Pan

Release: Friday, October 9, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Jason Fuchs

Directed by: Joe Wright

We’re off to Never, Neverland, but unfortunately not quite like in Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman.’

No, Joe Wright’s reboot of a Disney classic is a lot more subdued. This spirited adventure is, at best, an acoustic interpretation of that song and, come to think of it, why didn’t they use that as one of the crazy chants Blackbeard’s band of lunatic pirates sang with all their hearts in the beginning of the movie? Rather than going with a more overt but potentially hilarious modern metal classic they went with Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and The Ramone’s ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.’

Oh no, it’s another The Great Gatsby — all flash and flesh but no heart or soul; production value worth millions but a story that’s worth a dime a dozen. While Baz Luhrmann’s stylistic flourishes served at least some purpose — the life and times of not only the great Jay Gatsby but the indomitable spirit of the roaring twenties coincided beautifully with his lavish and dynamic directorial style — the excess of excess here in Pan more often than not distracts from a story that has very little new to say, despite being an origins story.

Pan begins in literal darkness, in a London orphanage where young boys just like Peter (Levi Miller) have been dropped off at the stoop and bid adieu by their parents for various reasons. Bomber planes are attacking the city during the height of World War II but amidst all the aerial chaos there swoops and dives, glides and gallivants a flying pirate ship in search of more boys to abduct. The orphanage turns out to be the last stop for these poor boys in this world as they are systematically turned over to the evil Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who then transports them to Neverland, a mystical realm he rules over with a mischievous grin and magnificent wig.

Eventually Peter is snatched up as well and taken to this land beyond space and time, but when he gets there seemingly nothing exists beyond the vast expanse of mines and misery as Blackbeard is still searching for more fairy dust, the only thing that will allow him to live forever youthful. After only a single day in the mines, Peter proves himself a rebellious tyke as he gets into a confrontation with several of Blackbeard’s minions over who was the one to find the most recent chunk of fairy dust. When he fails to convince anyone that it was in fact him, he’s forced to walk the plank. Instead of dying immediately upon impact, Peter finds out at the least ideal time possible — right before he hits — that he can fly. (Aren’t movies great?)

Blackbeard, meanwhile, is convinced this is the moment he feared: when the prophecy of the son of a human female and a male fairy returns to Neverland to kill him is fulfilled. The relationship between Blackbeard and Pan is tabled in favor of the gravitational pull Peter feels towards his mother whom he’s never had the chance to know. I suppose that makes sense given where we are on the Peter Pan timeline, but the former relationship would’ve been so much more interesting to explore. Striking a deal with fellow miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peter says that as long as Hook helps him find his mother he will help Hook and his goofy accomplice Smee (Adeel Akhtar) escape Neverland for good.

That’s before they get lost in the surrounding jungle and find themselves at the mercy of Rooney Mara’s Tiger Lily, who’s unfortunately become the bane of many critics’ experiences, and her clan of untrusting Piccaninnies, all donned in garb that wouldn’t look so out of place in an old-fashioned Gatsby get-together. Mara, while remaining a likable enough presence, absolutely does not justify the film’s awkward quota of white women as her emotive power becomes reduced to flat and uninspired line readings. And while this radical bit of casting does stick out, it’s not as offensive as Pan failing to justify itself as anything more than another cash-in on the current trend of remaking classic animated films as live-action spectacles.

Pan, despite its visual wonder — the exploration of the Fairy Kingdom ought to earn the film at least an Oscar nod for Best Production Design — is a chore to sit through, frequently lapsing into giddy fits of excitement or faux-terror that are aimed squarely at the little ones while willfully ignoring the grown ups in attendance. Its many characters come across as stenciled cut-outs of virtually every children’s movie version of the good guys and bad guys. Children probably won’t recognize their genericness, but their parents should. The parents who thought Pan could actually massage their initial hesitation into bittersweet nostalgia.

The child inside me thought it could work. The child inside me is a little disappointed. At least Jackman and Miller fare pretty well. The former is suitably sleazy while the latter is an inspired choice to play the titular character. Hopefully we’ll see him in the sequel(s). Considering how poorly Wright’s reimagining has already performed, I’m not sure how long the wait will be for future installments but something tells me it could be longer than a single night’s sleep.

Recommendation: Pan‘s a film for kids of this generation but unfortunately not for those growing up with Peter Pan. A loud, colorful and rushed production filled with silliness but lacking in heart or originality. I’m starting to think that while Peter himself may never age, remaking and rebooting his story has had its time. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “Have you come to kill me, Peter?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Stand By Me (1986)

So since I couldn’t get my act together and decide on a theme for this month’s TBT reviews, we’re going to have another one of those random picks months, and that’s okay I guess because it’s only September. Plenty of time before the year’s out to make good on coming up with a scheduled list of films to watch and review for this feature. Today we have a good one. . . if you like movies about kids walking down railroad tracks, that is. (I do. I like those kinds of movies.) 

Today’s food for thought: Stand By Me.

