Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 10/24/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.


Last week, Heather and I came across an old favorite of ours on TV. Chicago is probably responsible for reviving the modern movie musical. Musicals were all but dead until Chicago cleaned up at the Academy Awards in 2002, taking home the Oscar for Best Picture. No doubt many Christians saw the ads for the movie and dismissed it as Hollywood trash full of risqué cabaret dancers. And true – while the movie eschews any explicit sexuality - it is quite a risqué film. However, it’s also one of best pieces (if not the best) of cultural commentary of the decade. Plainly put, this movie is brilliant – and Heather and I had forgotten just how brilliant until we watched it for the first time in several years.

The movie is set in – you guessed it! – Chicago, in the 1920s. Times are good, sexy cabaret jazz is all the rage, and the people are fascinated with sensational tabloid journalism. That’s the world that young Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) aspires to enter. She seeks stardom, so she cheats on her boring-family-man husband (John C. Reilly) with a club owner who’s promised her a big break. When he goes back on his promise, she murders him in a rage, and is taken to prison to await her trial. There, she meets several other women who took care of their no-good lovers (“He had it comin’,” they say), the most famous of whom is Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a former star performer who’s now locked up for killing her husband. The two women compete for the services of star (and crooked) lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who has the legal chops to get them off the hook. Then, they can use their newfound tabloid stardom to achieve even bigger celebrity. Using theater as a metaphorical alternate-reality, we watch Roxie, Velma, and Billy work their song-and-dance magic on a public that eats it all up and clamors for more.

It’s here that Chicago shines. The clever juxtaposition of show and reality illustrates just how dangerously close those two are. We live in a culture that craves showmanship, personality, and entertainment, and cares very little about truth. Chicago illustrates that with damning accuracy and cleverness. The music’s great, the film is perfectly cast (supporting players include Queen Latifah, Christine Baranksi, Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu, and Colm Feore), the production design and cinematography are second-to-none, but they’re all applied in service of a film that gives us a wink as it holds a mirror in front of our eyes to the fickle nature of humanity. Watching it now during the endless parade of an election season, I think the film carried even more punch. As I said, the movie’s musical numbers are staged as cabaret acts and as such are more than a little risqué. If that bothers you, then by all means, stay away from this one. If not, then please give Chicago a shot. You’ll come away entertained, yes, but also sadly and cleverly reminded that in the world in which we live, everything’s a show – and a little razzle-dazzle goes a long way. And that’s a trap that not just cabaret dancers, but we Christians too, fall into all too easily. - **** (out of four)

Chicago is rated PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements.

No comments: