Monday, January 21, 2008

2007: A LOOK BACK
















Although the year 2007 was somewhat traumatic for me personally, movie-wise things were marvelous. TCM finally came to Canada, bringing with it a wagonload of films that’ve been on my wish list forever. Not to mention all kinds of wonderful surprises. As someone said to me this year, "TCM – my new best friend". I’ve also loved being a regular contributor to Stinkylulu’s Supporting Actress Smackdown – a fun feature and one that’s allowed me to discover, rediscover and discuss film performances from the past. As well as enjoying the observations of the site’s other commentators. Along with TCM – or, who knows, maybe because of it – my interest in seeing new movies has also been re-sparked. I finally got a computer this year. So I’ve had access to all the internet buzz as well. Alerting me to the fact that 2007 ‘s been a year highlighted by a real upsurge in the number of quality films on offer. With the Oscars almost here, I thought now would be a good time to list my own favorites from the year. So here goes :


(1) INTO THE WILD
My idea of roughing it is getting locked out of my apartment. So I approached this "man against nature" saga with some trepidation. No need. I’m still not planning on buying a backpack. But any reservations I had about "Into the Wild" have all been swept away. Sean Penn’s lovingly crafted film captures the exhilaration of being on the road along with the beauty and the danger of solitude. Emile Hirsch is bang-on as the go-for-broke wanderer – a perfect fit in appearance, ability and commitment. And sufficiently charismatic to carry off one of the movie’s key concepts - that this boy has an indelible effect on the lives he touches. The look and feel of the piece communicates genuine passion. And director Penn coaxes great performances from his supporting cast , all of which helps bring the enterprise to a moving climax, sweeping viewers out of the theatre on a wave of lump-in-the-throat euphoria.


(2) GONE BABY GONE
After Ben Affleck’s quietly triumphant return to acting as George Reeves in "Hollywoodland", he’s amped up his reputation even further with a fine directorial debut. "Gone Baby Gone" neatly captures a vivid working-class Boston atmosphere,with gritty dialogue and visuals zeroing in on a cast of characters whose lives are changed forever by the kidnapping of a child. A star-making turn by Affleck’s baby brother Casey supplies a distinct new riff on the less-is-more theory. And while the script offers no easy answers, it does present fine acting opportunities, memorably embraced by Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Amy Ryan.


(3) ATONEMENT
On the face of it, a Merchant-Ivory style nostalgia piece, but this one’s fuelled by deftly manipulated ambiguities. It’s mounted with period splendor and anchored by an achingly good performance from young James McAvoy. Otherwise, the film’s crucial character is Briony, played by three different actresses as she ages from the wilful child who sets events in motion to the elderly woman who brings things to a resonant and surprising conclusion. For that segment, the powers at the helm brought in the heavy artillery – Vanessa Redgrave. And boy, does she deliver!


(4) LA VIE EN ROSE
A creatively composed film biography of French singing legend Edith Piaf, with an amazing central performance by Marion Cotillard. Words like "astonishing" and "jaw-dropping" occur regularly in reviews of this portrayal. And they’re justified. Cotillard captures the fire, the passion, the restless, unruly, self-destructive streak and – perhaps most surprisingly – the earthy genius. It’s a shame the Golden Globes ceremony was cancelled. Cotillard won – but prospective Academy voters weren’t able to see her out of costume and character. She’s a fresh young beauty – about as far in appearance from Piaf as Meg Ryan. Which makes the transformation all the more impressive. The fantastic make-up helps, of course, but it’s just one of the elements the actress uses to create a genuinely unforgettable performance. Obviously, like Edith Piaf, Cotillard has her own inner flame. As for the film itself, its constant time-shifts have been criticized by some as messy and disorienting. But I think they work beautifully as signifiers of Piaf’s own turbulent life. Especially since - in the midst of the swirl - the movie offers such a compelling central figure.


(5) THE SAVAGES

Unflinching - but not unfunny - "The Savages" follows a grown brother and sister as they come to terms - or try to - with their father's descent into dementia-laced old age. Dad's never been a nurturer. And the siblings themselves share a prickly and problematic relationship, captured beautifully by an acerbic script. None of which makes the long forced march through hospital and nursing home corridors any less messy, exhausting or traumatic. It's a gruelling - and for most of us - prophetic odyssey. I wouldn't change a note of the three principal performances. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney achieve unbelievable levels of dysfunctional intimacy - brittle and tender and everything in between. Stage veteran Philip Bosco's work as their father is - no two ways about it - devastating - whether angry, muddled or just confronting the frightening fact that he's a catastrophe in progress. Tamara Jenkins deserves massive credit as director and screenwriter. She guides us through a long dark tunnel. And - at the end - more tunnel. But illuminated now by the things we've learned about the Savages and about ourselves.


