11 December 2007

Movie Review: Enchanted

Enchanted (4/5 stars)

It's a routinely classic Disney fairy tale - brought to life! The first portion of this film is completely animated, full of vibrant color, over-exaggerated characters, and lyrical songs every five minutes. Right away, the prince and princess meet, fall instantly in love while singing together and are about to marry when, you guessed it, the evil step-mother tries to prevent this matrimonial event to preserve her crown. She shoves our main character Giselle, into a fountain-well, where on the other side, exists New York City.

Hilarity ensues as we observe Giselle (Amy Adams) struggle to understand the ways of 'normal' life outside of ceaseless happiness, love at first sight, and talking animals. Upon entering New York, she immediately meets Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorced divorce lawyer with a 6 year-old daughter. He assumes Giselle is crazy and reluctantly decides to help her, with strong motivation from his star-struck daughter. Meanwhile, Prince Edward (James Marsden) dives into the portal to rescue his princess, blissfully ignorant to the fact that his step-mother is the perpetrator.

Life for Giselle is tremendously different in a big city, than what she is used to in fantasy-land. Adams does a wonderfully superb job of acting inappropriately naive throughout the entire film. Her facial expressions and body language are painfully over-done, but for this film, it's perfect. The first 3/4 of the movie genuinely mock Disney's artificial formula, showing us how ridiculously far-off their films are to real life events. However, because it’s Disney doing the mocking, I can give them a friendly nod for knowing perfectly how to add to their monstrous profits.

Marsden offers us a large chunk of humor in this film, already encompassing animated princely features, even though he has only a quarter of screen-time as the other actors. His subtle, yet engaging facial expressions are so quick, you really have to pay attention to his reactions. He also acquires some of the best lines in the movie, notably calling New Yorkers 'noble peasants' throughout the film. Susan Sarandon, as Queen Narissa and step-mother to Prince Edward, has a commanding voice (animated or not) and a sleek, midnight outfit that I would don immediately, if ever given the opportunity. Although she's animated for most of the film, when you finally get to see her in real life, it's worth the wait.

However, the last part of this film really took a dive back into Disney-animated dribble, but in unpalatable human form. Disney wants to make sure you remember that it’s their product you're viewing, by force-feeding you ‘popular’ moments from their classic animated films. The poisonous apple makes an appearance (as it annoyingly did in Pirates), as well as the single shoe left behind at the ball, and a terrorizing dragon (formally a queen). Normally, I'm all for dragon-appearances in any movie, CGI or animated; but all that the freshly-transformed Narissa did was blather on while trying to narrate her haughty frustrations and dispose of Robert and Giselle. Once the dragon is defeated (sorry, was that an unapparent spoiler?), Giselle realizes she would rather stay in the real world with her newly-discovered true love (oops, that was a spoiler). But not to worry, it's a Happy Ending for everyone, if you were curious... it's Disney you know!

Overall, because this film was so mockingly and consistently funny for the majority of its running time, I give it 4/5 stars. The script was a comfortable mix between animation and real-life speak, and the costumes were an exact replica of what they would be, had animated people stepped into the real world. It's just too bad the strong plot declines toward the end, turning it into a bona fide Disney flick. But the situational humor, well-executed during the bulk of the film, makes it worth seeing!

06 December 2007

Movie Review: Death Proof

Death Proof (4/5 stars)

Released in theater's as one part of a two-feature Grindhouse special, this film features bad-ass car chases, breath-holding stunts, and indomitable women. Quentin Tarantino directs two separate groups of young women, both harassed by a former Hollywood stunt-man, turned serial killer, played by Kurt Russell. Strange as it sounds, he purposefully murders them with his car - something I don't think I have ever encountered as the theme of a movie before.

Tarantino’s captivating story leads you by your hand, curiously through this movie, only to be disrupted in mere moments by bouts of fear, violence or shock. This plot exists in two parts - the first group of women brutally murdered by Russell, followed by a time lapse to the next group of women, unrelated to the first. Although one of the women involved with the first group feels that something is not right with this stunt-man, they ultimately brush off his behavior and unwittingly end up his victims. Next we meet the second group of girls, much more tough (physically and mentally) than the latter.

What interested me greatly with this film, is that rather than give the first group of women just an opening scene of the film, Tarantino spends about half of the movie with character development for these girls. Unconventionally, most films would demonstrate the killer's personality and power with unknown, expendable victims. What Tarantino does is greatly increase our hatred for the antagonist, so at the end of the movie, you feel a great deal of satisfaction when Russell is dealt with in a satisfactory way.

Even though the previews for this film didn't do it any justice, my main interest for seeing this movie was Zoe Bell. I saw her awhile back in a documentary called Double Dare. It features the lives of some famous stunt-women, starting off with Jeannie Epper and her family's history of Hollywood stunt actors. Zoe Bell, a New Zealand native, becomes the featured girl of the documentary, and the camera follows her from the final episode of TV show Xena: Princess Warrior, to her audition with Tarantino, and ultimately the production of massive fight-scenes in Kill Bill, as Uma Thurman's stunt-double.

