Turning a literary favorite into a movie is always risky, but ""Charlotte's Web"" stays true to generations of readers with a perfect adaptation of E.B. White's classic children's novel. For those of you who have forgotten the book's details since you read it in elementary school, ""Charlotte's Web"" is the tale of a pig named Wilbur who will do anything to be saved from the sausage factory. With the help of a spider named Charlotte, he concocts a plan to save his life. The film's forte is its star-studded ensemble. Julia Roberts stars as Charlotte, and Oprah Winfrey and Robert Redford even give their voices to some of the story's notable farm animals. Fans of the book should definitely not miss this film""everything down to Fern's yellow dress is captured flawlessly.
""Children of Men""
""Children of Men"" has an astonishing premise: Two years from now every human on Earth becomes mysteriously unable to reproduce, and 20 years from now the world has descended into chaotic, anarchic hopelessness as a result. In stretching to make political statements about today's world, Alfonso CuarÃ³n's film makes a few illogical choices""why, for instance, would Britain's government become more nationalistic and immigrant-hating in this situation, when the entire human race will be gone in 50 years anyway?
But what the film sometimes lacks in political realism it makes up for with scenes of action and dystopian life so realistic as to be genuinely frightening. CuarÃ³n guides the plot in a surprisingly simple direction, and suffice it to say that some big questions the viewer will have are never answered, but ""Children of Men's"" austerity makes it an unusual film worth seeing.
""Curse of the Golden Flower""
Yimou Zhang's ""Curse of the Golden Flower"" is hardly the masterpiece of action and politics that was his own ""Hero"" a few years ago, but when a film is this gorgeous there is little reason to complain. Taking place during the reign of the later Tang Dynasty in 10th century China, Zhang focuses on the dizzying web of love, incest and betrayal that characterized the royal family. The highlight performance is Gong Li as the empress, who plots a rebellion against her husband after he begins to poison her for sleeping with a son he has by another woman. Watching her try to make sense of her life and the world of political deceit about her as her family and empire crumbles is far more stirring than any of this film's martial arts action sequences, which are surprisingly uncreative when compared to what Zhang accomplished with ""House of Flying Daggers."" In spite of falling short of brilliance, ""Curse of the Golden Flower"" is a film as memorable as it is visually breathtaking.
The music is great, the singing is even better, but ""Dreamgirls"" is an awkward, ungainly adaptation. It leaves much to be desired, favoring BeyoncÃ© Knowles over the talent of both Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy, for what one can only assume to be a publicity stunt. BeyoncÃ© has a wonderful voice, and her acting isn't even that bad; however, this should have been a movie made to spotlight the true, unadulterated talent. Murphy dazzles in an unconventional, Oscar-worthy performance, and Hudson rivals Aretha Franklin in both lungs and spirit. One can only hope that BeyoncÃ© Knowles isn't granted all the credit simply for being beautiful.
This holiday season didn't give us any new editions to the ""Lord of the Rings,"" ""Star Wars"" or ""Harry Potter"" series, but it did offer a wholly laughable mishmash of all three in ""Eragon,"" a would-be fantasy epic that turned out to be just as awful as its trailers promised. Based on a popular novel by alleged wunderkind Christopher Paolini, the film looked and felt like it was put together by a group of pre-teens who got paid in ""Magic: The Gathering"" cards. We follow young Eragon (as portrayed by the thoroughly wimpy Edward Speleers), an apprentice boy who hoofs it across the countryside with his gruff yet noble mentor (an embarrassed-looking Jeremy Irons) and his telepathic dragon Saphira (whose thoughts are voiced by Rachel Weisz) to rescue a girl and locate a mythical land or something like that. It's hard to say, because Paolini's lengthy story was apparently condensed so sloppily that this kid-friendly sci-fi rip-off is often harder to follow than your average David Lynch film. Even if you absolutely crave dragons, you'd always be better off with ""Dragonheart.""
""The Good Shepherd""
Rarely are film characters as restrained as Matt Damon's in ""The Good Shepherd."" Robert DeNiro's film runs 160 minutes, yet Damon does not raise his voice once until well after the two-hour mark has passed. As a detached charter CIA spy, Damon gives a serious, thoughtful performance. He is not merely a man who doesn't cry. He's someone who won't permit himself to cry and struggles against tears in real time. Damon's work is the best thing about ""The Good Shepherd."" Yet it is a much better movie than it might seem. Though it is over-long and slightly tedious, its only sin is its overzealousness (the ""Heaven's Gate"" syndrome). Many may still leave the theater somewhat worn out. But if DeNiro inspires them to go watch ""The Third Man"" and ""The Maltese Falcon""""if he understands the nuances of noir (and he does)""he'll have done his job.
