Thursday, April 03, 2008

Recent Viewings, and for once, it's all good, 4/3/2008


Disney has finally gotten to the point where they are confident enough to make a little fun of themselves and the genre they have foisted upon the world.

Taking clues from The Princess Bride and the Shrek series, they have a stereotypical Disney cartoon princess transported to New York, New York as a means of getting her out of the evil queen's hair. Her prince and animal side-kick then follow to perform a daring rescue, and

Tone and not cheating on the premise are everything for a flick like this, and they get it spectacularly right. The actress who plays the princess utterly NAILS the perky, warbling Pollyanna groove, which is impressive since she's doing it live-action and not through voice-over. The guy who does the prince is as good, if not better, since he has the harder role of being handsome, but a bit daft and shallow without coming off as a schmuck. His reaction when a thrilled gay man opens the door during his door-to-door search for the princess is ... beyond a simple adjective other than "perfect."

This is one of those supposed kid's movies that even if you haven't tots around the house as an excuse to watch, bring yourself to watch it on the sly and lie to anyone who suspects that you've watched a Disney film on purpose.

Allow me to temp you. Here's the song where she uses animals to clean the apartment. Key on the lyrics especially.

Note the Cinderella soap-bubble homage. My wife particularly loves the ending of this song.

Well, dammit, they removed it. When are studios gonna clue in there is no better marketing than letting folks show what they want to see.


Cobbled together from pieces of It's a Wonderful Life, Wings of Desire, Before Sunrise, and Michael (the angel flick with John Travlota) and done entirely in French, this is a nice addition to the genre. With all the borrowing from other films, I think we have to grant it some grace and call all the references an "homage" to the other flicks rather then outright theft. Heck, it even has Forrest Gump's feather at the start.

Because of its pedigree, it's a bit predictable, but it's so charming, I think you'll find yourself forgiving the scripted walk through the stations.

I have to be in a pretty good mood to commit to reading a whole movie, but this movie is simple enough that you can almost absorb the subtitles subconsciously and just enjoy the flick.

Even though it's rated "R", I don't think the language and the almost sex scenes (which are tamer than a lot of stuff you see on TV anymore) should prevent anyone, say, 13 and over from seeing it. Maybe it'd be the perfect first subtitled and black-and-white film for the budding film aficionado.

Again, I feel I need to temp you. Here's the preview.

Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

For the most part, I hate musicals.

Thus far I've liked:
- Fiddler on the Roof
- Little Shop of Horrors, but only the stage version, and only if the do-wop girl Greek chorus is laced with good singers
- Hair, but only the film version by Milos Forman
- Wizard of Oz (which I don't tend to think of as a musical, more of a cultural milestone)
(I don't think of a lot if Disney full-length animated films as musicals, either.)

Other than that, they're a slog for me. Since I am the only guy in the house, not counting the cats (who are all really steers), I occasionally have to sit through The Sound of Music and other such tortures. Then I have to deal with being haunted by the songs for the next few days. The things I do for love.

Oh, I especially hate Operetta. My loathing for the form is uncontainable, so I just have to leave the room if the girls put something like that on.

So imagine my surprise when I was absolutely sucked in and enjoyed the hell out of Sweeney Todd. I even had one of those out-of-body experiences usually reserved for accidents that are going to result in a lot of personal pain; I kept getting that third-person feeling of "look at you, sitting there watching a musical - an operetta musical even."

One of my problems with operettas is so many words rush by, it's hard to follow unless you have someone who can enunciate, hit the cheap seats, and sing all at the same time. There just aren't that many Ethel Mermans in the world. When I had to endure Phantom of the Opera, I caught maybe 1/6th of the words, so by hour six, I was so bored I feared my soul would leave my body under the false assumption I had died.

Timothy Burton must've felt that way at one point too, because you can hear every single freakin' word sang or spoken. It is not slightly difficult to follow. Both Depp and Carter can really sing, so it's a pleasant experience, to boot.

I also usually cast a jaundiced eye towards the trend of skewing the color palette of a film most of the way to one hue, thereby getting a faux black-and-white feel. This is one of the few times that choice really serves the film. Though it's probably helped by the fact that all the blood (oh, and there's blood, dear Lord there's blood) is vivid red in direct contrast to the bluish hue.

I was actually somewhat surprised when the credits started to roll. Only once near the end of act two did I feel the film dragging a bit, but even then I was mesmerized. The ending came before the two-hour mark - odd for both this kind of film and for a Tim Burton film. It actually had a bit of a twist ending that was satisfying and (it takes a lot to get me to use this word honestly) poignant.

There are even some great belly-laughs.

If you were going to give this one a miss, give it a shot. You might have a nice surprise like I did.

Make sure you have the surrounds on, too, because it's one of the best uses of surround in a musical that I've encountered.

Technical note: Most DVD players come with some form of "Dynamic Range Control" that attempts to keep volume levels consistent when things sweep from quiet to loud throughout a flick. Nearly every one I've ever heard does the exact opposite by making the quiet stuff hard to hear while blasting the speakers so hard during loud portions that your animals streak about the house like the Cossacks are coming. Locate where it is in your player setup and turn the damn thing off. You'll notice the quality of the sound improve immediately.


The always interesting Nicholas Cage stars as a guy who can see two minutes into the future.

This film is not a ground-breaking entry into the genre, but it's an entertaining one. It goes down like a popsicle on a hot summer night.

A fun twist is that there are many possible futures at any given moment, so when Cage sees one and then makes a plan to change the outcome, he then sees the results of THAT choice and so on. Several times during the movie you don't know if you are in a vision or in the actual events, and that's what makes it fun.

Worth a cheap rental or a slot on the Netflix queue.

College Road Trip

I have not seen this, but darling MPC1 and my lovely wife thought it was one of the funniest movies they've seen in a long time. On the face of it, that wouldn't seem like much of a statement, but this is from a woman who almost never laughs at comedies. She smiles, but only a few have made her laugh out loud, and this was one of them. Btw, in even stranger news, it's rated "G".

If you're looking for something to take the kids to, here it is.

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