December 18, 2003

Peter Pan

When I heard that someone was making a live-action, non-musical version of Peter Pan, I envisioned giving the old story a Harry Potter treatment. Special effects are so advanced today that even lower-budget production can achieve fairly credible results. Making a boy fly and visualizing a fairy character shouldn't be too tough, and the story is timeless enough that it would be tough to go horribly wrong. But Australian director P.J. Hogan (MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING; MURIEL'S WEDDING) has defied me and done just that. He mucked up Peter Pan.

I won't bother going over the story. That hasn't changed. And I won't blame the faults of this PETER PAN on the casting. Jeremy Sumpter is fairly convincing as the adventurous boy who refuses to grow up. Much like a real teenager, he's fickle and possesses unstable emotions that make him unpredictable. Rachel Hurd-Wood is Wendy Darling, our narrator and focal point of the story. She and her brothers, John and Michael, are lured by Peter to Neverland with the promise of never growing up and having nothing but fun with other boys. French sex kitten Ludivine Sagnier (SWIMMING POOL, FLOWER OF EVIL) has fun playing Tink, the mime-like fairy whose protectiveness and jealousy regarding Peter puts Wendy in great danger. Her look and performance reminded me a lot of what Kylie Minogue did in her brief appearance as the Green Fairy in MOULIN ROUGE, but Sagnier has a slightly wider range of expressions and seems to be having a lot of fun being a pest.

Probably the place where PETER PAN most succeeds is in the casting of Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the 2nd Harry Potter film; THE PATRIOT; BLACK HAWK DOWN) in the duel roles of the Darling patriarch and as the nasty Captain Hook. His hook is pretty solid and offers a more three-dimensional look at the character. Sure he wants to kill Peter, but he also wants to be loved. Digital technology gives us a gigantic ticking crocodile to chase Hook and his crew around. He looks alright, but as I've said before, special effects aren't scary. Also on hand are Olivia Williams as Mrs. Darling and Lynn Redgrave as the Darling children's Aunt Millicent.

So far, I don't sound all that bothered by this production, but I'll confess to you why I didn't like it. It's creepy. In animated form, Peter and Wendy come across as pals. Here, there's an uncomfortable (for me) flirtation that borders on sexual tension between them that just feels...wrong. These are 13-14 year olds not Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie. What the hell were they thinking? And when Hook kidnaps Wendy to convince her to be a pirate, he seems like he's trying to seduce her or at least pose for some dirty pictures. The whole movie is like that, and I could tell the kids (as well as a few of the critics) in the audience I saw this with were squirming with a combination of unease and boredom. Add to this veiled perversity the fact that this story takes place in a location called "Neverland." I know it's not the film's fault, but talk about bad timing. Michael Jackson will be first in line for this kiddie porn. Look, I know that I don't have the cleanest mind in Chicago, but come on, this stuff just jumps out at you. I dare you to watch this film and not feel like it was made for and by people who never let their NAMBLA memberships expire. Yuck, I need a shower.

Posted by sprokopy at 02:35 PM

December 01, 2003

Cheaper By The Dozen

I know I've seen the 1950 original filmed version of the legendary book by and about the family of Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., a leading efficiency expert who essentially used his family as guinea pigs for his theories on field of motion (in real life, the Gilbreth family had only 11 children). Clifton Webb played Mr. Gilbreth in the original, and in the 2003 remake, the always reliable Steve Martin fills in as Thomas Baker (get it, Baker's dozen? Ha!), a high school football coach married to Kate, a former Chicago Tribune journalist (Bonnie Hunt) who is writing a humorous book about their super-sized family situation. To save money on housing costs, the family moved into a home in the sticks of downstate Illinois many years ago. But when Mr. Baker gets the chance to coach the football team at his alma mater college, he uproots the family and moves to Chicago (Evanston, IL actually). The kids miss their simpler life in the country and basically they all start to make trouble for their parents right as both their careers start to take off. CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN has lots of laughs but it also has a lot of dead space and a few too many HOME ALONE moments. The entire time I was watching this film, I couldn't help thinking, "Wow, SCHOOL OF ROCK handled its child actors so much more intelligently and believably."

Surprisingly in a film filled with so many cut kids, most of the interesting sections of CHEAPER come from its more grown actors. In addition to the very funny riffs by Martin and Hunt, an uncredited performance by Ashton Kutcher as the live-in self-obsessed actor boyfriend of the Baker's oldest daughter (Piper Perabo). I want to find reasons to hate this guy, I really do, but the guy makes me laugh almost every time I've seen him on film. His monologue about why he hates the Baker children (because one of them might damage his oh-so valuable beautiful face) is a riot. And the scene where the kids soak his underwear in meat to get the family dog to munch on his crotch should not have made me laugh as much as it did, but I won't apologize. Also on hand are "Smallville's" Tom Welling as the oldest son, Charlie, who is the closest to genuinely despising his parents, and Hilary Duff, who still thinks she needs to overact and over-enunciate in order to reach her key Disney Channel fan base. Maybe the film's most disturbing aspect is its ultimate message, which appears to be: you can't have a big family and a two-career household without your kids hating you. As if parents running large families don't have enough to worry about.

Still, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN made me laugh more often than not; Martin and Hunt are a great couple; the nerdiest, outcast sibling is one of the heroes of the film; and the film's outtakes during the end credits are actually some of the funniest stuff in the movie. CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN could have been a lot worse (quote that in your print ads, Fox!), and is, in fact, highly watchable. The movie opens December 25.

Posted by sprokopy at 02:56 PM

The Cat in the Hat

Two hundred percent junk. If there was an actual scale of colossal failures in artistic filmmaking or even on semi-entertaining Hollywood junk, THE CAT IN THE HAT would tip that scale right over the side of a massive cliff. Mike Myers as the title character isn't funny despite his use (more like overuse) of countless voices and physical humor. Nothing he did or said made me laugh. And who the heck is this "cat"? Granted, he's supposed to be a metaphor for children's bad behavior but for all we know, he's friggin' John Wayne Gacy. Whatever he is, he's creepy. At least Ron Howard gave The Grinch a back story. And speaking of creepy, a ill-timed cameo by Paris Hilton in mock club sequence certainly made me feel dirty. The colorful art direction of this movie gave me a headache. The performances are overplayed and just plain lame. The humor borders on crude and inappropriate at times. The movie and every thing about it is a miserable hairball of a movie that deserves to be coughed up and spit out with the rest of garbage. Before this movie, I considered myself a cat person. I'm seriously considering changing sides.

Posted by sprokopy at 02:51 PM