Favorite blog of the moment: Armond Dangerous, dedicated solely to "parsing the confounding film criticism of Mr. Armond White."
And here â€” our end of the year in blurbs:
"Rocky Balboa" (Opened December 20th, wide)
Not nearly as embarrassing as one might have secretly hoped â€” in fact, it’s functional and fairly entertaining. Then again, we could spend two hours just contemplating what’s going on with Mr. Stallone’s eyebrows these days.
"Curse of the Golden Flower" (Opened December 21st, limited)
"The most expensive Chinese film ever made" is going to become a meaningless epithet if there’s a new one every year. "Curse of the Golden Flower," which reunites director Zhang Yimou and former lover/muse Gong Li, is a profound demonstration of the astonishing amount of extras and brocade one can purchase for $45 million dollars. Those in search of nouveau wuxia are going to be disappointed â€” the film is a gothic royal family drama set in the Tang dynasty, and while there is an epic and bloody battle sequence, most of the film’s jousting is done with dialogue. Gong plays a sort of stylized variation of her character in 1990’s "Ju Dou"; she’s once again trembling with repressed rage, trapped in a loveless marriage with a powerful, cruel husband (Chow Yun-fat as Emperor Ping) and engaging in a pseudo-incestuous affair. The machinations veer into camp and the film as a whole seems vaguely inexplicable, existing mainly a depiction of aristocratic excesses that make "Marie Antoinette" look provincial â€” observe how many servants it takes merely to convey to the empress her hourly medicine. Still, Gong looks beautiful if far from serene, and seems perfectly capable of destroying whole kingdoms with an impervious tilt of her gold-bedecked head.
"The Good Shepherd" (Opens December 22nd, wide)
Matt Damon continues in his career niche as the psycho schoolboy, this go-round playing Edward Wilson, a character based on James Jesus Angleton, chief of counter-intelligence in the early days of the CIA. The film, which represents Robert De Niro‘s second turn behind the camera, bounces around between the Bay of Pigs debacle and Edward’s Yale years and eventual recruitment, aiming for dark truths about the terrible personal and moral sacrifices that are made in the name of patriotism and loyalty but arriving at a portrait of the agency’s intrigues as nothing more than an all-consuming international pissing contest between unhappy well-educated men. Which may be its point, too. Motivations for many of the overabundance of characters remain a mystery; the big reveal, on the other hand, you’ll see coming for over half of the two hour and 40 minute runtime, during which you can also ponder why anyone would think they could believably cast Angelina Jolie as a fragile, needy housewife.
"Children of Men" (Opens December 25th, wide)
We didn’t have any expectations going into Alfonso CuarÃ³n‘s "Children of Men" â€” it premiered at Venice, it opened all over Europe and…nothing. None of the chatter than precedes every film worth its while and plenty of others that aren’t. It’s a mystery, because "Children of Men" is one of the best films of the year and certainly the most believable dystopia ever envisioned in cinema. The film’s barely stable near-future London is grimy and alive and just graspably on the horizon; Clive Owen is, as always, excellent as a noir hero waiting out the apocalypse. But what’s really stunning are two unbelievable long-take sequences that left us completely gobsmacked â€” in what most would say has been a grim year at the multiplexes, it’s enough to make you excited about movies again.
"Perfume" (Opens December 27th, limited)
Stanley Kubrick reportedly called Patrick SÃ¼skind‘s novel unfilmable. (Funny enough, director Tom Tykwer cites another Kubrick quote in his interview with Aaron Hillis on the IFC News
site, saying that "Kubrick said that if it can be thought of, it can be
filmed.") "Perfume" made us wonder if that was less, as most assume,
because of the novel’s famous, impossible-to-translate-to-screen
olfactory descriptions, and more because when put on screen, the story
just seems so damn silly. It’s more than worth seeing for the visuals, which could knock you into a stupor; no feature has ever been so elaborately art-directed, from large-scale envisionings like a teeming 18th century Paris to small details like a character’s extravagantly awful teeth. "Perfume" is extremely loyal to its source text; to a fault, really â€” SÃ¼skind’s dark fairytale prose is more evocative than Tykwer’s flashy, empty storytelling, and it’s never good when, in the midst of the grandiose finale, you find your mind wandering back to the author’s phrasings. Slick as all hell, and heartless, too.
And we’re out. Happy holidays, all, we’ll see you in the new year.