Vantage Point gives us just that--a birds-eyed view of an assassination/terrorist attack on the U.S. president. In Spain at a landmark outdoor summit on the global war on terror President Ashton (William Hurt) is shot and a bomb explodes killing hundreds of people. For the rest of the film we see the same 15 minutes over and over but from different points of view: There’s a CNN-like news producer (Sigourney Weaver) who is the first to witness the events; the Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) assigned to protect the president; an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) videotaping the historic event; a Spanish cop (Eduardo Noriega) who suspects what’s going down by the surreptitious actions of his girlfriend (Ayelet Zurer) at the rally; and most importantly the head terrorist (Said Taghmaoui) who orchestrates it all. Through each of these individual perspectives we learn the truth behind the assassination attempt--and as far-fetched as it is it still isn’t pretty. This is an all-out action thriller folks--quiet subtle performances are not required. Quaid goes full blast as the veteran Secret Service agent who has already taken a bullet for the president once before and is still a bit skittish about it. But his loyalty to the president never wavers and it’s through his determination to find out what happened that propels the story forward. Fox also plays it to the hilt much like he does as Jack on TV’s Lost but the actor has a certain movie-star quality to him; he could easily transition from TV to film. Whitaker unfortunately has to play the big schlub with a heart--which at this point seems a tad beneath the Oscar-winner--but he still gives it his all. Hurt’s Head of State is another one of those dream presidents we wish we had. Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner) and Zurer (28 Weeks Later) are adequately cold-hearted as the terrorists while Edgar Ramirez (Domino) effectively emotes as a reluctant member of the terrorist cell forced to do their bidding while his brother is being held captive. Did we mention that the terrorists were cold-hearted? Right. Vantage Point’s trio of film editors (Stuart Baird Sigvaldi J. Karason Valdis Oskarsdottir) must have either thought they’d died and gone to heaven or hell depending on how much of a pain it was to cut the film. Whatever the scenario together with newbie director Peter Travis they keep the action taut and suspenseful. Each character’s POV lends itself to more information as the plot unfolds piece by piece culminating with a whopper of a car-chase scene that should leave you clenching your teeth. The use of electronic devices in the attack is also noteworthy as the main terrorist basically accesses his PDA to 1) shoot the president 2) explode bombs and 3) send the pictures of the destruction to all his friends. OK he actually doesn’t do that last part but he certainly could with that handy device of his. The only drawback to the whole scenario is the implausibility of it all--and the lack of back story. Suspending disbelief we can do but in Vantage Point’s case a little explaining would have helped.
Princess Diaries 2 picks up about five years after the first movie as Mia (Anne Hathaway)--no longer a 16-year-old ugly duckling but now a self-possessed college grad--is ready to assume her role as princess of Genovia. Bringing her quirky American sensibilities with her she moves into the Royal Palace with her beautiful wise grandmother Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews)--but soon discovers she'll be ruling the little European country famous for its pears sooner than she thought when the Queen announces her retirement. It's all a tad overwhelming but the capper is that according to Genovian law in order to take the crown she also has to be married--with Genovian parliament giving her only 30 days to find a prospective groom. What you say? An arranged marriage? That's just so politically incorrect. Suddenly Mia is wading through a parade of suitors who'd all like to be her king when all she wants to do is marry for love. Of course there are also factions plotting against her in the form of Viscount Mabrey (John Rhys-Davies) a blowhard royal who wants his nephew and native Genovian the hunky Lord Nicholas Devereux (Chris Pine) to take the throne. Ah but is Lord Nicholas really as greedy for the crown as his uncle? Maybe so--until he sees how beautiful kind and ultimately capable Mia is at ruling Genovia. This could get interesting--but it doesn't not really.
Hathaway continues to exude that same fresh quality as Mia with the ever-expressive face and affinity for physical comedy. She is certainly appealing to watch on-screen yet somewhere in all that cheerful perkiness one wonders if Hathaway is just itching to be a bad girl--to really get down and dirty to play say an ice pick-wielding femme fatale or even a prostitute with a heart of gold. But alas the young actress has pigeonholed herself into these sugary-sweet roles--and it might be difficult to break out the mold once the real acting bug bites her. Julie Andrews should give Hathaway some advice--she's been there playing the Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapps of the world. The talented British actress has never really shed that wholesome image not entirely (even her raucous semi-nude appearance in her husband Blake Edwards' S.O.B. didn't quite do it) and in Princess Diaries 2 she once again plays a woman with spunk who's very classy but also terribly proper. Oh well guess it really isn't a bad way to be. As an extra bonus Andrews also sings in the film--which to all of us fans who've followed her battle with throat problems is a true delight (even if the musical number she sings in is rather gag-producing). The rest of the PD2 cast could have been plucked from anywhere save for Heather Matarazzo who happily reprises her role as Mia's quippy best friend Lilly Moscovitz.
