Sunday, December 30, 2007

Quickie Reviews

What's exceptional about Noah Baumbach's familiar and biting follow-up to his exemplary The Squid and the Whale is Nicole Kidman's astute and harshly stinging performance. It's in this fondness for being an auteurial vessel that makes Kidman an amazing performer, her utter ability to throw herself into characters (some of which not particular likable, which is slightly brave in its self for a mega watt movie star who could easily coast it in commercial fare) for the benefit of a gifted, if slightly mad director. Mr. Baumbach, I'm sure, is no Lars von Trier on the crazy department, but his depictions of upper-middle class family strife isn't easy to stomach. Kidman plays Margot, a successful writer, who travels to impending nuptials of estranged sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and loser\boho Malcolm (Jack Black.) Being of the overly judgemental variety, one without a proper filter for the words coming out of her mouth, Margot has plenty to say of this union, and has little qualms about sharing it with whoever will listen. There's elements of Margot at the Wedding that are especially hard to watch and listen to, but what makes the movie work is the chemistry and dynamic of Kidman and Leigh, who even while arguing in their hyper literate way you still see a warm sisterly bond between them; both actors are so lived-in with these roles, that a great sense of history and happiness, and betrayl comes across the entire time. This isn't exactly a better film than The Squid and the Whale-- while there's really no plot, there's a bunch of non-sequiters that take away from the drama (the cutting of tree, Margot's affair, and a strange group of neighbors that feel like an entirely other movie altogether), but it's still a pretty good one. B+

Based on the first book of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy, The Golden Compass feels likes a rehash of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, other recent fantasy crap (insert name here) and feels overly kid friendly, while the book was quite dark. The Catholic Church made a huge spectacle urging one and all to boycott the film, but it's been so sanitized and focus group approved that seems foolish-- yeah Pullman is an atheist and the church is viewed as the enemy in the book, but director Chris Weitz and New Line Cinema copped out and went the Disney-fied, corn-fed route in telling the not the very original tale of a girl named Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards-- who studied at the Daniel Radcliffe School of Acting apparently), a poor orphaned lass whose given a magical golden compass that holds the key and power to see all. The evil Magisterium, ruled by Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) wants the compass in order to succeed in evil deeds of ruling the world by censoring it, or something like that. It's far more expansive and morally chilling in Pullman's prose, and there's more of sense of magic as well. Really the only cool thing the movie got right was daemons (which are animal counterparts of one's soul), and Kidman (again) getting her evil on-- the rest of the film seems overly familiar and not particularly exciting. When a climatic polar bear fight can't even parlay any excitement on it's audience, there's no hope at all. Just sleep. C+

So a cartoon girl, waiting for her prince, gets tricked and trapped in real world Manhattan thanks to an evil sorceress. It's a cute premise and there's quite a lot of parts of Enchanted where it works, and it's cute and clever and spunky. All the praise really belongs to Amy Adams, who with utmost warmth and absolute sincerity, owns the role of Giselle, the uber-Disney princess. The charm of Enchanted is how it sends up and points out the dated cliches of Disney animated films, but embraces them at the same time. The tone is just right, and James Marsden as her animated Prince Edward is dimly vain yet absolutely appealing, it's just that certain things don't quite register right in the real world, and the overly pat ending and predictable ending makes doesn't serve the good stuff at all. Neither does Susan Sarandon mugging way too hard as the evil Queen Narissa, or the bland Patrick Dempsey as Giselle's live action suitor. But never mind about the film's faults (I just mentioned them, I done), what makes the film is Adams and her un-ironic, deeply committed investment in her character. She emphasizes Giselle's 2-D world view, but never makes her dim, and gradually becomes a modern, resilient 3-D kind of gal. It's refreshing in an era of dark and gloomy films, that Adams is making a habit out of showing complexity and honesty and freshness in good people. This performance and her Oscar-nominated turn in Junebug are the nicest people to inhabit the cinema in quite some time. B-

I don't wanna be mean, so I just say-- C-

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