Monday, November 26, 2007

Goin' to the Movies

Of course, you are far too sophisticated to go see a movie because it is a runaway hit; actually, that fact might keep you from going. So let me give some other reasons to take in a couple of new films, despite their popularity.


There are at least two good reasons you might want to put the movie Beowulf on your don't-miss list. One is that you are familiar with the original, and you want to see what they've done with it. (Unless you are a true purist, you shouldn't be disappointed.) The other is that you are an animation- and/or techno-geek, and you want to see what they've done with it. (I don't happen to fall into this category, but I don't see how you could be disappointed here, either.)

If you remember the 1000-year-old Anglo-Saxon poem, you will recognize the boastful talk of the heroes, and the gore and excitement of the fight scenes. You will also probably recognize Angelina Jolie, but by her lips, not by her role as Grendel's mother, who never used to be a babe!

I puzzled to myself why they used the motion-capture technology to create cartoonish versions of the actors involved. Especially since the degree of cartoonishness varies considerably from one scene to another. It certainly isn't necessary in order to make them match the much-computerized Grendel (think Gollum writ large and horrifying) of the first half of the story, or the truly wonderful nasty dragon of the second half. We're already accustomed to this kind of magic, from Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potters, and other films.

But I think I've worked it out. The scenes of Grendel in the mead hall, which you may remember were plenty gory on the page, are even more so on the screen; director Robert Zemecki does them up right, with blood, severed parts and dead bodies everywhere. Audiences, even as jaded as we are today, probably couldn't have tolerated all this up-close slaughter had the victims been completely human. Better they should look like video-game characters, a bit distanced from us.

A secondary benefit is that we are also distanced from the period-appropriate boasting of Beowulf and the other heroes (as well as the subservience of the women). Political correctness be damned; that's the way a real hero talked, and the women-well, they were virtually invisible, if I remember correctly.

There will be those who criticize the whole plot line relating to Grendel's mother, or who complain that Beowulf didn't really stay in Denmark and marry Hrothgar's wife, but trundled back home and slew his dragon there. But, face it-the poem as we have it (at least some sections are missing-who knows how many) gets kind of boring after the slaying of Grendel's mother. To say the least, that old story didn't have a very good arc. So I'm quite happy with what Zemecki and his crew have done with the plot. And my other half didn't mind at all looking at Angelina as the gold light slid off her only slightly-altered naked form.

Don't take any under-15 children, and not even then if you are concerned about nudity. And don't go yourself if you can't stand violence, or if you require depth in your movies. (Anthony Hopkins is awfully good, though, as the hag-ridden Hrothgar, even through the computerization.)


As for Enchanted , I'd be hard-pressed to say why anyone would not want to see it. Well, if you never loved the Walt Disney oeuvre, you neither know nor like New York, you have no sense of fun or irony, and you aren't interested in animation, period, then this might not be a movie you should see.

This not-really-a-musical (although it has at least one great musical sequence), not entirely a kids' movie (although kids will probably love it), not quite a satire (but certainly a postmodern re-take on Disney by Disney) is finally a sort of a love story (with a darling, very real little girl, plus a beautiful princess, handsome prince, etc.) proving that "true love's kiss" is truly the most powerful thing in the world. Ahem! Well, sort of. Yeah.

As you will know if you've seen any of the publicity, Enchanted involves a Disney animated fairytale princess-to-be (Giselle, played by Amy Adams). Think Snow White or Cinderella, complete with bluebirds, doves, and mice who help with such things as dressing and clean-up. Early in the film, the Evil Stepmother/Queen (definitely ala Snow White) contrives to push the bride-to-be down a well, so that she pops up in a real-life 2007ish Time Square, New York-a place where "there is no happily ever after."

What ensues--well--has to be seen to be believed. It is by turns funny, scarey (in mostly a fairy-tale sort of way), a little sad, and sweet. Virtually every Disney classic cliche is visited and tweaked. The talking chipmunk who is Giselle's special friend and protector also shows up in NYC-and it's a tribute to the seamless weaving together of live action and animation that I didn't think to notice until after I'd left the theater that, even though he couldn't talk in the "real world," that chipmunk was doing other things no real chipmunk ever did! Another one of the best parts is when Giselle calls on the birds and rodents of NYC to help clean up her new protector's messy apartment (think Ratatouille with real, uh, rats!).

Rachel Covey is entirely convincing as 6-year-old Morgan Phillips, daughter of the disillusioned Manhattan divorce attorney who befriends a befuddled Giselle (Patrick Dempsey as Robert-I liked him a lot!) James Marsden manages charming-but-hapless in a difficult role as the dashing but not too bright Prince. Susan Sarandon loves chewing scenery as the wicked queen, come to NYC finish off Giselle, and Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew from the Harry Potter films) is actually quite funny in spots as Nathaniel, the Queen's flunky. Idina Menzel is satisfactory as Nancy, Robert's intended. And the Big Apple, which becomes a character in its own right-well, it is what it is, or at least a post-mod Disney version thereof. (Not to minimize the importance of those other apples the Queen uses to, well, you know....)

The Evil Stepmother Queen is really, really fairy-tale nasty in the "real world"-could be too intense for younger children. And I wouldn't recommend it for boys from whenever they start to hate girls until at least the time they start to really like them again. Probably it's going to be enjoyed most by adults anyway. But take a kid along if you need an excuse.