Enchanted

November 30, 2007

Poor James Marsden. As I mentioned in the Hairspray review, he seems to have become the go-to “the other guy” in many big screen love triangles. But, really, if you’ve gotta be the third wheel, you can’t pick your love triangles better than Marsden (ah, mixed metaphors, gotta luv ’em).

As Cyclops, he blindly (sorry) fought for Jean Gray against Hugh Jackman’s bad boy Wolverine in the X-Men films (and Wolverine also got the spin-off, ouch). He was the guy who tried to keep Rachel McAdams for himself in the epic weepy The Notebook – but was naturally no match for Ryan Gosling in a rain storm. And finally, he even went up again the Man of Steel himself for Lois Lane’s heart – now that’s nerve – in Superman Returns.

The man just has no luck in the romance department – but as they might say, unlucky in love, lucky at the box office. X-Men, The Notebook, Superman Returns, and also Hairspray (in which he simply didn’t have a love interest at all) weren’t exactly box office duds. And his new film, Disney’s Enchanted, raked in $49.1 million over the Thanksgiving weekend, attaining the comfortable height of second-highest Thanksgiving gross behind Toy Story 2, according to Box Office Mojo.

In Enchanted, Marsden actually plays Prince Charming himself and he still can’t get the girl (trust me, I’m not giving anything away here – did you really think McDreamy wasn’t the main love interest?). Nevertheless, he throws himself into the over the top role with abandon, as he always does, rounding out a very aesthetically pleasing cast that is clearly having fun in this enjoyable film.

In the movie, Amy Adams (Junebug, Catch Me If You Can, that handbag girl on The Office) plays Giselle, a literal fairy tale princess in the animated land of Andalasia (not quite as catchy as Never Never Land, but okay). Think the world of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but not taking itself very seriously, and also kind of slow, and you’ve got the gist of the first ten minutes or so of the film. Seconds before her wedding to Prince Charming (Marsden), Giselle is cast out of Andalasia by – who else? – her soon-to-be stepmother (Susan Sarandon), who just happens to also be a Snow White-esque evil witch with an unhealthy apple obsession.

Popping out of a manhole in the middle of NYC’s Times Square, but with her sparkling white wedding dress fully intact (it’s a grimeless manhole, apparently), a now real life Giselle eventually falls, again literally, into the arms of the anti-Prince Charming, a divorce lawyer and single dad played by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Patrick Dempsey. Meanwhile, Prince Charming, along with one of the queen’s sycophants and Giselle’s squirrel pal, try to find Giselle in the real world. Many culture clashes ensue. West meets… well, further West, if you want to take Tolkien’s view of things. Or the other side of a magical wormhole, if you believe the film’s.

My boyfriend, a big foodie, often says that the best way to judge a restaurant is to see if it “accomplishes well what it sets out to do.” You can’t compare a neighborhood pizza joint to a four-star restaurant (or three-star, if you’re going the Michelin route), because clearly the pizza joint is not aiming for the same goal. The same holds true for Enchanted – it’s obviously not The English Patient, but it never set out to be. It’s not Beauty and the Beast either, but I, for one, did not expect it to be.

It’s light, fun, and it’s got some good chuckles (Dempsey’s daughter tells Giselle that boys only want one thing, but then isn’t sure what that one thing is; the queen’s servant tries to get Giselle to drink a poisoned apple martini). Plus, the music ain’t bad. They even got Disney music guru Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) to compose it.

Like any solid, middle-of-the-road romantic comedy, there are some unfortunate misses and some awkward, doesn’t quite work moments. Sure, having cockroaches and rats help Giselle clean up an apartment is clever – those are the kinds of animals available in NY, get it? no cuddly deer and bunnies there – but watching rats pour into a room is a lot less icky in Pixar animation. Nevertheless, it’s good, guilty pleasure entertainment. If you don’t come expecting Disney to make a sharp satire of itself, or definitely not a new Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for that matter, you won’t be disappointed. If you come looking for a fun, harmless, gentle (and feminist-ically modern! …or so it hopes to be anyway) romantic comedy, you’ll leave happy.