Director Garry Marshall is a giant sap. Most of his films while usually comedic in some fashion or another have tended towards the maudlin including The Other Sister about a mentally disabled girl who finds love (sniffle); Beaches about a woman whose best friend dies (sob!); and this year's tear-jerker Raising Helen about a jet setter who has to stop her life to raise her dead sister's kids (oh stop it already). Now it's Princess Diaries 2 a follow-up to the original syrupy feel-good comedy. To his credit Marshall is a master at the genre--and doesn't make any excuses if the eyes roll at all the sentimentality. The first Princess Diaries worked well because it was about an ordinary girl who is transformed into a fairy tale princess. With PD2 Marshall has taken the basic romantic comedy structure of a girl meeting a boy who don't get along at first but realize they love each other in the end and applied it to the princess-turned-ruler idea. The film flows smoothly even if you can tell what's going to happen every step of the way--and how refreshing it is to have a film aimed at adolescent girls that doesn't have a mean-girl clique anywhere in the vicinity. Speaking of vicinities where the heck is Genovia anyway? You can never quite tell what sort of mythical European country it's suppose to be with accents ranging from French to British to very American--but it's still awfully pretty to look at.
Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) is the quintessential Sex and the City single gal with a fabulous job at a top modeling agency and a swingin' social life. But her carefree lifestyle comes to a screeching halt when her beloved oldest sister Lindsay (Felicity Huffman) and brother-in-law are killed in a car accident and Helen is suddenly named the legal guardian to her sister's three kids--Audrey (Hayden Panettiere) 15; Henry (Spencer Breslin) 10 and Sarah (Abigail Breslin) 5. Sure Helen is great at being the coolest aunt in New York but as a mom? A whole different story. Coupled with this is the fact her other sister Jenny (Joan Cusack) a supermom in her own right is completely flabbergasted Lindsay did not choose her as legal guardian and takes every opportunity to tell Helen she isn't cut out for mommy-hood. Still Helen is determined to at least try to adhere to her late sister's wishes and finds a little help along the way with Dan Parker (John Corbett) the handsome young pastor and principal of the kids' new school. But it's tough for the party girl to ditch her old ways--even for the new loves of her life.
Even if her choices have been suspect of late (Alex & Emma? Bad idea Kate) Hudson does have a certain joie de vivre that radiates on screen and makes even the most cornball script palatable. Even if Raising Helen falls into the predictable Hudson's Helen never does; all her emotions are veritable and heartfelt especially when she's dealing with the kids. The young actors also do an excellent job adding to the film's emotions. Panettiere all grown up from child roles in Joe Somebody and HBO's Normal does a nice job as a teen struggling with the loss of her parents as well as raging hormones while the Breslin siblings Spencer (The Cat in the Hat) and his younger sister Abigail (Signs) handle the tear-jerking scenes with aplomb especially Abigail. It doesn't matter what frame of mind you're in watching a little girl cry over the fact she can't tie her shoes because her mother isn't around to teach her is gonna get you every single time. Cusack inhabits yet another uptight role in a string of uptight roles (School of Rock; In & Out) but she does it so well you can't blame her. Same goes for Corbett. He continues to play the same adorable sexy man he's played countless times before (Sex and the City My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and we don't mind if they just keep letting him.
Labeled a "heartwarming comedy" from director Garry Marshall some may be hard pressed to find any comedy in Raising Helen. Grief-stricken children; rebellious self-destructive teenagers; feuding sisters not to mention death--oh yeah this film is hilarious. At least the heartwarming part is true-- a technique Marshall has mastered having directed all-out hankie producers such as Beaches and romantic comedies such as Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries. The director certainly isn't afraid to show feelings as he brings out more than a few genuine emotions in Raising Helen especially between Helen and the kids. In one particularly honest moment teen Audrey has gotten herself into a bit of trouble and while Helen wants to be the parent should be the parent she just cannot find a way to reprimand the girl leaving the duties to the tough-as-nails Jenny. It's definitely a scene that hits home. Yet for all the truthfulness Raising Helen still has an overabundant amount of schmaltz--laying it on thick too many times and leaving very little surprises on how things are going to turn out.