(6) 3:10 TO YUMA
A solid suspenseful western buoyed by tremendous in-the-groove performances from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. It may not bring back the genre but it’s an admirably put together stand-alone achievement.


(7) AWAY FROM HER
Sarah Polley deserves kudos for (a) writing a sensitive screen adaptation of Alice Munro’s novel about an Alzheimer’s patient (b) choosing Julie Christie to star in it and (c) guiding the actress to the most fully accomplished performance of her long and intriguing career. Christie’s incandescent – smart, timelessly beautiful, scared, intriguingly ambiguous and quietly heart-wrenching.


(8) SWEENEY TODD
It’s neither the disaster some were predicting or the classic others were hoping for. But it is a worthy film version of Sondheim’s stage play. Tim Burton’s typical visual and tonal touch remains distinctive. But he’s taken a step forward here. Things seem less juvenile, a little more substantial. The orchestrations are wonderful. As for the performances, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter acquit themselves well – acting and singing. Sacha Baron Cohen, Timothy Spall and Alan Rickman are – as usual - tough sells for me. But child actor Edward Landers carves out an impressive niche for himself, providing "Sweeney Todd" with some of its most effective moments – musical and dramatic.


(9) BEOWULF
My feelings about this one are a little off-kilter. I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. I figured I was in for another "300" – all strident pro-war rhetoric and homophobia. Instead, I got a cleverly reconstituted take on a famously impenetrable literary classic. I want to recommend "Beowulf" – yet I find I must make this proviso. See it in IMAX 3D if you possibly can. The visuals are frankly astounding. I couldn’t get over the ground-level shots of approaching and departing figures, not to mention the extensive and eye-popping action finale. Having seen it in IMAX 3D, I’m reluctant to watch it again on DVD. It does have a surprisingly literate script – and the motion capture images are certainly the best I’ve ever seen. But I’m still afraid a small-screen, non-stereoscopic "Beowulf" will be a severely diminished kettle of fish. But "Beowulf" does exist in IMAX 3D. That’s what I saw. And that’s what I’m ranking as one of the year’s top 10 movie experiences.


(10) JUNO
Show-offy, yes – and maybe not quite as smart as it thinks it is. But it does come close. And frankly there’s too much good stuff here to ignore. Ellen Page has a bright future, but I suspect this will probably remain her signature role. The character – with her slipstream of ultra-quotable dialogue – is already a pop culture icon. Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s become a media darling – and an Original Screenplay Oscar’s a very real possibility. She’s earned it - this piece bubbles with fresh surprises. Nicest of all these, perhaps – the wonderful parts she’s written for Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, both of whom make the absolute most of the material with skills we didn’t even know they had.


Also worth a comment or two:



EASTERN PROMISES
The atmosphere of insistent dread that characterizes so many Cronenberg films is certainly present here. Yet "Eastern Promises" stands as the director’s most accessible and possibly his most satisfying work.
It’s also a career high-point for Viggo Mortensen – deeply fascinating and so immersed in his Russian mobster role it’s uncanny. The actor’s missed out on Oscar nominations before. But ignoring this performance would represent a real miscarriage of justice. I’ve always thought Mortensen and Ed Harris came from the same gene pool. Those eyes, those jawlines – not to mention the fact that both bristle with the same kind of man’s man charisma. And – of course – they’re both exceptional actors. The two appeared together a couple of years ago in Cronenberg’s "A History of Violence". And I could never undertsand why Harris and William Hurt didn’t exchange roles. I know I’m in the minority here. But I thought Hurt’s awkwardly eccentric performance as Mortensen’s gangster brother was terrible. As one internet pundit described it, Hurt plays it "like a flamboyant drag queen who’s had a stroke." Let’s face it, Mortensen and Harris were born to play brothers. As it happens the pair are co-starring in an upcoming project (with Renee Zellweger). It’s a western called "Appaloosa" and Harris is directing too. He and Mortensen probably aren’t playing brothers. But, whatever the case, it’ll definitely be great to see these two – who’ve both contributed stunning work in 2007 – working together again.


ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
So sue me. I enjoyed it (and I thought the first one - in ’98 - was a yawn). I’ve been slow to warm to Blanchett. For my money, she provided the one sour note in "The Talented Mr.Ripley". And the Oscar for her Kate Hepburn impersonation was just uncalled for. But, you know, she was pretty terrific in last year’s "Notes on a Scandal". And with her second stab at Elizabeth, Blanchett’s totally in control. It’s practically become de rigeur to dump on this project. But – even with the spotlight-chasing splendor of the costumes and sets – Blanchett still maintains full and glorious control of center stage. A tour de force. A lot of bloggers seem to be worried the actress might just grab an Oscar nomination for it. I say she’s earned it.
And a final word of praise for the film’s other royals – Jordi Molla’s King of Spain and Samantha Morton’s Queen of Scots. They’re both eminently and regally kick-ass.



STARDUST
So much is right about this extravagant and rather ingenious fantasy that I’m willing to overlook the overdose of tired Monty Python style comedy and the painfully awkward De Niro performance ( as a swishy pirate). The story moves at a furious clip; it looks great and leading man Charlie Cox is a fabulous find. So, by the way, is Ben Barnes, who appears in the prologue as Cox’s father. And both –as it happens – are now toplining expensive new projects. Michelle Pfeiffer’s wicked witch may fall just the tiniest bit short so far as vocal projection is concerned – but her energy is beautifully pitched and visually she’s perfection. Pfeiffer's taut, almost scary beauty – and the fearless use she makes of it – anoint the role as one of Stardust"’s most memorable features.



GANDHI MY FATHER
Hardly even seen here, this Indian film is a handsomely produced, well-acted exploration of the troubled
relationship between the famous activist and his son. The movie India selected to represent them at the Oscars this year, "Eklavya – The Royal Guard", didn’t even make the final cut. "Ghandi My Father" would have been a much wiser choice. Of particular note in the film is Darshan Jariwala’s exceptional work as Gandhi – to my mind, a far more intriguing creation than Ben Kingsley’s award-laden turn from the 80’s.



NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Both ambitious films – to me both compromised by crucially misjudged performances. I’ll admit I wasn’t comfortable with the shift in focus near the end of "No Country". But much of that had to do with the fact that I didn’t buy into Tommy Lee Jones’ overly folksy mannerisms. I simply found him an unconvincing spokesman for the critical theme of despair in the face of pervasive evil. I wasn’t that transfixed with Bardem’s intense but one-note villain either – a sort of relentless land-based version of the shark from "Jaws". Kelly Macdonald impressed me retroactively when I found out her southern fried trailer park Carla Jean was hiding a Scottish accent. But I still didn’t buy her last minute transformation into existential debater. Certainly most of the film works very well as a tough, suspenseful crime drama. The transition to out and out meditation on life simply required more – or better - juice than I found in most of these performances. What I did admire – without reservation – was Josh Brolin’s marvelous work as the man in the middle of it all. 2007’s been a landmark year for him. And - for Brolin - the future looks bright.
"There Will Be Blood" is also impressive on many levels. It looks terrific; I love the score. And it definitely hurtles along with a great forward momentum. I’m afraid I’m in that small camp (it does exist, though) of people who weren’t all that sold on Daniel Day-Lewis’ interpretation of Daniel Plainview. I know Plainview despises people; I know he doesn’t empathaize with them. So when he addresses them, he’s not relating, he’s just performing. But I guess it’s DDL’s performance of the performance that I find unnecessarily actorish, overblown and unconvincing. Actors can – and do – deliver stylized performances, inundating audiences with acres of verbiage, their characters duplicitous, calculating. And yet they can still sound like characters – not like actors. Peter O’Toole’s over the top but utterly convincing in "The Lion in Winter". Kevin Spacey’s motor-mouth sales-pitches in "The Big Kahuna" are pretty much one big bag of baloney. But he sounds real delivering them. There’s just too much self-conscious artifice dripping from Day-Lewis’ Plainview. Of course, everyone hears John Huston in the performance. But I also sense a visual/ vocal mix of the senior Huston (Walter) and Sam Elliott. Both of these men have done great work. But both have exhibited an occasional weakness for self-conscious, self-indulgent hamming too. Check out Elliott in this year’s gilded turkey "The Golden Compass". Daniel Day-Lewis has power and skill to spare. I don’t deny that. I just think he’s misjudged his effects here – and it undermines the project. For me, the part doesn’t need a different actor, just a different approach. This is, as I indicated, very much a minority opinion. Destined to be drowned out, I’m sure, in a sea of wild applause, when Daniel Day-Lewis accepts what’s looking to be an inevitable Best Actor Oscar next month. Young Paul Dano plays Plainview’s nemesis, Paul Sunday – and I love the ambiguity of the fact that the script never commits as to whether Paul and Eli are actually the same person. Unfortunately, I didn’t really respond to Dano’s (to me) amateurish acting. This is someone who performed memorably as a child in "L.I.E.". Not so much in "Little Miss Sunshine", where he was the least impressive member of a generally over-rated cast. In "There Will Be Blood", he seems to have regressed even further. Certainly he’s unequipped for an acting duel with Daniel Day-Lewis. So with DDL playing to the balcony and Dano way over his head, the dynamic required to make the piece fly never seems to materialize. Still, as I said, the project’s ambitious and the film is accomplished on many levels. A substantial piece of work – but a flawed one.