For you Wicked fans, look for Idina Menzel (the play’s original Wicked Witch), who looks a bit unsure of herself in her role as Dempsey’s “strong professional” girlfriend. And for any Bones fans out there, watch out for a seriously underutilized Michaela Conlin in a brief, probably no more than five second appearance at the end of the film. One can only hope her scenes were cut for time.

Advertisements

The weirdest villains in film

November 14, 2007

In a recent review for the film American Gangster, the LA Times included a fun little photo gallery of what they considered “more unusual choices for organized crime bosses.” Their picks include Jabba the Hut (can’t argue with them there…) and Don Lino (aka, the voice of Robert DeNiro) in the animated Shark Tale.

And while that’s fun and all, what about those other outcasts from the population of ne’er-do-wells whose chosen occupations sadly don’t fall into the realm of organized crime? Shouldn’t they get their say as well?

Here, then, are some of my favorite villainous oddballs:

WARNING: some contain SPOILERS (read with care…)

Bowler Hat Guy (Meet the Robinsons) – Something about those spindly legs just really creeps me out and to top it all off, the true villain is the mechanical bowler hat itself (uh huh, a bowler hat) that’s telling him what to do. Ick.

Yzma and Kronk (Emperor’s New Groove) – The first looks like some sort of waspish spider and has a weird thing for llamas. The second is a sidekick who hums his own theme song and happily cooks spinach puffs right in the middle of an evil plot. And when Yzma cackles evilly as a cute little kitten? Priceless.

The Penguin (Batman Returns) – Okay, true, in Batman, Jack Nicholson’s The Joker is mighty odd and, yes, totally insane. But he’s got a kind of sense of humor (in a creepy way) and, well… it’s Jack Nicholson. He’s his own kind of weird. In any case, unlike the Penguin in the original comics who was rather cool-headed, refined and quite intelligent, the Penguin in Batman Returns is, as the Wikipedia entry puts it, “a physically deformed, sadistic, megalomaniacal monster.” Plus, he hangs around with penguins all the time. Literally. I think that qualifies him.

The Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz) – She melts and her henchmen are flying monkeys. Enough said.

The Claw (Toy Story) – Who knew the fun selector of children’s stuffed animals could be such a bizarre nightmarish creature? Not forgetting of course that The Claw is also a completely emotionless cult leader who gets his brainwashed followers to chant “The Claw is our master. The claw chooses who will go and who will stay.” And leads them to believe that being “chosen” will take them to “a better place.” Scary, scary stuff.

HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) – As an artificial intelligence, this decidedly creepy villain is nothing but a voice and an oddly pulsating red glow. And really, there isn’t much that is scarier and more goosebumpily bizarre than a villain who never, ever raises his voice.

The Emperor (Star Wars) – Why is it that the names of many evil villains begin with a definite article? I suppose we’ll never really know, but I think it’s clear that this villain at least certainly deserves to have a name that begins with an emphatic “the.” With his ghoulish voice and eerie cackle, not to mention that blue lightning thing he can do with his hands, the Emperor is both evil and just plain strange. Darth Vader has got that cool strong man / deep voice in black metal vibe going on, but the Emperor has an omnipresent cowl and cooky sense of humor. He wins.

Assorted Amélie villains (Amélie / Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) – Perhaps not villains per se, if you want to get technical, but they are all weird and/or mysteriously odd people. So I think they should get their chance too. First, there’s the almost (okay, total) stalker guy from the café who records everything his ex-girlfriend says or does. Then, there’s the obnoxious and cruel grocer who delights in tormenting the boy who works for him and always calls Amélie “Amélie-melo.” And finally, there’s the ghost / possible obsessive picture taker whose eerie mystery haunts the film. Quite the goldmine of weird scoundrels, n’est-ce pas?

No Face (Spirited Away) – Half leprechaun, half “The Blob,” this gold-giving masked spirit vies (successfully, in my opinion) with the witch Yubaba for the title of baddest, largest, most complex, and just downright crazy villain in this spooky Japanese fairy tale.

