BRIDE WARS (2009)
ZERO STARS/**** Image N/A Sound C Extras F
starring Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Kristen Johnston, Candice Bergen
screenplay by Greg DePaul and Casey Wilson & June Diane Raphael
directed by Gary Winick
CATCH AND RELEASE (2007)
ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B Extras C
starring Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith, Juliette Lewis
written and directed by Susannah Grant
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS (2008)
***/**** Image N/A Sound B Extras B+
starring Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Dennis Miller
screenplay by Dana Fox
directed by Tom Vaughan
27 DRESSES (2008)
**/**** Image N/A Sound B Extras B+
starring Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Akerman, Edward Burns
screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna
directed by Anne Fletcher
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras D
starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon
screenplay by Bill Kelly
directed by Kevin Lima
by Walter Chaw I'm not kidding: Bride Wars is reptilian, hateful stuff, biologically engineered to disrespect--with maximum efficiency--the precise demographic to which it targets itself. It's like an antibody to the middle-class, medium-attractive girl by virtue of encouraging her to associate herself with upper-middle-class, gorgeous avatars and, through that agency, act in ways completely hostile towards common sense and decency. It's an epidemic of bad taste: there's no other way to read the suggestion that size-zero Kate Hudson is a fat, disgusting swine for gaining five pounds pounding chocolate and cookies for a couple of weeks, is there? What's harder to explain is a scene in the middle where rivals/best friends Liv (Hudson) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) do a slutty dance-off in a strip-club for the crown of "sexiest bride." Here's the weird part: one of them actually cares when the other one wins. In the middle of a movie that can only hope to attract women as its audience, here's a scenario that physically exploits women as opposed to just emotionally or situationally (as is more to be expected). It's like a soul-kiss and a reach-around between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker to cap off a nice street race. But does it have the same chilling effect on its would-be audience, or does it instead feed into the electric lesbian tension that serves as motor for all these "Sex and the City" knock-offs? Never mind, it's not important. What is somewhat important is that Gary Winick, the heir-apparent to Garry Marshall's chick-flick throne, be discouraged from ever directing another movie.
Turns out that Liv and Emma both hire wedding planner-cum-T. rex Marion (Candice Bergen), who accidentally books both of them in the same timeslot at the Plaza and, whoops, this makes Liv and Emma ultra-competitive for some reason--meaning essentially that they're going to try to kill one another. Liv dyes Emma's hair blue; Emma dyes all of Liv orange. Do they poison each other in this one or the other one? (Or was it that Julia Roberts one?) I can't keep them straight, honestly, though I do believe the framing device of little Liv and little Emma making a time-capsule pact was in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and, er...Practical Magic? Anyway, Liv seems to have the upper hand because she's a nails-chewing, cast-iron bitch corporate lawyer, but Emma releases her inner skank to level the playing field. It comes as somewhat of a surprise that at the end of the festivities, Bride Wars pays off its Sapphic subtext with the literal image of Liv and Emma, in wedding gowns, walking down the aisle hand-in-hand. What is the film, after all, but this marriage between two dreadful people who absolutely belong together and, in the rimshot epilogue, reveal they're having babies on the same day. Of course they are: it's their baby.
Bride Wars is a crime against women, while Catch and Release, Susannah Grant's hyphenate debut, is a more Catholic breed of misanthropy. It's A-list illiterate Grant's answer to Garden State and The Pallbearer, complete with tasteful acoustic-guitar folk-rock ballads that narrate character motivations and interactions in the absence of good writing and performances. Gray (Jennifer Garner, star of Winick's 13 Going on 30) lives up to her liminal name by being a complete cipher from start to finish as we follow her on the road to recovery after her fiancé dies right before their wedding. The autopsy of their relationship reveals secret millions and monthly child-support payments for a kid Gray didn't know existed. Then there are the three quirky guy-pals who, Wizard of Oz-like, represent aspects of Gray's mourning process and fetal personality--thus explaining why they're freed of the requirement to have more than one character trait apiece. There's Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), who starts the picture at the wake by banging the only 19-year-old caterer in the world familiar with "Laugh In"; fat Sam (Kevin Smith), who references Star Wars and is a giant goofball (double natch); and nebbish Dennis (Sam Jaeger), who harbours a secret crush on Gray but, hey, so does everybody, since Gray has fairies and butterflies flying out of her vagina. The mother of the lovechild bastard is hippie Maureen (Juliette Lewis), made the object of absolute derision in the only way Grant (Ever After, Erin Brockovich, 28 Days) is apparently capable of conceiving a mistress. Important to note that every Grant script has a woman she hates on with mannish rage; easier and more becoming would be Grant having Maureen hung up by her feet from a meathook and vivisected by a French butcher.
