Joel Siegel Reviews 'Chicago'

Opening in theaters: Chicago and The Hours.

Chicago — I love movie musicals. The problem is, today's films have become so realistic we in the audience just don't believe someone in the real world bursting into song in the middle of the street with a 100-piece orchestra behind them.

First time director Rob Marshall comes up with two solutions in Chicago — a movie so exciting, next they ought to let him manage the Cubs.

First off, Marshall sets the musical numbers in places where people really perform, like the speakeasy where Renée Zellweger comes to watch Catherine Zeta-Jones. Second, he takes us inside the characters' fantasies, the Singing Detective solution. And both work. Like gangbusters.

Both women end up in prison. They both end up with the same lawyer, a perfectly slimy Richard Gere, the physical embodiment of that old saying, "It's 99 percent of the lawyers who give the other 1 percent a bad name."

The story is better told in the movie than it is in the play. It's also the best movie choreography I've seen since Bob Fosse. I'm ready to say Chicago is the only movie of a Broadway musical I've seen that's better than the show it's based on. It's going to razzle-dazzle you. It's going to razzle-dazzle Oscar voters, too. Grade: A-

The Hours — Chicago's biggest competition for Oscar nominations is going to come from The Hours — three stories told simultaneously about three women living out Matrix-like versions of the same life:

Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf in the 1920s writing her great novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

In the 1950s, Julianne Moore is a California housewife who is reading Mrs. Dalloway. In the present, Meryl Streep is becoming Mrs. Dalloway. The segues between the stories border on art. The score, from Philip Glass, crosses the line into art, and carries us inside the lives of these women.

Moore is battling depression. Streep is comforting her dearest friend and first love (Ed Harris), who is dying of AIDS. And Kidman manages to transform herself into an awkward, shy, doomed genius, Virginia Woolf.

The script, the score, the sets, the costumes, and the direction are all Oscar quality, and incredible performances from Kidman, Moore, Streep and Harris make The Hours seem like minutes. Grade: A-

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