14 May 2010

Letters to Juliet

Amanda Seyfried is shown in a scene from "Letters to Juliet.
Sometimes there comes a movie that is easy to nitpick—the story is overly contrived, the dialogue trite, the characters crafted a little too perfectly to fit the demands of the plot—yet it succeeds on the basis of pure delight, the optimism it emits and an earned happily-ever-after ending.

That's "Letters to Juliet," a romantic comedy starring the genre's rising "it" girl, Amanda Seyfried, and in a beautiful performance, the venerable Vanessa Redgrave. The multigenerational love story shakes up the rom-com conventions just enough to add a hint of unpredictability and weight to a blooming romance.

Seyfried, all wide eyes and expressive, innocent face, is Sophie, a fact-checker at The New Yorker who longs to be a writer. She and her fiancé, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), travel to Verona, Italy, on a sort of working pre-honeymoon. The distant, distracted Victor spends most of his time visiting suppliers for the restaurant he's opening back home, leaving Sophie to wander on her own.

Robin Hood

Russell Crowe is shown in a scene from "Robin Hood."
The Robin Hood story has been told over and over again by Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Disney, Kevin Costner, Mel Brooks and too many more to mention. So the best thing about Ridley Scott's new film, cleverly titled "Robin Hood," is that it does not cover the same ground as those that have come before it.

Scott's "Robin Hood" serves as a sort of prequel to the well-known legend. Instead of building the story around stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential," "A Knight's Tale") focuses on how the English folk hero, known here as Robin Longstride, achieved his outlaw status. As you would expect in a Ridley Scott historical epic, that occurs only after much medieval warfare, swordplay and archery.

Ostensibly, the idea is to focus on the man behind the legend. But since there is no definitive history of the man and some question whether he ever existed at all, the movie really is just another Hollywood concoction.

Not that there's anything wrong with that—not when it's made with such skill as this, at least.

07 May 2010

Iron Man 2

Gwyneth Paltrow, left, and Robert Downey Jr. are shown in a scene is shown from "Iron Man 2."
Robert Downey Jr. seemingly can do no wrong.

Does anyone think "Sherlock Holmes" would have been even half as entertaining as it was without him as its anchor?

Could anyone else have emerged from a broad summer action-comedy like "Tropic Thunder" with an Oscar nomination?

And let's not even try to imagine another actor as billionaire-industrialist-turned-humanitarian/superhero Tony Stark in "Iron Man." The 2008 blockbuster established Downey as one of Hollywood's most bankable and engaging leading men, and opened the floodgates to a vast library of Marvel Comics titles and characters.