PAN (2015)

October 8, 2015

pan Greetings again from the darkness. Writer J.M. Barre first introduced the world to Peter Pan just after the turn of the twentieth century. Children and adults alike were enamored with “the boy who wouldn’t grow up”. The stories were filled with the mischief created by Peter and his Lost Boys buddies from their Neverland home, and although there existed elements of danger (Captain Hook), Barre’s story was mostly about holding on to the joy and carefree world of childhood.

Sadly, these days we don’t encourage kids to be kids. Instead, we push them to take on responsibility and act ‘grown up’ … heck, most kids today never really experience free play time with their friends. Everything is organized and scheduled (just check the calendar on the fridge). Writer Jason Fuchs and director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) have created a Peter Pan “origin” story that lacks any touch of whimsy or enchantment from the original books or the numerous film adaptations: the 1953 Disney animated classic, the 1991 Steven Spielberg/Robin Williams/Dustin Hoffman vehicle, the underrated 2003 live action version from director P.J. Hogan, or even last year’s Live TV broadcast featuring Allison Williams as Peter.

This one begins with a talented Parkour-enabled Mother (Amanda Seyfried) dropping off her infant son on the steps of an orphanage. She leaves only a note and a pan flute medallion. Flash forward twelve years and Peter (Levi Miller) is questioning the mysterious disappearance of kids from an environment straight out of a Dickens novel, as well as the hoarding talents of the evil Mother Superior (Kathy Burke). Soon enough Peter finds himself, along with scores of other youngsters, slaving in the fairy dust mines belonging to Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).  Are you depressed yet?

Things only get bleaker as Peter escapes with his new friend James Hook (the name is no coincidence). They soon encounter the tribe that protects the Fairy Kingdom and the fairy dust that Blackbeard so values. Part of the tribe is Tiger Lilly (Rooney Mara) who believes that Peter is “the chosen one” who has come to lead and protect them. Lots of fighting ensues, plus some soaring giant crocodiles, flying pirate ships, and a trio of mermaids (all played by supermodel Cara Delevingne).

Re-imagining the classics is about the closest thing we get to creativity in Hollywood these days, so it’s not the idea of the project that so bothers, but rather the approach. Where is the fun?  Where is the sense of wonderment?  In fact, young Peter’s destiny seems to be an urgency to assume more responsibility as a leader … not live the carefree days of fun and games that Mr. Barre had set out.

Newcomer Levi, who plays Peter, ranks right there with director Joe Wright’s previous discovery of Saoirse Ronan, as child actors with big time screen presence. Young Mr. Miller has a grasp of the script and character and is the best part of the film. Hugh Jackman plays Blackbeard, but can never really reach the necessary level of intimidation or theatricality. For some reason Garrett Hedlund plays Hook as if he is imitating Christian Slater who is imitating Jack Nicholson playing Indiana Jones. It’s so over-the-top that we must assume Hedlund was directed to bring some comic relief to the bleak environment. Much has already been written about the casting of ultra-Caucasian Rooney Mara in the role of Tiger Lilly, though she performs the role quite well (avoiding the screeching of her lines in the manner of Jackman and Hedlund).  Rounding out the cast is Adeel Axhtar as Smiegel/Smee.

Some of Wright’s action sequences and CGI are quite impressive, though it’s difficult to overlook the obvious influences of Terry Gilliam, Baz Luhrman, and even George Lucas and James Cameron. Particularly painful and out of place are the Luhrman-influenced musical interludes of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and The Ramone’s “Blitkrieg Bop”.  Even the pixie dust effect reminds of Dorian Gray, though Jackman only gets one brief scene in which to capitalize.

Devotees of the J.M. Barre source material will be no doubt disappointed and confused, but the theatre was filled with youngsters who couldn’t seem to care less that Joe Wright had taken a classic story in the opposite direction. They enjoyed the visual effects as evidenced by the numerous “oohs” and “ahhs”. So let’s allow that reaction to speak for itself, rather than saying this version just didn’t pan out.

watch the trailer:

 


PAPER TOWNS (2015)

July 23, 2015

paper towns Greetings again from the darkness. If you have ever watched Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film Something Wild, imagine what the characters of Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels would have been like in high school. That gives you some idea of Margo and Quentin in this latest screen adaptation of a John Green novel (he also wrote “The Fault in Our Stars”).

Margo (Cara Delevingne) is the “live life to the fullest” youngster, while Quentin (Nat Wolff) is the “college-career-family” type who has his life timeline fully planned. As kids in the same neighborhood, they hang out together, but the inherent personality differences lead to polar opposite paths in high school. Margo is the exciting girl that everyone aspires to, while Quentin and his band of geeky friends never skip class, turn in all assignments and are elite college bound. Everything changes one night when Margo climbs through Quentin’s window and enlists his help in an evening of revenge shenanigans. He falls hard for her, and then … POOF … she’s gone.

It’s at this point that the film bogs down a bit. See, Margo loves a mystery and Quentin must decipher her many clues, as he is convinced she wants him to find her so they can be soul mates forever. Fortunately, the inevitable road trip provides some fun banter for Quentin and his brood, and it’s here where the true life lessons occur … friendship and finding happiness with one’s self.

Amiable is the best word to describe most of the characters in this film from director Jake Schreir (Robot & Frank). These are good kids and each very likeable … not the rebellious teens that usually get movies made about them. But they are so amiable, that there is a glaring lack of conflict in the vast majority of scenes. It’s as if the darkness and hard edge were purposefully sucked out of the Green novel. Adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, the formulaic approach is quite surprising. These are the writers behind (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, and The Fault in Our Stars … three scripts that pulled few punches. On the bright side, the film is brave enough to include a Confederate flag joke, and what may be the best ever on screen tuba joke, and the all-too-rare multiple Black Santa Claus gags.

Newcomer Cara Delevingne looks like Mariel Hemingway but has the attitude of a young Linda Fiorentino. It will be interesting to see where her career goes from here. Nat Wolff was a secondary character in The Fault in Our Stars, but his natural ease on screen allows for a quick transition to leading actor. Support work comes from Justice Smith as Radar, Jaz Sinclair as his girlfriend, Halston Sage as pretty girl Lacey, and Austin Abrams as the comedy-relief buddy. Since it’s 2015, you know there must be a Duplass Brothers connection, and this time it’s Jay appearing as an English teacher. For those fans of The Fault in Our Stars, yes, Ansel Elgort has a cameo.

The film version is definitely for romantics, and not for those looking for hard-edged life journey. It’s actually a welcome change to have nice kids share the screen and have conversations without gratuitous violence, profanity or nudity. Because of this, it’s pleasant enough to watch, but probably won’t stick with you like the others mentioned here.

watch the trailer: