Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New year, new movie reviews

Happy New Year!!!!!

It's that time of the year where I frantically try to watch a bunch of movies before the Oscars. Although, since the writer's strike is still on, it's not clear if there will be a televised ceremony this year.

Here are a few things I caught recently. I'm hoping to see Atonement and Juno soon, also.

The Golden Compass
I have to admit that I have never read the series of books upon which this movie is based. I have listened to Mike and my sister talk about them, so I know some of the general plot. With that disclaimer, I thought this movie was good but not great. They clearly threw a lot of money into the project. The visual designs were excellent. But, it seemed as if they weren't sure what parts of the book they wanted to focus on, which left the plot really muddled. Although, the armored polar bear fight was awesome.

Charlie Wilson's War
This film was written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Mike Nichols, and stars Tom Hanks (as Charlie Wilson). The result is slick and professional. That is both a strength and a weakness. For being a movie about the end of the Cold War and continuing tension in the Middle East (particularly Afghanistan), it has a surprisingly light and detached feel. You almost feel as if the entire thing was made up. One of the best sequences, where Congressman Wilson is holding a meeting with a CIA officer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) while simultaneously writing a memo with his staff, is zany and brilliantly executed. But it's really staged and fake given the gravity of the base material. This mood was probably a conscious choice, but it did come off as a bit weird to me. We, as an audience in 2007, know that the story of Afghanistan does not yet have a happy ending.

I saw this on DVD. I was a bit afraid to watch it, because I am not a fan of gore. I feared the movie was really going to dwell on the Zodiac murders. However, that is not the case (though there is one particularly graphic scene). Instead, the movie focuses on the men investigating these killings, played admirably well by Jake Gyllanhall, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Edwards (who is, of course, one of my faves from his time on ER). Roger Ebert compares this movie to All the President's Men, and I agree with him (though Zodiac is not as good as AtPM). My one qualm is that the shift from when the investigation is handled by the police (Ruffalo and Edwards) to when it is handled by one journalist (Gyllanhall) creates a marked break in the film. It's almost as if they are two separate movies. My guess is this happened because the movie is trying to follow the way the investigation evolved in real life.

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