Directed by Kevin Lima; Written by Bill Kelly; Starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Idina Menzel, Timothy Spall, Susan Sarandon, and Julie Andrews. Rated PG, 107 minutes.
This movie reminds me a bit of fractured fairy tales, the classic “Rocky and Bullwinkle” epsode narrated by Edward Everett Horton. While we know the usual story, the twists and turns of modernity make some of the story seem a little out of place.
The movie combines animation with actual actors. The fantasy world of Andalasia is delivered with the animated version, but the harsh real world of New York is brought to us by live actors and personalities filled with guile rather than happy-ever-aftering.
The plot is an amalgamation of Snow White (Evil Step Mother); Sleeping Beauty (poisoned apples); and Cinderella (glass—well, plastic—slippers), with a touch of King Kong and glitzy fireworks at the end.
Giselle (Amy Adams) is perfect for Prince Edward (James Marsden)—she lives in a tree, and sings/yodels vocals, and the wild fauna follow her intention and know-how to speak in response. The evil queen, Narissa (Susan Sarandon), fears that a happily married stepson, Prince Edward, will displace her from her throne and drain her of her power.
Edward finds the enchanted love of his life, and doesn't need much coaxing to get her to the altar. On the way to her vows, an ugly witch convinces her to make a “wedding wish” and diverts her to and then pushes her down a bottomless well, which ends up in a sewer in Times Square.
A Pollyanna-like Giselle emerges with difficulty due to her hooped wedding apparel, and approaches homeless people and billboards as if she were still in fantasy land, but a logical, case-hardened lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), takes her home with his too-cute daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey).
We don't exactly learn what happened to Morgan's mom, but he's committed to a “realistic relationship” with Nancy (Idina Menzel). A collision of values not quite up to Jerry Springer standards occurs the next morning when Nancy arrives to find Giselle in a towel suspended by pigeons after her shower (where does the water come from??), and a freshly cleaned messy apartment after Giselle summons birds, roaches, and rats to help her clean up the chaos.
Robert and Nancy have not slept together in this apartment, in order to “maintain boundaries,” and let's just say that there is a New York moment. Giselle is quite handy at making friends and making dresses—from Robert's window treatments in two cases.
Back home in Andalasia, the queen dispatches Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), who steals a number of scenes with his attempts to comically do our heroine in with poisoned apple concoctions; I am sure these were not FDA approved in that there were no disclosures for off-label usage. Spall plays a similar Quasimodo role in Sweeney Todd, and each role takes full advantage of his characterization of toady-types.
The animated chipmunk also steals a few scenes. While loquacious in Andalasia, he is mute in New York, and needs to pantomime the plot and assortment of dangers. The witless Prince Edward, while handsome and dashing, cannot fathom that the witty creature is trying to warn him of his stepmother and Nathaniel's ne'er-do-well plans.
There is the necessary ball, the need for the kiss from the true love, and some spectacular special effects with the arrival of Narissa, the evil queen of Andalasia. There are even some Hitchcockian Vertigo shudders from roof tops as our heroes slide down skyscraper roofs.
The kids are charmed, the parents are amused, and the fracturing of these fairy tales make us think about our too-hardened realities and what indeed may be important.
You will not be bored watching this with your little ones. We all are in our political fantasyland about health care, and sooner or later we will need to emerge to the reality of our too-expensive system and fractured health care system that needs radical change, but that's another story.
‘THE Bucket List’
Directed by Rob Reiner, Screenplay by Justin Zackman. Starring Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd, and Rob Morrow. Rates PG-13, 97 minutes
A lot of critics have panned this movie because it has some hackneyed features, but for oncologists, a movie about two guys “given” six months to a year to live, there is a timeless quality, and the actors give it a verve that surpasses the trite and sometimes silly plot. I have to confess that I felt some personal connections with these guys who confront a death sentence, and have been given a stay of execution to fulfill fantasies or complete assignments that “need to be done” before you die.
Morgan Freeman (Carter Chambers) reprises the role universally described as the pious man living the pious life, with a quiet anger about giving up ambitions and fantasies because of “dharma”—i.e., duty to others and the world that surmounts personal ambition and visions.
