Loading...

Movie Reviews: Enchanted, August Rush, Hitman, Holly 

Also This Christmas, What Would Jesus Buy? and more

Wednesday, Nov 21 2007
Comments
AUGUST RUSH Known for his galvanizing park-bench scene in Finding Neverland, in which he redeems a programmatically mawkish denouement with a survivor’s practical pugnacity, British child actor Freddie Highmore beguiles even more in August Rush. Highmore plays the apparently orphaned product of a one-night stand between two musicians (Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who vanished from his life the day he was born. Now August hears a symphony in every sound of New York City, which he combs for signs of his departed parents. Along with a thuddingly uppercase script by Nick Castle and James V. Hart, August’s heightened sensitivity may be one reason why this Dickensian melodrama feels so over-excited in its first hour. Another is that director Kirsten Sheridan, every stylized inch her father Jim Sheridan’s daughter, treats any change in the emotional or climactic temperature as an occasion for poetic cinema. It’s exhausting to watch little August fight his way to freedom and salvation, abetted and hindered by an entertainingly miscast Robin Williams as a bizarre cross between Fagin and Bono in orange hair and earrings, who seizes on August’s musical talent for his own gain. Acclimate yourself to the frenzied vibe, though, and you’ll feel the movie grow into itself as an urban fairy tale whose rapturous finale stakes a wishful claim on the redemptive power of love and art. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)


{mosimage}PICK  ENCHANTED The surprise of the season, this ebullient, irreverent pop musical from the Disney studios plucks a fair-skinned maiden from her 2-D animated kingdom and plunks her down in a place where “there are no happy endings” — the mean, live-action streets of New York City — whereupon the disoriented Giselle (played, in her 3-D incarnation, by Amy Adams) is rescued by a divorced divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) who wonders if he shouldn’t cart her off to Bellevue. A vain, troll-slaying prince (James Marsden) and the requisite wicked stepmother/queen (Susan Sarandon) are soon to follow, along with an excitable CGI chipmunk taken aback by his sudden inability to communicate intelligibly with members of the human kingdom. The sight of Adams in an impossibly billowing satin gown, stranded in Lower Manhattan and seeking aid by knocking on the sequined “castle door” of a gaudy casino billboard, offers early indication of what the screenwriter, Bill Kelly, and the director, Kevin Lima, are up to. They’ve taken their rapier wit to the vernacular of storybook fantasies (poison apples, true love’s kisses, strokes of midnight) and to Uncle Walt’s storehouse of kiddie-matinee classics (the movie freely references Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid among many others) and sent them up without violating their elemental appeal. In one scene, the TV in a flophouse hotel becomes a kind of “magic mirror”; in another, the Big Apple’s resident fauna (pigeons, cockroaches, sewer rats) are subbed in for the cuter and fuzzier creatures who typically assist the beatific Giselle in the doing of her daily chores. Unlike the Shrek movies, Enchanted isn’t pop-culture doused and too cool for the room. The tone it strikes — and, rather miraculously, maintains for nearly two hours — is closer to Splash or Little Shop of Horrors, complete with a cheeky and cheerful original song score by lyricist Stephen Schwartz and Little Shop and Little Mermaid vet Alan Menken. It’s the sort of buoyant, all-ages entertainment that Hollywood has been laboring to revive in recent years (most recently with Hairspray) but hasn’t managed to get right until now, and the glue holding it all together is the incomparable Adams (an Oscar nominee for 2005’s Junebug), who gives the kind of blissful screwball performance that seemed to go out of fashion after I Love Lucy left the airwaves. By the time you are reading this, the ads will already be proclaiming that Enchanted is “enchanting,” and for once they’ll be spot on. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)


EVERYTHING’S COOL “Sometimes you’ve got to be part of the problem to be part of the solution,” intones a voice-over at the beginning of Everything’s Cool, Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand’s well-intentioned but glib documentary about global warming. The solution, here, seems to consist of driving around in a Ryder truck painted with the phrase “G_ _B_L _ _ R_ _NG” and asking people to fill in the blanks. This diversion sets the tone for the rest of the film, which is condescending toward its audience and sorely lacking in any substantive information about the problem or the solution. The most interesting scenes by far take place at the Weather Channel’s Atlanta headquarters, where a newly hired climatologist struggles to cram her massive expertise into soundbites — her dismay at not being allowed to use the word “ironic” is pitch-perfect. But mostly we get long, dreary clips of icicles melting and children playing in slushy snow that are downright manipulative: Ice and snow melt every spring, and highlighting micro-changes that are well within the parameters of normal variation does nothing to explain the broader problems of climate change. (Grande 4-Plex) (Julia Wallace)