ZODIAC and A MIGHTY HEART
"Zodiac"’s a painstaking police procedural – far too long and too restrained for its own good. It also misuses some fine actors. Jake Gyllenhaal pretty much flatlines his way through the picture while Robert Downey disappoints big-time with a show-offy "ain’t I cool" turn that isn’t cool at all.
Angelina Jolie immerses herself fully in "A Mighty Heart", incidentally illustrating once more her flair for accents. But in the end this is just another police procedural. Carefully made, respectful to its subject but strangely uncompelling.




LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
I must admit I expected something edgier (and I’m not that edgy). Probably something funnier, too.
There’s nothing wrong with the premise – that each person has to find his own road to functionality – and that it’s better to support people than to deride and ostracize them. Better for them. Better for you.
But "Lars" is surprisingly soft-centred and sentimental, never emerging as a very convincing argument to support its theme. At root, the film itself is rather non-functional. Imagine a Disney movie about a blow-up sex doll. Timid small-town loner Lars sends away for one (named Bianca) and basically embarks on a platonic romance with her. Bianca becomes a kind of Pollyanna glad girl to the whole (inconceivably supportive) town . It doesn’t sound like it would work. And it doesn’t, as far as I’m concerned. Which is not to say the film doesn’t offer some very good acting. Ryan Gosling does fine as Lars – his tics and mannerisms never seem false or actorish. He makes the character live and breathe. It just seems there’s very little air left for the rest of the town. Except for Patricia Clarkson. I didn’t even know she was in it. Certainly her performance hasn’t stirred up much fuss in the press. But I’d rank it as – possibly – her best work. Clarkson’s small-town doctor/psychologist is a fascinatingly original creation – a kind of deeply compassionate deadpan. Tremendously wise and tremendously droll. I don’t know quite how she pulls it off. I don’t think she ever raises her voice. But congratulation to her. ‘Cause she delivers one of 2007’s very finest acting achievements.


A little bit more…


I’ve dealt with "Hairspray" and "Enchanted" in an earlier post. Both have enjoyable elements. Neither’s a classic. Bottom of the barrel items for the year included "The Golden Compass"( a titanic waste of time and money), "300" ( loud and quite offensive), "The Last Legion" (Aishwarya Rai , Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley trapped in an insufficiently funded throwback to 60’s peplum) - and "Sunshine", pretentious tedium dressed up as sci-fi.


And going from the worst back to the best, here’s a breakdown of my



FAVORITE PERFORMANCES OF 2007

Best Actor
1. VIGGO MORTENSEN "Eastern Promises"
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman "The Savages"
3. James McAvoy "Atonement"
4. Emile Hirsch "Into the Wild"
5. Josh Brolin "No Country for Old Men"


Honorable Mention:
Russell Crowe "3:10 to Yuma"
Christian Bale "3:10 to Yuma"
Johnny Depp "Sweeney Todd"
Casey Affleck "Gone Baby Gone"
Charlie Cox "Stardust"
George Clooney "Michael Clayton"
Gordon Pinsent "Away from Her"
Ryan Gosling "Lars and the Real Girl"


Best Actress
1. MARION COTILLARD "La Vie en Rose"
2. Julie Christie "Away from Her"
3. Laura Linney "The Savages"
4. Ellen Page "Juno"
5. Cate Blanchett "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

Honorable Mention:
Helena Bonham Carter "Sweeney Todd"
Ashley Judd "Bug"


Best Supporting Actor
1. PHILIP BOSCO "THE SAVAGES"
2. Ed Harris "Gone Baby Gone
3. Darshan Jariwala "Gandhi My Father"
4. Hal Holbrook "Into the Wild"
5. Edward Landers "Sweeney Todd"


