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?”

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

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

For No Good Reason

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Release: Friday, April 25, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

If there’s any good reason to go see For No Good Reason, it’s the chance to see an extended slideshow of some of Ralph Steadman’s more provocative paintings.

Sure, you know who this guy is. His illustrations have probably even made an appearance in your nightmares at some point. Grotesque, emotionally raw and occasionally quite graphic, the splatter-art that has defined a couple of Hunter S. Thompson novels and the subsequent cinematic adaptations thereof has been a phenomenon you can’t quite ignore. The 78-year-old artist is simply too prolific. He has illustrated children’s books almost as much as he has detailed horrific imagery depicting some of the darkest corners of the human heart. While he has at times proven to be the voice of reason, other times he represents chaos and disorder, using his unique style to express deep frustration and even outrage at humanity’s capacity for evil, wrongdoing.

It is possible Steadman and his ideas are perhaps too big to fit into the home video format, which is essentially what For No Good Reason boils down to. His iconic work deserves much more detail and arguably even it’s own, separate film. Set Pink Floyd’s Saucerful of Secrets as the soundtrack to a collage of his best work, and you’re set; you have an instant classic on your hands. Neither the subject nor his art belong in a documentary quite as pedestrian as this. Director Charlie Paul and his wife, Lucy, a producer on the film, have good intentions, though, and they clearly revere the man and cherish the time they get to spend with him.

It’s certainly obvious what the film’s narrator — Hunter S. Thompson aficionado and puppeteer Johnny Depp — thinks, too. (Everything presented here is “amazing” to him. . .though he can’t really be faulted for saying the word over and over again, the work really is just that.) Ignoring all of the film’s blandness and a general failure to launch, the argument that the subject matter isn’t treated with respect cannot be made.

Any fan of the artiste or those with a general interest in the collaboration between Steadman and the father of gonzo journalism — a style of writing in which the narrator/author is not only spectator to the events surrounding him, but becomes a part of the drama himself, and writing from a point of view that’s not necessarily objective — will find themselves intrigued as Steadman regales the small camera crew that hangs about in his Kent, England home about a time in his life, something slightly more than a decade, that would prove to be both exciting and critical for his career. Touring the country with the crazed writer after bumping into him at the 1970 Kentucky Derby, Steadman would go on to experience great success as his frequent collaborations with Thompson gave him exposure he likely wouldn’t have received otherwise. In reflecting, Steadman’s nostalgia and passion for those days is palpable and these moments justify some of that ticket price.

But Johnny. . .oh Johnny: “Amazing.”

The documentary also is quite helpful in providing a first-hand account of how Steadman physically sets about creating his work. This is fascinating stuff as well. It could arguably be the main event. What blossoms out of a simple splattering of black paint is likely to leave the mind reeling. During this creative process the intimacy of the home video is actually beneficial. We always feel like we want to get closer to the artist and his canvas, and here we do.

Watching the soft-spoken Steadman go to work feels somewhat like a privilege, but elsewhere the production feels amateurish. The documentary doesn’t assume it’s audience has read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which seems a little counterintuitive since this documentary is all but catered to the fandom thereof. (Well, it’s not. It’s catered to the artwork. But the gonzo journalism-obsessives are likely to comprise the majority of the audience. This is a safe assumption, no?)

Outside of seeing the artist at work, there is not a great deal of payoff. Audiences paying to see this movie ought to have a decent background already on the Thompson-Steadman dynamic, but the Pauls make the mistake of assuming those in attendance haven’t yet accessed these beyond-ridiculous pages, this depraved adventure spewed forth from the collective minds of two men hell-bent on doing drugs and living the ‘American dream,’ as it were. There’s too much exposition and back-tracking, on top of a very awkward use of Depp. There’s a sense that we should all be paying more attention to this Hollywood celebrity more than the subject itself at times.

The film features additional interviews with the likes of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), Richard E. Grant (Dracula), and Jann Wenner (Jerry Maguire) but their talking time is limited to unforgettable segments.

For No Good Reason means well, and it required a lot of effort and time to create. Apparently 15 years in the making, the final result unfortunately stoops to treating its audience as if it has deteriorated to the level of dumb beasts. Unless we have been casually sipping on gin and ingesting ether on a somewhat regular basis, there’s simply not enough here to justify a 90-minute production.

GALLERIA 

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illustration for ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ a dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury

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‘Earth Belly’

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‘Queen and Alice,’ an illustration for Alice in Wonderland

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2-5Recommendation: Although fans of Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalism, and Steadman’s unique art will undoubtedly find something to appreciate about the small window into the man’s life, this rather insignificant documentary ultimately comes off as slapdash, underserving both its subject and target audience by providing redundant information and failing to make proper use of Steadman’s utterly fascinating imagination. There are a few artistic flourishes throughout, but even these feel cheap and tacked-on. Somewhere out there lurks a better version of this film, and the faithful should stay vigilant for whatever that may be.

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “It’s what we’re thinking in the back of our heads, but aren’t capable of getting it out.”

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

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

Captain Phillips

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Release: Friday, October 11, 2013

[RPX Theater]

“Oh, Captain my Captain. . .!”

Expecting Tom Hanks’ name to circulate around when it comes time to talking Best Actor is about as safe a bet as expecting more movies to be made for the rest of forever. Can’t say for sure, buuuut I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen.

