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Date: 31 March, 2005
Now with links to resources from christian publisher Damaris, Steve Couch reviews films recently released on DVD.
Click on the orange title or cover image to buy the DVD from amazon.co.uk and Christian Aid receives some money from the sale.
There was so much that could have gone wrong with Finding Neverland, yet director Marc Foster sidesteps all the pitfalls like a lost boy effortlessly slipping away from the pirates. The film has the task of not only telling the story of how J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan, but also capturing something of the spirit of the original. No small task, and one which depends heavily on the films leading man for its success.
Johnny Depp is magnificent. Long regarded as one of the best actors of his generation, Finding Neverland will only add to his reputation. Without Depp’s ability to portray Barrie as a thoroughly mature man, constantly aware of the weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders yet retaining and giving reign to child-like commitment to the power of the imagination, this film could easily have turned into so much sentimental gloop. Tear-jerking it may be, but never shallow.
The depth in the central performance finds echoes in the excellent supporting cast. From the big names (Kate Winslett, Dustin Hoffman, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell), to the children, to the smaller roles such as the players in the original stage show of Peter Pan, everybody produces the goods.
The intercutting between the real world and the world of Barrie’s imagination is deftly handled, evoking a sense of the child-like play and inviting us to join in Barrie’s games of let’s pretend rather than simply standing as grown-up spectators. Yet at the same time, we are aware that the playtime remains simply play, and that behind the laughter can be heard the ever-ticking clock of the crocodile.
The extras are OK. The commentary track is good, with director Foster, screenwriter David Magee and producer Richard Gladstein exchanging anecdotes, technical details and mutual back-slapping without feeling the need to talk over every single second and without becoming dull. Other than that, there is nothing particularly noteworthy, except perhaps the outtake of the dinner party scene with a fart simulator hidden under the table. As with much of the film, there was the potential for disaster, with this coming across as an immature, puerile episode, yet there is actually something rather delightful to it.
Finding Neverland is a wonderfully mature piece of work, combining childlike innocence with the deeper, darker emotions of adulthood. Charming and light, yet with real emotional punch. The best new film on DVD so far this year.
Click here to see the Damaris study guide for Finding Neverland
The last year or so has seen a lot of superhero movies (good and bad) and a lot of animated movies (likewise). The Incredibles ranks among the best of both.
Writer/director Brad Bird clearly has a deep understanding of the world of comic book superheroes, and his ability to simultaneously mock and endorse its conventions shows his affection for them. The film is set in a world where ‘supers’ like Mr. Incredible find themselves litigated into hiding and surplus to requirements. But (surprise surprise) Mr. Incredible soon dons a snazzy new uniform and returns once again to the fray.
The Incredibles gets away with a lot that a live action film simply wouldn’t. I’m not talking here about what CGI can and can’t render believable. The animation is deliberately fantastic as opposed to realistic. Humans are exaggerated physically (in contrast to, for example, humans in the Shrek movies) and superpowers are an extension of personality. The stylised nature of the artwork also helps an audience to get past the deranged frenzy of the principle villain, who in a live action film would be just a little bit too over-the-top for belief. Here, he is a joy here from start to finish.
You may or may not agree with the film’s subtext (that some people are more special than others), but it’s easy to put it to one side and just enjoy the wild ride. Darker than previous Pixar offerings, but just as funny for adults and children alike. One day Pixar is going to stop raising the bar for everyone else. One day, but not today.
I’m told that the extras are suitably lavish. Unfortunately, we were only supplied with a VHS review copy and my deadline is before the commercial release of the title, so you’ll have to take other reviewers’ words for that. But whatever the extras are like, this is a must-see film.
Graceful wire-work, spectacular martial arts, and a stunning sense of visual imagery combine in respected eastern director Yimou Zhang’s first action movie. But it is the story that drives this film, with the telling and retelling offering fresh perspectives and an onion-like approach to the truth, with each progressive layer revealing more until you finally reach the centre and all becomes clear.
The visual styling is more than just window dressing. Different colours are used to represent different perspectives on the main events, and the gradual unfolding of the story beguiles the viewer, drawing us steadily into a deeper engagement with the film.
This is intelligent and thoughtful filmmaking, with all the craft on display employed in exploring serious questions about the nature of war, peace and the pursuit of both. This won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it isn’t just for the martial arts fans. Hero has plenty to offer besides the balletic combat and soaring aerial gymnastics.
The extras, however, are a big disappointment. The filmed conversation between Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li swiftly turns into a mutual love-in with little if any critical depth or insight. This is only partially redeemed by the selection from Jet Li’s back catalogue of career fight scenes. This may help newcomers to martial arts films to know what other films to seek out, but offers little for longer standing fans of the genre. Other than that, the storyboards and documentary scream ‘filler’. A film this inspired deserves better.
Click here for the Damaris studyguide on Hero
Jude Law has had a rough year, with many high-profile projects on the receiving end of a critical drubbing. Alfie has been castigated in many quarters for not being as good as the original, and this undoubtedly put a lot of people off from even watching the film. Remakes of classics are always on a hiding to nothing, and this was in for a rough ride, regardless of how good or bad it turned out to be. But if Michael Caine’s iconic original had never existed, Jude Law’s Alfie would have been seen by a lot more people and be regarded much more highly.
Having started my review like that, it seems a little unfair to talk about where the film stays true to the original and where it diverts from it, but that’s what I’m going to do anyway. The powerful abortion scene from the 1966 version is gone, but the central character still experiences moments where the cold light of reality threatens to break in to his shallow, narcissistic world. Law’s Alfie is still a chirpy Londoner, but has relocated from swinging 60s London to cool, contemporary Manhattan. Alfie still addresses the camera directly, and this narrative device is put to good effect. The old version of the character and the old film are recognisable in the new, albeit with a more contemporary spin on both. Ultimately, it works well and has plenty to say about taking responsibility for our lives and those of the people around us.
The film lives and dies by Jude Law’s performance. Despite the critical bashing, Law does well. In the hands of a lesser actor, Alfie wouldn’t retain its credibility past the first few scenes. Law combines self-confident charm and genuine charisma with the ability to peel back layers of performance and reveal Alfie’s growing sense of anxiety. This is a mature and compelling performance in a good film, and both deserve better than the critical reaction they received. Is the film as good as the original? Possibly not, but is that what it’s all about? Ignore the comparisons and judge the film purely on its own merits: this is a good one which is well worth seeing.
Sadly, no extras whatsoever for region 2 viewers – i.e. most of us.