Take away the sumptuous settings and Hollywood glamour and what you have here is like Henry VIII for Dummies enacted by the cast of the OC.
Natalie Portman plays Anne Boleyn, who became the second of Henry VIII’s six wives and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. When Anne arrived at court, Henry was married to a much-older Spanish princess who had been the wife of his late brother. She was unable to produce a male heir, and the impetuous king was vulnerable to the plotting of courtiers who deployed their female family members for power and money. The Boleyn family had two daughters. Mary (Scarlett Johansson), the quiet one who married young and wanted a simple life in the country, caught the king’s eye and became his mistress. Anne, the headstrong one who wanted to be more than a mistress, ended up sundering not only a marriage but Britain’s ties to the Catholic church. She became queen, but like her predecessor (and three of the four wives who followed) she did not produce a male heir. She was beheaded on charges of treason, adultery, and incest.
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It’s The Shawshank Redemption part two, or it tries to be. It has voiceover narration by Morgan Freeman. It has an inspiring and life-affirming friendship — featuring Morgan Freeman. It just is not very good.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the movie. And if, after seeing the trailer you want to see the movie, then you will get what you are expecting, a formulaic feel-good story of two dying men who finally learn how to live. There just will not be one original or authentic moment along the way. This is the kind of thing old pros Freeman, Jack Nicholson, and director Rob Reiner can pretty much phone in, and that is what they do.
We know the minute we see bombastic Jack Nicholson insisting that the hospitals he owns are not health spas and that everyone shares a room, no exceptions, that soon he will be sharing a room and won’t be happy about it. We know that when saintly though embittered Morgan Freeman shows up in that other bed in the room, they are there to teach each other important life lessons about the importance of connections and living life to the fullest.
But the movie’s idea of living life to the fullest is, well, not very full. It consists of sky-diving and tourism. There are some moments of family reconciliation that are thrown in toward the end but never shared, much less explored. Dying just seems an excuse for a geriatric, spend-it-all Spring Break.
The movie continually undercuts its own ostensible messages. It preaches authenticity but practices facsimile. It preaches tenderness but fetishises hedonism. It preaches on behalf of home but glamorizes running away. Freeman and Nicholson are always watchable, but the best their finer moments in this movie can do is remind us of how much better they are in other films.
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The movie “Jumper” is 88 minutes on a pogo stick, hopping from teenage cliche to teenage cliche. You like the story about the high school nerd who pines for the class beauty and is tormented by her bully boyfriend? You’re in luck. Or do you like the one about the perpetual victim who suddenly discovers that he has his own super powers and is better than everyone else? Then this is your movie. How about the cliche of a teenager trapped in an unloving home with a gruff and unsympathetic father, suddenly liberated from all parental dependence — and isn’t that heartless old dad sorry now? Here’s another one that should sound familiar to you: “what would you do if you had the power to walk into banks, stores, or women’s lives and simply take anything you want?” Every angst-filled teenage fantasy is covered in this movie for just about as long as it takes a pogo stick to touch down. Then we’re off to the next one: the sadder but wiser beauty who realizes how foolish she was to let the nerd go, years before. A group of evil authoritarian figures who don’t believe that kids should be having fun with their super powers (the cornered hero’s plaintive wail, “but I didn’t do anything wrong!” will resonate with every teenager ever caught painting the cat or dismantling the lawnmower).
The virtues of this movie, slender though they may be, are really peripatetic virtues. You get a rapid-fire tour of exotic locations around the world, as jumpers race from the Egyptian Desert to downtown Tokyo to London to Rome. You jump from fight to fight, from character to character. With this pace, the fun and clever moments never last too long, but then again, you never have to confront the lack of depth or substance either. Just as you are beginning to think, “say… this acting is pretty superficial…” WHOOOOSH you are sitting on top of the Sphinx in Egypt, and isn’t it a lovely view?
There are lots of other cliches of teenage wish fulfillment– archetypal stories about mothers and friends– but I don’t want to give away too much of the feather-light plot. Suffice it to say that that no adolescent wish-list item is left unrecognized. The problem is that it is never long enough or interesting enough to be satisfying. This movie is paced for an audience that grew up multi-tasking and its aesthetic sensibility and depth of story-telling is equivalent to a beer commercial. Even at under 90 minutes, too much money has been stuffed into too little script. At one point, a character says that jumping enables you to skip the boring parts. If that were true, he would have jumped out of this movie.
Nor will you find much satisfaction in the acting by stars Hayden Christensen or Rachel Bilson, in the useless role of love interest/damsel in distress, who keeps asking Christensen’s character to tell her what is going on as he is dodging assassins. Samuel L. Jackson, wearing a hairpiece that resembles a Krispy Kreme powdered sugar donut, turns in a calamitous performance as a hit man for the authoritarian “paladins” who for centuries have lived only to squelch the fun of “jumpers,” because only God should have that power. He uses something between an electric lasso and a “don’t tase me, bro” cattle prod to subdue them and it does not seem to occur to him that God might not approve of murder. Christensen, Jackson, Bilson, and
Billy Elliot‘s Jamie Bell all seem to be in different movies, and none of them are worth watching.
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This week, both versions of the Faustian comedy Bedazzled are being released in one DVD and both are worth watching. The 1967 original, directed by Stanley Donen (“Singin’ in the Rain”) and starring British comedy duo Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, is the story of a short order cook (Moore) who sells his soul to the devil (Cook, who also wrote the screenplay) for the chance to be noticed by a beautiful waitress. He is certain that his seven wishes will give him all the opportunities he needs to persuade her to fall in love with him. But each one goes hilariously wrong. And of course the devil has more than one trick up his sleeve. The story is fine but what makes this movie memorable is what goes on around the edges — like the portrayal of the seven deadly sins (Raquel Welch appears briefly as Lust). The devil keeps busy — watch him scratching record and tearing the last page out of mystery novels as he chats with Moore’s character. And his answer to the question of how he became the devil is very well done.
In the remake, directed by Harold Ramis (“Analyze This”), Brendan Fraser stars as the lowly cubicle worker who dreams of romance with a pretty co-worker (Frances O’Connor). The devil is a devilishly seductive Elizabeth Hurley. It is not nearly as witty as the first version, but it has superb comic performances and now and then a bit of ambition, like the understated portrayal of God, who shows up incognito to provide some support and guidance.
NOTE: Both with some mature material — recommended for mature teens and adults.