Over the Christmas holiday there was a slew of films released. Did I get to all of them? Almost. So excluding the very few I missed, I will tell you which ones are going to be worth your money.
I will start with what is my least favorite of the good films. “Gangs of New York” was right on the cusp for me. I could not decide whether this was one I would rate highly or not because this story, which traces the beginnings of our modern society on the streets of New York City, seemed to be more about visual spectacle rather than holding the audience’s interest. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a young Irishman coming back to New York to avenge his father’s death by killing his father’s murderer. He hunts down Bill the Butcher (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) and instead of killing him, for some reason, becomes friendly with him for most of the film. I know the line in “The Godfather” states you keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but this was ridiculous. They were acting as close as father and son.
The best parts of this film are Martin Scorsese as director, and Daniel Day-Lewis in a role that could bring him his first Oscar since “My Left Foot.” It is visually spectacular, using a set completely built up to represent New York in the 1860’s, which is probably going to be the last great set considering Computer Graphic Interface is so much cheaper. I am going to give this film a C because so many times it lost my interest and strayed from the objectives of its characters .
Next on this list is “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” This is an even better example of how Hollywood cinema can create visual brilliance. This is probably going to go down as the best-looking film in the history of movies. But again, like all the previous three-hour films I reviewed, this strays from purpose. It is not that I dislike epic-length movies – I loved “Braveheart” very much – but recently I figure directors and filmmakers want the film to be epic length so badly they will insert very arbitrary elements into the story. A good example would be that the book “The Two Towers” did not include the character Arwen (played by Liv Tyler) and the film does. Her part in this film was pointless and added nothing to the story. It would have been a better film had they cut out the twenty minutes they spent following her around. But this is still much better than “The Fellowship of the Ring” and one of the better epics I have seen since “Braveheart”…. this gets a B.
Steven Spielberg released the movie version of Frank Abignale Jr.’s autobiography, “Catch Me If You Can,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken. DiCaprio, as Frank Abignale Jr., runs away from home at the age of 16 and begins to make a living by forging checks and posing as men of different professions. DiCaprio has managed to embody the look of a 16-year old and the charm of one of the greatest scam artists our country has ever seen. Without a doubt, this was his best performance since “The Basketball Diaries” (maybe his only role worth mentioning since “The Basketball Diaries”).
Spielberg has made a fun and engrossing film that you will not even want to go to the bathroom during it because you may miss another little lie from Abignale. The 1960s-style costumes are Academy Award-worthy and Hanks and Walken provide a stellar supporting cast. Besides some questionable performances by the supporting cast and not going into as much detail of the scams as I would have liked, this film scores high marks from me … A-.
Another great film, great because it is the ideal example of brilliant writing, is “Adaptation.” Nicolas Cage plays twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman as Charlie attempts to transform Susan Orlean’s novel “The Orchid Thief” into a screenplay. The real-life Charlie Kaufman (the screenwriter for “Adaptation”) writes himself into the screenplay and very quickly finds that he is no longer writing a screen version of “The Orchid Thief” but now writing a film about the extreme chaos that evolves from attempting to write any screenplay. The collaboration of Spike Jonze (director) and Kaufman has spawned the great frustration of being a writer and Cage embodied the stress in his best role to date.
It took me a while to finally really enjoy this film. It needed time to sink in and the more I think of it outside the theater, the closer I feel to the script. Because of slight vagueness in the splices between the lives of these characters, I did not give this a perfect grade. Jonze has been nominated in almost every award show this year as director and I am angry because although he did very well, he did not do nearly what Julie Taymor did with “Frida.” Regardless of my personal anger you can expect to see many nominations come Oscar time for this film … A-
What I feel is the best film I saw over the break is “Chicago.” This is honestly one of the most fun and exciting movies I have seen in almost a year. The music shook my body, the performances got my emotions involved and believe it or not, Richard Gere did a very good job as a song-and-dance man. Besides Rene Zellweger’s Oscar-caliber performance, the most notable aspect is Rob Marshall’s direction. He managed to make this what I feel was the “anti-musical” musical. People did not break out into song and dance in the middle of a courtroom scene, it cut to an actual stage performance of the story we were watching. It was done with the touch of a master filmmaker.
Being the only one in the cast (besides Queen Latifah) with musical background, Catherine Zeta-Jones should have out-shone everyone, but Zellweger stole the show with an irresistible charm and John C. Reilly (the most underrated actor in Hollywood) again turned out an incredible role as part of the supporting cast. My best grade of the Christmas season … A.