And so, he’ll all but confirm that outrageous theory of mine as he takes on the titular role in Paul Greengrass’ new biopic Captain Phillips, a particularly tense rendering of the experiences of the real-life cargo captain and his written accounts.

His book, A Captain’s Duty, details the drama that unfolded off the coast of Somalia in 2009, when a freight ship carrying food and other relief supplies was hijacked by four Somalian fishermen. The siege was violent and intense, and culminated in the skipper being held hostage for several days as the hijackers escaped the ship in a rescue vessel, bound for the African shores. This was the first successful act of piracy since the early 19th century. I haven’t read the book myself but considering the nature of the events and the authenticity and emotion that first-hand account narratives tend to offer up, I’m sure it’s a compelling read, and one I cannot wait to get my hands on. Especially now.

I can’t vouch for its faithfulness to the source material, but Greengrass’ film is simply magnificent, and a more-than-competent stand-alone piece of work. He marries the formula of a biopic to an unusually intelligent script (written by Billy Ray) that grounds all characters in a reality often lacking in films similar to it. (Sorry Sam Jackson, The Negotiator may have more “motherf**ker”s in it, but this film is just so much more engaging.) The director’s latest also benefits from a performance from Hanks that may be his most inspiring yet. Those who appreciated his level-headedness as astronaut Jim Lovell haven’t seen anything yet. And his Chuck Noland in Cast Away now just seems to be practice. The New England-born Rich Phillips is truly a remarkable human being, and Hanks does the man justice, as only an actor of his caliber can.

The film begins with a suspiciously insouciant opening scene in which Rich and his wife, Andrea (a very limited Catherine Keener) are headed to the airport for his upcoming assignment off the coast of Africa. Despite its initial immateriality, there’s plenty of exposition to be had here and Hanks’ character instantly is painted as a doting, concerned parent who’s just having to do his job.

Phillips seems to be quite the meticulous and cautious man, albeit a thoroughly disciplined and capable leader, whose experience on the water has always served him well. His latest route will take him and a crew of twenty around the horn of Africa, to dock in Mombasa, Kenya with a massive shipment of food and other relief supplies. However, they soon find themselves in hostile waters off the coast of Somalia and become the latest target of a group of vicious and desperate fishermen/hijackers.

The degree to which Hanks elevates the film cannot be overstated, yet the rest of the cast deserves equal attention. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi who plays Muse, one of the hijackers, is mesmerizing, bringing a level of despair and aggressiveness to a character that is acting completely out of necessity, motivated by desperation.

Along with him, the other hijackers represent varying states of fraying sanity as they impose their will upon the crew of the Maersk-Alabama. The advantage we are given as the audience is that we are introduced to these folks in their towns; we watch them gather frantically in the hopes of scoring another payday, fighting for the right to be the next person to get to hijack a ship.

Indeed, one of the achievements of Captain Phillips is providing many perspectives, all the while Greengrass remains neutral with his camera. Points of view shift with increasing frequency between the rapidly high-profile hostage, the pirates and the numerous Navy officials who work tirelessly to solve the situation peacefully. The moment in which the ship falls under control of the pirates is so much more compelling as we see both walks of life converging in one chaotic, unbearably tense scene. Early on in the film, we are treated to a moment that may rival the stress levels of anything demonstrated in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

Greengrass also really knows how to wrap up his film. The ending is one of the most emotional and difficult things to watch in the entire two-plus-hour hold up. I won’t call it a predictable film, but at the same time, it can’t really end in any way other than how one will probably suspect from the very beginning. The takeaway here will be the way in which Hanks sells the aftermath of his rescue; the emotional and physical toll that he suffers from is remarkable, and should leave you in a state of exhaustion when its all said and done.

Sharp character writing and a well-developed story, one that withstands the toughest of scrutiny, propel Captain Phillips into the league of 2013’s finest offerings. Not only is it a well-articulated recounting of the hellish experiences of Rich Phillips in the days following his ship’s hostile take-over, but there are larger brushstrokes at work as well.

Time and again the ever-diplomatic captain is apt to question the motives of his captors. It’s a 36 hour boat ride from where his Maersk-Alabama sits dead in the water and to the Somalian coast, where the pirates are attempting to reach. All Captain Phillips can do to pass some time in incredible discomfort is chat up his captors, at one point suggesting that “Surely there’s more you can do than fishing and kidnapping people. . . ,” to which Muse has only one response: “Maybe in America, Irish. Maybe in America.”

Ultimately, this movie comes down to an acting battle between Abdi and Hanks — a competition to see whose spirit will crack first, and when it does, what will happen next? A surprisingly complex morality tale, Cap’n also demands strong willpower from its viewers — its long, somewhat limited in terms of its scenery, and emotionally draining. That said, it’s a voyage you’ll completely regret not embarking on, especially on the big screen.

Tom Hanks

4-5Recommendation: I can’t believe I am doing this yet again, but Captain Phillips makes a strong bid for one of my favorite movies of this year. (October and the tail-end of September seems to have been a sweet spot this year.) I HIGHLY suggest as many people as possible get to the theater to experience the latest Tom Hanks masterpiece. The setting isn’t quite as novel as Gravity‘s, but its just as intense, if not more so. I could not get enough of the adrenaline rush this film provides.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 134 mins.

Quoted: “Look at me. I am the captain now.”

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

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