Catherine Zeta-Jones

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)

This is what you need to know. I watched this movie last night. I’m watching it again tonight, not because it made such an impression on me that I had to go back for seconds but rather the opposite. Less than twenty-four hours later, all I remember is Michelle Pfeiffer’s seductive voice and a flying ship. It turns out there’s more to this movie, but there’s also more Master of None and House of Cards to get to, so… (I work with little people, hence the eclectic entertainment choices.)

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas should be a good movie. On paper, the idea is perfect for a family cartoon. Lovable rogue Sinbad (Brad Pitt) wants to steal the Book of Peace and retire to Fiji with his band of ethnically diverse pirates. The book is headed to Syracuse though, where it will be guarded by the king and his son, Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), Sinbad’s childhood friend. It’s not just any dusty artifact; the Book of Peace is a glowing, magical organism that somehow protects the Twelve Cities, which is why everyone is eager to get his, or her, hands on it.

Eris (Pfeiffer), the goddess of discord, has her sneaky reasons for wanting it and takes advantage of Sinbad’s greed, promising him even more wealth if he steals it on her behalf. His sudden bout of conscience forces her to do her own dirty work, however. When Sinbad gets blamed for the theft anyway, he must go to the outer realms, accompanied by Proteus’s fiancée, Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), to retrieve it. If he doesn’t return in time, Book of Peace in hand, Proteus will die in his stead.

In my unplanned second viewing, I appreciate that kids will enjoy this movie. There are swordfights and sea creatures aplenty, including Cetus and a frightening and fascinating island monster. The sea is formidable opponent even for a lifelong pirate like Sinbad. Viewers young and old will also come under Eris’s spell. The sultry, shapeshifting goddess oozes with evil, but the fun, tempting kind and not the scary nightmares kind.

The movie is at times visually striking. A product of DreamWorks Animation, it doesn’t have the color and lushness of Disney films, which tend to be brighter and less angular, but it borrows the same style as the studio’s earlier hit, The Prince of Egypt, and that turned out nicely. Parents hoping their kids will learn lessons in friendship, honor, and Greek mythology will be pleased too.

But for all its merits, Sinbad is simply a boring film. There’s nothing distinctive about the story or storytelling, which does little to evoke ancient Greece or its mythology. It’s also not clear how Sinbad, a character of Middle Eastern origin, gets thrown into this world, but that’s clearly no one’s concern. Pitt does a decent job. He has trouble coming up with a personality that stands out though. Sinbad is a cocky smart aleck struggling to prove himself, and this describes a lot of cartoon heroes (e.g. Aladdin, Hercules, Flynn Rider).

His two true friends, Marina and Proteus, are equally flat. Would you guess that Marina is a free-spirit who longs for the open seas but feels constrained by her arranged marriage to Proteus? Sure, she’s gets a chance to swash some buckles and defy some stereotypes. At the end of the day, however, it’s still a choice between two men who hold the key to her happiness, and the other one, Proteus, barely registers on the radar. His presence motivates everything, but his character and friendship with Sinbad need more development if he’s going to more than a rudimentary plot device.

Pfeiffer is the exception. As Eris, she’s a tantalizing and haunting presence, carving out her own corner of animated film villainy. It’s a shame the rest of the movie doesn’t quite rise to her standard. If you’re going to watch a high seas adventure, you should come out with the feeling that you’ve been on one. Instead, Sinbad fills itself with noise and movement but few true thrills and wonder.

Released: 2003
Prod: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mireille Soria
Dir: Tim Johnson, Patrick Gilmore
Writer: John Logan
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert, Adriano Giannini
Time: 85 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

No Reservations (2007)

no reservations 2007

No Reservations doesn’t aim for anything flashy, which I consider a positive goal, but its unimaginative title and low-key approach to a kitchen romance make this a forgettable film. Still, it’s better than I expected. I thought it would be something along the lines of Love’s Kitchen, but classier. Instead, it is based on an acclaimed German film, Mostly Martha, and centers around Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the head chef at a chic New York restaurant. Her exacting nature allows her to excel at her job but that comes at the expense of personal relationships. Her boss (Patricia Clarkson) forces her to attend therapy so that she can work on people skills, but she uses the time to expound on food and cooking.

The sudden death of her sister changes everything. Previously accepting if not exactly content with her solitary lifestyle, Kate now finds herself caring for her nine-year-old niece, Zoe (a captivating young Abigail Breslin). It’s not all fireworks at first, and the film provides a window for Kate and Zoe to reacquaint themselves and adjust to their new relationship. It’s also gives the audience a chance to see Kate peel back some of her steely exterior. Zeta-Jones is affecting in places, like when she retreats to a pantry before breaking down in front of her boss.

The movie never brings us close enough to her inner state though. Here is a woman who so tightly controls every aspect of her life that she hits back at anything she finds disagreeable. When a customer complains about the food, she insults him; when her neighbor tries to get closer, she rejects his overtures. Now it’s Zoe’s needs and Kate’s own grief that begin to dictate her life – and she isn’t quite sure how to handle these unknown quantities. There is an overall sense of frustration and confusion, like when Zoe refuses to eat and Kate doesn’t know why or what to do about it, but those feelings don’t manifest in many tangible ways. The film offers up a lot of glassy-eyed and forlorn gazes as an alternative.

The emotional distance is not just between her and the audience though but between her new sous chef, Nick (Aaron Eckhart), as well. The two are a handsome match and partake in some obligatory bickering when they first meet. Kate dislikes his easy-going manner and penchant for opera in the kitchen but softens when he begins to connect with Zoe. The relationship eventually progresses towards a predetermined conclusion, but there’s no rush to get there.

Surprisingly, this languid pace doesn’t slow down the movie and in fact gives it a sheen of realism. It does make the characters feel less important, however. Kate’s journey opens herself up to different roles and forces her to reassess those responsibilities and commitments. It’s gratifying to see a woman grapple with what is essentially a three-person love story, but it’s one that needs to be tightened to have any lasting resonance.

Released: 2007
Prod: Kerry Heysen, Sergio Aguero
Dir: Scott Hicks
Writer: Carol Fuchs, Sandra Nettelbeck
Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Jenny Wade, Bob Balaban, Brían F. O’Byrne
Time: 104 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016