Wow, what a month. October delivered some of the best films of 2006 thus far. It was the kind of month that makes me glad to be a lover of film. There were good movies, bad movies, movies that land in between, a variety of genres, all offering a little bit for everybody.
The month started off with the best film of the month, and possibly the year, in Martin Scorsese's The Departed. The film brings together the talents of Matt Damon, Leonardo Dicaprio and Jack Nicholson, among others, in a story of cops and robbers playing an intricate game of cat and mouse. It sounds simple enough, but there is much more to it. Joining it in the month's opening frame were the Dane Cook/Jessica Simpson vehicle Employee of the Month, and the early days of Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. The former fails to capture Cook's edginess, but it does prove to be a pretty good showcase for Dax Shepard, who I am enjoying more and more. The latter film offers up some good blood and very little substance.
The second weekend did not reach the heights of the first, but still offered up the political comedy Man of the Year with Robin Williams. It was a film that said a lot of things that many of wished would be said. It is joined by the sub-par horror sequel The Grudge 2 and the B grade actioner The Marine, featuring WWE superstar John Cena.
Moving onward and upward, the third weekend saw the strongest collection of films. Topping the weekend was the Christopher Nolan thriller, The Prestige. It pits Wolverine against Batman in a battle, both professional and personal, waging a war that will leave you thinking long after the final credits roll. We also got the latest Clint Eastwood film in the excellent Flags of our Fathers, the first of two Iwo Jima set films; the second will focus on the other side of the battle. Sofia Coppola's latest also debuted; Marie Antoinette proved to be a fascinating film of tone while not being a mere biopic. It is a brave film that is not entirely successful, yet quite compelling. Lastly there is the new take on Flicka, which I did not see.
The last weekend brought the lastest entry in the torture series Saw, just in time for Halloween. It performed well enough that a fourth was greenlit before the second weekend arrived. Joining it were the excellent biopic Catch a Fire, putting a face on the struggle against apartheid, and the controversial Death of a President, which examines the assassination of President Bush.
Overall, the month was filled with compelling films for a variety of tastes. The next two months will hopefully be as satisfying as we move through the "For Your Consideration" phase of Oscar season.
Best of the Month: The Departed
Worst of the Month: The Grudge 2
- The Departed. Martin Scorsese struck gold with his take on the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. A movie stocked with star power that delivers on all levels. This is a movie that is great cinema and great fun at the same time. Scorsese shows just why he has earned his reputation. ****
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It was a bloodbath in more ways than one. This is a film that relishes its bloodletting, and there is plenty to be had. The problem is that since this is a beginning, there is no way to have a truly satisfying conclusion, but it still is fun to watch the blood. It's too bad the story doesn't deliver. **.5
- Employee of the Month. Looking to ride the wave of Dane Cook's current popularity, paired with another big screen appearance from Jessica Simpson. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for cash, right? Well, the end result has a few laughs, but is terribly mediocre. There is nothing terribly original, and with the cast they have, they could have made something much funnier. **
- The Grudge 2. The effort is made to take the haunting global, but it is bland and not well planned. The story threads just meander around with no focus, and they don't come together until the final moments of the movie, and by then it is just to late. **
- The Marine. The second outing for WWE films is lesser than the first, See No Evil, but still delivers a fun B grade action flick on the big screen. This one stars WWE star John Cena as an ex-Marine on a quest to get his wife back. Robert Patrick lifts the proceedings a bit by his presence as the bad guy. **.5
- The Prestige. Christopher Nolan has done it again. This is an intricately plotted thriller populated with complex characters telling a story that will stay with you long after it has finished. The story offers up all manner of moral implications and is just fantastic entertainment. ****
- The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D. A holiday masterpiece reformatted for a new generation. This was the first film to be reformatted to 3D and delivered to the big screen. The process worked beautifully. This is a magical film with great music and colorful characters. Whatever format you have, see this movie. ****
- Flags of Our Fathers. Clint Eastwood's look into Iwo Jima and the effect that a single photograph can have on people, for better or worse. This is a movie that is sentimental yet pulls no punches. This is a great film; I cannot wait to see Eastwood's companion piece which examines the battle from the Japanese perspective. ****
- Man of the Year. Robin Williams as a Jon Stewart-type comedic news analyst who runs for President, and wins. The movie is funny and timely in its look at the political campaign process and with problems in the election process. Nothing like politically topical comedy. ***
- The Queen. It may be a little dry, but the subject matter invites it. This was a story that looks at the Royal Family as the nation looks to them for a reaction following the death of Princess Diana. It is a glimpse into a world where everything changes, a modernization of a nation that still has many old ways. ***
- Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. James Bond for kids. That is the simplest way of describing this movie. It is a fun, if insubstantial, film about a kid who inadvertently follows int he footsteps of his spy uncle. **.5
- Marie Antoinette. Definitely not a film to watch for historical accuracy, but it is a fascinating tone poem look into the life of the infamous Queen. Sofia Coppola has crafted a film that is brave — it plays the line between misunderstood genius and self-indulgent pretentiousness. ***
- Running with Scissors. There is something that is strangely alluring about this movie, but I don't believe any of it. There is something that feels quite disingenuous about it. Annette Bening gives a brave performance, but most of the cast just feels flat, in particular the lead actor. **.5
- Saw III. Definitely a step up from the second entry, this has a satisfying story that has Jigsaw giving the most important of his tests. It balances gore and exposition in a manner that actually works. It still isn't quite a horror film to me, but it does deliver the bloody goods. ***
- Catch a Fire. This was a moving and powerful film that puts a face on the battle against apartheid. It is a true story of man wrongly accused of a crime who decides to give the accusation meaning by standing up and doing the right thing. ***.5
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