RenÃ©e Zellweger charms audiences as Beatrix Potter, author of popular children's books including ""The Tale of Peter Rabbit."" The movie chronicles the struggles and successes in Potter's life, both professionally and personally. Potter fights the stereotype of women at the time by becoming a wealthy and successful writer and overcomes her loneliness with the help of newfound friends Millie Warne (Emily Watson) and publisher Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor). The development of the relationship between Potter and Norman as well as the hilarity of Miss Wiggin (Matyelok Gibbs) following them everywhere makes this movie much more compelling than expected and even makes Zellweger likeable. While the story is fairly predictable, the outstanding cast and endearing characters make the movie well worth seeing.
""Night at the Museum""
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is hired as the night guard at the Museum of Natural History where, unbeknownst to him, a golden tablet makes all of the exhibits come to life after dark. Add a few respectable special effects like a playful Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, stretch it out for two hours, and you've got ""Night at the Museum.""
The film resurrects some of the great geniuses of cinematic lore like Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney (a real audience pleaser with his random quips) and pairs them with modern comedic veterans like Stiller and Robin Williams. However, the potential from this mix is lost on thin character personalities and an over-emphasis on visual sensationalism over plot development.
Basically a remake of ""Jumanji"" in a museum setting, it is not particularly terrible and can at least be tolerated by the whole family. And hey, kids might just get a little excited about history.
""The Painted Veil""
Edward Norton and Naomi Watts star in this 1920s romance that won a Golden Globe for Best Score. During the rise of nationalism in China, a small town outside Shanghai is hit with a cholera epidemic. Norton plays an English bacteriologist sent to help the epidemic, and along with him is Watts, his defiant wife who he blackmails into going with him after discovering her having an affair.
Beautifully filmed with superb acting by Watts, who evokes both strength and vulnerability, this movie artfully takes on the opposite of most love-at-first-sight plots, and instead builds on an existing relationship with a result that is mature and romantic.
""The Pursuit of Happyness""
Pandora's box unleashed all the world's evils upon mankind but also cursed him with hope. ""The Pursuit of Happyness"" is an exploration of hope as a blessing and curse. The film is structured and falls of the hopes of salesman turned broker Chris Gardner. Chris' tribulations have an almost comic quality to them at times due to the clash between their small-scale and large effects, an irony present in scenes like the cab ride, where intense cuts between Chris' empty wallet and steeply rising cab fare add drama to an otherwise mundane situation. The performances between Will Smith and his real son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith are spectacular, keeping the character grounded in reality. This is what gives Will Smith's performance so much depth""the love Chris has for his son, the desire to better his son's situation, is what gives value to what would for others be a esoteric rise to material success.
Though fictional, the greatest movie characters of all times aren't confined by their stories; they become flesh-and-blood characters who inhabit a world of their own. Characters like this deserve a final act worthy of their odyssey.
""Rocky Balboa,"" the sixth and presumably final chapter of the ""Rocky"" story, maintains the heart of the better ""Rocky"" movies while largely sidestepping the lunacy that plagued many of the series' later entries. It also brings back many of the series' smaller characters, giving Balboa a living, breathing world of his own rather than simply encasing him in a story where characters are introduced as needed and then disappear forever.
The film finds Rocky, now aging and drifting since a major tragedy in his life, and seeking one last fight to put a punctuation mark on his career.
Though not quite the Oscar-winning original, ""Rocky Balboa"" is a film that rewards its loyal fans while giving one of film's greatest characters a fitting final act.
""We Are Marshall""
Following films like ""Coach Carter"" and ""Glory Road,"" ""We Are Marshall"" is the latest adaptation of an inspirational true story. The story in question is the 1970 plane crash that killed almost the entire football team and coaching staff of Marshall University, and the efforts of new coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) to resurrect the program.
The story is inspiring but the film doesn't interpret it enough, instead coming off as two hours of montage speckled with pep talks. Subplots involving the town's residents are left half-finished, and the supporting cast""even ""Deadwood's"" devilishly brilliant Ian McShane""is there to look sad and feel better. Only McConaughey gets real screen time, and his endless analogies leave him too smarmy to be an inspirational figure.
""We Are Marshall"" is like watching your football team win with only field goals: two hours of repetition with a few highs tossed in, and a payoff that leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction.