Published: Tuesday, 23 December 2008 01:00
Eats Like a Meal
In this Tale, many lessons thicken the broth
By Jared Peterson
The Tale of Despereaux, adapted from the thick and chunky novel by Kate DiCamillo, gives the traditional fairy tale a stir by adding ingredients fresh from the headlines.
The kingdom of Dor is a happy land that lives for soup. Each year its proud people gather in celebration as a new concoction is debuted, first gracing the royal table and soon trickling down to hungry citizens and culinary tourists from far and wide. Amidst the throngs skitters a rat of taste named Roscuro (voiced with tenderness by Dustin Hoffman), excited to sample the new stew. But as the queen takes her first sips, Roscuro, angling for an advanced whiff, loses his footing and tumbles into her bowl—and the shock of the sight kills her on the spot. An angry and inconsolable king reacts with a series of rash edicts: rats are banished, and soup itself becomes a crime—no one may eat, make, or even talk about it. In a world stung by tragedy, even the lifeblood of a nation can seem too dangerous a luxury.
This marks the beginning of a truly dark era. Down in Ratworld, in the city’s dungeon depths, banishment and privation have made the rats desperate and savage. Roscuro, mortified by his part in it all, mopes amidst the ugliness and struggles to keep his conscience. Above ground, spirits have darkened, and so has the sky. Rainless clouds block out the sun, and while the city eats salad and the king picks mournfully at a lute, his daughter Princess Pea (Harry Potter’s Emma Watson) stares out her window and longs… for light, for rain, for anything. Our hero is born in between, in the floorboards and moldings of Mouseworld. Unusually small, with saucer eyes and huge, round ears, Despereaux Tilling (Matthew Broderick) is wide open to a world that his fellow mice only know how to fear. Brave and curious, he casually explores the wonders beyond the boundaries of the powers-that-flee. Inspired by tales of chivalry, he seeks out the Princess and swears to be her victor. His actions set events in motion that will test the courage of every citizen of Dor who longs for freedom from fear.
The Tale of Despereaux is deeply-felt and intricately layered, and the filmmakers—directors Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen and screenwriter Gary Ross, adapting DiCamillo’s Newbury-award-winning novel—have committed to portraying human (and rodent) affairs in all their complexity. But the film lumbers a bit under the weight of its self-awareness. The pace is slow, with too many characters getting too much of our time; Despereaux, the hero, doesn’t appear at all until the second act. The action sequences are clever and rollicking, but they are punctuations in a movie made up mostly of one-on-one conversations. The narration (read by the amazing Sigourney Weaver in what I can only describe as a razor-sharp lilt) offers both lush description and intelligent assessment, but all of its “what-ifs” and “did-you-evers” leave little for the audience to discover on its own. Words are important (I’m fond of them myself), but any film that invests too much in words alone risks becoming well-lit radio. Unfortunately, Despereaux sometimes feels like the world’s prettiest audio book.
On balance, though, the film’s lessons are worth its lecturing. This fairy tale, like many, is an allegory of its time. Many members of its intended audience know 9/11 only as a blurry memory or a date on a calendar. But they are children both in and of a world shaped by those painful events, and it’s a difficult thing to try to heal those who don’t know how they’re hurt. By giving bravery a sure, small—and cute—voice, The Tale of Despereaux can really only help.
Okay, parents: When the queen dies kids may be a little slow in sensing the gravity of the moment, given that it looks like every comic face-down-in-your-soup bit since the Marx Brothers. Just a heads up: her head’s not coming back up. Also, it’s a small but unavoidable point that one character, a servant girl, is sold to someone for money, and that’s not cool. Rats and mice walk, talk and wear clothes, but they still look like rodents, so comfort levels may vary—the rats are generally creepier, though one blind mouse (sing with me now) has milky grey eyes that are a bit unsettling. A snarling, angry kitty appears in a couple of scenes—shot from a mouse’s perspective, it’s a bit scary. A couple of the action sequences have a roller-coaster energy to them, with some dangerous drops and near-misses. There’s a single “damn”, and one character uses of the word “knickers” (which is so much better a word that “underpants” that I can’t understand why we Yanks don’t use it exclusively).
At a Sunday, December 21st, screening, the following films were previewed: Coraline (PG), from the director of A Nightmare Before Christmas and featuring some scary-looking faces and the innate creepiness of all stop-motion animation (you know I’m right); Up (not yet rated), Pixar’s next delight; Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (not yet rated), with a hilarious extended trailer detailing the lengths some squirrels will go for a nut; and Monsters Vs. Aliens, which I’m pretty sure I can prove was my idea all along.
Jared Peterson is fussy about soup. Explore his hang-ups at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.
Published: Monday, 12 January 2009 23:00
Not exactly nuptial bliss
Performances almost save fluffy tulle of a movie
By Kristen Page-Kirby
You know how some trailers make a movie look awesome and they’re just big fat lies? Well, “Bride Wars” falls victim to the opposite problem: The trailers make it look immensely stupid and borderline (or outright) offensive, when in fact the movie they advertise is, well, only kind of stupid and offensive in the sense that all the jokes have been made so often they don’t even deserve a raised eyebrow—just an eyeroll.
Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Liv (Kate Hudson) are childhood BFFs, now trying to make it in the big city. A major bonding agent in their house of friendship is their love of weddings, particularly the dream of being married at New York’s Plaza hotel in June. When both girls get engaged, both girls (oh happy day!) book weddings weeks apart. But—ruh-roh—due to a scheduling snafu, both ceremonies end up on the same day. And you’ve seen the trailers, so you know that war breaks out (ironic that the disputed day is June 6—D-Day.) Since the combatants are girls, the battles are mostly based around weight, skin and hair. Which you’ve seen in the trailers, so there’s no need for me to waste space telling you about them.
Beyond the whole stupid “every girl DREAMS of her wedding day” thing, the movie actually might have something interesting to say about the friendships of women—it just doesn’t say it particularly well. What Emma’s and Liv’s weddings do is bring to the forefront issues that have been bubbling in their friendship for some time. Emma is a public schoolteacher, while Liv is a hotshot corporate lawyer—the disparity in their incomes creates some real tension. Plus, Liv feels judged for not having Emma’s altruistic career. Really, what’s at play is that the women have been attempting to have the same friendship that they’ve always had, rather than allowing it to grow up along with them. And the weddings—as major events tend to do—show the flaws in their foundations.
But this substantial issue is, like most weddings, buried in a whole mess of unnecessary and poorly-executed malarkey (and I say that as someone who had a pretty big wedding.) The grooms are essentially nonexistent, the excellent Kristen Johnson is given an unredeemable character to try and make funny (she fails), Candace Bergen’s wedding planner role essentially exists to make the scheduling mistake and provide redundant voiceovers. There’s a tendency to rely on photo montages to convey information like, “girls look at flowers” and “couples buy rings,” and I’m pretty sure we could have figured out that flowers were looked upon and rights were bought. And when one of the girls doesn’t make it to the altar, the dissolution of the relationship is both hammily telegraphed and completely out of the blue.
Both Hathaway and Hudson give performances that add more depth to the characters and their situations that the script might warrant; both characters are both likeable and flawed. And, refreshingly, while both women are slim, they’re almost noticeably not the scary-skinny skeletons that dominate cinema today.
Not much here to give parents concern. “Ass” makes an appearance, and Emma says “mother-eff.” That’s not to say she says what “mother-eff” represents; that’s what she literally says—same with “G.D.” The b-word crops up two or three times. There’s an allusion to inflatable dolls and some sexy bachelorette-party dancing, but everyone (men and women) stays clothed. Both girls live with their boyfriends before marriage.
In the end, “Bride Wars” is the same as going to a co-worker’s wedding. You smile, you get something to eat, maybe you giggle a little—but you keep one eye on your watch and the other on the door.
At a Jan. 9 showing, the previews were: "Confessions of a Shopaholic", DreamWorks’ "Monsters vs. Aliens" (which shows a garter belt, a reference to “boobies” and a poop joke), "Duplicity" (in which a thong makes a brief [ha!] appearance) and "Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian," which puts a giant T-Rex skeleton in the Museum of Natural History when everyone knows that’s really where the elephant goes.
Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family. When planning her own wedding, she broke down in tears when she ran out of the yellow ribbon she used to tie around the invitations.
Published: Monday, 28 April 2008 23:00
First, we're moving Movie Monday to Tuesday, thanks to the time needed to write and edit the reviews. We lose the alliteration, but gain quality.
Second, when we started movie reviews, there was a long debate about whether to review R-rated movies. Movies rated R should limit their viewership to those over 17 or, for kids 16 and under, to those who are accompanied by a parent. We eventually decided to review those R-rated movies that were being marketed to or would be of interest to older teenagers--so while we wouldn't, for example, review "Glory," we would have reviewed "Superbad."
Considering there was a group of boys that looked about 13 at the 2:10 show I attended, it seems like we overestimated the age of teenagers that might be interested in "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay."
Note: In the interest of letting parents know the movie's content in as much detail as possible, plot spoilers follow after the jump.
Published: Monday, 05 May 2008 23:00
Coming in to the sure-to-be-blockbuster Iron Man, I had very little knowledge beforehand of the story. After doing a bit of research of the Marvel comics, I became quite familiar with the character of Iron Man but was curious to find out whether the movie would do the vintage comic character justice. I'd rather not ruin the story line for those persistent movie goers and comic fans, but the movie, directed Jon Favreau, focused highly upon the development of Iron Man and his journey for good.
Published: Monday, 12 May 2008 23:00
Directed by The Wachowski Brothers (Andy, Larry)
Starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Matthew Fox, Paulie Litt
Opens May 9, 2008
Screened May 11, 2008
Child’s play is littered with toys, but driven by imagination. Kids are picky about their playthings, to be sure, but they’re also experts at rewriting the “rules” of the game. Any parent who has watched their child play gleefully inside the cardboard box that accompanied their brand new $200 toy set has learned (or remembered) a fundamental axiom of play: You may want a toy because it can do something—light up, transform, pee—but you play with a toy because it can do anything.