Stand By Me movie poster

Looking for a dead body since: Friday, August 22, 1986

[Netflix]

Rob Reiner, channeling his strongest nostalgic tendencies, created a wonderful coming-of-age drama with the tale of four boys set out on their own to find the body of a missing local teen. As was the case with his masterpiece The Princess Bride, Stand By Me yearns for a simpler time when kids could just be free to roam, and other than worrying about the dropping of the nuclear bomb, adults had a slightly less pessimistic worldview.

Of course, his adaptation of the Stephen King novel — the most feel-good of all the King adaptations — wasn’t about the grown-ups. In fact, with the exception of the framing device of an older Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss) reflecting back on his childhood adventures after seeing a newspaper article about the death of one of his friends, a few short clips of Gordie’s parents and an old, crusty junkyard owner the film was essentially driven by child actors. An impressive feat, given how good the acting is; how deep the camaraderie between this ragtag group of boys goes.

We meet all four in a treehouse, where Gordie (Wil Wheaton), his best bud Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), the outspoken Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and the chubby, nervous and generally irritating Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) are discussing the possibility of going out to find the body of a kid who went missing from their town of Castle Rock some time recently. Vern, having broached the subject, claims he got the idea after overhearing his older brother and his obnoxious friend talking about it. It takes these kids but a few minutes to decide that they want to be the ones who uncover the body. After all, they could become local heroes because of it. Over the next two days, they embark on a journey down a railroad line, an adventure that encompasses their collective past, present and future.

Stand By Me is aggressively enjoyable. From astute performances from such young actors to the simplistic yet creative setting, Reiner found a perfect mixture of tone and tempo in his lamenting over the fact that childhood is a bubble that pops far too easily. The film had to rely heavily on the camaraderie of our explorers in order to overcome the monotony of sticking to a never-ending railroad track while also depending on precise editing and a variety of scene changes so that the whole enterprise didn’t feel experimental. It’s pretty successful on all fronts.

Reiner’s use of the railroad linking the boys to a destiny marked by danger and loss of innocence was a stroke of genius. Rather than manifesting as an obligatory check list of items that needed to be ticked because of preconceived notions of what a coming-of-age drama is (or was), the events that come to define Stand By Me occur naturally and as close to extemporaneously as the most polished version of a script could possibly allow. The scrapyard break-in, the bridge crossing debacle, the leech-infested swamp — none of these eye-opening moments would have been possible if the story were told after-the-fact in that treehouse, or from any quaint locale in Castle Rock for that matter.

The film isn’t free of cliches of course. Personal fears of a mostly familial nature run the gamut from being unable to escape the past — the Chambers being widely known for their alcoholism and criminal activity — to being inadequate in a family (Gordie considers the loss of his older brother Denny to be the last time he felt any kind of attention from his parents) and to being psychologically and emotionally traumatized in an abusive household, as was the case for Teddy whose father was a war vet suffering from PTSD. It’s all stuff we’ve encountered before in these movies but familiar ground does not contribute to an overly familiar expedition.

Ultimately the film has the advantage of being even more interesting if we put ourselves in these kids’ shoes. If given the opportunity as a child to see a dead body, would we? At what age does the sanctity of a human life strike someone, and is it the same for everyone? What would a weekend trip like this do to us? If we were in their shoes, would we be tempted to kick Kiefer Sutherland’s ass? Stand By Me may have offered Sutherland one of his most ridiculous roles as a punk teenager on the hunt for the same kind of infamy as these boys, though it is far more memorable because of its investment in the preciousness of childhood, and being able to pinpoint the precise moment at which boys are no longer boys.

Recommendation: Stand By Me is a classic coming-of-ager, told through Rob Reiner’s sensitivity and deft humor. It’s also highly nostalgic for the years where not much seemed to matter apart from getting into trouble with your friends in the summer. Oh yeah, I guess this was set in the 50’s so you always had to keep an eye out for that dreaded nuclear bomb. I guess there was that. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “At the beginning of the school year, Vern had buried a quart jar of pennies underneath his house. He drew a treasure map so he could find them again. A week later, his mom cleaned out his room and threw away the map. Vern had been trying to find those pennies for nine months. Nine months, man. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

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Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

new-tbt-logo

Holy Gene Wilder, it’s an actual, legitimate “throwback” post for once! 😀 (Yes, this is not that new Johnny Depp remake, the one that looks more like a horror movie.) This one currently stands as the oldest film I’ve reviewed so far but it might also strike a second landmark as being one of my all-time favorite films and one I hold in highest regards. This loyal adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s novel (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory), in my quiet opinion, epitomizes classic cinema. You cannot have a list of the greats and not have this title on it, it’s that simple. This fascinatingly bizarre tale of kids touring an eccentric candyman’s factory likely has gathered dust at home because, well let’s face it, there’s just a ton of other really great films from the era, enough for this title as well as many others to be easily obscured. But here I am going to jot down a list of reasons what makes this one of the best children’s book adaptations of all time, hopefully shaking some of that dust off those video cassettes in the process for those reading at home.