Garner does a lot of gaping her mouth, brushing strands of hair from her face, and furrowing her brow; Smith does a lot of awkward readings of dense, pomo dialogue; Olyphant does his usual charisma-suck; Jaeger stews blandly; and Lewis continues to bumfuddle expectations by refusing to act in a way that would counteract the universe's perception of her as an ignorant, no-class, redneck hick. Of mild interest for this Coloradan is seeing a film shot partially in Boulder and how Vancouver cunningly steps in as stunt-Boulder when the need arises. Gray falls in fucklove with, you guessed it, Fritz, leading to a terrible misunderstanding that will have to, in romcom fashion, be resolved with a difficult, travel-involved moment of soul-baring. (You can generally judge how bad a movie is by whether or not moments like these occur on a beach.) In case you could possibly miss any of the elephant-sized poignancy, Grant begins every soliloquy with a picked noodle on one of those acoustic guitars that Bluto would've smashed against a frat-house wall in a good movie. By the finale, every character has grown, and of all the things it's ripped off so far, it ends by ripping off The Big Chill, too. If I never have to smoke another goddamn Susannah Grant joint, I'll be a happy guy.
Go figure that Tom Vaughan's What Happens in Vegas is the prototype for how these gynecological horrorshows sometimes turn out well, tracing its ancestry back to, no shit, Wyler's Roman Holiday. After his dad fires him from his cushy job, Jack (Ashton Kutcher) meets the recently-dumped Joy (Cameron Diaz) in Vegas, where the two get really drunk, get married, and win a three-million-dollar jackpot together before deciding they hate each other. But how to split the loot? Enter Judge High Concept (Dennis Miller) to decree that Jack and Joy must spend six months together in matrimonial bliss before he deigns to release a hold on their slot-machine spoils, following regularly court-mandated visits to one no-sass Dr. Kitchell (Queen Latifah). The usual shenanigans ensue. He's filthy, she's prissy; he needs to piss, she needs to primp; and it doesn't look good for the audience until what should happen but something amazing: What Happens in Vegas turns out to be funny and sweet. Sure, Kutcher is a smug asswipe and Diaz is a slack-jawed yokel, but they're a perfect match in exactly the same way that stolid, stone-faced Gregory Peck was perfect for open-faced, gamine Audrey Hepburn. It works because they have chemistry and it works because there aren't any moments in it that feel humiliating or mean-spirited. Jack and Joy discover they're in love to no one's surprise, yet they do it in ways affirming rather than demeaning. Jack supports Joy in her career, and Joy appreciates him for it. It's not much, but it's already more progressive than anything in Bride Wars or the collected works of Susannah Grant, this idea that the woman could be the bread-winner but in the end opts for happiness over duty. That's the mark of true feminism, isn't it, a woman allowed to choose to fulfill a traditional role and respected as an equal for it? Yes, it also ends on a beach--more's the miracle that it manages to not just not suck, but be qualitatively good as well.
Like Roman Holiday again, for as tired as is its premise, there is about it a great deal that rings true. A scene where Joy recruits a bunch of bimbos to lure Jack into infidelity would in a lesser film be an opportunity to exploit a bunch of bimbos but, in this one, leads to a quiet encounter in a bathroom--away from the action--that reminds more than a little of a similar exchange in Sunset Blvd. between Bill Holden and Nancy Olsen. What Happens in Vegas has a bit of the Old Hollywood romance to it, complete with sidekicks (Rob Corddry and Lake Bell) played by gifted sidekick actors who provide the Eddie Albert slapstick when prompted. If its dialogue is more often awkward than comfortable and if it slips a time or two into unfortunate distraction (like when Joy gets hopped up on goofballs in the middle of the Big Meeting--see a commensurate moment in Bride Wars with Liv's blue hair--or the badly-miscalculated character of a Dennis Farina-played boss), such are the pitfalls of a formula that would have long ago qualified for an AARP card. Colour me surprised that Kutcher and Diaz prove a capable screwball pair in a vehicle that aims for earned sentiment and comedy based more on observation than on the desperation to either shock or impress. Bride Wars is terrible because it aims so low and Catch and Release is terrible because it's such a high-born bitch of a movie, positioning What Happens in Vegas as neither full of itself nor content to wallow. It's a funny movie about the sexes that doesn't diminish either gender in its execution--a tougher task, obviously, than one would presume.
