The Children Act

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Thompson, Fionn Whitehead, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Richard Eyre (“Notes on a Scandal”)
Written by: Ian McEwan (“On Chesil Beach”)

Films where characters are presented with a moral dilemma usually give rise to thought-provoking conversations. In the 2015 war thriller “Eye in the Sky,” the decency of the U.S. military is examined when they must decide if they should bomb a group of terrorists if it also means killing a young girl near the targeted site. In 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” the question posed at the end of the film is whether the wellbeing of a child should be risked in favor of a neglectful mother’s rights.

The complicated, life-altering situations continue in “The Children Act,” a polarizing and ultimately erratic drama starring two-time Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”) as an English judge assessing a controversial case. Although Thompson is a gem, “The Children Act” minimizes its most interesting courtroom narrative with insignificant storylines during the first half before transforming into an entirely different — and less absorbing — picture in the second.

Thompson stars as Fiona Maye, a High Court justice living in London with her American professor husband Jack (Stanley Tucci), who confesses to her that he has become dissatisfied with their passionless marriage. Besides placing added stress on Fiona, who is obviously a workaholic, the revelation doesn’t add much to the screenplay adapted by Ian McEwan (“On Chesil Beach”) from his own 2014 novel of the same name. Still, McEwan and director Richard Eyre (“Notes on a Scandal”) milk the relationship problems for all they’re worth, which hurts the impact of the film’s main moral issue.

The case that comes across Fiona’s desk is of Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a devout 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness and leukemia patient who sites his religious beliefs and refuses a life-saving blood transfusion. Despite having little time to weigh the circumstances fully (Adam will die soon without the procedure), Fiona makes an unprecedented move and chooses to meet Adam at the hospital before she makes a final ruling.

Until the encounter takes place, “The Children Act,” named after a law in the United Kingdom that requires the protection of a child’s welfare, is a well-developed and smart story in spite of the overplayed and hollow marital spat. Where the film comes apart is when we step out of the courtroom and into an awkward scenario where Fiona’s personal life collides with her work life in a way she’s never experienced before.

As the pragmatic Fiona, Thompson gives a brilliantly direct performance — one that will probably be overshadowed by showier characters once awards season starts getting serious — and stands out as one of her best since 2013’s “Saving Mr. Banks.” A major opportunity is missed, however, when the script chooses to take a clumsy route rather than a compelling one when it hits the homestretch.

Bridget Jones’s Baby

September 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey
Directed by: Sharon Maguire (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”)
Written by: Helen Fielding (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”), Dan Mazer (Bruno), Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”)

It’s never a good idea to milk a film franchise when the story has already dried up. Such seemed to be the case with 2004’s “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” the pitiful sequel to the highly satisfying original “Bridget Jones’s Diary” three years prior. As one of the best romantic comedies in the last 15 years, “Diary” set the bar so high (Renee Zellweger was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress), “Reason” really had no purpose for existing.

Now in an attempt to round out the trilogy and capture some of the appeal of the first film, original director Sharon Maguire returns to helm the third installation “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” a cheery and charming addition that might be considered “jumping the shark” if it was a TV sitcom.

Instead, “Baby” is a bubbly way to re-introduce audiences back to Bridget, now 43 years old and still single, but living life her own way and in less of a state of self-pity than before. After having a one-night stand at a music festival with dating website entrepreneur Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey filling in for Hugh Grant as the romantic foil) and hooking up with old flame Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), Bridget discovers she is pregnant but doesn’t know which of the two is the father.

Of course, with Bridget, things can’t be as simple as telling the men one of them is the father. Instead, she strings them both along allowing each of them to believe he’s the baby’s daddy. It’s not until she breaks down and reveals the truth to Jack and Mark and the two men decide to stay in it for the long run that “Baby” becomes less of a sideshow and more of a story about what is in the best interest of Bridget and the baby.

Without Grant’s character, however, all we’re left with is two good guys to cheer for until the very end. Sure, the narrative shouldn’t be as much about the men as it is about our title character and her bun in the oven, but there’s not much conflict when either of the possible men in her life would probably make fine fathers. It’s hard to find much fault in some of that dry British humor though. With Oscar-winning screenwriter Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”) thrown into the mix, “Baby” definitely takes a step up from where Bridget left off.

Brave

June 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Directed by: Mark Andrews (debut), Brenda Chapman (“The Prince of  Egypt”), Steve Purcell (debut)
Written by: Mark Andrews (“John Carter”), Brenda Chapman (“Cars”), Steve Purcell (debut), and Irene Mecchi (“The Lion King”)

As refreshing and empowering as it is to see an animated film where the main female princess protagonist isn’t waiting around for Prince Charming to whisk her off her feet and ride into the sunset, “Brave,” Pixar’s newest addition to their immensely impressive catalog (with the exception of the “Cars” franchise), isn’t what you’d expect from a studio whose focus has always been great storytelling. In fact, “Brave” borrows so much from past Disney contributions, it’s really difficult to refer to it as an original screenplay.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the technical animated aspects of “Brave,” you still can’t get any better than Pixar animators. The detailed scenery in Scotland where the story takes place is breathtaking as is the creation of the lovely, red-headed Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a young, rebellious princess who refuses to marry a suitor (Princess Jasmine, anyone?) based on tradition and her mother’s wishes. Merida sees herself as a strong-minded warrior who can stand up for herself.

Instead, Merida, whose hair color was obviously chosen because of her fiery spirit, runs off only to complicate things when she meets a witch who casts a spell on her family. It’s at this point of the story where “Brave” veers off ineffectively. The twist is so silly and has no real bearing on the overall mother/daughter relationship narrative at the forefront. Merida is a vibrant character and MacDonald’s voice work brings her to life and offers little girls an opportunity to see themselves in the role of the hero. The last time Pixar got close to this was the mother and daughter characters in 2004’s superhero feature “The Incredibles.” Disney did the last really successful job with the female hero in 2010’s “Tangled.”

While “Brave” has its scene-stealers (Merida’s trio of trouble-making little brothers will cause the most laughter), the script is lacking in imagination and conflict. Give Pixar credit for trying something they hadn’t before in their 17-year history, but “Brave” feels more like a miniscule speck floating around in a grand Pixar universe.