Conspiracy, corruption, catastrophe — politics and world events sure can be exciting. Even the mainstream news is taking an interest. All the same, it’s lagged well behind the movie industry, which last year addressed drug cartels (The Constant Gardener), the arms industry (Lord of War), the First Amendment (Good Night, and Good Luck), the oil corporations (Syriana), and the war on terror (Munich). Admirable but perhaps not prudent. Hollywood’s focus on real-life problems might explain one of the biggest box-office dips in ages. Daunted by this downturn, will filmmakers turn away from relevant subjects and return to tried and true sequels, remakes, and out-and-out fluff? Or will they persist in their brave path, at least until the pre-Oscar limbo is over?
The worst-case scenario — politically speaking — is the Third Reich. Dennis Gansel’s Napola — Elite Für Den Führer | Before the Fall (January 6; all dates, even for next week, are subject to change) provides a reminder of those dark days with this tale of a young German teenager who must choose between advancement in the party and loyalty to his pacifist best friend. In short, it’s a buddy movie. For a less pointed version of the same scenario, try The Matador (January 6), in which Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear play an assassin and a businessman who meet in a Mexico City bar and hit it off. Richard Shepard (Mexico City) directs. Woody Allen’s Hitchcockian Match Point (January 6), a thriller about marriage and its discontents in tony London, has been acclaimed as his return to form; Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Myers star. If Woody proves too edgy, you can always kick back and enjoy the inanity of Grandma’s Boy (January 6), as a 35-year-old nerd moves in with his grandmother and her two elderly roommates. It’s the first feature for Nicholas Goossen. No doubt some acerbic commentary about the plight of the elderly lurks in the subtext.
Race relations get an airing in Glory Road (January 13), the true story of the Texas Western coach who in 1966 took an all-black starting line-up into the NCAA basketball final against all-white Kentucky. Josh Lucas stars; it’s the feature debut for director James Gartner. Terrence Malick takes on another true story of interracial conflict and resolution in The New World (January 13), a lush and long-winded version of the familiar story of Pocahontas, John Smith, and the Jamestown colony. Colin Farrell, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, and Christopher Plummer star.
Those concerned about the right to privacy might be interested in Caché/Hidden (January 13), a thriller from Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher) about a TV personality who receives covert videotapes of himself and his family. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche star. Maybe he’s got something to hide, like the title lovers of Tristan & Isolde (January 13). Kevin Reynolds, who’s already botched Robin Hood the Prince of Thieves, renders this classic mediæval romance starring James Franco and Sophia Myles. Maybe the guy in Caché doesn’t care who knows about his bad behavior, like John Wilmot, the 17th-century poet and debauchee played by Johnny Depp in Laurence Dunmore’s directorial debut, The Libertine (January 13). Or perhaps he’s merely blind, like the dissolute diplomat played by Ralph Fiennes in The White Countess (January 13) who refuses to see the political turmoil around him as he perseveres in building the title nightclub. Also starring Natasha Richardson, and with a script by Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day), this is the last collaboration of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant before the latter’s death.
In Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (January 20), Albert Brooks is appointed to head a State Department initiative to find out what makes the Islamic world smile. Not only is this the best title of the year, but the premise could prove the turning point in the war on terror. Countering Brooks’s efforts are the considerable forces of the military/industrial complex, and they’re analyzed in Why We Fight (January 27), a powerful documentary from Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger). Bubble (January 27) is Steven Soderbergh’s latest, a hardscrabble noir made in his indie mode about a murder mystery in a small town.
After Innocence (February 3), Jessica Sanders’s documentary about innocent people unjustly imprisoned and released after being cleared by DNA evidence, should rattle some cages. The police work in those cases could be on a par with that of Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther (February 10), a prequel to the 1963 comedy of the same name. Steve Martin takes the Peter Sellers role as the hapless detective; Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen) directs.
The panthers evoked are more black than pink in Lars von Trier’s Manderlay (February 17). The sequel to his controversial Dogville offers the same minimalist style as it centers on slavery in the 1930s South; Bryce Dallas Howard and Isaach de Bankolé star. Freedomland (February 17) takes a more conventional approach to the subject of racial tension as Joe Roth (Christmas with the Kranks) adapts the James Price novel about a white woman who accuses a black man of kidnapping her daughter. Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore star. And despite its lurid sci-fi trappings, couldn’t Ultraviolet (February 24) be considered an allegory of racial or class conflict? In it a genetic disease has created a subspecies of vampires at war with the "normals." Milla Jovovich stars; Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) directs.
As spring returns, so does the repressed dark part of ourselves and our society that no superego can contain. It makes itself known in 16 Blocks (March 3), where Bruce Willis plays a cop who must escort a jive-ass witness the title distance to a courthouse while protecting him from assassins. Mos Def also stars; Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) directs. It rolls over and plays dead in The Shaggy Dog (March 10), a remake of the 1959 Disney comedy about a guy who changes, werewolf style, into the title canine. Tim Allen stars; Brian Robbins (The Perfect Score) directs. But it’s back again in V for Vendetta (March 17), first-time director James McTeigue’s adaptation of the David Lloyd & Alan Moore graphic novel about a futuristic terrorist who battles tyranny. Scripted by the Wachowski brothers, it stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving.
It’s the Inside Man (March 24) whom we all fear and are drawn to — Spike Lee’s thriller is about a detective (Denzel Washington) and a master thief (Clive Owen) who face off when a bank heist deteriorates into a hostage situation. You might try to analyze this heart of darkness, as does Scotland Yard when it puts David Morrissey’s shrink on the case in Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction (March 31), which Michael Caton-Jones (Scandal) directs. But we all know that Sharon Stone’s seductress won’t remain alone on the couch for long. That’s because the evil we condemn is within ourselves. Case in point: A Scanner Darkly (March 31), Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel about a futuristic drug agent who’s the target of his own investigation, with Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. Linklater uses the same animation process (interpolated rotoscoping) as he did in Waking Life. The film might not change many minds about the war on drugs, but it will be a great movie to watch while you’re high.
Issue Date: December 30, 2005 - January 5, 2006
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