P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan follows J.M. Barrie's story almost to the letter. A girl on the brink of womanhood Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) loves telling her brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) stories of dastardly pirates as they sit in their nursery under the watchful eye of their St. Bernard Nana. Her 19th-century Londoner parents however believe the time has come for the young girl to grow up especially her father. Then a cheeky wild-haired boy named Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) flies through the nursery window one night with his trusted yet jealousy-prone fairy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) telling Wendy he can take her to a place full of adventure where no one ever has to grow up. She readily accepts the offer and with a few happy thoughts some fairy dust and her two brothers in tow she flies off to Neverland. (Not the ranch…the real place.) Once there Wendy encounters mermaids Indians and the Lost Boys (who refer to her as "mother") and gets the whole pirate experience in Peter's ongoing feud with arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). But Wendy soon becomes conflicted because on the one hand she likes hangin' with hottie Peter but on the other she misses her mother. She decides it's probably best to go back and grow up but in her hurry to leave she ends up in Hook's clutches. A rescue ensues. Swords clash ticking crocodiles are fed and fairies are saved as our clever fly boy zooms Wendy and company back to London on a giant pirate ship. But does he stay and grow up himself? Hell no he's a Toys 'R Us kid forever!
All the kid actors in Peter Pan are highly watchable and appealing with angelic faces peaches-and-cream complexions and pouty cherry lips. This is the first time Peter is being played by a real-life boy a fact much hyped by the filmmakers and 12-year-old Sumpter (Frailty) does his best to live up to the expectations. (He's soon to be swoon-worthy material for sure.) He's got a mischievous gleam in his eye and a great sly smile but he really lights up when he's looking into Wendy's adorable face. Hurd-Wood the first-time actress who plays the spirited girl earned her role after a long and involved casting process it's well deserved; she fits the typical English-girl profile perfectly and gets the hang of her craft quickly infusing the character with a natural cheerful energy. It's also refreshing to see the young actors play up Wendy and Peter's feelings of first love which prior films always hinted at but never fully realized. Isaacs in a dual role as the firm-but-loving Mr. Darling and the frightening comical lonely charming needy reprehensible Captain Hook draws on his experience at playing exquisitely awful baddies (The Patriot Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and really sinks his claws into Hook. In a stand out supporting role French actress Sagnier (Swimming Pool) is really fantastic as the vivacious non-speaking Tinkerbell portraying the fairy's conflicted emotions with a silent-film over-the-top technique.
Director/writer P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and his team try to distinguish their film from the other Peter Pans of the world by using all the technical and special effects wizardry at their disposal. Hogan says his Peter Pan is the way its author Barrie intended to be when he wrote it as a play over a 100 years ago--full of fantasy and wonder. In a way he's right and production designer Roger Ford and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar take his vision and run with it giving audiences a very lush Neverland with waterfalls fluffy pink clouds crystal-blue waters and a gorgeous fairy world. But despite the bells and whistles there really isn't anything original and different in this Pan. Even its look at the dark side of Neverland has been done in Steven Spielberg's 1991 semi-sequel Hook which showed the dangers of Neverland. In this version lives really are at stake and the pirates are not cute and fun. Even the mermaids are mysterious and malevolent with scary faces and murderous intentions a far cry from the beautiful if somewhat mean-spirited creatures of the 1953 classic Disney animated adaptation another inescapable influence on the audience. When the crocodile draws near for example tick-tocking away the croc's signature tune from the Disney film comes immediately to mind. People may love those Disney films for those cutesy catchy songs but Peter Pan really is a good story. Heck it's a great story. But it's just been done.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
London bachelor John (Jack) Worthing who has a murky background and his roguish spendthrift friend Algernon (Algy) Moncrieff pursue romance but are each deceitful in their own ways. Jack who is guardian of his beloved niece Cecily Cardew at an estate outside London invents a brother named Ernest so he can escape to London whenever the whim hits and hook up with pal Algy. Both bachelors are suitors but their lies and the rampant snobbery of the day get in the way. Jack hopes to marry Gwendolen Fairfax but her rigidly elitist and dominating mother Lady Bracknell is put off by Jack's lowly origins. (Parents unknown he was found as a package at Victoria Station.) While Jack locks horns with Bracknell in London Algy journeys to Jack's country home to woo Cecily and gains entree by claiming to be Ernest Jack's invented brother. When Jack returns to the country to announce that the fictive Ernest is dead he must confront pal Algy who has successfully re-invented himself as Ernest and a host of deceits. But delicious revelations unleashed by the devoted nanny-turned-tutor Miss Prism save the day for both fib-prone suitors. Happily Cecily and Gwendolen share their suitors' romantic inclinations and tolerance for tall tales.
The burning question in many minds is no doubt whether Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) the only American in this veddy Brit film can carry an English accent. The answer is a resounding "yes." Her success as privileged ingenue Cecily in both accent and overall performance is all the more commendable because she is surrounded by some of the brightest and best of Brit acting talent. Colin Firth as Jack and Rupert Everett as Algy are seductively charming and appealing as the spoiled but smitten bachelors. Frances O'Connor as Gwendolyn convinces as the very "upper " but rebellious daughter of the imperious Lady Bracknell. And Dame Judi Dench as the formidably snotty and harsh Bracknell is scary enough for a horror film. Tom Wilkinson recently nominated for his role in In the Bedroom is appropriately genteel as the clergyman with a soft spot for Miss Prism sweetly portrayed by vet English actress Anna Massey brother of Donald and daughter of Raymond both legendary thesps. Art house fans will most appreciate the fine cast that armed with Wilde's words and ideas valiantly battles the film's excesses in a mission to entertain. As a dream ensemble they help put across Wilde's amusing story of mistaken identity naughty habits and laughable upper-crust foibles.
Oliver Parker was obviously on a shorter leash when he earlier directed his more disciplined and faithful adaptation of another Oscar Wilde play An Ideal Husband. With Earnest Parker has gone auteur with a fury by crafting a bloated overproduced extravagantly opened-up version of the concise play that Wilde would hardly recognize. Here the lavish costumes sumptuous sets overbearing musical soundtrack and Parker-invented flights into fantasy (Cecily has recurrent daydreams of a white knight coming to the rescue) and flashback (Bracknell has a Parker-minted lowly-dance-hall chorine past) all but drown out Wilde's streamlined savage wit and whack at upper-class conceits. Still Parker allows his illustrious performers to shine through all the fluffery.