Also Not Appearing In This Film: Cinder

11-Oct-07 11:11 AM by
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It may be a children's movie, but I'll do anything for Showbits — so in the name of research, I can now admit to having watched Ella Enchanted. Fortunately, it wasn't as painful as I expected.

Based on the 1997 novel of the same name, Ella Enchanted is set in a fantasy world of elves, ogres, giants, and faeries. As an infant, our heroine was granted the gift of obedience, requiring her to do whatever she is told. (Oddly, no one else in the kingdom exhibits any other signs of giftedness.) For her own safety, she's not allowed to tell anyone of this vulnerability, so most people dismiss her odd behavior as quirky. There is some illogic to this power — for example, when she's told to say or do something, she never immediately follows it by setting things right, such as with an apology; also, she can be told to do things that she is otherwise unable to do, such as freeze in mid-air. And if you watch Ella Enchanted with a literal mind, you'll find a few instances where her obedience doesn't kick in. But hey, this is a fairy tale, right?

It's easy to pick out other such stories that influenced Ella and the people she meets in her quest to rid herself of this curse: there's a wicked stepmother and two stepsisters (Cinderella); an evil uncle who wants to rule (The Lion King); and numerous anachronisms and pop songs (Shrek). Yet though that last instance used its soundtrack to underscore on-screen action, the tunes in Ella seem forced. Sometimes they use even this to good effect, though, as with their stereotype of elves as singers and dancers: they so happily fit this bardic mold that they'll perform at the drop of a hat, to comedic results of a less puerile nature than Shrek's. More often, though, Ella seems an attempt to cash in on the green ogre's popularity and hip style.

But it's the actors, not the characters, that drew me into this film. Anne Hathaway plays Ella with puppy-dog eyes and ruby-red lips, reminding me of Julia Roberts and Kristian Alfonso of two decades ago. I was curious to see what Ms. Hathaway was doing before she was in Brokeback Mountain; with the pending release of Get Smart, surely this star is only going to continue to rise. Hugh Dancy plays her love interest with an authentic British accent and a hobbit-style do, while his wicked uncle is performed by Cary Elwes, doing what he does best: playing a caricature of a classic character, as he did in The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. In minor roles are Minnie Driver as a sort of nanny and Monty Python's Eric Idle as the narrator. (See if you can spot the Holy Grail references!)

This well-rounded cast puts on a good show, complemented by a few minor touches. The scenery is bright and colorful as befitting a storybook land. One special effect witnessed therein is a talking book — imagine a magic mirror on a novel's cover. Though this surface was a bit too reflective, I found the appearance of a man's face on it, correctly adjusting for lighting and angles as the book is moved, to be impressive. The talking snake did not seem vital to the plot, but at least he was made to seem fantastic (necessarily so, as the movie's only talking animal) and not a CGI imitation of the real thing. The climax is also sufficiently climatic and tense — surprising for a kid's movie.

Though somewhat lacking in originality, Ella Enchanted is a simple and fun tale appropriate for the audience it's intended for.

Dungeons, Dragons, and Janes

21-Aug-07 9:44 AM by
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Hiphopguy23 saw Becoming Jane in the movie theater last week. There were many scenes where the life of Jane Austen could've used more imagination.

Is it wrong to imagine there is a rogue climbing the wall of the ivy-covered castle?

Or to picture a hired assassin blending into the background during the royal ball?

Or to make believe when a couple goes for a romantic walk in the woods that a group of elves is hiding in the brush, waiting to ambush them?

Or before the couple lean in for their first kiss, to imagine a renegade barbarian unsheathing his bastard sword out of jealousy?

Hiphopguy23 is just wondering if these thoughts are normal.

Missed It By That Much

27-Jan-07 12:44 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Television, Trailers; 9 comments.

Get Smart was the first "classic" show I stumbled across in a summer that began a love affair with Nick at Nite. The show and its brethren were sheer genius: famous actors in classic situations, presenting clean comedy my parents and I could enjoy together. My family continues to bond over this media even today: our recent Christmas gift to each other was the complete series on DVD. (not in stores until November 2007!)

The connection went beyond the screen, too. Even if I didn't yet know the word "deadpan" — a style I also admired from Johnny Carson — it was a quality I first loved, and later practiced, as a result of Don Adams' example. Though we have lost the likes of such gentlemen as Mr. Adams, Mr. Carson, and Ed Platt, I am relieved that we can still count among us Barbara Feldon, in whose recent book, Living Alone and Loving It, I was delighted to empathize with this belief:

The emotional excess of music felt more real than the muted emotion and soft demeanor I expressed in daily life. When I was this passionately engaged I didn't need anything else to "complete" me; not a man, not a career affirmation. I only had to give in to the music to live an immense life that I could experience any time I chose.

Now, as I am reminded by this news story, that heritage is to be passed on to a silver screen adaptation… and I find myself stricken with trepidation. Get Smart has been revived often enough, IMHO: the 1980 film The Nude Bomb, the 1989 film Get Smart, Again!, and Andy Dick/Elaine Hendrix's failed Fox TV revival, the eponymous Get Smart. These four entries have alternated between hit and miss, so technically, we are due a successful effort. But I've fallen victim to that flawed statistical logic before, and I'm hesitant to allow my childhood icons to again be disrespected in this manner.

Television shows have best transitioned to modern cinema when the script and director do not take the source material too seriously; only The Brady Bunch Movie has successfully at once lampooned and paid homage to its origin. But Get Smart is already a parody; it can't be further satirized. Though I think Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway could do the roles well, they aren't Don Adams and Barbara Feldon any more than Andy Dick and Elaine Hendrix were.

In my overprotectiveness of my childhood memories, am I the one taking the source material too seriously? Or is this adaptation indeed doomed to fail?