Just in time for the new year, here's my Everything Old Is New Again Ticket Stub:

* Casino Royale - Bond has more fun as a blond, apparently. I'm no big fan of the genre, but this updated, stripped down version really captured my interest, not least because of the strong resemblance of Daniel Craig to old-school, turtlenecked Steve McQueen, mrrrowwww. A lively opening chase sequence set the tone of brute physicality, rather than stale smarm and goofy gadgets. From there, it's a whirlwind tour of southeastern Europe alongside the vexing Vesper Lind, a brainy Bondette with a heart of stone. This contrasts nicely with the weird nude flogging scene, self-defibrillation scene, and Richard Branson cameo. Craig comes off as confident, unaffected, and driven -- more like a real James Bond than just the latest incarnation. Enough fisticuffs, cleavage, horsepower, and liquor to keep everyone happy, with some clever dialogue too. Points off for ludicrous product placement shots of Ford Mondeo, for pete's sake. (A-)

* Dreamgirls - Sisterhood is powerful, but so is the spotlight: that's the theme of this reincarnated 80's Broadway hit. You might expect a veiled retelling of Diana Ross & The Supremes' rocky road to stardom to be one long catfight, but the real star here is the spunky second banana played by Jennifer Hudson. Beyonce is so dazzlingly gorgeous we would forgive her anything, but her Dina is so sweet and compliant she fades into the background and bears little resemblance to the real-life diva Diana. Hudson's Effie is the fiery, voluptuous lead singer who gets bumped in favor of Dina's more conventionally appealing looks, and winds up scraping by as a single mom while the group rockets to stardom. Bulldozing over every friend and enemy in his path is Jamie Foxx, as producer/Rasputin Curtis Taylor, who winds up alone in his Lucite-encrusted Hollywood pad. The drama ends with an awakening for Dina, a comeback for Effie, and a puzzling lack of remorse for Cutis, but there's plenty of swooping power balladry and picture perfect costumes, wigs, makeup, and old fashioned dazzle. The music sounds weirdly dated rather than classic -- Dreamgirls is to Motown as Grease is to doo-wop, an homage from a later decade rather than the real thing. But it's an entertainment, and it was gratifying to see a completely earnest, mainstream, big budget movie populated entirely with black stars (except for the weird cameos by Jon Lithgow and John Krasinski). Eddie Murphy made me forget his entire "family comedy" career with one devastating scene as the self-destructing soul singer Jimmy Early, and who knew he (and Foxx, for that matter) could sing so well? But the major points and props (and probably the Supporting Actress Oscar) go to Hudson for belting out the classic "And I Am Telling You..." number so wrenchingly that people actually applauded in the theater at the end of the song! Not at the end of the film, though, it was a little too LifeTime movie for that. (B+)

No comments: