have been a lot better than it actually is but De Niro's direction totally hampers the exercise.
Based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical, this '60s-era story follows three young singers — Effie (Jennifer Hudson), Deena (Beyoncé Knowles) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) — as they try to cross over to the pop charts. They're discovered at a talent competition by an ambitious manager (Jamie Foxx), who offers them the opportunity to become the backup singers for headliner James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy).
Cast Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson, Hinton Battle (more)
Director(s) Bill Condon
Writer(s) Bill Condon
Status In theaters (wide)
Release Date Dec. 15, 2006 — New York; Los Angeles; Dec. 25, 2006 —: Opens wide
MPAA Rating PG-13 - for language, some sexuality and drug content.
Dreamgirls is a joy to watch as it un-spools on screen. Bill Condon lovingly translates and directs this film and does it with great style while avoiding too many excesses. Condon does an excellent job of weaving the music into the film so that it feels a lot more organic than most musicals. Song, for the most part, are displayed in very natural ways and within the flow of the films plot. The acting in the film isn't really acting as much as it's extended musical numbers interwoven with small chunks of dialogue. The cast assembled is perfect for this sort of film and some of the songs, in particular a few by American Idol reject Jennifer Hudson, are goose bump inspiring. Beyonce Knowles does very well especially early on in the film bringing a wide eyed innocence to her role. Eddie Murphy reminds us how talented he is by belting out some truly impressive songs. There is a ton to love here but there are a few faults. The film's plot and characters are pretty standard fare, especially if you've seen any of recent biographical films about recording artist such as Ray or Walk the Line. Aside from this issue the film is just so excellently executed that one would be hard pressed not to enjoy this musical Motown infused film.
Six hotties, led by Juno (Natalie Mendoza), decide to go on a caving expedition to rekindle their friendship. They're put to the test when a strange breed of carnivorous creatures chases them through the underworld.
Cast Natalie Mendoza, Shauna MacDonald, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder (more)
Director(s) Neil Marshall
Writer(s) Neil Marshall
Status On DVD
Release Date Aug. 4, 2006
DVD Release Date Dec. 26, 2006
Running Time 101 minutes
MPAA Rating R - for strong violence/gore and language.
I had fairly high hopes for The Descent going into it but was left fairly disappointed by its paper thin characters and silly monster design. British horror movies, such as the excellent 28 Days Later, have had a tendency to bring a new spin to tired horror movie conceits. The Descent tries to bring something new to the monster in tight quarters set up but in the end is delivers cheap scares and characters that didn't make me care about them. The main two characters are just about the only ones given any real back story and then it's only about a five minute section at the beginning of the film. The rest of the characters are easily identifiable as cannon fodder fairly early on and add very little to the film. The movie does succeed in creating a fairly claustrophobic feel and I did enjoy its rich use of various primary colors throughout. That being said the "monsters" are revealed way too early and look like Gollum's angry cousins. Needless to say they don't look very frightening and it doesn't help that the filmmakers use a lot of tired horror staples for cheap scares. In the end The Descent isn't really worth the time.
A SCANNER DARKLY
In the near future, America has lost the war on drugs. Undercover Orange County cop Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is assigned to spy on several of his addict buddies using his unique identity-masking skills. But when he ingests too much of the drug Substance D, his personality splits in two, compromising his investigation and his relationship with his friends.
Cast Winona Ryder, Robert Downey, Woody Harrelson, Keanu Reeves, Rory Cochrane (more)
Director(s) Richard Linklater
Writer(s) Richard Linklater
Status On DVD
Release Date July 7, 2006 — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston; July 14, 2006 — limited; July 28, 2006 — wide
DVD Release Date Dec. 19, 2006
Running Time 100 minutes
MPAA Rating R - for drug and sexual content, language and a brief violent image.
A Scanner Darkly is a heady interesting film with an equally interesting visual style. The film animated style is perfect for its drug themed subject matter. At times the animation can be a little distracting as things are always moving on a subject, it takes a bit of getting used to but in the end it adds to overall effectiveness of the movie. The cast is perfect. Keanu Reeves, Robert Downy Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder are in there element in this paranoid drug nightmare. The script offers some great exchanges between the characters. Overall this film is worth watching as an effective art house disposition and paranoia and drug use.