There's much to admire about The Good Shepherd (Universal), Robert De Niro's patient epic inspired by the life of Edward Wilson, the secretive man who helped shape what would come to be known as the Central Intelligence Agency. But this may be the rare case where everyone has practiced too much restraint, starting with Matt Damon, in an admirably disciplined but extremely minimalist performance. Austerity alone does not a great movie make, and this one leads to an especially long three hours
Given that 2006 produced standout kids' films like Monster House, Happy Feet, and Cars, it's fairly amusing that the DVD case of Charlotte's Web (Paramount) unilaterally proclaims it "Best Family Film Of The Year." No it wasn't, though to be fair, it'd probably make the top 10. Gary Winick's live-action take on E.B. White's children's classic is way too crowded with celebrity-voiced animals hamming it up and padding out the run time, but apart from them, the script sticks surprisingly close to White's beautifully sincere, sweet book
Of all the '70s and '80s horror movies being reheated for modern audiences, Black Christmas (Buena Vista) would seem to be the most promising, because few people of the younger generation have seen it, and because it established slasher-film conventions with a surprising amount of wit and genuine terror. Sadly, the remake is almost perverse in the way it excises everything that make the original film unique, keeping only the premise of a psycho who offs sorority babes from inside the house
Proof of how little impact the punditocracy has on the world that tolerates their opinions, Death Of A President (Lions Gate) attracted tongue-cluckers across the cable news networks, who shunned the very idea of a movie about the assassination of a sitting president. Then the film opened, and the controversy attracted approximately no one. It's a shame, too, because Gabriel Range's pseudo-documentary is technically accomplished and only subtly damning in its assessment of the Patriot Act and President Bush's actions abroad
Ed Harris. Beethoven. Put them together and you have sure-fire Oscar-bait, right? Not when the result is Copying Beethoven (MGM), a hilariously over-the-top melodrama about the composer's fictionalized last days, with Harris hamming it up shamelessly as classical music's original party animal.