Funny Face

Posted on February 9, 2009 at 8:00 am

A
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Some mild sexism reflecting its era
Date Released to Theaters: 1957
Date Released to DVD: 2009
Amazon.com ASIN: B004IK30LO

My second DVD pick of the week for Valentine’s Day is the other new Audrey Hepburn release, “Funny Face,” a gorgeous musical set in Paris with Fred Astaire and songs by Gershwin. The title tune, and “How Long Has This Been Going On” and “S’Wonderful” have become standards, and the non-Gershwin numbers like “Think Pink” and “Bonjour Paris” are lively and well-staged.

It’s the story of a shy bookstore clerk with an interest in French philosophy who gets invited to Paris as a model and agrees to go only because it will give her a chance to meet the philosopher she most admires. She thinks that fashion is silly and superficial. But the photographer (Astaire, playing a character based on Richard Avedon) shows her the passion, dedication, professionalism, and artistry required and the philosopher shows her that he does not always practice what he preaches. The film is a delight. Be sure to watch for a rare screen appearance by Kay Thompson, the author of the “Eloise” books, as the magazine editor, and some real-life supermodels spoofing themselves.

Funny Face

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Based on a play Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For Your Netflix Queue Inspired by a true story Musical Rediscovered Classic Romance Satire

Peter Pan

Posted on December 14, 2003 at 7:45 am

Oh, the cleverness of storyteller James M. Barrie, who gave us Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, a St. Bernard nanny, Tiger Lily, and the crocodile that ticks because it swallowed a clock! And oh, the cleverness of P.J. Hogan, the director and co-screenwriter who has brought us this sumptuously beautiful re-telling of the classic story that maintains its timeless charm.

This is the story of Wendy Darling and her brothers Michael and John, who fly to Neverland with Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up. Neverland has pirates, mermaids, and no baths, bedtimes, or schoolwork.

But there are no mothers, either, and without mothers, there are no stories. So Peter leaves Neverland at night to come listen to the stories that Wendy tells her brothers. One night, his shadow is caught in the window. When he comes back to get it, Wendy sews it back on, and Peter invites the Darling children to fly with him back to Neverland and tell stories to the Lost Boys. There Wendy and her brothers meet up with the Lost Boys, and battle Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs, “Harry Potter’s” Lucius Malfoy).

The production design is simply gorgeous. A storybook Victorian London is imagined with exquisite period detail. Even state-of-the-art special effects like flying and computer graphics are consistently conceived and gratifyingly believable. The jarring notes are Peter’s (unforgiveably) American accent and some anachronistic-sounding music. Swimming Pool’s Ludivine Sagnier does her best, but Tinkerbell is probably best portrayed as a spot of light. And some Pan lovers will object to a bit of gentle tweaking of the story. But it is not so much to be politically correct or bring it up to date as it is to remove any distractions from what in today’s view would be seen as sexism.

The story is about growing up, after all, and it is not a coincidence that Wendy flies away with Peter on what is supposed to be her last night sleeping in the nursery with her brothers before she must start to become a young lady. But even though, like her mother, Wendy has a kiss hiding in the corner of her mouth, she is not at all sure that she wants to become a young lady.

Part of the charm of the story is the way it looks at the terror and wonder of that bittersweet moment on the cusp of an adventure that can be scarier and more thrilling than a battle with pirates. Barrie thought that it was really Wendy’s story. Though Peter is the title character, it is Wendy who is the heroine because she makes a journey. When she kisses Peter to bring him back to life, both of them wake up.

When Wendy follows Peter to Neverland, he tells her she will never have to grow up but then he makes her into the mother of the Lost Boys. She assures him (and herself) that they are only playing, but she feels the pull of the adult world. She even tells Peter that Captain Hook is “a man of feeling” while he is just a boy. And feelings are taken very seriously in this story. Fairies like Tinkerbell can have only one feeling at a time. Peter cannot answer when Wendy asks him what his feelings are. And Hook has a deadly poison made up of “a mixture of malice, jealous, and disappointment.”

As Barrie requested in the notes for the play, one actor plays both Hook and Wendy’s father. But it is Hook and Peter who are truly linked. Wendy observes that Peter has no unhappy thoughts and Hook has no happy ones. Hook tells Peter, “You will die alone and unloved, just like me.”

All of this is there to give depth and resonance to an enchanting classic story which is lovingly, even tenderly told in a movie that will become a classic itself. Thrilling adventure, touching drama, and delightful comedy will give audiences of all ages all the happy thoughts and fairy dust it takes to fly.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of fantasy violence, including swordfights, guns, and hitting below the belt. Pirates are killed. There is a brief graphic image of Captain Hook’s amputated arm as he puts on one of his hooks. We see boys’ bare behinds. There are a couple of sweet kisses and some subtle references to puberty. Characters drink and smoke and a pirate offers liquor and cigars to a child.

Families who see this movie should talk about why someone might not want to grow up. What do grown-ups do to keep the best part of childhood inside themselves? Is that what Barrie was doing in writing this story? There is a lot of talk about feelings in this movie. What does it mean to say that fairies can only feel one thing at a time? Why does Wendy tell Peter that she thinks Captain Hook is “a man of feeling?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy comparing it to other versions of the story, including the Disney animated musical (but parents should be aware that it includes material that is insensitive about girls and Indians by today’s standards) and the live-action musical, which is available on video starring Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby. But stay away from Steven Spielberg’s sour Hook, an unfortunate variation starring Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter who returns to confront Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook. For more about Peter Pan, try this site or this one.

Families might also enjoy other movies with similar themes, including Mary Poppins and Gigi.

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Action/Adventure Based on a play Fantasy Remake Stories About Kids

Holiday

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

After a whirlwind romance at a ski resort, Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is on his way to meet his new fiancée, Julia Seton (Doris Nolan). Overwhelmed by the mansion at the address she gave him, he assumes she must be on the staff, and goes to the back door to ask about her. But she is the daughter of the wealthy and distinguished family that occupies the house. He is surprised and amused, and enjoys meeting Julia’s sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn) and brother Ned (Lew Ayres). They promise to help him win over their father, who is likely to object to the engagement, because Johnny is not from an upper-class wealthy family.

Johnny is a poor boy who has worked hard and done very well. Julia likes him because she sees a similarity to her grandfather, who made a fortune. She wants him to do the same, and tells him, “There’s nothing more exciting than making money.” But Johnny, who has just taken the first vacation of his life, only wants to make enough so that he can take a “holiday,” to “find out why I’ve been working.” As the movie begins, he is about to achieve that goal.

Linda thinks this is a great idea. She is something of an outsider in the family, forsaking the huge formal rooms of the mansion for one cozy place upstairs, which she calls “the only home I’ve got.” She tries to persuade Julia and their father that Johnny is right. Even though he completes the deal that gives him enough for his holiday, Johnny gives in and promises Julia to try it her way, and go to work for her father for a while. As her father presents them with a honeymoon itinerary and explains he is arranging for a house and servants for them, Johnny balks. He knows that if he accepts all of this, he will never be able to walk away from it. Julia breaks the engagement, and Linda joins Johnny on his holiday.

Kids should talk about why it was so important to Linda that she be allowed to give the engagement party. Why did Johnny change his mind about trying it Julia’s way? If you were going to take a holiday, what would you do? Remember, this is more than a vacation, it is more like a journey of discovery. Where would you go? What would you hope to find? How do you think people decide what jobs they want to have? Ask your parents what they thought about in choosing their jobs, and whether they ever took (or wanted to take) a “holiday.” What do you think Johhny will do at the end of his holiday? If Linda thought making money was exciting, why didn’t she want to do it herself?

Many kids will identify with the feeling of wanting to take a holiday, to step back from daily life and study the larger picture. The idea that other things are more important than making money and living according to traditional standards of success may also have some appeal. This is a good opportunity to talk with them about what success really means, and about finding the definition within yourself instead of putting too much weight on the definitions of others. There is nothing inherently wrong with making a fortune, of course, just as there is nothing inherently wrThis movie has two exceptionally appealing characters in Johnny’s friends the Potters, played by Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton. Their kindness and wisdom contrasts with the superficial values of the Seton family.

Cary Grant began in show business as an acrobat, and you can see him show off some of that prowess in this movie. The same stars, director, author and scriptwriter worked on another classic, “The Philadelphia Story.”

 

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Based on a play Classic Comedy Date movie For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Romance

Peter Pan

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril; a swordfight
Diversity Issues: Sexist comments about girls, insensitive comments about Indians
Date Released to Theaters: 1953
Date Released to DVD: February 4, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00A0MJ9ZA

Disney’s latest release is a beautiful Blu-Ray of one of its animated classics, the Disney version of the Victorian classic about the boy who would never grow up. Wendy, Michael, and John Darling, three London children, meet Peter Pan, a boy who can fly. He has been drawn to their warm, comfortable home, and to Wendy’s stories. He sprinkles them with fairy dust and they fly off past the “second star to the right,” where he lives in a magical place called Neverland. There they rescue an Indian princess, and fight pirates led by Captain Hook, before returning home to wave goodbye as Peter returns to Neverland without them.

