Only a few more days until the end of the year (and the cut off for the 2006 Oscar season), so of course the movie theaters are glutted with choice new releases.
If you have your copy of Bridget Jones' Diary always near the DVD player for easy access, might we suggest checking out Renée Zellweger in Miss Potter. Sort of like a Sex in the City but set during the Victorian era, Zellwegs plays the singleton author Beatrix Potter, who at the shockingly old age of 30 something longs not for marriage but to publish her hand-illustrated children's books. She finally gets a publishing contract and develops a close friendship with her publisher (played by the always delightful and hunky Ewan McGregor), as well as his spinster sister (Emily Watson). Miss Potter, charming and a touch irreverent, is chick flickdom at its best.
Gracing the top of many end of the year lists, Pan's Labyrinth is a completely stunning-looking film that's being billed as "an adult fairy tale." The director, Guillermo del Torro, first sketches his potential imagery in notebooks before constructing them on film, so you know he lets his fancy run completely rampant. Like The Devil's Backbone, this one is also set during the Spanish Civil War, with a young girl, Ofelia, imagining her own fantasy world tinged with the menace of Fascism. Another very talented Mexican director, Alfonso Cuaron, has a new movie out, the sci-fi drama Children of Men starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore. Exploring the what-if possibility of a world where women can no longer give birth, Owen and Moore must protect the first woman to get pregnant in years. Remember what Cuaron did with Harry Potter and a hippogriff, then imagine the possibilities with this far out story.
For the kiddie in your life, or the Luc Besson geek inside, the children's action film Arthur and the Invisibles is out this weekend. In it Freddie Highmore must save his garden, and the mysterious tiny people who live in it, from destruction by an evil developer. The movie also features in the animated section voices by rock royalty, Madonna and David Bowie. Though perhaps a better choice for taking a child to the movies this weekend would be stopping by the Museum of Modern Art. They've been showing a whole slew of wonderful kid's movies over the holidays, with Babe on tap for tomorrow at noon and 2 pm and then Ghostbusters showing on Sunday at 11 am and 1:30 pm.
If you were thinking, "you know what the Iraq conflict needs is a little Italian silliness courtesy of Roberto Benigni," you are in luck. Roberto had the same idea and recently directed himself, his wife Nicoletta Braschi, Jean Reno and Tom Waits in his new comedy The Tiger and The Snow. It's a love story but with camels and Roberto running around like a chicken with no head in Baghdad. Another indie with a limited, New York release this weekend is Karen Moncrieff's The Dead Girl, about a hitchhiker discovered in a field and the lives of various people effected by her. The massive cast which includes Giovanni Ribisi, Toni Collette, Rose Byrne and Marcia Gay Harden looks indie-tastic.
The IFC Center is showing for one week only, a neglected New York movie from the '60s Something Wild. Featuring some stunning photography of the city, that hyper emotional Actor's Studio acting so characteristic of the era and an Aaron Copland score, this movie has never been released on VHS or DVD.
If stories of the faux-cumentary Death of a President at the Toronto Film Festival had you intrigued, it's playing starting this weekend at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater on Saturday at 11 pm. This is a Canadian movie that imagines, with a mix of found footage and actors, what might happen if our dear beloved President was assassinated. Cheers and glee at his shooting should probably be expected, this theater is in the East Village of very liberal Manhattan after all.
When a movie's universe completely envelopes you, it can be a pretty powerful experience. Both of the movies in this week's pick --Perfume and Notes on a Scandal -- do that, though the worlds they construct are vastly different. Both are coincidentally based on best-selling books, Patrick Süskind's and Zoe Heller's, respectively. Both also center around a main character whose desire for love and connection lead them to some not so wholesome actions. In Perfume, directed by Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run), Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born into the lowest of the peasant class in 18th century France but has the most amazing gift of scent. He becomes a perfumer so that he can distill the scent of a lovely red headed girl (pictured together at left), but his obsession for beauty becomes all consuming to the point of fetishistic serial murder. Eeep. This movie is gorgeous to look at yet deeply creepy. But if you really want to see creepy, you must watch Dame Judi Dench as aging school teacher Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal. Lonely to the point of obsessive, Barbara is thrilled when she becomes friends with the gorgeous new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett, giving yet another top notch performance this year). However, Sheba doesn't quite return Barbara's fascination and their relationship spins out of control, as Sheba begins an affair with a student. Both Dench and Blanchett have moments on screen that will make the hairs on your arms stand up. We're talking virtuoso emoting here.