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Dances With Woolf

Still, as much as Daldry's The Hours coarsens the book's psychology, reconfiguring its Doppler ripples as cause-effect vectors, it drinks deeply from the original's well of sorrow and locates a similar concluding grace note. There are not only flowers to get and parties to host but deaths to forestall. Weighed down with the fullness and risk of a single day times three, the film leaves its heroines with their lives to live, for now.


The long-germinating movie of the musical Chicago isn't much of a movie after all,machine-gun edits notwithstanding. This Jazz Age tale of tabloid fame and death-row femmes fatales—a Kander-Ebb-Fosse production in 1975 before its current hit revival—has been filmed by musical theater veteran Rob Marshall with extreme reverence for its vaudeville roots. The numbers all still play out on a stage, interspersed in a narrative that remains the same stale blast of self-congratulating showbiz cynicism: After shooting her no-good lover, ambitious chorine Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) retains trickster lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) and supplants showgirl and fellow inmate Velma Kelly (adept hoofer Catherine Zeta-Jones) as gutter-press fodder. Hold the front page: Fame is ephemeral and the media is venal.

She wins by a nose: Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours.
photo: Paramount
She wins by a nose: Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours.

Details

The Hours
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Written by David Hare, from the novel by Michael Cunningham
Paramount
Opens December 27

Chicago
Directed by Rob Marshall
Written by Bill Condon
Miramax
Opens December 27

Zellweger has gone about the business of making her Roxie huggable—which is asexhausting for us as it is for her. The mostballyhooed revamp, Marshall's plausibility-enhancing stratagem (an odd concern for a musical), explains away the song-and-dance routines as Roxie's fantasies. It's hardly a novel trick, borrowed from Cabaret (which situated the numbers exclusively in the Kit Kat Klub) and all-in-the-mind meta-musicals like Pennies From Heaven and Dancer in the Dark. (Sticklers for psychological realism should note that last year's Buffy episode "Once More, With Feeling" holds the gold standard—the break-into-song compulsion is chalked up todemonic possession.) You'd think that using Roxie's reveries as a framing device wouldfacilitate more elastic flights of fancy; instead, they're all confined to a black-box stage.Didn't she see Moulin Rouge? It's hard not to wish that Chicago had taken place inside a more imaginative head.

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