Normally when a film about a historical figure finds its way into “awards watch” season you expect a certain level of intrigue from its content.So My Week With Marilyn should by all accounts deliver a little bite. Marilyn Monroe is a staple of American culture. We all know her face her voice her classic lines her wardrobe “malfunctions ” her tumultuous relationship history her power over men and of course that ugly little truth we like to brush under the carpet: the pill addiction that eventually cost her her life. This film purports to give us a look at the “real” Marilyn – the one the millions of representations of her haven’t already shown us. The problem is that by the time the film attempts to explore the darker corners of Monroe’s (Michelle Williams) existence we like our protagonist Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) are already under her spell. Just as we start to condemn her or look at her problems without the biased nostalgic eye most of us are afflicted with the film waves its magic Marilyn wand and quickly abolishes those less glamous notions. The result is a splendid yet decidely indecisive journey with a very complicated and often misunderstood woman
We meet plucky young Colin as he embarks on his first foray into feature films. It’s his dream and thanks to a connection to Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) he’s got a shot at working on a film. But it’s not just any movie; it’s The Prince and Showgirl a marriage of American and English sensibilities starring Olivier and Monroe. When Colin arrives he’s just a third assistant director to Olivier – essentially a go-fer – and can do little but admire Marilyn without hope. He takes up with a wardrobe girl named Lucy (Emma Watson) and goes about his duties. Of course things don’t stay this simple. His newness lends itself to a bit more flexibility so when Olivier’s rigid practices clash with Marilyn’s laissez-faire style and the production begins to slow to a glacial pace Colin is a natural fit to become Marilyn’s willing ally. Their friendship grows as Olivier’s temper comes to a boiling point and the result makes Marilyn a film tinged with a choice number of harsh realities – but as soon as they rear their ugly heads Monroe’s ever-present spell casts itself over them.
Of course this isn’t so much a criticism of the film as it is criticism of the weight given to the content. My Week With Marilyn is beautifully shot allowing the nostalgic air of London and Monroe in the 50s to take the lead with a few contemporary flairs to help keep us along for the ride. Every detail is impeccable from the music to the settings to the dialog. There isn’t a single weak link in the cast. Redmayne displays all the youth and earnest vigor demanded by his young character. Though her character teeters between a layered enigma and the girl the entire world knows Williams handles each angle as easily as Marilyn handles the men around her. Supporting cast members Julia Ormond (as Vivien Leigh) Judi Dench (as Dame Sybil Thorndike) and Branagh put their wealth of experience to tremendous use. Lesser known actors like Dougray Scott and Dominic Cooper take on American accents with minimal issues and handle their supporting characters with ease – and Watson delivers her usual (but welcome) lovely precocious act.
There’s really nothing wrong with My Week With Marilyn. It’s lovely. It’s smart. It’s extremely well-crafted. It’s a good film. But it does little to excite a reaction beyond that. And when you’re dealing with someone we know as well as most of the world knows Marilyn I doubt I’m the only one who expect a little more…va va voom.
In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell – the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City – Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.
The film’s sequel Happy Feet Two finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough with Mumbles (Elijah Wood) now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation but in a cruelly ironic twist Erik has inherited none of his father’s nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor’s basic storyline the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements while enjoyable in isolation never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.
As before Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of “Rhythm Nation” and “Under Pressure ” among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon a diminutive oversexed Latin lover and Lovelace a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot but the film’s best moments come courtesy of the cast’s highest-profile additions Matt Damon and Brad Pitt voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.
What story? Does it really matter? Basically the Wildcats have graduated to the big screen for their senior year with the daunting task of -- guess what? -- putting on a big show. In addition to performance anxiety the singing and dancing kids must also figure out what to wear and who to bring to the prom. Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) in particular have to figure out what is to become of their romance when Gaby goes to Stanford while Troy stays in Arizona. Adding to the drama is the fact representatives from Julliard will be in attendance at the show and their approval could be just the showbiz break these young talents are looking for. All of this interstitial storytelling is just an excuse to launch into one of the 10 big musical numbers written for this theatrical continuation of the enormously successful Emmy-winning Disney Channel TV films and although the songs seem to have come out of the same cookie cutter mold the production values make this HSM an eye-popping celebration of song and dance that’s pure entertainment from start to finish. This attractive and energetic young cast have used the two previous films to grow into their roles and win instant audience recognition. It’s in the expanded and more demanding musical numbers that everyone really gets their turn in the sun and no one disappoints. Zac Efron channels Justin Timberlake with his athletic and singular “Scream ” a breakdance against the walls of the school’s hallway that’s pretty damn thrilling to watch. It’s the hip-hop equivalent of Fred Astaire’s classic dance on the ceiling in 1950’s Royal Wedding. Equally effective is his intense auto junkyard number with Corbin Bleu (returning as Chad) “The Boys Are Back ” is a lively paean to Michael Jackson’s ‘80s videos like Beat It. Hudgens does nicely with the largely forgettable ballads “Walk Away” and “Right Here Right Now” (with Efron). Lucas Grabeel back as Ryan goes all top hat and tails on us in the Broadway inspired “I Want It All” -- opposite diva-like Sharpay played with conniving authority once again by Ashley Tisdale. Monique Coleman as Taylor is right at home here as well along with the other veteran of the earlier films Olesya Rulin as Kelsi. Assuming the series goes on after graduation a new generation of HSM performers will be required and that is the apparent reason for the generous screen time given to younger newer cast members: Matt Prokop Justin Martin and young British import Jemma McKenzie–Brown. With director/choreographer Kenny Ortega at the helm the HSM concept has been opened up to fill the expanse of the big screen. At its core the musical numbers are much MUCH larger and grandiose than they ever were in the TV films. Ortega and his team have used bright vivid Technicolor images reminiscent of the heyday of ‘50s Hollywood musicals and married it to a contemporary approach. Still he seems to be channeling in some ways the elaborate Busby Berkeley movie musicals of the ‘30s particularly in Grabeel’s set pieces. Clearly Ortega ‘gets it’ and knows what style and verve a musical like this needs -- no matter how young the intended audience. Having the luxury of directing most of his primary cast in the two previous HSM TV outings he takes that small-screen energy and lets it explode in all its widescreen glory.