LE GRAND CHEF Much more likable than its inexplicable faux-French title might suggest, Le Grand Chef is a heartfelt celebration of home-style Korean cuisine, from the old family recipe for a homemade pepper oil to the crock pots of kimchi pickling in the backyard. A climactic sequence in which a perfectly prepared bowl of “ordinary, everyday” sul long tang beef soup — the ultimate Korean comfort food — wins over the snob judges at an elite cooking competition recalls Juzo Itami’s 1985 classic Tampopo, in which the totem dish was an eidetic bowl of fast-food udon noodles. But in structure, this film is more like The God of Cookery, Stephen Chow’s martial arts–flavored Chinese food farce. Once again we have a young genius chef (clean-cut Kim Kang-Woo), all but expelled from the profession for a youthful screwup (a nearly fatal gaffe involving blowfish venom) who has to fight his way back to the top by defeating an underhanded rival in a high-profile cooking contest. The winner will be declared the rightful heir of the last Royal Chef of the Chosun Dynasty, in effect the chef laureate of Korea. Based on the popular manhwa comic-book series Sikgaek, Le Grand Chef has fun spoofing foodie fetishes, and it depicts with surprising reverence the act of leading a favorite cow to its death in order to provide a perfect side of beef for the competition. (“Your sacrifice will not be in vain!”) Like many current Korean hit makers, director JeonYun-Su (My Girl and I) is an accomplished technician, and smoothly orchestrates a large cast of conventional supporting characters, including a perky TV-newscaster love interest, a dorky best friend, a grumpy old mentor chef and an eccentric, leathery grandfather. The movie is less notable as a work of cinematic art, finally, than as an apéritif: The restaurant owners of Koreatown should drink a toast to its arrival. (MPark 4) (David Chute)


HITMAN Fresh from creating domestic cyber-anarchy in this summer’s Live Free or Die Hard, Timothy Olyphant goes global as topflight international assassin Agent 47 in producer Luc Besson and director Xavier Gens’ bargain-basement adaptation of the titular video game. Cut loose by his Orwellian parent organization (known only as “the organization”) following a supposedly botched hit on the Russian president, 47 (who, despite his job’s evident needs for anonymity and stealth, sports an enormous barcode tattoo on the back of his bald head), hightails it across the former USSR in search of his betrayers while offering reluctant protection to a tempestuous prostitute (Olga Kurylenko) perplexed by the assassin’s paralyzing fear of intimacy. (“You don’t want to fuck me and you don’t want to kill me — I’ve never felt so much indifference in my life,” she huffs.) Olyphant, who made for the least menacing Die Hard baddie on record, here furrows his brow and snarls his lines in an unconvincing bid to seem tough. And while Gens can splatter gore with the best of them — early in the film, a human body packed with C4 goes off in graphic detail — he fails to stage so much as a single rousing action scene, even when he has four double-fisted swordsmen facing off inside an abandoned subway car. Game over. The audience loses. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)


HOLLY Shot concurrently with a “raising awareness” documentary on child prostitution in Southeast Asia (by the tellingly named Priority Films), Holly snatches images out of soiled Cambodian red-light districts, slips figures on sex trafficking into its screenplay, and numbers a reformer heroine and unrepentant pederast evildoer among its cast of characters. The titular Holly (Thuy Nguyen) is an abandoned preadolescent Vietnamese with her virginity up on the auction block; Patrick (Ron Livingston), an unmoored American expat with neither past nor future, suddenly grabs onto the idea of saving her. Livingston initially seems unable to shoulder his share of the movie — his pale, undistinguished handsomeness suggests something undercooked, and as a boozy cardsharp, he doesn’t exude enough attrition — but shades of ambiguity gradually suggest depths beneath his blankness. And though the storytelling is haphazard, artistry often transcends mere good intentions. Director Guy Moshe scavenges color from the torn fringes of Phnom Penh, and the composer Tôn-Thât Tiêt provides a spare score, laying bleary sadness over the art-house muckraking. (Music Hall) (Nick Pinkerton)


