Strange Magic

Posted on January 24, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Copyright 2015 Touchstone Pictures
Copyright 2015 Touchstone Pictures

Despite the big names behind it, including George Lucas, who came up with the story and produced, it feels like a straight-to-DVD, about the level of Disney’s Tinkerbell series. It’s bright, colorful, self-affirming, and bouncy. And, likely to be appreciated more by the adults than the kids in the audience, there is a Glee-style mix, or, perhaps re-mix, of assorted songs from the 60’s through today. But that isn’t enough to make it work on a big screen.

It is supposedly inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the only similarities are the forest, the fairies, and the love potion.

It takes place in an enchanted world that is divided in parts, whose generic names are characteristic of the dim pilot light of the creative imagination at work  here.  The happy, colorful Fairy Kingdom is ruled by a king (Alfred Molina) with two daughters.  The Dark Forest is ruled by the gnarled, bitter Bog King (Alan Cumming) who hates the idea of love because it is chaotic. “Love is dangerous.  It weakens.  It rots.  It destroys order.  Without order, there is chaos.”

The fairy king’s oldest daughter is the brave and responsible Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), who, as the movie begins, is thrilled that she is about to marry the handsome Roland (Sam Palladio). She flies through the kingdom singing a sweet, girl pop version of the Elvis classic, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”  Her younger sister is Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), who has good intentions but is impetuous and a little naive. Her best friend is an elf named Sonny (Elijah Kelley), who patiently listens to Dawn talk about her various crushes and does not let her know that he is in love with her.  They have a cute duet to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

Marianne discovers Roland kissing another girl and breaks their engagement. But Roland wants to be king, and that means he must persuade Marianne to be his wife. He persuades Sonny to cross the border into the Bog King’s domain to get a love potion from the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth), who was imprisoned by the Bog King. Sonny agrees so he can get some for Dawn, to make her fall in love with him. Sonny has a lot of adventures on the way to obtaining the potion, and the Sugar Plum Fairy insists on getting out of her cage in return for her services. Sonny gets the glowing green potion, but just as in Shakespeare, it does not work as intended.  The Bog King captures Dawn, demanding the potion as ransom.  Marianne flies in to the rescue, but so do Sonny and Roland, creating some confusion and misunderstandings.  And a lot of singing.  The well-chosen tunes include: “What Do You Get When You Fall In Love?,” “Marianne,” “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” “When You’re Strange,” “Love is Strange,” “Sugarpie Honeybunch,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Tell Him,” and “Wild Thing.”

There is an unexpectedly endearing romance, and the usual kids-film messages about the importance of what’s inside us.  But the light-weight storyline is weighed down by sub-standard design and low-level animation that relies too much on algorithms and not enough on imagination.

This is where looks do matter, and this film cannot overcome the clunkiness of its design.

Parents should know that there is some fairytale peril and violence, including some scary creatures, some mild gender humor including an accidental same-sex kiss portrayed as gross (really? In 2015?), and brief potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did Marianne and Bog have trouble trusting others? Why did Bog start to be nice?

If you like this, try: “The Book of Life” and the Tinkerbell series of DVDs.

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Animation Fantasy Musical

Trailer: Strange Magic, A New Animated Film from George Lucas

Posted on December 8, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Coming next month — a long-term passion project from George Lucas, “Strange Magic” features the voices of Kristin Chenoweth, Evan Rachel Wood, Alan Cummings, Maya Rudolph, Alfred Molina, and Elijah Kelley.

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Animation Fantasy Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Ides of March

Posted on October 6, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Beau Willimon took his experience on the Howard Dean campaign and turned it into a play called “Farragut North,” for the Metro stop near the fancy Washington D.C. offices occupied by political consultants.  Working with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, it has become “The Ides of March,” named for the ominous date when Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by his political rivals in 44 B.C.  The reference is that while the blood may be more metaphorical than literal, it still gets spilled.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen, an ambitious but idealistic young campaign worker who is responsible for media in the midst of the Democratic primaries.  His candidate, Mike Morris (Clooney) is a progressive governor.  In Ohio, a key state, they are ahead but their toughest competitor is close enough to make them nervous, especially since a New York Times reporter named Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) is trying to get a story out of it.  Even if they win, she will spin them as losing if they win by less than they are predicting.  So Stephen and his boss, Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) have to come across as confident and — most of all — sincere.  They have to be friendly and open with Ida but they have to be careful with her, too, and careful about letting her know just how careful they are being.  Not that she is fooled by it.  A lot of faux charm is deployed in both directions.

And there is a young, beautiful campaign worker named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) who is, as they used to say in the theater, the second-act complication.

Co-writer/director Clooney as assembled a powerhouse cast and it is worth seeing the movie just to watch the way Hoffman and Paul Giamatti eye each other as opposing campaign managers.  But in adapting the play he made some poor choices.  In the original version, the candidate himself did not appear.  Making the Governor an important part of the story and having the character played by Clooney throws the film off-balance, especially when he finds it necessary to give himself a chance to spout some political promises that are just a distraction.  It was much more powerful when everyone in the audience could project onto the candidate whatever positions they wished (or feared) he would take.

And Clooney ramps up the scandal from the original so that it becomes melodramatic and less realistic.  By the time he brings out the big, big flag (ironically), with the idealistic speech in front of the audience and the angry exchange backstage, and the people having sex while watching the news on television, it has gone past heavy-handed to preachy.  Did I really hear someone say, “This is the big leagues?”

Poor Wood has to struggle with a character whose behavior is so bizarrely unrealistic that she seems to be playing two different people.  But Clooney evocatively captures the combination of cynicism about the system, optimism that something can be done to improve it, and grim ends/means practicality about arbitraging the gap.  You can almost smell the stale coffee and put on five pounds from campaign trail stress eating.  He knows the snap and rhythm of political talk, the constant temperature-taking and ceaseless spinning, so much spinning that the words go 360 degrees and then go around again.



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Based on a play Drama

Exclusive Clip from Robert Redford’s ‘The Conspirator’

Posted on March 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm

We are thrilled to be able to present an exclusive clip about director Robert Redford’s new film about Mary Surratt, the only woman charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln. Surratt is played by Robin Wright Penn, and the cast includes Evan Rachel Wood, James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson, and Justin Long.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips
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