Illustration by Hilton Dresden
Foreplay: Woman in Gold (2015) Helen Mirren wasn’t always the grande dame of serious cinema. Her full-frontal nude entrance in Ken Russell’s 1972 Savage Messiah paraded one of the shapeliest female forms in movie history. That hot chick Helen could have posed for Gustav Klimt’s famous painting that is at the center of this new film’s legal and moral controversy. Helen plays a Holocaust survivor who sues to win possession of the Klimt masterpiece from the Austrian government. Comic actor Ryan Reynolds breaks type as her novice lawyer but without ever cracking wise; his character experiences a personal victory. This time, Helen is fully dressed in righteousness. She’s serious, not sexy. But the problem is, the movie also lacks surprise. You already know she’ll win her case but you might also wish, to quote comic Rodney Dangerfield, that she would show more of her Klimt.
Press Play: Corpse Bride (2008) For those who like their women—and their animation–ghoulish, Tim Burton takes another leap at his unaccountably admired The Nightmare Before Christmas. Johnny Depp voices a 19th century swain who accidentally pronounces his wedding vows in a cemetery, wedding him to a drop-dead scary bride voiced by Helena Bonham Carter (Mrs. Burton). This might have been more tolerable as a live-action film, giving the great Helena room to stretch her likably eccentric craft. Instead, Burton’s puppet animation (manipulated by an army of technicians) ensures that everything remains freaky. That includes Danny Elfman’s music score, less annoying than in Nightmare. This new nightmare was also a hit, spawning a 2016 short and a 2017 TV sequel. Just think, had Helena and Depp performed this live-action, we wouldn’t have had to suffer through Burton’sSweeney Todd.
Playtime: Contact (1997) Is Jodie Foster more lovable than Amy Adams? That is the question Contact poses in defense of its rip-off by the recent Amy Adams vehicle Arrival. Jodie plays a scientist who, since childhood, explored astronomy with an interest in communicating with extraterrestrial species. (The plot includes her Spielbergian wish for an absent father, also a space scientist.) When Jodie’s efforts result in an astonishing close encounter, director Robert Zemeckis goes full tilt sci-fi, digital F/X crazy. This film is even more of a technical marvel than Arrival and Jodie sustains an emotional response that surely inspired likable Amy Adams as well as Christopher Nolan. Note to Memento fans: Nolan showed the great influence of this movie in his own rip-off Interstellar. And guess what? Matthew McConaughey stars in both! But time has shown that Contact is, in every sense, an original.