The TWILIGHTing of romantic fantasy continues apace. In WARM BODIES a few weeks ago, director Jonathan Levine managed to take the human teen/inhuman teen (in this case, a zombie) romance and grace it with humor and genuine emotion; in the upcoming THE HOST, Andrew Niccol tackles TWILIGHT mistress Stephanie Meyer’s take on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, ideally avoiding the anticipated liberation of the genre from anything that would make it scary or effective. But for this week, it’s BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, the tale of a young man (Alden Ehrenreich) dreaming of greater things who may find it in the courtship of a soulful “caster,” or witch (Alice Englert), if only she can free herself from a curse that may doom her to a life of evil. The writer and director here is Richard LaGravenese, raising the question: Can the man who was an Oscar nominee for THE FISHER KING and has garnered praise for his screenplays for A LITTLE PRINCESS and BELOVED, among others, bring a similar intelligence to a teen-oriented romance? beabetterbooktalker.com‘s Andrea Lipinski joins Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons to find out.
Then, Steve gives his verdict on the CG-animated, science fiction comedy, ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH; plus: listener mail and what’s coming to theaters next week.
Triumphant return of Pixar after the disappointment that was CARS 2? Another daring redefinition of the family film from the people who turned a near-dialogue-free tale about a love-struck robot, an adventure about a cantankerous, air-bound septuagenarian, and a fantasy about a culinary-obsessed rat into worldwide, critical and commercial hits? Uh, no, not quite. But if BRAVE’s chronicling of a headstrong Irish lass (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) who struggles against her parents’ (Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly) plans to marry her off — to the point where an unfortunate magic spell is invoked — doesn’t restore the vanguard CG studio to its widely accepted position of dominance, it does offer many charms to accompany its few stumbles. Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons as they examine the film in depth and express relief that at least the storyline isn’t commandeered by an affable, country-bumpkin tow-truck.
Also, Dan weighs in briefly on the romantic apocalyptic comedy, SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD; plus, what’s coming to theaters June 29th.
BRAVE, from Disney-Pixar, opens Friday, June 21. Check out this featurette for interviews with the cast and crew, including John Lasseter, Colin Ferguson, Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, etc. Julie Walters, John Lasseter, Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews.
Such a garden of delights for this Memorial Day weekend! First, we pay tribute to horror icon Christopher Lee on his 90th birthday, as Cinefantastique Online‘s Steve Biodrowski and Lawrence French highlight their favorite Lee films and Dan chips in with a memorable TV moment.
Then we delve deeply into the weekend’s major release, MEN IN BLACK III, the return of the frenetic secret agents vs. aliens comedy that reunites actors Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones with director Barry Sonnenfeld and, courtesy of a time-travel plot, introduces Josh Brolin as a young Jones. The film was rumored to have no shortage of problems during the filming process (even discounting New Yorkers’ complaints about Will Smith’s Taj Mahal of a dressing trailer), but does the final project transcend the behind-the-scenes turmoil? Steve, Larry, and Dan discuss what’s good and bad in the film, and throw in a discussion of the logic behind building a prison on the Moon.
Plus: Steve and Larry give their capsule reviews of Oren Peli’s return to horror, CHERNOBYL DIARIES, and what’s coming in theaters.
Despite its British pedigree, this family-oriented fantasy film from 2005 often succumbs to the Hollywood penchant for manic excess that is supposed to appeal to toddlers with attention deficit disorder. That’s unfortunate, because NANNY MCPHEE actually works quite well when it turns the volume level down and eschews antics in favor of telling the essential story.
