December 19, 2007

December Movie Roundup

Lots of screenings lately; here's a brief roundup. My Top Ten (and Bottom Ten) lists should be up on New Years' Day or so, along with the shameful events list.

- Sweeney Todd. It's hard to imagine a more perfect pairing of director and source material as this show with Tim Burton. Sondheim's score shines, Burton's staging works, especially in a staggering opening credit sequence, and Johnny Depp is right at home with both the acting and the singing in the title role (Helena Bonham Carter, not so much.) Also loved Sacha Baron Cohen, and Alan Rickman in smaller roles. Hard to believe there hasn't been a proper Hollywood adaptation of a Sondheim show since, well, ever. Grade: A.

- Charlie Wilson's War. Rare has a movie ever been up my alley more than this one: the true story of a hawkish liberal who defeated the communists in Afghanistan, warned about the aftermath, and (alas) wasn't listened to. It's pretty much the only "political" film of the year that actually has something to say that we're not already used to hearing, and it's also well-acted and well-filmed at every turn. And in several office scenes, Aaron Sorkin's script makes it feel like Tom Hanks is guest-starring on "The West Wing." One of the best of the year. Grade: A.

- Walk Hard. Honestly, I'm quite disappointed. Haven't we been told all year that Judd Apatow can do no wrong? There are some funny moments- especially at the beginning and the end- and the songs are uniformly excellent. But "Walk Hard" ultimately amounts to a slightly higher-brow version of "Scary Movie" and its sadly numerous series of sequels and spin-offs, with almost every joke either very obvious or very very obvious. In scene after scene, we're supposed to laugh just because it kinda sorta resembles a scene from "Walk the Line" or "Ray." John C. Reilly's performance owes considerably more influence to Will Ferrell than to any of the stars of the above movies, and the sequence with the Beatles is cringe-inducing, especially since Jack Black's impression of McCartney is sub-Jimmy Fallon level. But Reilly, in one scene in the '70s, looks so uncannily like Hacksaw Jim Duggan that it had to have been intentional.
A speech by Eddie Vedder towards the end is probably the funniest thing in the movie. But I call that the "Dodgeball/Lance Armstrong Rule"- if the best moment in a movie is a celebrity cameo, the movie can't really be all that good. Grade: C.

- Juno. I've already talked about this movie, but it's great, and everyone should see it ASAP. To compare it to "Little Miss Sunshine" is an insult to "Juno." Having seen it twice, I can safely call "Juno" the third-best movie ever set in Minnesota, after "Fargo" and "Purple Rain," and it's got the best final shot of any film since "Rushmore." Grade: A.

- The Great Debaters. Saw this one last night; it's essentially a sports movie in which the sport is collegiate debate. The true, very inspiring story about a debate team at an all-black college in Texas that debated Harvard in 1935, the movie works in just about every way, except that we know exactly what's coming at pretty much all times. If you've seen "Remember the Titans" or "Glory Road," they may as well just edited the script to make it about debate instead of football or basketball.
The performances by the kids are all great, especially 17-year-old Denzel Whitaker (who is related to neither Denzel Washington or Forest Whitaker, even though both are in the movie), and actress Jurnee Smollett. The performance by Denzel Washington, who also directed, is sort of bizarre- just a lot of yelling and speechifying, the total opposite of his "American Gangster" turn. Still, I recommend the movie, and not just because Oprah said to. Grade: B

Posted by Stephen Silver at December 19, 2007 11:03 AM

I saw Juno last Friday and I give it an A-. It was good but I can't believe how much press this is getting as compared to Thank You for Smoking. And yes, I think Little Miss Sunshine, while a different film, is just as good as Juno.

Posted by: A at December 19, 2007 12:37 PM

Having heard a lot of people describing Juno as "this year's Little Miss Sunshine," I had pretty much decided to stay away from it. But if you're recommending it, I think I might have changed my mind.

Posted by: Emily at December 19, 2007 03:51 PM
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