Dreamgirls (2006) is the type of film that becomes so disorienting in all its glitter and glamour that it’s not really until afterwards that the awful realization hits: it really wasn’t all that good, was it? The main objection: why the hell make a film (or a stage production, or whatever) loosely based on the story of The Supremes, and fill it with songs more at home in High School Musical than classic Motown? I think it’s a good indication of the quality of the production’s songbook when one of the add-ons—Beyoncé’s big number, the Oscar® nominated “Listen”—was the only number that registered musically with me (‘tis a pity the song is narratively incongruous). And poor, inevitable Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson—yes, she gets to show off that powerful pair of lungs (because sing she does), but she is given a bunch of bum songs, the much-lauded, awkwardly titled “And I Tell You I’m Not Going” included. While Ms. Hudson certainly pours her heart and soul (almost painfully so) into each of her songs, they all have a tendency to blur together, and I couldn’t tell which was supposed to be the stand-out number refers to in hushed tones. But I suppose Hudson’s delivery style encapsulates the film’s general attitude—big, BIG,BIG!—which is a shame, since director Bill Condon is usually a filmmaker of such delicacy (case in point, the unfairly underrated Kinsey, another biopic of sorts). Not a bad film—I definitely enjoyed it while I was in the midst of brainlessly consuming it—but there’s nothing much to it either afterwards.
My thought on The Good Shepherd (2006), Robert de Niro’s directoral debut, can be pretty much summed up in a single phrase: massively, unforgivably dull. At least an hour too long and hamfistedly structured and paced (there’s a problem when every new scene has to be accompanied by a time and date—especially when it’s returning to the same one over and over). Matt Damon, judging the merits of his superb performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley can be very good in this type of introverted role, but unlike that film there is no underlying menace to add complexity and richness to the character; Angelina Jolie is totally wasted in a throwaway, one-note role. The only spark of life comes from Tammy Blanchard (so good in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows) as the woman who got away—that it’s a wordless performance (her character is deaf) makes its impact all the greater when placed against this turgid, wordy mess.
House of Sand (Casa de Areia) (2006) returns back to the realm of Antonioni where long silences and empty landscapes replace the articulation of words. Heavily indebted to Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes, House of Sand sends a motley band out into the Brazilian desert to accomplish one man’s dreams of establishing a homestead, but through some unexpected circumstances, soon only the man’s pregnant wife and her aging mother are left to fend for themselves against the sand and elements. Undoubtedly the film’s major selling point is the showcase pairing of real-life mother and daughter Fernanda Montenegro (of Central Station fame) and Fernanda Torres, and they switch in and out of the three central roles (for soon young Maria is born, creating the third central female role). In some ways, this could be viewed as a Cries and Whispers stranded in a barren desert, as the expanses of sand and sky become just as forbidding and claustrophobic as Bergman’s meticulous interiors, an environment ripe for the women to play their insecurities, fears and desperation off of each other. It’s the kind of film where it’s essential to jump onto the film’s meandering wavelength and hold on for the ride: the effect is rather hypnotic. But unfortunately, much like hypnosis, once the spell is broken it all rather fades away into the soft echo of a mostly-forgotten dream.