The sumptuous look of NANNY MCPHEE creates a Burton-esque atmosphere (thanks to great production design, colorful costumes, and lovely cinematography), but director Kirk Jones struggles to marshal these elements into a coherent vision, proving once again that only Tim Burton should direct Tim Burton movies. A perfect example, the opening sequence is enough to make you want to pull your hair out: a brood of obnoxious orphaned kids send their latest nanny screaming from the house in hysterics by convincing her that they’ve just eaten the youngest member of the family; alarmed, their father (Colin Firth) hurries home from work, only to be relieved when he sees through the ruse. What is meant as a wicked piece of black comedy falls flat for two reasons: first, Jones has failed to create a cinematic world in which we come even close to believing that the kids might actually have eaten a baby, so the sequence comes off as nothing but visual noise; second, we’re given no reason to believe that the adults would believe it. Their gullible reactions might work in a children’s book by Roald Dahl, but transferring that action the screen requires a more deft touch than is on display here. Fortunately, things pick up considerably once the title character (played by Emma Thompson) arrives. The wart-faced Nanny McPhee, whom the children take for a witch, soon sets about using her magical powers to deliver a series of five lessons. Curiously, although advertised as kids’ film, the plot seems geared to appeal to their parents: the children are such a bunch of awful brats that it is genuinely fun to see them finally being disciplined by a force beyond their control. (Whether this appeals to the children in the audience is another matter.) There is even a wistful sadness about the fun, as McPhee sets the ground rules early on: “When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I must go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is.”
While Nanny McPhee whips the kids into shape, the plot also revolves around their father’s attempts to remarry (in order to avoid being financially cut off by the aunt who is supporting him). Of course, the children do not like their intended stepmother. This provides an opportunity for them to resort to the same techniques they used to get rid of their previous nannies — a rather unfortunate retrogression that moves the film back into crude slapstick just when it seemed that the story was finding its own funny groove.
As if this were not bad enough, the script even contrives to work an old-fashioned pie-throwing scene into the climax. The desperate desire to be really hysterically funny is all too palpable at this point, but the scene barely generates a chuckle — those Brits may be sophisticated, but they don’t have the kinetic sense of a Laurel and Hardy (or even The Three Stooges) that us necessary to pull this kind of thing off with any sense of style. Thompson is perfect in the title role, relying on subtle head movements and throat-clearings to convey Nanny McPhee’s reactions. (In a funny recurring bit, she is constantly startling Firth’s character by appearing unexpectedly beside him, offering the blatantly false apology, “I did knock.”) Firth himself does a creditable job as the put-upon father, although the ineffectual character mostly requires him to stammer a lot and not accomplish much of anything. Kelly MacDonald is merely adequate in the Kate Winslett role, but Lansbury does a fine turn in her limited screen time as the wicked near-sighted aunt. In spite of its missteps, NANNY MCPHEE is funnier than one might have expected from its trailer. The plot threads do weave together into a satisfying conclusion (although the happy ending fails to deliver on the bittersweet promise of McPhee’s terms of employment). The special effects and Hollywood gloss add little, but the title character is strong enough to carry the film across the finish line — maybe not strong enough to win or place, but definitely enough to show. The Nanny McPhee character is certainly amusing enough to support a sequel, but any follow-up would have to de-emphasize the careless mayhem and keep the focus on the story’s stronger elements.
NANNY MCPHEE (2005). Directed by Kirk Jones. Screenplay by Emma Thompson, based on the books by Christianna Brand. Cast: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Thomas Sangster, Eliza Bennett, Raphael Coleman, Jennifer Rae Daykin, Samuel Honywood, Holly Gibbs, Angela Lansbury.
After being released as NANNY MCPHEE AND THE BIG BANG in the U.K. (its country of origins), NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS arrives on U.S. screens with a new title, courtesy of Universal Pictures releases. this sequel to NANNY MCPHEE (2005) recycles the same basic set-up, a sort of riff on MARY POPPINS, about a magical nanny who works miracles with difficult children (although she does not fly with an umbrella). Emma Thompson once again writes the script (based on the books by Christianna Brand) and takes the title role, supported by Ralph Fiennes, Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Maggie Smith. Susanna White directed. The response from English critics was not wildly enthusiastic: apparently the story is episodic and too similar to the first film. U.S. release date: August 20.