October 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund
Directed by: Joe Wright (“Atonement”)
Written by: Jason Fuchs (“Ice Age: Continental Drift”)

After the beautiful adaptation of “Cinderella” earlier this year from Oscar-nominated director Kenneth Branagh (“Henry V”), one might’ve started to think recreating animated Disney classics into live-action films could end up being a fantastic experience for children and adults alike. With a handful of these kinds of films currently in some stage of production, including “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast,” one could only hope these stories are also going to get the same sort of royal treatment Branagh and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”) were able to deliver.

Don’t hold you’re breath just yet. Swooping in like a fairy on angel dust to muck that idea up is a prequel to the story of author J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. In “Pan,” a directionless and pitiful excuse for children’s entertainment, director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) and screenwriter Jason Fuchs (“Ice Age: Continental Drift”) try to do some off-the-wall things with the storytelling, but fall deep into a creative rut when making decisions on exactly what this prequel should actually be about.

Plenty of those decisions are terrible ones. We won’t even get into the fact that the film includes a musical interlude where Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard the Pirate sings Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (something the film “Moulin Rouge!” gets away with because the rendition is so insane and interesting) and pretends it’s not the most foolish thing he’s done since donning a prosthetic scrotum in “Movie 43.”

In “Pan,” Peter’s story pre-Neverland is laid out from his childhood in a London orphanage to his first encounter with his future arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Garret Hedlund). Both start off as friends with a common enemy in Blackbeard. Swashbuckling their way through action sequences, the CGI-heavy scenes start to droll on and on like a sequel to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

There’s really no reason for “Pan” to exist. With the satisfactory 2003 adaption “Peter Pan” from director P.J. Hogan and the original 1953 animation (we’ll pretend “Hook” never happened), do we really need to know how Peter Pan learned to fly? Some backstories – especially when they’re told this thoughtlessly – should be left to the imagination. What’s next? A movie about how the Genie actually got into the lamp? Let’s hope not.

Anna Karenina

November 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Directed by: Joe Wright (“Atonement”)
Written by: Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”)

Give filmmaker Joe Wright (“Atonement”) some credit for being so bold with his decision to make his new retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” something audiences have never experienced with this specific story. Not only does he direct it as if were a stage performance, Wright breaks down the wall between the production and his viewers and allows them to see all the backstage tasks it takes to put such a stylish and ornate project together. In doing so, we see sets and backdrops pieced together as actors take their marks, musicians walking through the film providing music for the picture and even a horse race taking place right on stage with real and painted patrons. It all makes for an eye-catching spectacle that breaks the traditional set-up of the cinematic costumed drama.

Besides the wonderfully choreographed scenes led by Wright and the beautiful art direction, the stand outs in “Anna Karenina” are the performances by Keira Knightley as the self-pitying title character and her distressed husband Minister Karenin played by Jude Law. Marital problems are a dime a dozen in these films, but the emotional anguish these two inflict on one another is noteworthy, especially with a piercing screenplay adapted from Tolstoy’s work by screenwriter Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”). When Karenin tells Anna, “You are depraved; a woman without honor. I thank God the curse of love is lifted from me,” you can truly feel what betrayal meant in 19th century Russia – at least for them.

Despite a miscasting of a slightly absurd-looking Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Albert Nobbs”) as Anna’s lover Vronsky and a ham-fisted scene between actors Alicia Vikander (look out for her in Norway’s “A Royal Affair”) and Domhnall Gleeson (“True Grit”) with alphabet blocks, “Anna Karenina” is a nice change of pace to this classic tale. Tolstoy would be proud.

The Soloist

April 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jaime Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener
Directed by: Joe Wright (“Atonement”)
Written by: Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”)

Based on a series of articles by Los Angeles Times writer Steve Lopez, the story of a Julliard- music-virtuoso-turned-street-vagabond is simply fascinating on so many levels. There are, however, limitations as to how deep a story like this can run before its momentum staggers into a standard biopic. In the case of “The Soloist,” the narrative should have stayed inside its original newspaper columns.

Leading the way in this inspirational story is Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) as Nathaniel Ayers, the aforementioned homeless musician, whose mental illness forces him to quit his dream to play the cello and leads him to a life of meager means.

With no family to turn to, Nathaniel finds friendship and emotional comfort from reporter Steve Lopez (Downey Jr.), who becomes intrigued with his latest subject after watching him perform on a two-stringed violin under a statue of Beethoven in L.A.’s Pershing Square. While Steve plays the observer for their first meetings for his piece, he soon becomes much more to Nathaniel as the everyday challenges he faces as a homeless schizophrenic become more and more life threatening.

While screenwriter Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”) has some great material about the passion for music one individual feels, most of that sentiment comes from Foxx himself as he falls into a tranquil daze every time a bow hits a stringed instrument. While this aspect of Nathaniel’s life is essential in completing his character arch, Grant fails to complete her end of the bargain when intertwining a message of mental illness and homelessness. Both topics are placed on the same pedestal as Nathaniel’s natural music ability, which poses a problem.

By the film’s third act Nathaniel doesn’t seem like a musician without a home who has mental issues. Instead, he is projected as a crazy homeless guy who knows a thing or two about classical music. More time needed to be devoted to the musical side of the story although in Lopez’s written word the other issues are just as significant. In “The Soloist,” however, they’re stylized more than they need to be and ultimately skimmed over. The way these views are presented also clash with the idea that Nathanial has been blessed with an effortless gift.

While Foxx does his best to keep Nathaniel from becoming a caricature, Downey Jr. has more of a challenge when he attempts mold his character into someone other than a crutch. It’s a very one-dimensional take that doesn’t quite lift off past his newsroom desk. Even when Grant introduces more for Downey Jr. to grasp (Catherine Keener is sort of in the background as his ex-wife), the story line goes dissonant and nothing else is said about Steve’s own parallels to the film’s focus.

Director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) doesn’t seem to get his mind around the noteworthiness of the story. “The Soloist” might be soothing at times, but that’s what also makes it all the more aggravating once the music dies.