Bob Mondello Bob Mondello reviews movies and covers the arts for NPR and shares critiques and commentaries on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine All Things Considered.
'The Queen': Tragicomedy of Post-Diana Royals
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'Science of Sleep' Straddles a Dreaming Life
Enough of the news already! What's good to see at the movies? NPR's Bob Mondello has some reviews. I'm a big Maggie Smith fan, so that's where I might be headed. The Black Dahlia: Brian De Palma is the sort of director who can't seem to help coming at stories from all kinds of angles -- in this case, a few too many angles -- but it's still gorgeous visually. The plot's so convoluted -- an invented story about two cops and all sorts of conspiracies, threaded around a real-life, unsolved Hollywood murder case -- that when all the threads come together, they're just a tangle. But the tracking shots and the bravura location work (Bulgaria stands in for '40s L.A.) offer plenty to watch. K.D. Lang shows up in one of a pair of lesbian bars, singing Cole Porter and framed by some decidedly unusual chorus girls. Still, the acting is all over the map -- high camp, low vamp and a couple of really blank performances where the leads should be. Josh Hartnett squints boyishly and mumbles, Scarlett Johansson looks like a '40s sweater ad. They're bland and unreadable, so there's not much reason to care about them -- or what's happening...
DePalma's Disjointed 'Black Dahlia'
The American Film Institute has revealed its latest list: The top 25 movie musicals of all time. NPR's Bob Mondello sent along this musing about the ranking. Personal confession -- The Sound of Music can still make me cry. "There's a place for us… somewhere a place for us," unless that is, we have an ounce of camp. When the American Film Institute released its list of cinema's greatest musicals this week, who'd have guessed they'd skip the sort of musical that really gets musicals -- the satires, the goofs, the shows that indicate a real love of form. I mean, these lists are made to be argued over, and there were bound to be a few kvetches and cavils, but seriously, why so serious? I mean, no one's going to argue with choices like Singin' in the Rain (#1), Wizard of Oz (#3) and Mary Poppins (#6)...
Fall Film Preview: Grown-Up Movies Return
Idlewild, the new movie from hip-hop duo OutKast, opens today. NPR's Bob Mondello gives us the scoop. OutKast's new movie Idlewild gets off to such a sharp start -- swooping camera, black and white photos leaping to life, notes jumping off a music stand to dance in a juke joint -- that you barely notice for a while that the hip-hop stars it's all centered on are the least of it. They're not bad, they're just not actors, and for most of the movie, they're so protected by writer/director Bryan Barber that it doesn't really matter. During musical numbers, he knows they'll be right at home, and during non-musical moments, he surrounds them with old Hollywood pros like Terrence Howard, Ben Vereen, and Cicely Tyson who could probably make a scene work even if they were acting opposite cardboard cutouts. OutKast's "Andre 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton are not cardboard cutouts, of course. Benjamin's reticent composer/pianist is serviceably soulful (largely in voiceovers), and Patton's comic stage-star lives up to his character's name of Rooster (largely by strutting cock-o'-the-walk-style). The plot they're wrapped up in is as much a remix of 1930s gangster-movie conventions as the score is a remix of OutKast songs. The atmosphere is heady, the plot idiotic, and the movie a bit of a mess. But it's a lively, ambitious one, and likely to prove a crowd-pleaser.
OutKast Goes Old School in 'Idlewild'
The Illusionist -- Edward Norton plays a turn-of-the-last-century magician who’s willing to bring down the entire Hungarian Empire as long as it means he’ll get the girl. Considering that the girl is Jessica Biel, who could blame him? Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti is furrowed of brow and delectably wry as the magic-loving inspector who’s hot on nearly everyone’s heels. Director Neil Burger gets the period details right in his first costume epic and has a field day with showing how magic was managed back then (on one occasion, the folks who, for purposes of the script, are guessing wrong about how a trick is being done, are actually demonstrating how it WAS managed in 1900). In short, the illusions are smart, as is the script. The cinematography is gorgeous, as is Biel. Now it’s up to the marketing department to pull a rabbit out of its hat and make a period drama stand out among the summer blockbusters.
'The Illusionist': A Gorgeous Bag of Tricks