Monday, September 8, 2008

review: miss pettigrew lives for a day, hellboy 2

Well, it was quite an eventful weekend. On Thursday, my Netflix rental, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, came in. On Friday, JD and I went to see Hellboy 2 (finally!). And on Saturday, Erin and I went to see Hamlet 2. For three movies that received average to above-average reviews, I was quite impressed with the lot. Hamlet 2 was the biggest surprise -- I laughed a lot harder and a lot longer than I was expecting. (That's why you should always have low expectations. No where to go but up!)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day:
First of all, I love just about everything Frances McDormand and Amy Adams are in. McDormand was unbelievable in Almost Famous and Adams blew me away in Junebug. I don't know of an actress other than Adams who can break my heart while she's smiling through tears. This film is a lot like Being Julia with Annette Benning, in that Amy Adams plays Delysia, an aspiring stage actress who teeters on the edge between reality and illusion. She is constantly portraying a persona of wealth and confidence to her three boyfriends -- including Lee Pace as her cabaret piano player -- and to McDormand, who is a homeless governess who cheated her way into being Delysia's social secretary. The backdrop is in the early 1940s during the WWII bombings in London. All of the actors are absolutely enchanting, and they bring a light freshness to a potentially boring script. There are three main relationships in this film, and none of them include Delysia's boyfriends. There is the relationship between Delysia and Miss Pettigrew, and then there are the relationships Delysia and Miss Pettigrew each have with themselves. Delysia must finally grow up and figure out what is more important -- a man who could give her the roles she's dreamed of, a man who can give her the social status she desires, or a man who loves her for who she really is. And Miss Pettigrew comes to understand the importance of friendships, after she's been so uninterested after her husband died in the first world war. And then there's the friendship these two women gain...

The entire film takes place over the course of twenty-four hours (possibly less). Delysia gives Miss Pettigrew a makeover, despite the fact that Miss Pettigrew really just wants a bite to eat. (She doesn't really eat anything during the entire the movie, but the thought of food is constantly on her mind and food, on multiple occasions, ends up in her line of sight. There's a whole Tantalus motif going on.) I typically despise movies that take place one night -- Before Sunset/Sunrise excluded -- because I never feel like the characters actually bonded. I never feel like they actually changed the other person's life in such a dramatic way. But with this movie, it made sense. Delysia gave Miss Pettigrew confidence (at first in her appearance, and then later in her social interactions), and Miss Pettigrew opened Delysia's eyes to how much love can actually offer her. At one point, Miss Pettrigrew tells Delysia of her husband, "He smiled every time he saw me, and we could have built a life on that." Their lives really were dramatically altered after meeting one another, and their lives were better for it.

It's a really light, wonderful movie. McDormand was enchanting, and her smallest mannerisms were hysterical. Whenever posed with a problem, she would walk away in the most comical way, reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin or Lucille Ball. And Adams has a show-stopping song towards the end of the movie that show you a longing you never want to experience. She did such a marvelous job. And while watching the movie, a brilliant idea hit me: Amy Adams should be cast as Galinda in the movie-musical adaptation of Wicked (perhaps with Emmy Rossum as Elphaba?). She would be absolutely perfect for the role. And as much as I love Kristin Chenowith (and I know she's expressed interest in reprising the role she created on Broadway), she's just too old to believably play a high schooler. And before I forget, the production design was marvelous! As much as I dislike art deco, there's an instantaneous feeling of glamor involved with it.

Overall, an 8.5/10.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army:
Let me be clear, I love Guillermo del Toro. He's the director who defies genre, and I love him for it. He reminds me a bit of Stanley Kubrick because of this, but, although they are both very intelligent directors, del Toro tends to create accessible films. With that being said, I enjoyed Hellboy II as much as I enjoyed the original. They were both unexpectedly poignant, humorous, romantic, and adventurous at moments when you aren't expecting. This sequel still revolves around Hellboy, a red-bodied and hot-blooded demon with a fist of destruction, who is constantly struggling with the fact that he is an outcast from society. People on the streets even say, "Hey, you're ugly!" and he accepts it. And even though he has a hot temper, he loves kitties, TV, and candy, so we know he's a good guy. And this good guy is now fighting against Prince Nuada, a demon (?) in hiding who wants to rage war on mankind with an indestructible golden army of soldiers. It's your typical comic-book genre setup, but everyone really sees Hellboy for the characters. And I agree with many other bloggers out there: Ron Pearlman was born to play the title role.

