Saturday, December 18, 2010

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Cher and Other Things

Burlesque is a movie you either get or you don't. I don't mean to imply that it's just over your head if you don't like it, rather that it's more in tune with what Maggie Smith says in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. Burlesque is the sort of thing I like: like Xanadu, it's a would-be disaster that instead succeeds because of its sincerity. Some may think it's silliness, especially if they only watch the first stiff and awkward fifteen minutes. Still, there's something downright magical about a movie that plays like a naughty Babes in Arms.

Christina Aguilera is a small-town girl hoping ot make it big in L.A. Cher is the owner of the Burlesque club that seems completely unfamiliar with burlesque, but which still attracts some customers. Unfortunately, the club is falling on hard times, and needs X, Y and Z or it will close! The solution: Let's put on a show! Well, I mean, a different kind of show. You know. A better one. So, we get terrific numbers from Xtina and Cher (of course!), including "You Haven't Heard the Last of Me", a moving ballad from Diane Warren. The two work fine together, by the way. Aguilera is a little wet behind the ears, but she's engaging enough. Cher is terrific; I love the awkward way she doles out wisdom, like Tess is afraid of sounding schmaltzy. Aw, and they have a makeup scene together that's touching and hilarious, because it's all mother-daughter and Xtina looks so touched when she sees her tarted-up face in the mirror. AWWW!

Better acting through chemistry
Meanwhile, Stanley Tucci walks away with the whole show. Seriously, every time I see him on screen I want him to do eight more movies with his scene partners: Meryl, Patty C, and now Cher. Does he have people Tucci up a script for him, or is the magic all him? God, he's funny. Cam Gigandet is a likable leading man, Dianna Agron has a short cameo, Kristen Bell is delightfully camp as the villainess, and Eric Dane didn't piss me off!

Actually, I have to give writer-director Steve Antin mad props for not condemning Eric Dane's character, by the way. He's a businessman who wants to buy the burlesque and make it a skyscraper, but he's not a villain. Rather, he just isn't right for our protagonists and, hey, that's okay. Those who felt that The Devil Wears Prada too easily condemned Miranda Priestly in favor of the free-loading boyfriend character can find relief in seeing a movie about art vs. capitalism that actually presents everyone has flawed but well-meaning people. Crazy!

Great songs, great dance numbers, AMAZING costumes. It's just a fun time. At the beginning of the year, this topped my Most Anticipated list. While I wouldn't call it my favorite of the year, it definitely did not disappoint (to quote a friend of mine, "stanley tucci + cher = fabulousness like the world has never known"). Besides, alongside Scott Pilgrim, it's by far the best soundtrack of the year.


There's much to enjoy in the new Harry Potter film. It manages to comfortably transition between its comedic and dramatic scenes, something that could, at times, feel awkward and bizarre in previous installments. The score by Alexandre Desplat is predictably great, striking out on his own instead of rehashing old themes and styles. David Yates and cinematographer Eduardo Serra take a cinema verite approach to the majority of the film; instead of Harry Potter and his friends going on a long, dull camping trip in search of the means to destroy dark wizard Voldemort, Harry Potter and his friends are on a road trip with a late 60s/early 70s feel, with misty landscapes and hand-held work. The VFX team must be applauded, surely, for fitting their work within this more realistic setting seamlessly. Interestingly, is how real everything seemed when it was just Harry, Hermione and Ron in the tent, and how still-effective-but-nonetheless-consciously-FILM other scenes played (this is especially true of the Malfoy Manor finale, when the realism of the first two hours gives way to Helena Bonham-Carter's enjoyably unhinged Bellatrix Lestrange).

By far the greatest decision, though, is the promotion of Emma Watson's Hermione Granger from supporting role to co-lead. From her heartbreaking first scene to her climactic encounter with Bellatrix, Hermione is right with Harry in every sequence of the film. Even better, Watson meets the challenge, giving her best performance in the series. We've seen the smart Hermione; now Watson sells us on the friend, always supportive, sometimes lost. The play between her and Daniel Radcliffe in a dancing scene is especially touching. Hell, that whole scene  is masterful: no dialogue, no Desplat, just two friends comforting each other to the music of a radio. You get their whole relationship with that scene alone. Coupled with a Christmas scene set at a cemetery, Watson has never, to me, been more effective.


Surprisingly hilarious film about a supervillain who finally defeats his nemesis. There's some jaw-droppingly photo-real animation, Will Ferrell and Tina Fey are a stitch together, and it's got a fun score from Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe. Some things don't completely work, like the Music Career gag that was in all the TV spots. That's just...not funny. Also, why does every Dreamworks Animated film end with a dance party? This time it felt shoehorned in. I winced. The mediocre sticks out because for the majority of its 90 minutes, it's a fun and, more importantly, funny movie.

1 comment:

Andrew K. said...

Hmm, I do love that silent scene between Watson and Radcliffe - it's their best moments; but otherwise I think Grint runs off with the film as far as the trio is concerned.

(Ah, but that opening is lovely.)