In Death Proof, Bell plays herself, visiting a fellow stunt-woman and two friends in the U.S. In what (unfortunately) feels like an hour, we see the girls interacting together, setting us up for the big car-chase climax of the film. I highly enjoyed seeing Bell perform deadly car stunts, at full speed, while acting very naturally for her first time. She absolutely loves what she does, and shows it without restraint while playing herself, with enjoyable giggles while trying out new stunt equipment in Double Dare. I can’t help but adore and admire this woman! :)

Russell, on the other hand, isn't an actor I have ever cared for, or care to see in any movie; but he didn't bother me at all in this film, and I actually enjoyed his portrayal of unpredictable, calculating stunt-man Mike. Towards the end of the show, you start to realize what a deeply disturbed person he has become - or was it out-of-work boredom that has provoked his lust for murder?

Tarantino's thing lately has been featuring intensively strong women in his films, giving them fight scenes normally reduced to stereotypical male roles. In a couple scenes, these women are lusty and sexual; but presented by a stronger character, it's always of her own accord. Either way, I love what he has been doing for women in films, and highly anticipate his next venture.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. The acting was natural, the characters intriguing, the stunts are the most realistically done in any film for a long time (no CGI!), and I can never resist movies that feature girl-power! However, some of the character development felt a little stretched thin, which made the under-2-hours film feel a bit long at some points. And although you can fast-forward through a lot of the mid-movie jabber, this film is worth seeing, even just for the perfectly-coordinated, vengeful car chase!

05 December 2007

Movie Review: The Mist

Stephen King’s The Mist (3/5 stars)

When I saw the previews for this movie on TV, I thought “meh... another ‘scary’ movie I’ll probably never see”. But when I read the official review on the Strib website, it was brought to my attention that Frank Darabont directed this film. He's most known for graciously adapting two Stephen King novels into films, being The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Right then, my expectations and desire to see this film (in theaters) greatly expanded.

However - yes, there's a 'however'... sad, huh... the movie was not even worth the $5 twilight show. It started out curiously, but twenty minutes into the film, they showed the first instinctual, blood-thirsty creature. Now, if you're going to make a film with this creepy mist where you can't see an inch in front of your nose, obviously one should take advantage of this situation to scare the sanity out of people, and let their minds come up with what's killing the characters off (regardless of the novel). But once this [opposite of "scary" word here], poorly-executed, CGI monster showed up, I knew from then on that the movie would be a disappointment.

I have not read the book, mind you, nor have I ever finished any Stephen King novel, but from the Netflix reviews online, people say that the ending of the book is definitely not as appalling as the ending of this movie. Without giving anything away, I will say that I did enjoy the unexpected turn of events. The main criticism is that it was for shock-value - a Hollywood ploy to make the film more dramatically enticing. But by the time you reach the end of this film, you'll be aching for an incredibly out-of-character moment, that it'll be hard NOT to appreciate. This movie runs a little over 2 hours long, but I never felt the need for a bathroom break. Yet, there are a lot of painfully slow dialogues between characters, and I felt a strong desire to yell at them to get over it and move on with the show.

The plot of this film is human nature in the midst of something supernatural - something King-readers (or viewers) will understand. You’re more afraid of what's happening inside the store, where a large group of townspeople are trapped, more so than the invisible, instant-death-giving creatures outside. Humans pitted against other humans in times of survival-induced stress really demonstrate the vast differences in personality, and what odd reality the less stable-minded people will conjure up. Of course, for these peoples' unfortunate luck, the town's hypocritical, 'god-speaks-through-me' religious-fanatic is inside the store as well. Played irritatingly beautiful by Marcia Gay Harden, you will literally stand up and cheer when something ultimately 'bad' happens to her (for a moment, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen at all!). The rest of the actors are not well-known, which creates a great mystery of who will live and who will die.

The creatures themselves are actually quite intriguing, sans the first one they show which I mentioned earlier. Their faces are subtle mimics of our skulls, and according to ONE line in the movie (with no back-story), they come from an alternate dimension. I deduce that these monsters are in a 'Jurassic' stage of their evolution, as their sizes range from four-foot long insects to ginormously-tall 'striders' (think brontosaurus, but with long legs instead of neck). I was highly interested in understanding the creatures' origins, as they are the reason the mist has arrived (and why the mist in the first place?); but the movie gives us no other explanation, besides their appearance being the military’s fault. I suppose I'll have to read the book, eh? :)

Overall, I give it three out of five stars. The script was stretched-out to the point of being unrealistic, the dialogue ran long and dry, and the CGI in one part of the film was terrible (these days, poor CGI doesn't cut it, even if it's only five minutes of the movie). I did enjoy the IDEA of survivalist-tension between groups of characters in the store, but it wasn’t executed very well. The ending was nicely unexpected, but not enough to make me watch the film ever again, or recommend it.