These are the movies I’ve seen for the first time over the last two months, as best as I can remember them:
The Last King of Scotland. Much like the amoral, fictional and young Scottish protagonist of this story, this film lusts ‘em and burns ‘em. Which is representative of the colonialists’ approach to Africa that the movie highlights. Forrest Whitaker deserves an Oscar, if the Oscars had any balls about them. Which they don’t. So, I don’t care, except to say that his portrayal of prototypical dictator Adi Amin is brilliant, as is the Fela Kuti-inspired soundtrack.
Ice Age II: The Meltdown. I missed the first installment. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had seen the first. The squirrel (what’s up with the squirrels in these anamorphic movies these days? Why are they all high-strung comic foils? And why do I fall for it every time?) and the primitive, volcano-worshiping slug tribe are easily the highlights of this meandering project.
Munich. I found this top-secret Spielberg-directed post-9/11 study on the wages of vengeance (appropriately based on a book titled Vengeance) to be more relevant to our world today than, say, United 93. No particularly riveting performance (With the sole exception of Eric “It’s the Hulk” Bana – No stars, thank goodness! I didn’t realize that Daniel Craig was the heavy until the movie ended.), only obvious and sad revelation after bloody and needless revelation.
The History Boys. It’s a good thing this gay love triangle talkie is tempered by a clash between old methods of teaching (as in, teaching for life and “burying our graves”) vs. the newer, administrative-directed and results-oriented methods (in this case, literally teaching to the test). Hence, the title’s two parts: the history of teaching history in the making and – as is the case with so much off-Broadway – boys who like boys.
It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. (Ok, technically not a movie. But as “Boondocks “creator Aaron McGruder notes, these seasonal specials aren’t made anymore.) Much like Napoleon Dynamite and the strips that this tv special was based on, most of the four-panel stories only serve as loosely-themed vignettes. Still, even though Shultz’s schtick was wearing thin by the early ‘90s (I vividly remember bemoaning the recycling a few years before his death), minor Charlie is still a giant among mortals.
Monster House. I read a review that quoted another reviewer that chastised the male executive producers (Spielberg and Zemeckis) for creating a monster that’s basically an angry woman with an angrier ummm… hole. But credit also goes to the filmmakers (of which a minority of director/producers, if memory serves, is female) to making the first animated horror film for kids that I can think of – complete with a kiddie ending that takes most of the horror out of the rest of the movie. Which, honestly, is fine by me.
Happy Feet. A cute ugly-duckling fable is ruined by a too-cute, reductionist third act. But it got the little ones in the theater on the night after Christmas: SRO some three weeks after it was released.
Hoodwink’d. Hands down, my favorite animated movie of the last year. Maybe one of the best movies I’ve seen within the last year, for sheer force of energy and comic sensibility. Maybe I was just taken in by its cleverness (and significant movie in-jokes), but much like Shaolin Soccer last year, the lack of pretentious depth and ridiculous gags just kept me in high spirits.
*Then again, maybe not…