The animation in this movie is as lively as its energetic hero. The scenes set in Victorian London are beautiful, and the shift in perspective as the children round Big Ben and fly off to Neverland is sublimely vertiginous.

Most children see Peter as that wonderful ideal, a child with the power to do whatever he pleases for as long as he pleases. The story does have moments that are whimsical but also very odd — the nanny is a dog, the crocodile that ate Captain Hook’s hand keeps following him for another taste, Peter loses his shadow, the Lost Boys have no parents, and unlike Peter, no special powers, fairy guardian, or unquenchable brio. Some children find this engaging, but a few find it troublesome, or worry about what happened to Peter’s parents and whether he will be all right without them. They may also be sad that the story ends with Peter bringing the Darling children home and then going back to Neverland without them.

Parents should know that the “What Makes the Red Man Red” song is embarrassingly racist and sexist. There is also a sexist overlay to the entire story, with Peter rapturously adored by all the females and at best indifferent in return. A best-selling pop psychology book of some years ago played off of this notion, theorizing that some men suffer from “The Peter Pan Syndrome” (fear of commitment), dividing women into two categories, mother-figure “Wendys” and playmate “Tinkerbells.” Tinkerbell, who is, of course, a fairy, is the only female in the story who is capable of much action other than nurturing, and she is petty and spiteful (though ultimately loyal). When he first meets Wendy, Peter says “Girls talk too much,” which one boy who watched with me thought was rapturously funny.

Families who watch this movie should talk about these questions: Have you ever thought that you didn’t want to grow up? Have you ever thought that you’d like to be a grown up right now? What would you do? Would you like to visit Neverland?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the many other versions of this popular story. Interestingly, this animated version was the first to feature a real boy (instead of a woman) in the title role. The Mary Martin version for television that parents of today’s kids may remember from their own childhoods is available on video, with Cyril Ritchard impeccable as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, and a terrific score that includes “I’m Flying” and “Tender Shepherd.” A remake with Cathy Rigby as a very athletic Peter is also very good. Don’t waste your time on Steven Spielberg’s 1991 sequel, “Hook,” with Robin Williams as a grown- up Peter Pan who must go back to rescue his children from Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook with the help of Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell. The stars, the production design, and some spectacular special effects cannot make up for the incoherent joylessness of the script and genuinely disturbing moments like the death of one of the lost boys.

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10 Things I Hate About You

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Bianca, a beautiful high school sophomore, longs for a social life. But her father will not let her date until her older sister Kat does. Sound familiar? This is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” set in a Tacoma, Washington high school. The movie benefits from appealing performers and some genuinely fresh and funny dialogue, but parents should know that it contains a good bit of material that may be inappropriate for younger teens.

Commedian Larry Miller is terrific as the girls’ father, overprotective because their mother abandoned the family and because as an obstetrician he sees too many pregnant teenagers. But the teachers in the movie are more juvenile than the kids, including a guidance counselor more concerned with writing a very steamy novel than with the behavior and well-being of the students, an English teacher who insults the kids and is arbitrary with discipline, and a soccer coach who is all but comatose at the sight of a girl’s breasts, which she flashes to distract him from a boy’s escape from detention.

Parents should also know that there are a great many references to sex, even by the standards of teen comedies, and especially a number of references to male genitalia, including a boy who draws a picture on the face of another and a boy who pretends to expose himself in the lunchroom, using a bratwurst, as well as the usual teen references to who has “done it.” There is a wild party, with teen drinking and smoking, and brief references to drug use. The scene mentioned above, in which a girl bears her breasts to a teacher, is worth discussing.

On the positive side, the heroines demonstrate a very healthy attitude and strong self-esteem, defending their hearts and their bodies very capably. One admits to having had a bad sexual experience in 9th grade, then deciding she was not ready for sexual involvement, and learning to think for herself in the future. And when one of the characters decides to drink tequila at a party, she ends up dancing in an embarassing fashion and then throwing up in front of the boy she likes.

Kids who enjoy this movie should watch the video of The Taming of the Shrewstarring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The many parallels will make them appreciate this version even more.

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