“your voice… it has no personality.”

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.

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11 thoughts on ““your voice… it has no personality.”

  1. Honestly, the only movie out of these three I’m interested in seeing is “The Good Shepherd”, only because De Niro’s “A Bronx Tale” was an unforgettable experience. As for Bill Condon, I really find nothing attractive in “Dreamgirls”, but I would like to recommend you seeing (if possible) his made-for-TV movie “Deadly Relations”, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, based on a true story. He sure showed a lot of potential there.

  2. Ferpecto– Well, as I’m sure you gather, I don’t recommend The Good Shepherd in the least, though it does has its defenders. I have not seen A Bronx Tale, and so I can’t comment there.

    I hadn’t heard of Deadly Relations, but I love Paltrow, and that’s good enough reason for me to search it out.

  3. I’ve yet to see “The Good Shepherd,” but for the most part I must agree with Ferpecto. “A Bronx Tale” is a definite must see, even though a recent viewing experience was tainted by the memory of a not so pleasant encounter I had with Francis Capra. I’m just curious to know if you (ferpecto) have actually seen “Dreamgirls.” I honestly disagree with it not having anything “attractive” about it. Having mentioned this, I must share that I’m highly disappointed with this review on “Dreamgirls.” I understand we may have different views, however why mention The Supremes? Do you know their story?
    I don’t think your review was at all thought out.

  4. Pablo- Hmmm… it seems to be generally accepted that Dreamgirls is loosely based on the rise (and fall?) of the Supremes, something which seems to be taken as common knowledge in most reviews of the film. I’m aware it doesn’t follow the story exactly, but it seems pretty obvious that Jennifer Hudson = Florence Ballard, Beyonce = Diana Ross, Jaime Fox = Barry Gordy, etc. Or at least Diana felt that way–I’ve read she was outraged by Dreamgirls durings its original theatrical run, and refused to see it. That’s enough proof for me that it “hits a little close to home,” so to speak.

    I wouldn’t try to claim that my rip of Dreamgirls is particularly deep, but I confess I don’t see it as a film that really deserves that much of my attention–I’ve nearly forgotten it already.

    I really hope you enjoy The Good Shepherd. It’s three hours or so of my life I’d love to have back.

  5. Well. I’m glad that you enjoyed “Dreamgirls”… I had a feeling you might.

    As for “The Good Shepherd”, I knew you didn’t like it from the moment I heard the first sigh! I was fairly disappointed myself, although I’m too much of a Damon fan to really dislike it.

  6. La Belle (I’m pretty sure I know who you are, but I can’t be certain these days…) – I’m taking your Dreamgirls comment was sarcasm. That’d be just like you. ;)

    I think Matt’s one of the best actors working these days, but I’d rather just watch Mr. Ripley again. At the very least, sunny southern Italy is more picturesque, as is Jude Law. :D

  7. Keeps you on your toes… :)

    I continue to be impressed with Damon’s work – I can’t remember, but did you ever see “Dogma”? It seems slightly up your alley these days.

    I’ve never seen “Ripley” – I know, I know… *horror* I’m quite fond of the book, though, so I’ll have to give it a go sometime soon.

  8. I did see Dogma–funny, funny stuff. A few (or maybe quite a few) cheap shots, but just as many that are dead-on.

    When you get around to Ripley be prepared that it’s quite a bit darker… and quite a bit more gay. ;)

  9. A mighty “cat-fight” between you and Pablo, ay? I do think that both of you have a point, but I don’t know that the entire storyline for “Dreamgirls” echoed that of my Goddess #2.5
    I’m just excited and waiting for Diana to go on tour. That and I hope Beyoncé come out with a Disco Album, =)

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