Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Horror and enchantment mark the holiday


Director Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile") again adapts a Stephen King story, this time for a minor helping of horror about a small Maine town that must fight off giant insects and other monstrous creatures resulting from'll have to see the picture to find out what brought about this hellish scenario.

A second-tier cast led by Thomas Jane lends its skills to the story of a group of townsfolk trapped in the local supermarket after a hazardous mist arrives. Jane plays David Drayton, who's caught with his young son in the supermarket. As tensions mount, Drayton winds up sparring with a Manhattan lawyer (Andre Braugher) who insists on leaving the market. Marcia Gay Harden shows up as a religious nut who, of course, endangers everyone in between Bible-crazed rants. Perhaps trying to shake off his turn as Capote in "Infamous," British actor Toby Jones shows up as the man who runs the supermarket.

"The Mist" delivers the requisite jolts, as Darabont sets out to show us how people behave under extreme pressure. That would have been easier had the movie been populated by people instead of a series of characters who sometimes seem like comic-book creations.

A big-shock ending, perhaps intended to dislodge the movie from its horror roots and give it an existential kick in the pants, didn't help -- at least not for me.


I'm not sure that I'd recommend "Enchanted" to most of the people I know. I'm not saying the movie is bad -- far from it -- but most of my pals prefer alienation to enchantment. Mention the words "fairy tale," and they're likely to start lobbing verbal grenades at the screen. But you know what? "Enchanted" manages to be a pretty successful slice of romance, and it's creative to boot.

Deftly mixing animation and live action, the movie tells the story of Giselle (Amy Adams), a young woman who travels from the animated world to upscale Manhattan, emerging in Times Square through a manhole. Once in New York, Giselle meets Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce lawyer who can't quite believe he's run into this too-good-to-be-true princess. Robert's daughter (Rachel Covey) has less trouble believing in magic: She becomes the first real-world character to be enchanted by this visitor from a pastel-colored Disney paradise that practically reeks of happily-ever-afters.

Meanwhile, Giselle's dream prince (James Marsden) follows his love to New York in hopes of rescuing her. He's got a mommy problem, though. His mother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) wants to derail his pending marriage -- with help from some poison apples and a lackey played by Timothy Spall, who's at his sniveling, rodent-like best. The humor has a slight edge to it, and that makes the movie palatable for adults; the musical numbers are agreeable (if not classic); and Adams' golly-gee sincerity proves funny and winning, particularly when played against Dempsey's more sober turn.

The end-of-movie special effects may be a bit bombastic, but overall "Enchanted" accomplishes its mission: reaffirming romance while goofing -- ever so mildly -- on its own starry-eyed pretensions.

As for the other supposedly enchanted movie of the weekend -- "August Rush" -- let's just say that director Kirsten Sheridan has concocted a movie that tries to sketch its story in the broadest possible strokes. "August Rush" introduces us to an 11-year-old boy (Freddie Highmore) who runs away from an orphanage to search for his parents in Manhattan. The entire picture, which plays like updated Dickens filtered through an overly emphatic "Flashdance" sensibility, builds toward the boy's meeting with his parents (Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Mostly preposterous, this contemporary fairy tale features Robin Williams as Wizard, a Fagin-like character who makes his living sending children into the streets to play music for money. Sporting a soul patch and "Midnight Cowboy" garb, Williams hits a lower bottom than the rest of a movie that risks exhaustion by strenuously attempting to tug at the heartstrings.

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