Sunday, November 14, 2004

films Finding Neverland and The Incredibles

Finding Neverland 5/5

This story is based on James Barrie, the playwright best known for Peter Pan and it is one of the best films that I’ve seen this year, despite receiving next to no hype or marketing push.

James Barrie (Johnny Depp) is a playwright, successful enough to have a nice house with servants, and a beautiful wife (Radha Mitchell). Still, his marriage seems distant and he is bothered by the mediocrity of his creative output. On opening night, people complement him on his terrible plays and he knows they are just trying to be nice.

One day while sitting on a park bench, he encounters three adolescent boys, who he quickly befriends. He invites them over for dinner and also solidifies a friendship with their mother, played by Kate Winslet, much to the disappointment of his wife and her mother, the stern, protective Julie Christie. The boy’s father died from cancer and to some extent, his becomes their playmate, without trying to replace their dad. At the same time, his wife becomes increasingly disenchanted that her husband is spending so much time with another woman and her children.

As his friendship grows with the boys and her mother, he begins to develop a play, loosely based about them. While initially met with skepticism in the planning stages, the play ends up becoming Barrie’s most famous creation.

While less visually fantastic than last year’s Big Fish by Tim Burton, Finding Neverland has its own tastefully limited special effects, but it outshines Burton’s film in its amount of sheer heart.

I actually ended up seeing this film since I arrived too late for the film I originally wanted to see. At the end of Finding Neverland, I was not even slightly surprised to see the audience burst into applause. It was also nice to see that the film was sold out.

The acting is well done without being spectacular. I enjoyed Johnny Depp’s performance, but he didn’t play the role with an extraordinary amount of charisma. Some people will see this as a failing, but I think a genuine performance is better than glitzy but shallow one. One of the children is particularly strong, playing the role of Peter. He’s the youngest but at the same time he’s complex, cynical and surprisingly mature.

Sometimes, a film will come along that stirs up emotions that need to be awakened, and makes you feel alive. Finding Neverland was such a film for me.

The Incredibles 5/5

Despite praise from a friend who saw it opening night, I resisted see The Incredibles until now. There was nothing in the advertising that made it look remotely interesting and I thought I would resist its slick computer animation charms until it came out on video.

I decided to give it a chance, though and I’m really glad I did. The Incredibles turned out to be a tongue-in-cheek satire of most notably, James Bond. There are several scenes that will remind Bond fans of Dr. No, You Only Live Twice and even The Man With The Golden Gun. Even the theme music is a clear Bond rip-off.

All the superheroes are forced into a witness protection-like program, due to the amount of people suing them for collateral damage injuries caused by fighting the bad guys. Mr. Incredible takes a job an insurance claims clerk but he sneaks out regularly by one of his former super hero friends to listen to the police scanner for people needed emergency help.

Eventually, he gets duped into traveling to an exotic tropical island to defeat a rogue robot. The family ends up being like the Fantastic Four.

There is no way that this film is aimed at kids alone. The audience at the late show was almost all adults, and they obviously enjoyed themselves. The animation is superb, probably the best that I’ve seen. Witness little things like how real hair looks. It looks even more realistic than the hair on the characters from the Final Fantasy film, from a couple of years ago.

The Incredibles stands on its own as a fast-paced, witty visual feast that absolutely begs for a sequel. The animated short that preceded the main feature was surprisingly dry in comparison. Bond films have always been a bit cartoonish and this film has raised the stakes for what to expect from Bond 21.

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