Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Very Thought of You (1998) [PG-13] ***

Martha (Monica Potter) meets Daniel (Tom Hollander) at the Minneapolis airport. She's escaping from a boring, meaningless life, and London is the least expensive foreign destination. Daniel is a successful British record producer returning to London from a business meeting in Minneapolis. Fascinated by the lovely Martha, he buys her a first-class ticket upgrade and a night at an expensive London hotel suite. However, after Martha disembarks at Heathrow airport, she accidentally injures Laurence (Joseph Fiennes) with her luggage cart.  And still later, while she is sightseeing in a London park, Martha meets Frank (Rufus Sewell). So what are the chances that, in a city of ten million people, Martha would meet three men who were all life-long friends, and who would each be irresistibly attracted to her?

Originally titled Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence, the film is both highly predictable and totally unbelievable. However, it does have a very British kind of warmth and charm, without any emphasis on sex. With an inventive screenplay by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, Hereafter), and a plot that unfolds both forward in linear time as well as in flashback, this comedic romance smoothly develops the unique personalities of each of the four of the leads, portraying Martha as curious, naive and innocent, Laurence as confused, indecisive and lovesick, and both Daniel and Frank as opportunistic lovers. While this film is not as rewarding as Monica Potter's later romantic comedy I'm With Lucy, if you enjoyed that film, as well as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually and While You Were Sleeping, you might enjoy The Very Thought of You. 

Labels: comedy, romance   
Internet Movie Database   
Metacritic 43/100   
Tomatometer (critics=33, viewers=61) 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Cool, Dry Place (1998) [PG-13] ***

Russell Durrell (Vince Vaughn) is an attorney living in a small Kansas town, single-parenting his four-year-old son Cal (Bobby Moat). They are trying to get over the loss of Kate (Monica Potter), the wife and mother who abandoned them both eighteen months earlier. Just as Russell begins to get involved with Beth (Joey Lauren Adams) a local girl, Kate shows up to reconnect with little Cal, and, at the same time, a high-powered Texas law firm offers Russell a position in far-away Dallas.

All four actors give credible, if understated, performances in an emotional drama that does not seem to offer a clear resolution. Monica Potter gives an excellent performance in a part that might not elicit much sympathy from the audience, while Vince Vaughn has surprisingly good chemistry with both Monica Potter and Joey Lauren Adams. The parent-child bonding has a feeling similar to that found in Sleepless in Seattle and The Family Man. Finally, if you like Monica Potter, and you enjoy romantic comedy drama, I can highly recommend I'm With Lucy. 

Label: drama    
Internet Movie Database   
Tomatometer (critics=54, viewers=61)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998) [PG-13] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli.

Every once in a while, a movie surprises me. Such is the case with Andy Tennant's Ever After. Based on the lackluster previews, I was prepared for the worst, but, instead of getting a juvenile, pointless re-telling of the classic Cinderella fairy tale, I was confronted with a delightful re-interpretation. While I won't claim that Ever After is the best cinematic version of the fable, this is deft storytelling, and sure to be a hit with almost everyone who sees it (except, perhaps, unromantic cynics).

One of the most curious things about this movie is the PG-13 rating bestowed upon it by the MPAA. This is the third would-be family film in less than a month to carry that classification, and, while it is understandable in the case of the other two, Dr. Dolittle and Small Soldiers, I am at a loss to explain why Ever After was treated so harshly. Aside from a couple of mild swordfights, the evidence of a whipping (the actual event is not shown), and an inconsequential instance of profanity, there's nothing remotely objectionable about Ever After's content. Parents made wary by the PG-13 need not fret; this picture is entirely suitable for viewing by children of all ages.

Ever After's twist is that it's telling the real Cinderella story from which the Brothers Grimm fable was derived (the two famous fairy tale scribes make a brief appearance in a prologue that also features a cameo by the incomparable Jeanne Moreau). Consequently, there are no pumpkins, mice, magic spells, or fairy godmothers. The love story between a peasant girl and a prince is still at the core, although, in this case, Cinderella (whose name is Danielle), has the kind of progressive attitude that would be more at home in the 1990s than in the 1500s.

The broad strokes of the story are certainly familiar. After the tragic death of her father (Jeroen Krabbe), Danielle (played by Anna Maguire as a little girl, and Drew Barrymore thereafter) is consigned to a life of servitude for her cruel stepmother, Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston), and vain step-sister, Marguerite (Megan Dodds). Danielle has an ally in the household, her second step-sister, Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey, last seen opposite Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures), but she's too meek to stand up to her mother. While Rodmilla, Marguerite, and Jacqueline enjoy as much luxury as their farm house provides, Danielle (dubbed Cinderella by Marguerite for the cinders that always stain her clothing) is forced to scrub the floors, cook the meals, and feed the animals.