I was playing ball for a while, too, with 27 Dresses, Anne Fletcher's tapioca wedding flick with bookish executive assistant Jane (Katherine Heigl) the possessor of the titular frocks, every one of them bought to celebrate someone else's wedding. The premise offers this faint hope that the film will revolve around the kind of person popular enough to be forced by social contract to spend a ridiculous amount of money on an ugly dress intended to be worn once or, failing that, around the kind of article that society-page columnist Kevin (James Marsden) wishes to write, wherein he exposes the highway robbery of the wedding racket. Any hope that it will exceed its genre promises, though, falls fast before a relentless onslaught of contrivances as hoary as the dress-up sequence, the unforgivable boner followed by the tearful rapprochement, the wrong-man/right-woman switcheroo, and the hate-at-first-sight-leading-to-everlasting-love contrivance. It's a shame, because Heigl and Marsden have a surprising, easy chemistry; a scene where the two, loaded, dance on a bar to an Elton John classic is, against all odds, fun. Marsden is an able heir to Hugh Grant's romcom goofball crown and, placed against reptilian slimeball Ed Burns (playing the guy Jane's in love with unrequitedly), incidentally highlights why Burns never broke onto the A-list. It's a matter of charisma; and the reason 27 Dresses isn't as bad as it should be is that Marsden and Heigl (and requisite slut-buddy Judy Greer) have charisma in spades. Enough so that there's a desire to see their characters displaced into a better film with more on its mind than to be better than it should be because of its casting director.
That doesn't mean it's good, mind, as 27 Dresses has Jane, in a fit of jealous apoplexy, resort to a Bride Wars tactic of "outing" her shallow sister (Malin Akerman, already typecast as a knock-off Cameron Diaz from looks to roles to braying laugh) in front of their loved ones with a rehearsal dinner slideshow. It's uncomfortable (as it should be, I guess)--the inappropriateness of the attack commented upon by one of the irregulars in a serious way--and it breaks the cardinal rule of never asking a character you hope to redeem do something irredeemable. What's finally wrong with 27 Dresses is that it has no ambition to be about anything, which is fine until this deal-breaking moment, at which point one catalogs one's consent to find the entire exercise wanting. That invitation to judge Jane's appalling act belongs in a film more prepared to deal with ambiguity: the instant we don't like Jane is the instant this balloon pops. What good is a charismatic villain if its vehicle isn't worth the Paradise dangled before it?
The reason Disney whore Kevin Lima's Enchanted doesn't work, however, is due entirely to its suffocating allegiance to the Disney Formula. James Marsden resurfaces here as a literal Prince Charming (er, "Edward") rather than a figurative one, ready to sweep literal Disney Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) off her feet--whereupon the two animated figures fall through a magic curtain into Manhattan and the Bronx and are transformed into live-action version of themselves. Pushed there by jealous Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon, cast well at last), Giselle goes down the rabbit hole first and finds sanctuary of a sort in the loft of a sensitive bachelor, Robert (Patrick Dempsey, jumping from this to Made of Honor, then back to oblivion: McDreamy, we hardly knew ya), engaged to a materialistic gold-digger, Nancy (Idina Menzel). In the film's semi-clever high-concept, Giselle maintains her Disney Princess powers, namely an ability to initiate large, choreographed musical numbers and beckon animals to do her bidding. (The film's best gag has her assembling New York's finest--roaches and rats and pigeons--to clean her new beau's apartment.) The rest is the usual destructive blather, with Giselle falling for Robert and Nancy falling for Prince Edward; everything comes to a head at a ball where the baddie transforms herself into a dragon and is executed with extreme prejudice. Hardly a twist to have Giselle wield the sword this time around--better if Enchanted had grown a real pair and tried to understand its wicked witch. Also better would have been the film avoiding its archrival DreamWorks' Shrek example by not mistaking facile imitation for shrewd, introspective satire. No matter, as Enchanted left the Bratz set enchanted and inaugurated an entirely new demographic into the formula machination of the chick-flick (marital edition).
