December to mid-January is about the only time of the year I go to the movie theater with regularity, but right now, there are not a whole lot of promising movies out there, even though it's "Oscar Season," but there are a bunch of crazy ones churning about. These may actually be the most promising. Here's what I'm going to see if I go to the theater over winter vacation:
Mel Gibson's Apocalypto: This lengthy tale about the end of Mayan civilization seems to have been inspired by Mel Gibson's religiosity and taste for the epic. Mel is proof that full-out crazy people should be encouraged to make movies more often. Whereas an imaginative but failed movie like Waterworld probably drowned in its own ambition because Kevin Costner is too sane, Gibson's Apocalypto appears to deliver. A movie with an insane premise needs an equally insane director, and Mel is just that. Like many religious zealots, Gibson's pet obsession with the end of days and appears to have driven him to ponder how past civilizations fell in order to anticipate how exaclty the Second Coming will unfold. This is the man after all who said of his direction for The Passion of the Christ, "The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic." Even though a crazy man like Mel is best left to occupy himself with such thoughts, the rest of us are hardly loath to find the subject interesting. Apocalypto promises to be great whether it is good or just plain ridiculous.
Dreamgirls: Some people will probably dismiss this one right off the bat because it prominently features Beyonce Knowles in a serious acting role and purports to resurrect Eddie Murphy from the ash heap of also-rans, but the story itself is quite rich. Based on the career trajectory of the Supremes, Dreamgirls examines the difficulties endured by a pop music group because of their race and gender. Knowles and Jennifer Hudson's characters embody the dilemma faced by black musicians in the 1950s-1970s of whether to embrace blackness or appeal to an increasingly receptive white audience. Jamie Foxx plays the Berry Gordy figure who champions Knowles' ability to appeal to the latter group, while Hudson increasingly moves in the other direction. If nothing else, I am interested to find out how the movie treats these themes. (For a nice explanation of these themes, see Pop Matters' review). I'm a little worried, after all, because Dreamgirls is based on a Broadway Musical! and I haven't been much impressed with Broadway's treatment of serious subjects post-West Side Story. Still, like Apocalypto, Dreamgirls promises to be good whether or not it is actually quality or just melodrama with glittery costumes, big hair, and electrifying ballads.
Rocky Balboa: I am a fairly devoted Rocky fan, in part because I cannot actually remember how bad the later sequels were. No, I recall only the awesomely good of the Rocky series, such as the ambitious analogies between Communism's fall at the hand of democratic capitalism and Ivan Drago's fall at the hands of Rocky Balboa or the operatic travesty of Apollo Creed's death by blow to head. I can't quite conjure up the badness of the dialogue, though I'm sure it is bad enough to make even Joe Eszterhas cringe. And I only speak of Rocky IV; Rocky V is actually the nadir and conveniently the end of the series. Until now. Just as in Rocky V, Rocky is back in Philadelphia in Rocky Balboa, now widowed (Rest in Peace, Adrian), and living of humble means as a deli owner. Just as it did 30 odd years ago, the boxing ring calls Rocky back, and, still up a few brain cells, Rocky answers. Rocky Balboa runs the risk of taking already tired themes and wringing out what life is left of them; on the other hand, a movie aboutRocky in Winter could be a meditative last hurrah for the long-lasting series. We shall see.