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It’s Magic

By Ann Morrow

Enchanted

Directed by Kevin Lima

The most delightful movie for the whole family this holiday season doesn’t have a Santa, snow, lessons on giving, or even a traditional family. It does have animation, live action, songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, and an effervescent sense of humor. Enchanted, directed by Kevin Lima, is an ingenious tweak on classic Disney films that opens in an animated fairyland and morphs to a live-action cityscape. The portal is a wishing well that ends in a Manhattan sewer, and the arrivals of characters from the fairyland of Andalasia to Times Square are some of the film’s most deft touches.

Giselle (Amy Adams) is a fair maiden with an entourage of woodland creatures. While singing to her animal friends of her hopes for a true love, she attracts the attention of valiant Prince Edward (James Marsden), who rescues her from a troll he hadn’t quite vanquished. And because this is fairyland, they both magically know the lyrics to “True Love’s Kiss,” and become engaged during a duet. But even in fairyland, the course of true love ne’er runs smooth, and on her way to the palace for the wedding, Giselle is pushed into the wishing well by the alter ego of Narissa (Susan Sarandon), the evil queen of Andalasia. The power-mad queen doesn’t want her stepson, the prince, to marry, and so Giselle tumbles down the well to “a place where there are no happily ever-afters.”

But of course, there are, because this is a Disney film. Yet Giselle’s humorous (and hummable) trip to the altar isn’t quite as expected, and director Lima (who helmed the marvelous 1999 animated Tarzan) sends her on some wonderfully amusing adventures. Much to her astonishment, Giselle is transformed into a flesh-and-blood damsel upon her arrival, and wanders the mean streets in heart-tugging befuddlement (Adams has all the charms required of a fairy-tale princess). She is given refuge by Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a stuffy divorce lawyer and single dad—though it’s Robert’s imagination-deprived young daughter who spots Giselle trying to return to Andalasia through a movie billboard. Meanwhile, Prince Edward bravely follows his beloved down the hatch, and promptly does battle with a bus. He is followed by Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), the queen’s besotted henchman. Foiled in his attempt to poison Giselle with one of the queen’s poison apples, Nathaniel goes undercover in a restaurant—and accidentally becomes a crowd-pleasing waiter.

While waiting for Edward to find her, Giselle discovers that in the real world, going out on dates is what people do before saying “I do.” And so she has a date, and likes it. Gentle complications ensue, including the dismay of Robert’s romance-starved girlfriend, Nancy (Idina Menzel), and the foibles of Pip, an animated chipmunk squire that the youngest audience members should find irresistible. Grown-ups will appreciate the film’s zippy twist on modern relationships (and Sarandon’s dragon-lady caricature), and just about everyone should fall under the spell of Enchanted’s storybook costuming, perfect casting, freshly silly pratfalls, and the art direction’s glorious homage to New York City in springtime.

Land of Violence

No Country for Old Men

Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

A lone hunter, perched in a rocky shelter amid a barren Texas plain, takes aim at some game, sets off in search of his take, and stumbles upon a grisly yet highly lucrative find. Such are the underpinnings of the plot that is Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, an intense, largely interior and, one would think, difficult-to-adapt-to-screen tale, dealing with big questions like redemption, fate and grace. While I had never been a huge McCarthy fan, I found, around the time I had my first child, that I could no longer adequately focus on his intricate shadings and dense psychologies. More to the point, perhaps, was that at that time of joy and wonder, I chose to block out McCarthy’s despairing hopelessness. I wondered, truly wondered, how such a story could make the successful leap to big screen.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the brothers Coen have succeeded beautifully, turning No Country for Old Men into one of the absolute best movies of 2007.

From that austere yet impactful beginning, the movie follows the trajectory of Vietnam vet and welder Llewelyn Moss (an outstanding Josh Brolin) as he, literally, takes the money—$2.4 million to be exact—and runs. On his trail, besides some irate, faceless Mexicans, is a one-man vigilante with a really bad Prince Valiant haircut, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). As the cat-and-mouse game builds, and the body count rises, it becomes apparent that Chigurh is not “in it for the money,” but rather, for some deeply personal reasons of moral righteousness, making him far more dangerous than somebody like, say, bounty hunter Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), who prides himself on his professional detachment and skill.

As Llewelyn hides out in a series of faded motels along the Texas-Mexico border, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) contemplates the nature of evil as personified by Chigurh, and expresses his inability to comprehend such wickedness: “You put your soul at hazard to be part of it,” he tells his deputy. The notion of his own mortality and his diminishing skill set weigh on his mind. In essence, he’s done, and he knows it; his role is more akin to a Greek chorus, reminding us all the while that we live in a world vastly different from anything we’ve ever known.

No Country for Old Men is harrowing and bloody, and yet, there are traces of acid humor dropped among the corpses. At one point, a deputy observes that a crime scene is “some mess,” whereupon Sheriff Bell responds that if it isn’t, it’ll do until the real mess comes around. The Coens display an uncanny knack for getting the vernacular and speech cadences of the West Texas just right, and it adds immensely to the movie’s sense of time and place. Interestingly, one of the best performances comes from the Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald, who imbues Llewellyn’s wife Carla Jean with a quiet yet fierce dignity. Her confrontation with Chigurh, in which she refuses to accept that life and death are whims of a coin toss, is the film’s defining moral moment. Like a flower blooming incongruously among the cracks of a broken sidewalk, Carla Jean is the one reminder of a frail integrity that might yet linger in our society, and it is the only thing approaching hopefulness in an otherwise dark and despairing movie.

—Laura Leon


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