The curiously enervating Dempsey does his best to sap the energy of the curiously enlivening Adams, and Enchanted meanwhile resurrects the calypso themes of The Little Mermaid without delving any further into its racial implications in a film every bit as vanilla and Wonder Bread as the rest of Disney's cavalcade of schlock. Whilst delivering on Disney's bloodlust, it does disturb by adding the element of the justifiable betrayal as Robert's clear emotional infidelity is defended as not simply natural (Amy Adams or Idina Menzel...hmmm) but also morally acceptable, because Nancy gets to fulfill her dream of becoming a (literally animated) JAP on the arm of the doting, Disney-flick prince she'd always wished for. But what of Giselle? Despite killing a fifty-foot dragon-bitch, she's far from an actualized partner for McDreamy and doomed, more than likely, to be his ditzy ray-of-light until, Pretty Woman-like, everyone wakes from this nightmare and realizes that Mrs. Right is a variety of object fantasy. There's a reason there hasn't been a sequel to Pretty Woman, and it's the same reason there probably won't be one to Enchanted: when the sun breaks on Uptown, it'll show Giselle kicked to the curb and trying to explain her lack of work history and education while Robert goes back to wanting something more than a Disneyland flowered float to ride for the rest of his life.
Fox graced us with check discs of Bride Wars, What Happens in Vegas (Jackpot Edition), and 27 Dresses. In other words, they supplied us with watermarked copies riddled with artifacts and stutter. Here's a fun thing: What Happens in Vegas decided to subtitle the movie for me randomly and, here's the funner thing, the subtitles were out of synch and started stacking up on top of each other. Attempts to disable them using the remote would often result in the film shutting off entirely. Needless to say, I don't have an objective grade for the video of these three titles, as I don't know how they're going to look or behave in their conventional releases. Bride Wars receives a DD 5.1 track that I'll simply say is lamentably clear. Three deleted scenes (4 mins. in toto) include an alternate ending that shows there were originally two framing stories and a couple more examples of our blushing brides getting their homicidal on because that's adorable, right? Meanwhile, "The Perfect White Dress" (5 mins.) details the meteoric rise of Vera Wang as a billionaire wedding-dress designer. It's not long enough to be informative, so take it for what it is: a clips-heavy advertisement for a designer for whom the film was already an advertisement.
Catch and Release docks in an edition packing 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and fullscreen versions onto the same side of a dual-layer disc. The film was shot in Super35, hence the latter isn't pan-and-scan per se--not that I bothered to audit it. Sufficed to say that the widescreen transfer is fine if blunt and haloed as would be expected from a bit-crunched presentation. The DD 5.1 audio adequately delivers a predictably front-heavy mix with next to no rear-channel usage, save a near-closing shout-out to Death Cab for Cutie that I simultaneously welcomed and cringed at. Because of the space limitation, there aren't any video-based extras, but Grant records two feature-length commentaries, the first with Kevin Smith and the second with DP John Lindley. Smith acts, as you might imagine, the raconteur/provocateur, teasing Grant about her schooling and aspirations for before-the-camera work. (Owing, I guess, to the film's PG-13 rating, their heavy swearing is bleeped out by Sony.) It's a lively, non-specific track, which is nice because what is there to say about this movie the movie itself doesn't spell out in slow, looping swoops and curlicues? Catch and Release is the filmic equivalent of the Good Times Bible. The Lindley/Grant yakker is considerably less entertaining in inverse proportion to how informative it tries to be. Much more trainspotting and narration abounds as Lindley observes more than once things we can plainly see with our own eyes. One of the dangers of asking a cinematographer to discuss a film, I suppose. A shit-ton of trailers are offered for perusal--should I take it so poorly that the Marie Antoinette trailer is the disaster cobbled together for DVD and not the wonderful, New Order-scored theatrical teaser? Anyway, additional previews for The Messengers, Premonition, Across the Universe, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Holiday, Stranger than Fiction, 13 Going on 30, Blood and Chocolate, and the Catch and Release soundtrack cap the disc.
