starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere
January 13, 2003
I worried a lot about Chicago as a movie. It's a fun play, and the music is great, but the book is shallow, at best, and none of the characters have enough depth to translate to the big screen. It was really an all-singing, all-dancing Bob Fosse blowout, criticized at the time for not even having enough story to be a really good musical (and that is saying something). Add to that the (to me) unpleasant prospect of Rene Zellweger, in all her anorexic glory, as the lead, and I got a big case of the "this is a bad idea" willies.
Turns out, Chicago is a damn fine movie -- one of my favorite of the year. In a shrewd move, the screenwriter placed all of the musical numbers as daydreams in the characters' heads, beefed up the book a great deal, and tacked on an extended ending, with an additional number (during which Richard Gere does an amazing tap dance). The end result is an incredibly engaging, well-crafted, virtually seamless movie musical. The only really loose screw is in Queen Latifah as Matron "Mama" Morton. She's a pioneer in the hip-hop industry, a great singer, and probably a good actress, in the right role, but she just wasn't up to the dominant, controlling, and often super-sexually aggressive presence the role calls for.
While I won't vote for Chicago for Best Picture, it's only because a handful of smaller films (and the Two Towers) really blew me away this holiday season. I would urge you, whatever you think of the idea of movie musicals, to go out and see this one. I really think you'll love it.
About a Boy
starring: Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Nicholas Hoult
January 13, 2003
When my buddy Rick raved on and on about About a Boy after seeing it during its initial theatrical run, I made incessant fun of him. Hell, we all did. He grandly claimed that, at the time, it was the best movie of the year. We called him a girl, and even painted elaborate tales of Rick camping out overnight in front of the Galleria Tower Records in anticipation of the DVD release, painting his nails with all of his girlfriends and having pillow-fights. It was great fun, especially when he cried a little that one time. Fuckin' baby.
So, when Shan and I went to see a screening of it recently, I kept the event on the low-low. I mean, I didn't want to be victimized by revenge razzing. I expected to see the film, briefly agree with Shan that it was a mediocre chick flick and not worthy of further award thought, and never speak of it again.
Thing is, it turns out that About a Boy is a really, really good movie.
The previews got this movie all wrong (as happens often with good movies, I find). It's not a clever romantic comedy. Rather, it's a sometimes sad, ultimately uplifting story about a boy (Nicholas Hoult) trying to deal with his mother's (Toni Collette) extreme bipolar disorder by attaching himself to an unlikely father figure (Hugh Grant). In the process, they help each other cope with loneliness, and Grant's character learns a bit about being a responsible adult.
Even in my description it sounds a little hokey, but I assure you, it is not. This is a clean, tight, understated script, directed with a steady hand, and acted by a group of extremely talented actors. Hout, as the troubled young boy, is really wonderful. Grant's singular talent at playing the somehow truly likeable narcissist is put to great use. Collette is brilliant (as always) as the mentally unstable mother, and the rest of the supporting cast is uniformly strong.
Ultimately, I'd describe this movie as a chick flick for guys. It is sweet, sad, and often deeply moving, without being uncomfortably over-emotional. Apart from the crazy mother, none of the main characters break down in tears, or have over-dramatic personal revelations. You believe the changes the characters undergo, the paths they take, and the often conservative way they communicate their feelings to each other.
I don't know. It's difficult to really describe why I like this thing so much. It just struck a chord somewhere deep within me. It's not the best picture of the year, but it's comfortably among my top 10 favorites -- I truly enjoyed it.
I'm going to have to find something else to tease Rick about. Fortunately, that shouldn't be too hard.