Friday, January 05, 2007

My first films of 2007--Dreamgirls and Children of Men

by Jackrabbit Slim
Dreamgirls is, if I had to choose one adjective, obvious. Toward the end of the film there's a scene where the record company depicted in the film, Rainbow Records (a stand-in for Motown) has a TV special celebrating their tenth anniversary. The production design gets it just right, capturing the cheesiness of 70's TV variety shows. Unfortunately, that's kind of the tone of the whole film. No matter how much glitter and pizzazz this film tries to create, I was left mostly bored and uninterested.

The key problem is the script. As with most musicals, the plot is thin and the characters two-dimensional. Jamie Foxx is the Barry Gordy figure, who discovers three girls at an amateur night in Detroit and turns them into stars, betraying two of them on the way up. Foxx does everything but twirl his mustache, a standard cardboard heel. Of the three girls, only Anika Noni Rose is an actual actress and comes off well. Beyonce Knowles, to me, is a competent singer and actress, but lacks star quality, and I am mystified by her popularity. She plays the Diana Ross figure, and the script lets her off easy, apologizing as she makes her way to the top over the back of her former friend, played by Jennifer Hudson.

As for Hudson, the presumptive Oscar-winner, well, again I'm mystified. She has a marvelous singing voice, but it's in the style of many of the American Idol contestants--a constant belting. There's not much phrasing or shading to it. And her acting is again, just competent. If this was community theater it would be great, but this is the big stage. The script, though, doesn't help. She's supposed to be a proud woman, but comes off as merely petulant. Her show-stopping number, I Am Telling You I'm Not Going, is indeed a thrilling moment, but Armond White is right--if you listen to the lyrics, you realize it's a stalker's anthem.

The Children of Men should be the film getting Oscar buzz. It's a classic of dystopian literature, and the production designers deserve a great deal of credit for filling every nook and cranny of this film with remarkable detail, evoking a future of harrowing despair. It's 2029, and for over eighteen years there have been no births. No one knows why, but mankind realizes that in sixty or seventy years there will be no people left, and a collective depression has settled over Earth. A glimmer of hope surfaces, and a former radical, Clive Owen, finds himself protecting that hope.

The plot is rather simple, a standard getting from point A to point B with various obstacles in-between, but it is what this plot is decorated with that makes the film so thrilling, from the photography to the set design to the sound. This is a very loud film at times, but it is very appropriate, because I'm sure real combat situations are even louder. Owen gives a very solid performance, and the script is smart. My viewing companion mentioned that she appreciated that no one really does anything stupid in this film, which is how lesser films further their plots.

Dreamgirls does not deserve a boat-load of Oscar nominations, Children of Men does.


Blogger Brian said...

I liked Children of Men also, and I think your viewing companion hit the nail on the head as far as no one doing anything stupid.

There's been a lot of talk about the camera work, especially the long takes. I expected them to stick out when watching the movie, but they really don't. They're very bold from a filmmaking standpoint but they also fit organically with the rest of the movie. Because of this, I'd say that the filmmaking is even more amazing than I would have thought.

Also thought it was interesting from a political standpoint. Obviously, the filmmakers have a great fear of right-wing excesses. But I also thought that the film did a good job of getting into the inhumanity of a certain kind of left-wing revolutionary zeal.

1/05/2007 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Finally saw Dreamgirls this afternoon, and while I agree with you for the most part, I do have a quibble. You say that "the key problem is the script", but I thought that the key problem was the music. It's deathly dull, and worse, not in any way evocative of the Motown era.

This is bizarre to me - a musical about soul singers that doesn't have any actual soul music in it. The movie is just one generic showtune after another.

1/07/2007 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Brian, you are right. A musical with a bad script can be compensated for with good music, (i.e., Chicago) but Dreamgirls has lousy music. My question is, how can a musical about Motown have music that sounds nothing like Motown?

1/08/2007 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Saw Children of Men and didn't like it--probably too over-hyped for me. My main problem was that I didn't care what happened to anyone in the film, in the action scenes I often felt like I was watching someone else play a video game, some plot points were way too prominently telegraphed, and I spent too much time keeping a mental list of stupid things people did in the film.... For dystopian British futures I got far more enjoyment out of V for Vendetta and 28 Days Later.

Interesting: the last film I saw at the theater where I saw Children of Men was Inside Man--with Clive Owen and Chiwetel Ejiofor....

1/11/2007 11:11:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Saw Dreamgirls last night and found it enjoyable as far as musicals go.

But the "little soul, much Broadway"-thing got to me as well. The cast might have been all black, but practically everyone working behind the camera is white. Directing, lyrics, production, choreography, everything. Way to go for black power.

But it's very well-made otherwise. The end-titles were a laugh, though. It's like an Oscar-commercial.

1/13/2007 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

I hated the moment when Foxx recognizes he has a daughter. It was a laughably amateurish moment.

The original Dreamgirls was written by gay white men, who, at least in the U.S., seem to have a thing about identifying with proud black women.

1/16/2007 03:21:00 PM  

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