MARGOT AT THE WEDDING See film feature


THE MIST
See film feature


NINA’S HEAVENLY DELIGHTS
“A difficult choice, between perfection and heavenly delight,” crows the announcer at an Indian cooking contest during this movie’s climax. Sadly, Pratibha Parmar’s Nina’s Heavenly Delights offers neither. What it does offer is an estranged daughter, a dead father, a disappointed mother, a secret marriage, a secret lesbian, and a secret Scottish country dancer. Also, a fabulously gay friend who leads a dance group called the Chutney Queens. This overloaded plot begins with the homecoming of Nina (Shelley Conn), a Glasgow native of Indian descent, and follows her through the cooking contest she enters on behalf of her recently departed father, an accomplished chef. Oh, wait: Her father may have departed from Nina, but he has not departed from the movie, and has an eerie tendency to make posthumous appearances (imagine the ghost of Julia Child showing up in your bedroom). Dad’s mantra was “Follow your heart,” which might be why the writers sprinkle lines like “And what about my heart?” into their overly mushy script. Veena Sood plays Nina’s mother with magisterial presence and subdued sorrow. But Conn overacts just as much as the impetuous Nina overreacts. At least her food — simmering sauces and flaky breads that flash tantalizingly before the camera — is reputed to be subtle. (Regent Showcase) (Abigail Deutsch)


STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING See film feature


THIS CHRISTMAS Tyler Perry is going to wind up with a monopoly on mainstream adult dramas marketed to African-American audiences if quality alternatives aren’t produced — and soon. This mushy, bloated holiday album snapshot of an L.A. family with excess baggage, by writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II, is not that alternative (neither was Whitmore’s 2006 b-ball drama Crossover, which carries the dishonor of ranking in IMDb’s bottom 10 films of all time). Soapy to the extreme, This Christmas takes place over a preposterously chaotic three-day weekend under the roof of divorced matriarch Ma Dear (Loretta Devine), as mulish jazz musician Quentin (Idris Elba) resurfaces for the first time in years with angry bookies in pursuit, and AWOL soldier Claude (Columbus Short) lands himself in jail for pulling a gun out of pride for the pregnant, white wife his family doesn’t yet know about. The cast pulls off some spirited moments, but the dialogue and situations are phonier than the yule log on TV. (Citywide) (Aaron Hillis)


WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY? Although What Would Jesus Buy? was directed by Rob VanAlkemade, it bears the unmistakable imprimatur of its producer, Morgan Spurlock. Much like Spurlock’s Super Size Me, this production is slick, well-paced and tremendously entertaining as it follows a group called Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping on a pre-Christmas tour through an endless parade of dreary Midwestern malls. According to his press bio, Reverend Billy is “an officiant of the rites of marriage in New York City, and a lifelong lover of birds of prey.” More to the point, he’s a performance artist riffing on the persona of an evangelical minister in order to drive home to Americans just how in thrall we are to the church of consumerism. Unfortunately, WWJB? never pushes past the surface of this shtick to explore the deeper forces behind our impulse to buy. It could use more interviews with the free-trade experts and anti-sweatshop activists, and fewer shots of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir exhorting Wal-Mart shoppers to, well, stop shopping, no matter what they’re buying and why they need it. (Sunset 5) (Julia Wallace)

Related Stories

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Thu 24
  2. Fri 25
  3. Sat 26
  4. Sun 27
  5. Mon 28
  6. Tue 29
  7. Wed 30

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.
  • Are Westerns For The Weak? Not According to "Sensei" Martin Kove
    Decades ago, the western film was king, with nearly 100 produced every year at their peak in the 1940s, and their popularity extending years beyond. But today, other than rare successes like Django Unchained or True Grit, the genre is not in great shape. Films such as Cowboys and Aliens and The Lone Ranger failed to spark new interests in the western. It's a tough nut to crack, but veteran movie bad guy Martin Kove -- most well known for his role as Sensei John Kreese in The Karate Kid -- is passionate about the classic American film genre and is trying to revive it. We spent an afternoon at his home talking about westerns and how to make the genre interesting again. All photos by Jared Cowan.

Now Trending