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November 29, 2004 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-11-29

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8A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, November 29, 2004

ARTS

el

Marc Forster whisks
viewers to 'Neverland'

My contract stipulates that I must wear an eyepatch in all of my films.

'FINDING' MEDIOCRITY
DEPP, WINSLET COAST IN BIOGRAPHICAL FAIRY TALE

By Zach Borden
Daily Arts Writer
Sitting in a dully painted Ann Arbor
hotel suite on a rainy autumn morning,
it is clear that director Marc Forster is
a long way from the sunny, fantastical
world of Neverland. Forster, the tal-
ented young filmmaker who broke out
with 2001's Oscar-winning "Monster's
Ball," has just released his much-antici-
pated follow-up "Finding Neverland."
The movie, which focuses on playwright
J.M. Barrie's inspirations for his master-
piece "Peter Pan," is a stark contrast to
the gritty and melancholy saga of Leticia
Musgrove.
Even though the weather is foggy,
Forster's spirits aren't dampened and his
cheerfulness is as clear as Neverland's
blue skies. The director spoke with The
Michigan Daily about his latest film and
the timeless appeal of Barrie's creation.
"When I read the script for 'Find-
ing Neverland,' the movie really
(appealed) to me since it had a lot of
heart and soul," Forster said. Find-
ing Barrie's own life story filled with
allegories, the concepts of growing
into adulthood struck a chord, as well
as the nature of personal inspiration.
"I believe the film has high crossover
(appeal)," he said, referring to audi-
ences of all ages who can relate to the
ideas of uninhibited imagination and
the darkness of mortality.
Sporting a smoothly shaven head,
piercing dark eyes and unique, point-
ed ears, Forster could easily pass as a
Lost Boy. Somewhat ironically, For-
ster wasn't familiar with the Peter Pan
story until he was much older, when he
saw a performance of the play featur-
ing Mary Martin. While it is typical for
American children to be familiar with
Barrie's quixotic tale, Forster - who
spent much of his childhood in Switzer-
land - grew up with the Heidi stories,
which have become symbolic of the
country's literary culture.
In preparing for the shoot, Forster
read Barrie's work as well as biogra-
phies about the author. He also watched
numerous Peter Pan movies, citing the
1924 silent version as one of the best
versions of the story put onto celluloid.
It's easy to see just how shrewd of
a filmmaker Forster is. Saying with
much apathy that "I don't mind special
effects," it becomes clear that having

visual tricks in his movies is not one
of his top priorities. Ultimately though,
Forster had to use special effects in
"Finding Neverland." "They were
helpful in supporting my vision," he
explained as there are several sparse
sequences in the movie that feature
some eye-opening visuals. Forster used
computer artistry and technology dur-
ing some of Barrie's fantasy sequences
when playing with the Davies children
(to give a "childlike, naive feel") and
for some impossible camera moves dur-
ing one of the theater sequences.
Something that is becoming a trade-
mark of Forster's films is that not only
does he get great actors to appear in
them, but he also gets such breathtak-
ing performances out of the actors.
Forster candidly revealed that "I only
rehearse with the actors for about a day
or two," and because every actor has a
different style, he lets his players fol-
low their instincts. While he says that
a lot of it comes down to good casting,
Forster also sits down with his actors
to talk about his thoughts on the char-
acters they are playing and hear their
input as well.
Forster has nothing but praise for his
cast in "Finding Neverland." Offering
the most for Johnny Depp, the director
said he was "humble, kind, creative and
had plenty of great ideas." Despite find-
ing Depp to be down-to-earth, Forster
mentioned there are some similarities
between Barrie and Depp, particularly
in how they can be childlike. The wildly
popular thespian often did impressions
of Forster on the set.
Forster was also thrilled to have the
"iconic" screen legend Julie Christie in
the movie. Although he originally didn't
think she'd appear in the film, he was
desperate to cast her as Sylvia Davies's
mother after he found her name on a cast-
ing list. "People don't really think about
casting her anymore," he said. Forster
was ecstatic that Christie enjoyed the
film, but said she prefers to spend time
out of the spotlight.
Despite the long journey to bring
Barrie's psyche to the screen, Forster
happens to be quite proud of his latest
project and the tone he has achieved
with it. "It's a sentimental movie, and
we don't see movies like ("Finding
Neverland") anymore since the world
is going through such hard times. It's
nice. It's a nice kind of thing."

0
U

By Amanda Andrade
Daily Arts Writer

For most holiday filmgoers, there are two
very good reasons to see "Finding Never-
land" - Johnny Depp and Johnny Depp
with a Scottish accent. But if a few audience
members managed to
survive the Depp frenzy
which has swept the post- Finding
"Pirates" world, they're Neverland
apt to find "Neverland" a At Showcase
perfectly acted, sweet and and Quality 16
innocuous little movie in Miramax
its own right.
The film tells the story
of author J.M. Barrie (Depp) and a widow
(Kate Winslet) with her four sons who inspire
Barrie's greatest creation, "Peter Pan." Also
making an appearance are Dustin Hoffman
(who appeared as Peter's arch-nemesis Cap-
tain Hook in "Hook") as Barrie's producer and
the beautifully-preserved Julie Christie ("Dr.
Zhivago") as Winslet's stern mother.
All of the principal actors give wonderful
performances. Winslet conveys strength and

independence, mingled perfectly with vulner-
ability in a subdued performance. Hoffman
and Christie are luminous in their small roles,
and make the occasional trite or melodramatic
line reverberate like Shakespeare. The true
revelations of this movie, however, are the four
young actors: Joe Prospero (Jack), Nick Roud
(George), the adorable Luke Spill (Michael)
and most of all Freddie Highmore (Peter) who
gives a more authentic and captivating perfor-
mance at the age of 12 than most movie stars
have given in their lives.
Unfortunately, the film around them just
isn't quite as inspired or ambitious as the cast.
The direction by Marc Forster is too safe and
calculatedly inoffensive to be remarkable. Still,
his attempts to go for the heart rather than the
tear ducts are admirable, especially in a genre
traditionally saturated in cheap sentimentality.
Forster also has to work around the very large
impediment of real life - that label "inspired
by true events" comes at a significant cost to
the cohesion and narrative flow of his movie.
Nonetheless, the filmmakers manage to
extract from Barrie's life a message about the
place of imagination and play, which though
almost undoubtedly inauthentic to the story,
lends the film dramatic weight and purpose.

