Sunday, January 07, 2007

For Your Consideration and Children of Men

I saw two movies this weekend, For Your Consideration, the new Christopher Guest movie about a small film that starts to generate Oscar buzz, and Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi Children of Men.

I'm going to put off making any final judgments on For Your Consideration until I've seen it again. I was disappointed with it, but I was also disappointed the first time I saw A Mighty Wind and I completely love that movie now. These movies tend to get better with repeated viewings. For Your Consideration was the weakest of the Christopher Guest films so far, but since this is one my favourite groups of movies ever, that doesn't mean it was bad by any stretch. I laughed a lot. The problem is mostly that it was 2/3rds of a really good movie, it just seemed like the last 1/3rd wasn't there at all. The movie feels like it ends before the third act even begins.

I think a big factor is that the movie dropped a lot of the mockumentary conventions of the previous films, and they didn't seem to quite know how to get the jokes in without letting the characters talk to the camera. They managed to get a little of that by replacing the direct character interviews with scenes of the characters being interviewed by the press, but it wasn't nearly as strong.

Catherine O' Hara was great, as was John Michael Higgins, who was the only character who really felt like a character from a Christopher Guest movie. Well, the only one besides Fred Willard, because he's playing the exact same guy he always plays, and is still hilarious doing it. One of the funniest scenes in the movie is the first time you see Fred Willard and Jane Lynch. They got a huge laugh by just standing there. A good chunk of the cast is underutilized, though. Comic geniuses like Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Bob Balaban, Eugene Levy, Michael Hitchcock, and Ricky Gervais were given very little to work with and none had a very memorable part in the movie. Ricky Gervais had a few funny lines, but he was actually much funnier in A Night At The Museum, which is just sad.

Children of Men was really incredible. I went into it knowing very little besides the premise (it's the year 2020-something and all the women in the world have been infertile for the last 18 years, the world's gone to shit and Clive Owen is badass), and came out seriously impressed. It presented a believable vision of a bleak, dystopian Britain in which anarchy reigns, all immigrants are illegal and kept in camps, and everyone is basically waiting for humanity to die off in what might be the most depressingly anticlimactic apocalypse possible. But they're still better off than the rest of the world, most of which has been obliterated by war and terrorism. Clive Owen plays a disillusioned and all around glum government bureaucrat who gets tangled up with a group of freedom fighters and ends up having to protect what may be humanity's last hope.

Above all, this is a very smart sci-fi action film. It's rare that sci-fi is good enough to get away with taking itself seriously, but this one certainly pulls it off. The performances are great all around, and the writing is smart and clever. Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki did an amazing job shooting this movie. Cuaron didn't cut the camera unless absolutely necessary, and sometimes didn't even cut it when it was absolutely necessary. Each of the big action scenes is filmed in one continuous take, some of them lasting up to 9 or 10 minutes, which gives them one hell of an intensity. It's like watching a 10 minute guitar solo where the guitarist never even slows down to take a breath. The action never relies on spectacle to get you pumped, it builds the tension the good old fashioned way. There's a car chase that's more heart pounding than any car chase I've seen this year, and neither car even gets out of neutral.

This movie gets two big thumbs up from me. I definitely recommend seeing it.

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