His good wife Virginia (Beverly Todd) is a nurse, and Rob Reiner perhaps rightly portrays nurses as more kindly and feeling than the physicians in this film.
I found Carter the more charming and alluring of the diad. Like yours truly, he prides himself with diverse knowledge and an ability to get the answers on Jeopardy, but he's swifter and more right than I am in my nightly quest with Alex Trebek. I love it when I get the answers that the clever and swift contestants miss.
Carter wanted to be a history professor, but exigencies force him to be a mechanic. The movie opens with him expounding esoteric knowledge to his co-worker when he gets the unforgettable call that there is a health problem, and his days are numbered.
Jack Nicholson also gets to play the bad boy of the many roles for which he is memorable. Jack grew up in Asbury Park, NJ, where I spent summers, sometimes in Ocean Grove or Belmar, or slightly further south in Ortley Beach, Ocean Beach, or Normandy Beach, where my aged mother still lives.
But Jack plays the bully captain of health care industry that declares all rooms have to have two beds. He runs “health care facilities” not “health spas.” Many of us have the misfortunes to recognize Jack's role as Edward Cole, a 70-something, used to having his own way, and not interested in others' opinions.
Both find themselves in the same room confronting a ‘terminal diagnosis.’ Joe Simone has recently written in this newspaper of the “Five Great Lies of Medicine” (OT, 1/25/08), but one of the frauds of the TV docs and inexperienced physicians, and false expectation of patients, is our supposed ability to accurately predict lifespan—i.e., “You have six months to live.” As if we could know that.
And that happens again in this movie. I spend enormous amounts of time undoing the myths of these predictions and illusions of power that it is possible to determine life span.
Ed Cole is an utterly unlikable individual, married four times. He thinks everyone loves him, but misses the fact that most find him to be unbearable. No one knows this more than his assistant, Jack (Sean Hayes, best known for his role as the hilarious gay character, Jack, on Will & Grace). His performance here as he stands up to the intolerable Edward Cole is masterful. With aplomb and grace, he puts Cole back in his place on numerous occasions, and makes him human when his default is to be a bully; we have all experienced these people either as physicians or administrators. He stands up and speaks the truth to power—often a dangerous decision when dealing with bullies like Cole.
The plot may be hackneyed, with both main characters getting the bad news. Carter has a devoted wife, but a marriage that lost its verve, not just because of his inventory of what he gave up to make it work for his wife and now adult, successful children, but also that he realizes that the clock is running out and he has not reserved enough time for his own dreams and aspirations.
Cole is never at a loss, nor without financial reserves to do whatever he wants. His life has been his job. His four marriages have been failures, and he almost forgets to relate to his daughter, Emily (mine is named Emilia), who has been driven off by his overbearing power and control tactics. He desperately needs to reconcile with Emily before the clock runs out.
A friend related a book's dichotomy between people who are the “driven” and those who are the “called.” Nicholson's character is clearly driven. Freeman's is forbearing and tolerant, but nevertheless angry for giving up his life for others. Cole is driven; Chambers is called. He's wise, smart, and angry that his life is over before he could enjoy it.
He is wise enough to try to bring Cole to necessary moments of forgiveness to allow his life to close in peace. The dichotomy is false, though: We can be both or neither, or on the road to convert from one to the other.
The subsequent adventures that Cole funds and steals Chambers away from his wife and family for made me realize how lucky I have been. The Great Wall, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, Mount Everest—well, I've done half before composing my own list of things to do before kicking the bucket (I want to see the pyramids and Jerusalem). One of the revelations is that although Edward was rich, he was impoverished until he met Carter.
The scenes and plot may seem formulaic—maudlin, even—but I suspended my craven callousness and hard-hearted cynicism, and surmounted the critics' almost universal pans to find some real enduring social value to the film.
Doctors have the standard clay feet, and nurses come off better, but there is a lesson for us that draws closer to the decision to spend eternity in a “Chock Full O'Nuts” can or ponder the benefit of a crypt or grave, that what we say and what it means to our patients and families makes a difference.