On the lighter side, the full color palette as well
as the clever touch (employed to best effect in
"Shakespeare in Love") of showing imagined
day-to-day inspirations for characters and
events in the play add a nice contrast to the
seriousness of the story, keeping the film in a
pleasant balance.
And then, of course, there's Johnny Depp.
Narratively and commercially speaking, this is
unquestionably Depp's film, and it lives or dies
on the strength of his performance. It's fitting,
therefore, that like the film itself, Depp's per-
formance settles for better than average rather
than shooting for greatness.
After spending the better part of the last
decade cornering the market on unusual mov-
ies that no one saw ("The Ninth Gate," "The
Man Who Cried" etc.), Depp has tasted the
sweet narcotic of Hollywood success. If "Find-
ing Neverland" is any indicator, he's hooked.
It's a shame because although Depp is effec-
tive at playing soft-spoken, subtle and conven-
tional, he also happens to be amazingly dull
doing so. Depp's greatest talent is in finding
the unexpected and bizarrely beautiful in his
characters. This film only allows him to give
the same performance a dozen other actors
could have executed with comparable success.

I.

'Kurnks' serve up tasteless holiday fare,
Br Jeffrey Bloomer, ~

I

Daily Arts Writer
MOVIE REVlEW
"Christmas with the Kranks," the big screen's latest foray into
yuletide comedy, is a flat and uninspired collection of situational
gags that are astonishingly unfunny. It never feels like a film,
but rather a disingenuous ploy designed to cash in on every last
penny the holiday crowd has to offer.
"Kranks" is based on "Skipping Christmas," John
Grisham's bestselling novel about a couple fed up with the
cost and stress of Christmas, that they refuse to celebrate it
the year their daughter leaves home. They plan to go on an
exotic cruise instead, but their holiday-
obsessed neighbors have other plans and
spare no expense to stop them. Christmas
Directed by Joe Roth ("America's with the
Sweethearts"), the film follows the same Kranks
setup but makes the massive error of
replacing the neighbor's amusing zaniness Atd Shoucase
in the novel with a group of neighbors (led a
by Dan Aykroyd) that is maddening and Columbia
even creepy in the film. They protest on
the Kranks' doorsteps, linger outside their windows and stalk
them in a series of events that fail miserably at garnering laughs,
instead leaving the audience feeling inappropriately uneasy. If
these people actually existed, they would be the type that prompt
you to purchase tall privacy fences and keep the blinds drawn to
avoid them. They are infuriating, not funny, a fact that "Kranks"
can't seem to grasp.
Screenwriter Chris Columbus (director of "Home Alone")
knows the ropes of holiday comedy. However, with "Kranks," he
has written a screenplay that is shapeless and without heart. With
numerous annual offerings, Christmas has become a tired and
torpid source for material. These movies are no longer required

I

Tim Allen was arrested with 1.4 pounds of cocaine.
to be unconventional, with their success merely hinging on their
ability to generate some warmth and sentimentality. "Kranks"
is cold and empty where it should be sweet and heartwarming.
The inevitable final scenes, in which the characters discover the
"true" meaning of Christmas, have rarely felt so contrived and
void of genuine meaning
If the film does anything right, it's the casting of Jamie Lee
Curtis as the female lead. "Kranks"' tepid brand of situational
humor does its best to subdue her, but Curtis's comic resilience
manages to rise above the material and provides a few meager
laughs. Her costar Tim Allen, on the other hand, offers only his
usual wide-eyed inanity. As Luther Krank, he demonstrates once
again an uncanny ability to give every film in which he appears
the distinct feel of a stale sitcom running past its prime.
Alas, it's just that time of year. The holiday season invariably
brings with it an onslaught of derivative, like-themed films for
the masses. Even as an obligatory genre offering, though, the
lifeless "Kranks" is mind-numbing cinematic hell.

'Rising' examines Pullman porters' lives

By Khepra Akanke
Daily Arts Writer
George Pullman, the founder and pres-
ident of the Pullman Company, revolu-
tionized railway travel with the unveiling
of his luxury trains in the 1850s. His cars
were considered to be hotels on wheels,

and the struggles they had to go through
to receive the right to unionize, earn fair
wages and gain respect. He explains how
their struggle laid the foundation for
many of the battles blacks had to later
endure.
The book gives extensive descriptions
of the humiliation Pullman porters were
made to endure in the hope of a small tip
from riders. Pullman porters were cham-
bermaids, shoe shiners, nurses, media-
tors, entertainers, nannies and overall
manservants to every passenger. A por-
ter was to always be available and able
to do any task asked of him. There was
a perception that being a Pullman porter
was transformed into a distinguished job,
given the same regard as being a doctor
or lawyer because of porters' ability to

filled with the lav-
ishness of a five-
star establishment
but considered to
be as comfortable
as home.
To go along with
this grand image,
Pullman visualized

Rising from
the Rails
By Larry Tye
Henry Holt & Company
a car porter with

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,

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