Film Friday: ‘Beowulf’, ‘Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium’

by W. Andrew Powell


New this week, at a theatre near you: English literature’s oldest hero arrives on the big screen, a magical toy shop goes crazy, a man waits a lifetime for his true love, Margot deals with her family issues, and a new drama makes a commentary on the Iraq war.

Based on the oldest piece of literature in the English language, Beowulf is director Robert Zemeckis‘ latest film that uses motion capture technology to bring this story together with computer graphics and a script by Neil Gaiman (the writer behind the classic Sandman graphic novels) and Roger Avary (who helped pen Pulp Fiction). Sure to be a visual treat with an epic style, the movie follows the original story fairly closely. Beowulf (voiced by Ray Winstone) is charged with defeating three evils to protect his people, including the fearsome beast Grendel, Grendel’s wicked mother, and a dragon. The movie also stars Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, Angelina Jolie, Dominic Keating, and Alison Lohman and is bound to be a huge hit that’s also well worth the trip to an IMAX theatre for the special 3D presentation. Critic Emanuel Levy, called the film “a magnificent sensorial experience, that’s a feast to the eyes and ears but less so to the mind and soul.”

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
In a magical toy store where everything comes to life, there’s apparently only one rule: you have to believe. Dustin Hoffman stars as Mr. Magorium, while Natalie Portman plays the bright, young assistant Molly. All is as it should be until Mr. Magorium decides to give the store to Molly, and when a disbelieving accountant arrives, played by Jason Bateman, the store throws a temper tantrum. While the premise is a bit on the thin side, it’s worth noting that it was written and directed by Zach Helm – the writer responsible for the fantastic film Stranger Than Fiction.

Also opening in a limited number of theatres this week are…

Love in the Time of Cholera
The famed book by author Gabriel Garcia Marquez comes to life on the big screen with Javier Bardem starring as Florentino Ariza, a man who falls in love with Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiono), and woman he can’t have, and carries that love for years and years. Despite being unable to be together, Florentino never waivers, even as Fermina moves on with her life. While the critical consensus is still out, this period drama is bound to capture an audience based solely on the book’s following, but it will be interesting to see how the film handles the complex levels of the story.

Margot at the Wedding
Writer and director Noah Baumbach, whose last film The Squid and the Whale was nominated for an Oscar, returns to his niche with a fresh story of family trouble. The story follows Nicole Kidman as Margot, a bitter and angry mother who vents all her frustrations at her sister’s wedding. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Pauline, with Jack Black playing her fiance Malcolm. Once again the story revolves around Baumbach’s smart, cutting dialogue and his cast’s edgy performances. For anyone who appreciates a great unconventional drama, Baumbach’s films are unmissable, but reviews have been mixed. One of the more positive reviews by Michael Rechtshaffen of the Hollywood Reporter called the film an “audacious, brilliantly performed dysfunctional tragicomedy.”

The war in Iraq has raised a lot of questions for Americans, which can be seen in the number of films on the subject over the past few weeks. Director Brian De Palma‘s take on the topic is perhaps the most relevant, and follows a group of soldiers who devolve into violence and murder. Inspired by true events, and styled like a documentary, the film uses the technology many soldiers are using to reach out to their home and families, including cameras, blogs, and video. Following its debut at a number of film festivals, Redacted has been very well received, and Richard Corliss of Time Magazine commented, “The movie is a cry of national shame; for De Palma, it’s a new badge of honor for a wily old vet.”

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