Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Movie Minutes - The First in a Series

Caught a couple of the season's major movies over the last few weeks, and since I've promised to share my moviegoing experiences with you here in my Blogosphere, grab some popcorn and settle in. I'll try to be brief.


A few weeks back, I attended a screening on the Warner Bros. lot of "Letters From Iwo Jima," Clint Eastwood's companion piece to his "Flags of Our Fathers," told from the point of view of the Japanese soldiers who were ordered to defend the island, almost to the last man. The screening was introduced to us by Steven Spielberg himself, standing in for Clint, who was on the road with his family. Spielberg told us that Clint had asked him to introduce the film as Clint himself would. "In other words," Clint told Steven, "Be brief." Steven was. But, thankfully, the film itself was not. "Letters" is an extraordinary film, far superior to "Flags" yet shot in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the budget. Once again, Eastwood proves himself one of our best directors, and Ken Watanabe, who played Ra's al Ghul in "Batman Begins" and the title role in "The Last Samurai", gives a performance easily worthy of Oscar consideration. It's compelling, frightening, and extraordinarily touching. The film is primarily in Japanese with English subtitles and goes into wide release in the next few weeks. Take the time to see it. You won't be disappointed.


On Christmas day, my dear wife and I and a couple of close friends took in "Happy Feet" at the local megaplex. I liked it a great deal, but not quite as much as I hoped to. The CG animation is exceptional. The voicework is marvelous. But it's not exactly the film the trailers lead to you expect. It takes an odd turn about midway through that makes it more -- and yet somehow less -- than the movie you thought you'd be dancing to. Catch a matinee, but catch it.


Last Thursday, my wife and I and my buddy Bob Skir caught a showing of "Rocky Balboa" at the nearby Pacific Galleria. At some point during the last decade or so, Sylvester Stallone somehow became a parody of his former self. Maybe it was a series of bad choices in screen roles, maybe it was just that he was such an easy shot. I don't know and, frankly, I don't care. All I know is that the Sly Stallone I watched last week was a performer at the top of his form. Screenwriter Stallone provided Actor Stallone with a lot of rich material for Director Stallone to play with. It's a memorable performance, easily on a par with the original film, the one that Stallone also wrote and refused to sell to the studios unless he was hired to play the title role. You know, the movie that made Stallone a star. If I had to choose one word to describe "Rocky Balboa" it would be heart. This movie has more heart than all of this country's cardiac units combined. Sly sends Rocky off exactly as he should, with the audience on its feet, cheering. It's well worth your time.


Finally, last Saturday, I saw the capper of the bunch, one of the best films I've seen this or any other year. I saw "Dreamgirls" and I am almost unable to describe it. Screenwriter Bill Condon, who also wrote the Oscar-winning "Chicago," served as Director this time as well, and produced a blockbuster of a film. There isn't a performance in the bunch that isn't worthy of Oscar nomination, but I have to single out Eddie Murphy for Best Supporting Actor and the breathtaking Jennifer Hudson for Best Supporting Actress. In fact, when the film was over, I turned to my buddy Bob and asked, "So they're going to nominate four other actresses for Best Supporting Actress, why?" Watching Jennifer (a semi-finalist on American Idol) strut her stuff on screen was watching a star being born, like the feeling people must have had when they first saw Streisand in "Funny Girl". I can't wait to see what she does next. Run, do not walk, to see this movie. In fact, I may just go back and see again today myself.

Okay, that catches me up for the moment, though I'm going to a screening tonight of "Borat" at the Directors' Guild, where Sasha Baron Cohen will be doing a Q&A after the film. I'll let you know how that turns out.

In the meanwhile, as Roger Ebert and the late, lamented Gene Siskel used to say, the balcony is closed.

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