What Happens in Vegas, running eleven minutes longer on this "Jackpot" DVD than it did in theatres, receives the full supplemental treatment, starting with a yakker from director Vaughan and editor Matt Friedman that feels humble yet is rich in information. Between their rationale for soundtrack sources and their paucity of trainspotting of friends and family, they effectively define what a commentary ought to be. They come off as droll and possessed of a genial working relationship and seem a touch sad that the film was pretty quickly dismissed. Maybe I'm projecting--indeed, it took in a respectable $80M. (Moreover, maybe it seems better than it is because I'm watching it in concert with all this other drool.) Kudos. "Sitting Down with Cameron and Ashton" (8 mins.) is a cutesy featurette that has our two stars chatting with one another in a casual context that surprises by becoming a discussion in part of how celebrity can really fucking suck. Then Diaz obliquely touches on how long it's been since she's had fun in a movie, and I like to please myself by imagining that she's thinking back to her work on the Farrellys' There's Something About Mary. It's actually a great piece. These two yahoos are tough to like, but damned if I don't like the way they are together. Second big shock? Diaz's real laughter doesn't sound like a baboon throwing up. Honestly? I think she's been working on it. Serious. Being a big fan of Zach Galifianakis's stand-up, I was glad to have "DVD Extra Time with Zach Galifianakis" (8 mins.), in which he interviews Vaughan as the most irritating, ignorant, antagonistic interviewer ever. It's like Billy Bob Thornton on Canadian Public Radio--but funny for the right reasons. The punchline is classic. "From the Law Firm of Stephen J. Hader, Esq." (2 mins.) is a fake commercial for the Rob Corddry character's law firm. A "Gag Reel" (5 mins.) confirms that the funniest person on set was Galifianakis (Corddry a close second) and that Diaz has an amazing potty mouth, bless her heart. Am I starting to like Diaz? Yikes. Seven "Deleted/Extended Scenes" (8 mins.) are basically indistinguishable variations on sequences from the final cut, though I did like a longer bit with Jack contemplating whether or not he cares enough about Joy to help her with her shit. Trailers for Deal and Charlie Bartlett share space with "An Inside Look at Marley and Me" and round out the coaster.
27 Dresses' own DD 5.1 track sounds fine, what else is there to say? The special features section chops up one making-of in four to pose as voluminous content. "The Wedding Party" (14 mins.) has the cast as talking heads talking about how great how great how absolutely great everything was from start to finish. Heigl defines her sense of humour as "quirky" and goes on to add that she loves the type of movie 27 Dresses is: what we have here is what you'd call a contradiction. "You'll Never Wear That Again!" (7 mins.) is a redux of Heigl's dress-up montage, wherein she retroactively mocks her friends' taste interspersed with interviews with wardrobe saying how great it was to collect a bunch of really ugly dresses for "quirky" Heigl to wear. In "Jane's World" (4 mins.), the Production Designer reflects that shooting in Rhode Island was hard because the movie is set in New York. Why the movie couldn't have taken place in Rhode Island is not for me to answer. "The Running of the Brides" (5 mins.) is an ugly little piece on Filene's annual bridal dress sale that sees hordes of the domesticated-to-be sprint into a one-day sale for the express purpose of beating the shit out of their competitors in rage and greed. I hope they're very happy together. That the filmmakers try to make this look fun and light-hearted instead of venal and sad is probably the most interesting thing about it. Three short deleted scenes (4 mins.) are entirely useless extensions of Jane being OCD and her sister being a ditz. Trailers for Lars and the Real Girl, Moondance Alexander, Bonneville, "Burn Notice" Season 1, and the TV series "Bones" close out the presentation as we know it.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - ENCHANTED
Enchanted debuts on Blu-ray in an--attention Gene Shalit-ites!--enchant-ing 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that's absolutely magical in its depth and detail, so en-chant me asleep with your Amy-able song. The gorgeous, 2-D animated opening sequence, appearing windowboxed on 16x9 monitors to emphasize the shift to 'scope in live-action, underscores the idea that the whole damn thing should have been animated, complete with transplant to New York--but then I suppose we wouldn't have Adams in a princess dress, and then what would be the point of living? Blacks are completely free of ambiguity and the colour throughout is vivid and bright. And it's detailed enough as to betray visible brushstrokes on Adams's lips. Not that I was staring. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track (48 kHz/24-bit) is incredibly impactful, transparently filling the soundstage during Adams's musical numbers and churning out a pleasing rumble throughout the battle royale. What more could this little girl ask for? As for bonus material, "Fantasy Comes to Life" (18 mins.) covers the film's three musical sequences with a cursory once-over. Did you know that computers can draw "real" things into pictures? You did? No need to watch this piece, then. Six Lima-introduced "Deleted Scenes" (8 mins.) are largely negligible, though I did sort of bristle at the removal of a nice "farewell" scene between Giselle and Edward. "Bloopers" (2 mins.) is frankly pleasant just because you get to see Adams giggle. Sigh. Someone named Carrie Underwood chimes in next with a music video for a song I didn't even remember was in the movie while a game, "Pop-Up Adventure," allows you to ignore your children for six more minutes before they grow old and ignore you back. Sleep on that, motherfucker. You may also play a pop-up "D-Files" game that challenges you to trainspot the in-film references to Disney's vault of classics for gratifying points. Trailers for National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and Sleeping Beauty (a Disney Blu-ray I actually want) cue up on startup. Originally published: July 13, 2009.