Sunday, February 3, 2008

Once Upon a Milkshake

And now, I present to you the most bizarre double feature in cinematic history - Enchanted and There Will Be Blood. Trippy, huh? I saw these two films back to back one afternoon a few weeks ago. They were even in the same theater, so I didn't have to leave my seat. This was my second time seeing both. It was so odd seeing them juxtaposed, because they couldn't be more different. Or could they? No, I'm kidding. They couldn't.

This was a really strange, yet incredibly fun experience. Since I already reviewed There Will Be Blood, I'll talk about Enchanted first. Enchanted is one of the most delightful feel-good movies I've ever seen. Finally, it's Disney with a brain. I'm not saying that Disney doesn't have a brain, but they really haven't lately. It's been awhile since the glory years of the early 90s, and since then, they've just been derivative...of themselves. I was worried this movie would be too little-kiddish when I first saw it, but it's absolutely translatable to adults. In fact, I think it's more geared toward teens and up than kids. Anyway, it's a wonderful rehashing of everything that made Disney so fantastic and magical in the first place. It's not just self-repetition. They completely reinterpret the ideas in a fresh, modern way.

It's not Pixar, but it's not trying to be, and I respect it for that. Actually, I'm thrilled to see a legitimate, smart, exuberant family movie come from some place other than Pixar. I have a couple minor quibbles with the movie, but they're so inconsequential in the big picture. The rest is so wonderful (especially Amy Adams) that it more than makes up for any flaws, which is why it gets the highest rating. I think Enchanted is perfect in its own, unique way and in what it sets out to accomplish. Oddly enough, you'll see similar logic in how I arrived at my rating for There Will Be Blood. It always amazes me how two films can get the same rating when they're worlds apart in genre, subject, or intentions. That's why it's impossible to compare. You have to judge each film on its own merit, which is what I always do. At least, I always try valiantly, and I believe I'm successful, even though it's really hard sometimes. For instance, I can't say Enchanted doesn't deserve the same star rating as There Will Be Blood because it isn't as serious or intense. I have to evaluate on a film-by-film basis.

That being said, I can get back to fairy tale land and the Enchanted review. The actual 2-D animation at the beginning of Enchanted reminds me so much of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and the rest of the blissful Disney movies I grew up watching over and over. Giselle, the heroine, looks just like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. In fact, her live action counterpart, Amy Adams, looks even more like Ariel. This role could not have been cast any better, but I'll get to Amy Adams later. I love the collision of fantasy with reality. Giselle isn't expected to conform to reality's expectations. It's reality that needs the fantasy. After all, whose reality couldn't use some magic? It's about maturing and gaining wisdom rather than losing innocence. It's rather adult and really inspiring. The message is also one of female empowerment. Gotta love that.

The music is by Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken. Schwartz worked on some Disney stuff before, and Menken is the genius behind the music of The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. That's a hell of a resumé. His songs here are fantastic, but I think the best is the "Under the Sea"-inspired "That's How You Know." Three past Disney princesses - Paige O'Hara (Belle), Jodi Benson (Ariel), and Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas) - make appearances. Giselle has tons of animated animal helpers, including one chipmunk that adorably follows her to New York. One of the funniest scenes is Pip the chipmunk trying to explain Giselle's peril to James Mardsen's idiotic Prince Edward. This movie works because it respects its heritage, and it made me fall in love with Disney all over again.

The acting is beyond wonderful. Susan Sarandon has a ball playing the evil witch. Timothy Spall is eternally the sniveling servant - that's because no one does it better. Idina Menzel (of Wicked fame) is great as Patrick Dempsey's girlfriend. Unfortunately, she doesn't sing. James Marsden is a riot as the pretty but dim prince. Patrick Dempsey is as good as I've ever seen him, and a total dreamboat at that.

Amy Adams is radiant as Giselle. She really makes the movie as great as it is. Even though the material is exceptionally good, it would be nothing without her. She is the heart and soul of Enchanted. She's so sweet and beautiful, but she can be really strong when she needs to be. Her comic timing is extraordinary, and she has an amazing singing voice. She sings like I imagine an angel would sing. It's as good as any of the Disney princesses of yesteryear. She has all the mannerisms of a Disney animated princess down pat. It's really uncanny. She's all fluttery and exaggerated, and her voice is almost impossibly perky and saccharine. Amy Adams is a dream come true. She should have been nominated for an Oscar. I love her in this movie so much. She's pure perfection. In fact, she elevates the film itself to perfection because of her transcendent work. I really don't want to diminish the significance of all the other factors involved in the movie's success, because I can't find much wrong with it at all, but she's just so essential. She's the magical key that takes the inherently wonderful material to the next level. It's a performance I'll always treasure. She makes me remember why I always wanted to be a princess when I was a little girl. I'm sure she's inspired a whole new generation of little girls to dream the same. That's the highest compliment.

Now, to switch gears completely... I had some reservations about There Will Be Blood after my first viewing. I don't think they're completely gone after seeing it again, but I understand the film more now. I still think it's flawed. For me, even though everyone seems to think it's cinema at its most exciting, the first twenty minutes are pretty boring. I have other minor quibbles, but overall, it seemed to fit together this time. Before, I liked so many parts of it, but I didn't see how it added up. Now, I get it. It's more about capitalism and religion and society than about characters. It's more thematic than personal. When you look at it that way, it makes more sense.

Watching it a second time and then seeing Daniel Day-Lewis on awards shows and talk shows and rewatching clips and seeing awesome TV commercials over the past few weeks has just made me love There Will Be Blood more. I feel my appreciation growing every minute. It's such an ambitious, intense, thrilling piece of work. Paul Thomas Anderson is astounding. Daniel Day-Lewis truly gives one of the greatest performances in movie history. I still don't get why people are ignoring or insulting Paul Dano. He's incredible! The scenes between him and Daniel Day-Lewis just make my pulse race and my heart pound. That clip that has become THE clip - with Dano baptizing Day-Lewis - is just as good as acting ever gets. Jonny Greenwood's music is so haunting and perfect. The last couple scenes of the film are remarkable. I don't think it can get any better than Daniel Day-Lewis explaining his milkshake theory to Paul Dano's character. It's hilarious - screenwriting at its finest. PTA rocks my world.

I still have problems with the film, but the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses, so I'm now giving it the highest rating. Yet I'm reluctant to change its position on my top 20 list. Actually, I'll be posting a revised version of that list soon. Maybe I should have waited, but I really didn't think it would change. I never imagined I'm Not There would crack it, much less top it. I recently watched and loved The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, so that needs a home on there. Also, I want to see a few more just in case. It's really amazing when films are so good that the decision for a top 20 list is this hard.

Anyway, I'm not moving There Will Be Blood up on my list, because while I think it's an outstanding film, I still don't connect with it emotionally. And if you've been reading, you know that my emotional reaction is of the utmost importance. I wear my heart on my proverbial sleeve.

Enchanted: ***** (out of 5)
There Will Be Blood: ***** (out of 5)

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