I only have a few things to say about the movie, and the first is my appreciation for a Venus of Willendorf reference. I went with a fellow art history dork, and we were absolutely tickled by her appearance at an art auction. Another thing is, I'm not usually impressed with martial arts choreography or stunt coordination. It's not really my thing, and I think it's overused in American films as a way of capitalizing on the one thing most Americans appreciate about Asian films, nevermind that they have more inventive plots and groundbreaking filmic techniques. But in Hellboy, I was impressed by the fight scenes Prince Nuada (who is surprisingly very attractive, despite being a won't-stop-until-mankind-is-dead bad guy), and this was in part by del Toro's long shots that actually showed the action. (Music videos irritate me with all of their close-ups. Why even hire a choreographer if they're not going to showcase his or her work?)

But most importantly, I was really impressed by how subtle the themes were in the movie. Yes, Hellboy is an outcast, and yes, his human girlfriend Liz is his only connection to normalcy (even though she does catch on fire). But there are only a few lines that actually state this blatantly, and when it happens, it's not over the top. Earlier in the film, Liz asks Hellboy who he would choose, her or the world, and Hellboy hesitates. He loves humans. He loves the idea of being a part of the human race. At one point Liz refers to him as "the greatest man [she's] ever known," and Hellboy sighs softly, "Man..." It's touching because, especially in today's world, we take the very fact that we're human for granted. We take being part of a community for granted. We always want more, more, more, and here, Hellboy just wants to be a part of a race. And when Liz visits the visually stunning Angel of Death to save Hellboy's life, she is posed with a dilemma. The angel explains that Hellboy will cause the destruction of mankind, and he says, "So, child, make the choice. The world or him?" And without hesitation, she replies, "Him." It's sweet without being sappy, and I liken it to when Leia tells Han she loves him and he responds, "I know."

Overall, a 7/10. (One point deduction for the Seth MacFarlane-voiced Johann Kraus. So obnoxious.)

Hamlet 2:
My review will come later in the week, after I've had time to fully digest the craziness that was Hamlet 2. I still laugh in the trailers when Catherine Keener says, "Hamlet 2? Don't they all die at the end of the first one?" Steve Coogan says, "I created a thing..." "Oh, she says, "a time machine..."


Goddessdster said...

I really want to see Hamlet 2, so I can't wait for your review on that.

I had mixed feelings about Hellboy II. It was, of course, visually stunning, which we've come to expect from del Toro. And I appreciated that, but find it suspect when I wonder if the visual effects are taking the place of actual connection with the audience. But I'm also a fairytale fanatic and love the scenes in the Goblin Market, and evil little amoral fairies are my favorite.

But, as you mentioned, I still walked away feeling great, mostly because I loved the relationship between HB and Liz. I loved that she chose him without hesitation (and what a nice way to set up a sequel?), and I especially love Hellboy, the character, as played by Ron Pearlman. So I still enjoyed it, even if I found it slightly disjointed.

keyser soze said...

You're not alone with those thoughts on Hellboy. A lot of people were critical about the story taking a backseat to the visuals, but you know, in this genre, I want visuals. I hated Spiderman because it was 50% visuals, 50% in-your-face morals. I thought Hellboy was fairly even with 25% character development/plot, 25% heart, and 50% visuals. Could it have been better? Yes. Take out Johann Kraus. Give me more of the underworld life. Give me less red shirt characters.

But overall, I enjoyed myself. And that's really the aim for this movie... and it certainly set up a kick-ass premonition for a third movie. I used to compare all movies to 2001 before I realized how unfair and self-righteous the high/low culture distinction is. So now I base my opinions on the genre and my level of enjoyment, and with Hellboy 2, I give it relatively high marks.