One day, when Danielle is picking apples, she spies a man stealing one of her step-mother's horses. It's actually Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), the heir to the throne of France, in the process of running away from his father because he is unwilling to be trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage. Mistaking Henry for a common thief, Danielle knocks him from the horse with a well-aimed apple. After she realizes who he is, she is apologetic, but the meeting leaves an impression on both of them. At the time of their next encounter, Danielle is posing as a countess in order to rescue a family retainer from debtors' prison. She engages the Prince in a spirited debate, and, although he thinks he recognizes her, he can't put a name to the face. Soon, he is scouring the countryside looking for her, and, although Danielle is attracted to him, she avoids contact, fearing that if he learns that she isn't a member of the nobility, he will shun her. Through all of this, there is a fairy godmother of sorts -- Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey), who uses science, not magic, to smooth the path of true love.

Movies like Ever After, if fashioned with little skill, become curiosities for pre-teen girls looking for a summer afternoon at the movies. However, Tennant takes this familiar material and crafts a charming, captivating motion picture. He gives the villains a few human qualities, but still manages to make them despicable enough that we feel justified in cheering when they receive their comeuppance. The all-important romance is nicely-developed. Danielle and Henry are clearly fated to be together, but they have to overcome a number of obstacles along the way, including her dishonesty, her step-family's duplicity, and his prejudice. Of course, everything turns out happily ever after (hence, the title), but, as in all romances, our enjoyment lies in observing the games played by the two smitten protagonists en route to that ending.

As good as the costumes and setting are, Tennant does not craft a flawless period piece. In fact, Ever After transpires in a pseudo-16th century that bears only a passing resemblance to the historical reality. Anachronisms abound, both in attitudes and in speech. The characters talk as if they are products of the 1900s, not the 1500s, using idioms that, at the time, were centuries away from making their way into the language. Tennant doesn't appear to be bothered by these inaccuracies, but those who are sticklers for period detail may be distracted by this sort of thing.

Drew Barrymore, continuing to rehabilitate her once-tarnished image, proves that her winning turn as a romantic lead in the otherwise-dreadful The Wedding Singer was no fluke. As Danielle, she radiates tremendous appeal. Like Prince Henry, we are immediately taken not only with Danielle's beauty (which shines through the dirt on her face) but with her spirit. Speaking of the Prince, Dougray Scott (who can also be seen in this summer's Deep Impact) manages the difficult feat of making Henry likable rather than bland (blandness is often the unfortunate fate of the male leads in movies like this). Anjelica Huston and Megan Dodds turn on the bitchiness as step-mom and step-sister, and veteran actors Timothy West and Judy Parfitt have comical turns as the King and Queen of France. Patrick Godfrey's wise-but-humorous da Vinci is a delight.

Tennant, who showed skill at the helm of a romance with his last film, Fools Rush In, has found the right tone for this effort. The love story is wrapped around interludes of comedy, adventure, and drama. It never seems to matter that we know the entire story from the beginning -- the characters, not the plot, capture our attention. One concern I have about this film is that, because it's not high-profile, it has the potential to become lost in the summer crush. Here's hoping that enough viewers discover Ever After to give it a happy ending at the box office. [Berardinelli's rating: *** out of 4]

Labels: comedy, drama, fantasy, romance  

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 66/100  
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=75, viewers=70)  

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) [PG] ****

Star Trek: Insurrection opens in the village of the Ba’ku - six hundred people living in balance with Nature on a remote planet. Their planet's rings bathe the Ba’ku in a metaphasic radiation that suspends aging, like a fountain of youth. This radiation is coveted by an off-planet group called the Son’a, who suffer from a rapid aging illness. The Son’a have a technology that concentrates the radiation and can reverse aging, but it will render the planet uninhabitable. So the Son’a have made a deal with the Federation to move the Ba’ku off the planet in exchange for the Son’a technology. Discovering the plot, Picard (Patrick Stewart) reminds his superior that they are ignoring the Prime Directive (no interference with the natural development of any culture), and that Earth's history contains many tragic examples of a native population being wiped out or relocated by a powerful group intent on stealing its land or other resources. Picard cannot stop the plot, so he and the Enterprise crew are forced to take desperate measures to protect the Ba’ku and their planet.

Besides being great science fiction, Star Trek: Insurrection uses the Ba’ku and Son’a as symbols to make a statement about geopolitics. Baku is actually the name of the capital of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea. It's the center of an oil-rich region that has been coveted for its energy resources for centuries. Imagine that the metaphasic radiation symbolizes oil, the Ba’ku symbolizes the oil-rich, militarily-weak Caspian region, the Son’a symbolize the greedy, rapacious U.S. multinational oil companies, and the Federation symbolizes the powerful, energy-hungry U.S. government. In the same way that the Son’a and the Federation formed an alliance to exploit the helpless Ba’ku, so does the U.S. government work with the U.S. multinational oil companies to exploit oil-rich, militarily-weak nations like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and others. We may predict that, as global demand for petroleum increases, and exceeds global production, competition for the Caspian region's oil resources will grow even more intense, and this strategic region, bordered by Iran and Russia, could be where the next oil war erupts.

Labels: action, adventure, sci-fi, thriller
Internet Movie Database 6.4/10
Metacritic 64/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=58, viewers=62)