The Cat King (The Cat Returns) – Pretty much demented, yet still a powerful ruler over, uh, cats, this rotund monarch has “I am CRAZY” eyes, static-style hair and calls the heroine “babe.” And he throws unfortunate palace performers out the window when they can’t make his guest smile. Weird and psychopathic – a winning combination for this list.

Lord Voldemort (pretty much any Harry Potter film) – Let’s recap, shall we? In the first film, he was a face on the back of someone’s head. In the second film, he was a ghost from a diary. In the third film, um… Okay, well, in the fourth film, he was a seriously creepy baby-like creature who transformed out of a boiling cauldron into a noseless man. In the fifth film and (I’m assuming) on, he’s that same snakelike, pasty-faced, noseless man. Yep, I think I’ve made my point…

Dr. Evil (Austin Powers) – This is a bit of a given. And with a medical degree in Evil, he’s earned it.

Honorable mentions: Stay Puft (Ghostbusters), the Black Knight and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), coat hanger aficionado Toht (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), and potentially Grendel’s mother (the animated Angelina Jolie) in the upcoming Beowulf.


High School Musical 3 – coming to a theater near you?

August 15, 2007

This may incur the wrath of starry-eyed tweens everywhere, but can I say – really? I was forced to watch the first one a little while ago with my younger cousin, and although I am completely aware that, as a twenty-something, I am not the target audience, I thought it was just awful. Painful to watch. I would have shut it off after the first few minutes, if familial obligations (and my cousin’s enthusiastic grip on my arm – she’s an athlete, I am not) had not prevented me.

And now, with the imminent release of High School Musical 2, there are of course serious talks about a High School Musical 3 in 2008 – on the big screen. I think I speak for at least myself when I say: oh good, another Big Movie 3. Maybe it’ll kick-start a whole new blockbuster trilogy trend.

Now for the good news. MTV and other news sources report that High School Musical 3 will not be about ghosts. Phew.

UPDATE: According to Access Hollywood and MSNBC

Reports surfaced Wednesday that the third movie is in trouble. Stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens are reportedly holding out for more money…“Access Hollywood” has confirmed with their representatives that both Efron and Hudgens are still in talks to do the third movie.


Hairspray

August 14, 2007

I believe that more than one critic has called this movie the “happiest film” of the summer, or the happiest in a long while, and I can’t disagree with them. I don’t know how Nikki Blonsky (who plays the main character, Tracy Turnblad) manages to keep smiling that widely and genuinely for basically 2 hours straight, but somehow she pulls it off with sincerity.

The rest of the cast also seems to be having just a grand ol’ time, dancing around without reserve and throwing themselves into their exaggerated characters: the ruthless and evil pageant queen (Michelle Pfeiffer), the kooky eccentric (Christopher Walken, naturally), or the rigidly religious mother who won’t let her daughter do anything (Allison Janney). And of course, the overweight and shy, but just bursting to come out of her shell, mom played with obvious enjoyment by John Travolta.

Although the movie does deal with many serious issues, such as race, faith and weight discrimination, it almost never loses its constant bounce and cheeriness. To be honest, I found myself slightly overwhelmed by all the perkiness, to the point where, for me at least, it could be exhausting at times. Even when the characters are unhappy, they seem like they’re just bursting to sing a sad, peppy song about it.

There is some dispute regarding its glossy portrayal of the civil rights movement, but as just a superficial movie musical, it entertains and is a good antidote to a stormy summer day. The acting is solid overall, if a bit awkward at times, and as always, James Marsden, although a minor, peripheral character, manages to put out one of the best performances (and this is a totally unbiased opinion, not at all based on my minor crush on him).

He seems to have found his niche portraying good-hearted, standup guys in blockbusters, especially the unfortunate guys condemned to be the third wheel of classic romances (see: Cyclops in the X-Men movies, the rich guy who tries to come between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, and “that other guy” who comes between Lois Lane and Superman in Superman Returns).