Today’s food for thought: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

willywonka1

Release: June 30, 1971

[VHS]

So this is going to be a fairly difficult task: condensing my favorite elements of this wholly satisfying movie into a Top Ten list. Yikes! That’s like going into Wonka’s factory and picking out your favorite candy. I figured we all know the way this story plays out by now so it would be a little redundant to simply summarize my thoughts on the film that way. (Well, the truth is. . .lists are just easier.) So without further ado, here’s the reasons why this should be the only Chocolate Factory movie ever made (this is in no particular order):

  1. gene-wilder-picture-9Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is arguably the best example of a movie fully-realizing what a book only managed to create mere sketches of in the mind of the reader. In the eyes of a viewer, the great and unpredictable Mr. Wonka is brought to life in all his whacky glory, and Wilder could not have been a better fit.
  2. willywonkaandthechocolatefactoryBringing the Oompa-Loompas to life was an aspect to this story that director Mel Stuart did not fudge. (Cute pun, I know.) Each of these curious little. . . . . guys. . . . .added such an air of mystery and fantasy to the movie, and may also have been a superior version to whatever we may have pictured for ourselves while reading Dahl’s book.
  3. charlie-golden-ticketThe moment Charlie discovers he has found one of the five Golden Tickets goes down as one of the most joyous, genuinely heartwarming moments of any film. The song he sings as he skips merrily down the street, carelessly getting in the way of whatever (because he’s got a golden ticket), that’s pretty classic, too. We all know that no one deserved this opportunity more than the kind-hearted Charlie Bucket.
  4. anigif_enhanced-buzz-23405-1361219959-2Mel Stuart’s film captures the beyond-desperately impoverished conditions within the Bucket household. But after learning of Charlie’s miraculous find, Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) leaps out of the bed to which he’s been confined by his ailments in his senior years. Charlie needs a chaperone for his tour of Wonka’s factory, so he asks old Joe if he’ll join in on the adventure. Another wonderfully moving moment. Meanwhile, everyone else remains in bed.
  5. charlie-then-and-now1Peter Ostrum’s sole film performance as Charlie Bucket was again, perfect. (This seems to be shaping up to be some kind of rave post, doesn’t it?) Whether Ostrum was unable to find other roles after growing out of being a child actor, or that he wasn’t interested in film acting anymore is another matter entirely but in this movie he made one of the biggest impressions. He encapsulated the sweet innocence of this very poor kid, a kid with a much brighter future ahead of him.
  6. willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-image-02-600x337Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is nothing if not a role model for kids who are trying to do the right thing, who are well-behaved, good-mannered and amiable, instead of competing to be the most attention-grabbing, materialistic brats that they can be. The morality play at work is hard to ignore as we follow the group on Wonka’s tour of his factory. The film visually emphasizes the differences between someone like Charlie versus the other spoiled kids, multiple times over. Violet Beauregarde’s body turning into a giant blueberry perhaps remains the most vivid example of a kid failing to earn Wonka’s love and respect.
  7. The_Boat_Ride_Willie_Wonka_the_Chocolate_Factory_1971Who doesn’t appreciate a free boat ride, especially when it comes courtesy of Willy Wonka and his hard-working Oompa-Loompas? Hope no one gets scurvy too easily because the tunnel scene is one of the trippiest, most bizarre scenes in a film I’ve ever witnessed. Especially when I was a kid watching it. That chicken getting it’s head chopped off always got me. What freaked you out about this moment?
  8. 5Perhaps the character that has shown just how much this film has aged is the obnoxious, television-obsessed Mike Teevee. I phrase it like that because still images of the kid who plays the part in the Tim Burton remake show that this kid is nothing more than a videogame-obsessed, future reality-TV addict who trades his kicks in with characters from a monitor rather than having real-life experiences. The original kid, though hardly more likable, seemed to be preoccupied with Westerns and cowboy shows on television, a comparably more “innocent” obsession. The essence of the problem is more or less the same, but the outlets have changed, clearly indicating the shift in technology and what that is doing (and is going to do) to kids present and future.
  9. Willa-Wonka-and-the-Chocolate-Factory-willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-17593307-640-480Even despite the fizzy lifting drinks incident, Wonka decides that his search for a perfect successor has indeed ended, with Charlie Bucket being the most deserving kid to take over the chocolate factory. The second book in the series, Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator may not have been quite as classic as its predecessor, but the way in which this film ends perfectly captures this transformative moment in this kid’s life and proves that truly good things come to those who wait.
  10. A scene from the film of 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.Few films can match the fantastical spectacle that is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. From the many classic numbers that permeate this fanciful tale of a poor kid going from rags to riches (but not in the way you typically think of); to the visual splendor of the set pieces (Wonka’s factory is brought to life in ways that Tim Burton wished he didn’t destroy with his version); to the performances, this is a film for the ages.

4-5Recommendation: Featuring a childlike wonder unparalleled in many films of its day and in movies that have tried to duplicate the magic, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is an incredibly charming, unique production that somehow manages to find ways of transcending its strong source material. Not only that, but every time one watches this film, they are instantly transported back to a time of innocence that no longer seems to exist. A wonderful, wonderful movie.

Rated: G

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Time is a precious thing. Never waste it.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com