Honorable Mention:
Armin Mueller-Stahl "Eastern Promises"
Jason Bateman "Juno"
J.K. Simmons "Juno"
Michael Cera "Juno"
Jean-Pierre Martins "La Vie en Rose"
William Hurt "Into the Wild"
Jordi Molla "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Harry Connick Jr. "Bug"
Dillon Freasier "There Will Be Blood"
Kevin J. O'Connor "There Will Be Blood"
Sydney Pollack "Michael Clayton"
Ranvir Shorey "Aaja Nachle"


Best Supporting Actress
1. PATRICIA CLARKSON "Lars and the Real Girl"
2. Romola Garai "Atonement"
3. Jennifer Garner "Juno"
4. Samantha Morton "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
5. Vanessa Redgrave "Atonement"


Honorable Mention:
Amy Madigan "Gone Baby Gone"
Catherine Keener "Into the Wild"
Amy Ryan "Gone Baby Gone"
Bhumika Chawla "Gandhi My Father"
Allison Janney "Juno"
Olivia Thirlby "Juno"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A TALE OF TWO MUSICALS: HAIRSPRAY & ENCHANTED





Nikki Blonsky (hello, goodbye) is perfectly okay in "Hairspray". But I found myself constantly wishing for Rikki Lake (the original and definitive Tracy Turnblad). Which, in turn, reminded me of a friend who, on seeing once ubiquitous third stringer Nydia Westman dither into view in some 30’s film, said quietly, "Oh, for Una Merkel…). Not that my friend’s particularly stuck on Merkel. He can take her or leave her, I suppose. But Westman’s a kind of feathery Merkel clone. She and Una look alike, sound alike – and both project the same sort of spinsterish second banana persona. They mine the same hit-and-miss terrain. Two scrawny hens eternally pecking the hard ground, foraging for laughs, all too often settling for less. But Merkel does it better. With perhaps a 60-40 success ratio. For Westman, it’s maybe 20-80. And consequently she ends up being defined by that difference. If you’d never seen Merkel, you might just accept Westman. But knowing there’s someone out there who’s simply better at selling the same kumquats, you wind up just putting up with her. It gives Westman the perpetual air of an also-ran. The Rikki-Nikki equation’s about the same. Rikki’s pretty good. Nikki’s just good enough.
"Hairspray" itself is reasonably diverting in spots. The choreography’s lively in the most neutral sense of the word – a lot of activity and movement, little of it compelling (although the "Welcome to the 60’s" number scores nicely). But a high-profile movie musical inevitably attracts comparisons with the best in the genre. "Hairspray" lacks the melodramatic flourish and visual ingenuity of "Dreamgirls", the free-wheeling creativity of "A Hard Day’s Night" or the disco ball perfection of "Saturday Night Fever".
Supporting players Amanda Bynes and James Marsden do extremely well in parts that - in less capable hands – might easily have disappeared into thin air. And teen heart-throb Zac Efron nails it, too – injecting just the right amount of gingerbread yumminess into dialogue like "Hope I didn’t dent your do, little darlin’". But the showier roles (like Michelle Pfeiffer’s surprisingly embarrassing villainess Velma) tend to fizzle. Allison Janney’s all over the place. One moment awfully good, the next just awful. Queen Latifah maintains an even keel – but while that means no lows, it also means no highs. And, by the way, if she’s going to channel Pearl Bailey (she did it in "Chicago" too) why not just give us a Bailey biopic and get it out of her system once and for all. That picture might be fun. Even good with the right salty script.
It would have to be a better script than "Hairspray"’s. The whole enterprise lacks any real ambition. Like "Grease", it’s aimed at – if not the lowest common denominator, then something damn close to it – say, people who think the Fonz is funny. Which kind of brings us to John Travolta. I know he wasn’t Fonzie. But some similarly duck-tailed greaseballs figure rather prominently in his resume. For "Hairspray" he trades in the ducktail for a bee-hive. But to debatable advantage. It’s kind of a tradition that Edna Turnblad be portrayed by a man. But that tradition, established by Divine amd Harvey Feierstein, has always hinged on a flamboyant drag-queen approach. Travolta decides to go for low-key naturalism and diffidence - in a way defeating the purpose of cross-gender casting, something that inherently calls attention to itself. The attempt at a softer, gentler Edna Turnblad is also compromised by Travolta’s profoundly creepy make-up. Any closer together and those eyes would make Edna a Cyclops. If warm and fuzzy womanliness was the goal, they might’ve considered casting an actual woman. I don’t know, let’s say Delta Burke. Don’t know if she can dance. But surely there’s some sweet, talented, full-figured older actress out there who can shake a leg and tug a heartstring. Still, I suppose the Travolta name helped sell tickets (something got people to go to "Wild Hogs"). Because, whatever its actual merits, "Hairspray" has made money. You’ve got to hand it to Travolta for one thing, too. He’s a terrific dancer. And even encased in that hideously uncomfortable looking fat-suit and make-up he still manages to strut his stuff pretty impressively. Otherwise, this strange semi-mutant Edna needs to go back to Metaluna for some serious re-tooling.
……………………………………………………………………………..


"Enchanted"’s another musical that’s bubbled along nicely at the box-office this year. As most people know by now, the first twenty minutes or so are presented as an old –style animated fairy tale. ("Sleeping Beauty" old, which is to say Disney meets Hanna-Barbera – not the Germanic jewel-box loveliness of "Snow White" ). A wicked queen throws heroine Giselle down a well, from which she emerges (at the other end) as a live-action Amy Adams stranded in modern-day Manhattan. The Big Apple’s presented as a sort of Hallmark Cards version of mean streets (this is, after all, a Disney musical). Numerous characters from the animated world pursue Giselle into her new environment to either help or hinder her. Romantic complications, some songs and a climax rich in special effects (a gigantic CGI dragon climbing up the Chrysler Building in a thunderstorm) bring it all to a reasonably satisfying conclusion.
Susan Sarandon’s passably good as the wicked queen/witch (her make-up in both guises is fabulous). But somehow, considering it’s the great Sarandon, I expected more. One yearns for – but doesn’t quite get - the voice summoned up from the pits of Old Vic Hell that, say Judy Davis or Saffron Burrows could’ve probably delivered. I mean even after all these years, the voices of the animated villainesses in Disney’s Snow White (Lucille LaVerne) and "Sleeping Beauty" (Eleanor Audley) are still good for a few uneasy shivers. Nevertheless, as I say, Sarandon gets the job done. James Marsden (the film’s Prince Edward i.e.Charming) is a fine actor and singer with matinee idol good looks. Unfortunately script and direction encourage him to play arch and he obliges. But the man’s better – with considerably less scope and screentime – in "Hairspray". "Enchanted" presents Patrick Dempsey as a Manhattan yuppie/single parent and Giselle’s initially reluctant protector – wisely allowing him to play to his strengths – solid, understated masculinity laced with a kind of genial uptightness. He invariably hits the right note (and though his actual singing’s kept to a minimum, he even handles that part nicely). Having seen "Sweeney Todd" and "Enchanted" within a week of one another, I’ve been subjected to enough massive close-ups of Timothy Spall’s gnome-like face and endless "comic" busy-work to last me a lifetime – and then some. Me no like. The actress who plays Dempsey’s high-powered New York girl-friend seems oddly cast – a sort of Sandra Bernhard without the funny. Plus I believe she’s a singer – yet I don’t recall her singing a note in "Enchanted". And surely the gigantic Disney machine should be able to cough up one talented, appealing tot without much trouble. Something went wrong here. Little Rachel Covey remembers her lines but looks fretful and constipated saying them. Don’t give up your day job.
And then there’s Giselle herself – Amy Adams, the girl who’s had critics all over the world penning love letters instead of reviews. I’m not quite that beguiled. She’s a sort of Sandy Duncan (albeit Sandy Duncan on a very good day) – a pleasant enough singer, a good enough actress, perky (not quite – but almost – to a fault). But I like my singing fairy tale princesses uber- beautiful. And Adams is no Kathryn Grayson. No Jane Powell. No Lesley Ann Warren. More than presentable ,for sure. Fairyland Princess, I don’t think so.
Like "Hairspray", most of the picture’s painless. But once the high-concept premise is established, the script doesn’t spread enough pixie dust on the cliches to get them air-borne. Still, "Enchanted" does manage to soar during one extended musical number. "That’s How You Know" actually succeeds in capturing the giddy feel-good glory of the best movie musicals. It’s not that the song’s that great (though it’s nice). But the arrangements’s insanely infectious – all syncopation and steel-drums. And the wide-open Central Park setting allows for plenty of well-deployed extras to keep the party cooking. Along with Adams legitimately coming into her own as the sparkling centre-piece of it all. Frankly I never wanted it to end. And I’ve already bought the soundtrack CD just to hear the song again. That five minutes or so of euphoria is more than enough to give "Enchanted" the edge over "Hairspray". After all – I don’t know about you – but even a mini-shot of euphoria can pretty much make my day.