Films Seen During Semi-Hiatus (plus a few stragglers)

The Emperor's New Groove (Mark Dindal): A-

I'm sorry, Skander. I should have listened. It's just that Disney had so completely eroded my faith, with what the seemingly endless parade of saccharine orphan-makes-good parables and the increasing emphasis on empty technical virtuosity ("Deep Canvas," etc.), that I was thoroughly unprepared for the gleeful, Warneresque anarchy on view here. Kuzco, in particular, makes for a bracingly venal and egocentric "hero," scuttling every attempt at a conventionally "touching" or "heartwarming" moment; any lingering reservations I had disappeared when the mournful "crane shot" of a despondent Pacha was abruptly interrupted by Kuzco's reminder (complete with visual aids) that the story's about him, not some bummed-out peasant dude. Bit of a downer that he eventually learns the obligatory Valuable Lesson -- turns out it is a Disney movie after all -- but that disappointment pales beside the giddy joy of well just for example the Bambi-adorable squirrel with a talent for making balloon animals, to say nothing of Kronk's deadpan Dr. Doolittle conversation with same ("Squeak. Squeakity squeak"). Only real complaint, apart from the Aesopian denouement (a necessary evil, it seems; even the Toy Story pictures, for all their irreverence, insist on playing kiddie therapist), is that the movie feels curiously underpopulated; there are really only four characters of any consequence, which is fine for a seven-minute short but feels a bit sparse at feature length. (Yzma's eulogy looks like it's being delivered to a bunch of those limbless Fisher-Price people; nobody else in the palace actually seems to exist.) But even that seems a bit churlish -- part of what's refreshing about Disney's new groove is that every pretense of naturalism has been tossed aside (witness Yzma and Kronk's unexpected appearance at the Secret Lab, with Kronk even producing a chart demonstrating its logical impossibility; or the way that Pacha's saucer-eyed kids are apparently in several far-flung spots simultaneously), and it's even possible to argue that the whole thing is taking place in Kuzco's memory, in which case the general facelessness can be attributed to lingering solipsism. But I'm gettin' needlessly egghead (and Time Regained this ain't) -- bottom line is the flick made me laugh out loud many times in a near-empty auditorium at noon on a Saturday during a time when my emotional life is in some serious upheaval -- no mean feat. I can still ignore Cats Don't Dance, though, right?

Chocolat (Lasse Hallström): C

Produced by the Miramax assembly line, so you know it's not gonna be dark or even semi-sweet -- more like one of those overcompensating gee-thanks-grandma bon bons that you immediately want to spit into the trash and/or chase with a large mug of stout. Quaint period setting, plucky heroine, roguish love interest (Depp, I must say, does a beautiful Irish accent -- unlike most Americans who make the attempt, he doesn't push too hard, just sorta hints at it), lovable eccentrics (the priest who sings Elvis Presley tunes; the widow still mourning her WWI-casualty husband), battle against repressive forces, triumphant climax (oops, did I spoil it for everybody?)...zzzzzzzzzzzz. Skillfully crafted, I concede, but so the hell what? Who likes these movies? What's wrong with their heads?

Thirteen Days (Roger Donaldson): B-

Thoroughly satisfying, albeit in a big dumb TV-movie kind of way -- everything's pumped up and flattened out, but rousingly so. I docked it half a grade, however, for Costner's atrocious Baaston accent. That may seem a bit draconian, but what can I tell you: By the middle of the second reel, I would actually cringe every time he entered the frame, awaiting the horrible moment when his mouth would open and those...sounds would emerge! Greenwood solid as JFK; Steven Culp, previously unknown to me (I see that he played Friend #2 in Nurse Betty, which must have seemed a step down from his turn as Dead Again's Party Guest #1) absolutely sensational as Bobby. Get this man a career.