Tag: nathan lane

The Nutcracker in 3D

The Nutcracker in 3D (2010)
★ / ★★★★

All Mary (Elle Fanning) wants for Christmas is for her family to spend time together during Christmas Eve. To the child’s disappointment, her parents (Richard E. Grant, Yuliya Vysotskaya) choose to attend the renowned Palace Ball where important people like Sigmund Freud are invited. Instead, Uncle Albert (Nathan Lane) is asked to look after Mary and Max (Aaron Michael Drozin) which is most opportune because they have not seen each other in a while. Uncle Albert has a present for the kids: a dollhouse which contains a nutcracker (voiced by Shirley Henderson), a chimpanzee (Peter Elliott), a clown (Hugh Sachs), and a drummer (Africa Nile), all of which come alive in Mary’s dreams.

Based on the screenplay by Andrey Konchalovskiy and Chris Solimine, directed by the former, watching “The Nutcracker in 3D” is like putting your hand into a bag of mixed candy, grabbing the one with an interesting shape, and hoping that it is not the kind that tastes bland. At its best, the quality is superficially mediocre while the deeper message is a storm of confusion. I liked the visuals because they are crisp, especially those set in a snowy backdrop, and I found them readily adaptable to specific moods and settings. The imagery that take place in reality and those that occur in dreams are equally delectable. However, the acting is often wooden and this is not limited to the talking CGI nutcracker who prefers to be addressed as NC.

While Fanning has undeniable charm, I found her consistently out of her depth when she is required to act against a green or blue screen. Particularly painful to watch involves a flying scene up and down a giant Christmas tree with snowflakes guiding the little girl’s flight. When she screams in delight and expresses her disbelief that flying is entirely possible, it comes across completely disingenuous—and irritating. I do not take pleasure in saying things like what I am about to say but it must be said: There is something about her expression of glee that I found unbearable—almost similar to the sound of nails scraping on a chalkboard. I wondered if children, the picture’s target audience, would buy the emotions given that they are especially sensitive to intonations.

The plot is mostly driven by the conflict between a prince (Charlie Rowe), whose soul is trapped in a nutcracker’s body, and The Rat King (John Turturro), who wishes to turn the prince’s formerly bright and merry kingdom into a Stygian kitchen of burning toys. The rats, as it turns out, are afraid of the sun and so they force the residents to burn toys in order to make a dark cloud that blocks the star. One can see it as an allegory of Nazi Germany which is reasonable because of the words used and behaviors employed in scenes that take place in Mary’s reality. The Nazis viewed the Jewish people as flawed objects—the toys—and so they were burned in giant ovens. Their ashes—the dark cloud—were seen for miles.

Although I admired the risks the filmmakers had taken, I was not convinced that the final product makes enough strong connections between Mary’s dream world and one of the darkest and shameful times in our history. I was not at all sure as to what the filmmakers’ intentions were. The risks are present but they do not go all the way. Perhaps the picture simply does not want to offend anybody. After all, it is supposed to be a movie for the whole family.

On the other hand, if the filmmakers had wanted to make a typical family fare, the interpretation of the ballet could have gone into a completely different direction without taking the path of toys being burned in a factory as children line up with their parents and looking like they were about to be killed.

And yet despite the miscalculated allegory, the film makes other missteps. For instance, I found the casting of Frances de la Tour as The Rat Queen and Vysotskaya as The Snow Fairy to be very odd. The former doubles as the caring family maid and the latter doubles as Mary’s emotionally distant mother. It might have made more sense if de la Tour had played The Snow Fairy and Vysotskaya had taken on the role of The Rat Queen. I got the impression that age was a factor in the decision because The Snow Fairy is supposed to be young and beautiful while The Rat Queen was supposed to embody the opposite. It would have been refreshing to see an old but still beautiful Snow Fairy.

Astro Boy

Astro Boy (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka, “Astro Boy” told the story of a brilliant scientist (voiced by Nicolas Cage) specializing in robotics who recreated his son (Freddie Highmore)–physically with memories included–after the boy’s untimely death during a military testing led by a cruel president (Donald Sutherland). I thought the first third of this film was very strong. Although the look of the movie was crisp so it easily appealed to children, the story was almost a little too dark. I was impressed that it immediately tackled the idea of a parent’s debilitating grief and the effects of trying to replicate a child. It was like watching a version of Steven Spielberg’s underrated “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” but aimed toward children. And like that film, this animated movie also explored what it meant for the main character to be a human (initially), a robot (later on), and accepting the fact that having both characteristics wasn’t so bad. It was also interesting because the first half was set in a world where robots were passively enslaved to humans. In the second half, like David from Spielberg’s film, Astro left the shiny, floating city for the city below where robots were hunted and were forced to participate in a battle royale sort of event. Unfortunately, that part of the picture wasn’t as strong. In fact, it was unfocused. There were times when the attention wasn’t on Astro’s journey but instead on the side characters’. The darkness of the first thirty minutes were stripped away and the tone felt very uneven. The momentum was so slow to the point where I wondered whether it ran out of creative ideas to entertain. I haven’t read the manga but I think if David Bowers, the director, made this picture with edge from beginning to end, it would have been a lot stronger and more interesting to adults. The whole bad guys versus good guys toward the end was kind of typical–something that one can easily see in other animated movies designed for children such as the disappointingly mediocre (but very cute) “Monsters vs. Aliens.” I felt like this film had an innate capacity to be more introspective than other animated flicks and it’s a shame it didn’t take advantage of that. Other notable voices included Bill Nighy, Samuel L. Jackson, Kristen Bell, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane and Charlize Theron. “Astro Boy” was about a boy’s identity crisis but as a film it should have had a clearer picture about what it wanted to be. However, I did have a good time watching it because it had so much energy and some of the jokes were pretty amusing. Perhaps it’s a good rental if one could use a break from a series of serious movies like I did.

The Birdcage

The Birdcage (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★

All of the actors in this movie contributed something hilarious and that’s what makes it so special. A gay couple, Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, who owns a drag club must meet their son’s (Dan Futterman) politically conservative family (Gene Hackman and Dianne West) and fiancée (Calista Flockhart) for the first time over dinner. One can guess that pretty much everything goes awry. Even though I’m not particularly into films that only feature homosexuality in a feminine light, there’s something about this movie that made me smile and laugh out loud. It’s easy to tell that all of the actors are having fun with their characters because sometimes it would seem that certain actions or pop culture references are a wink to the audiences. I also consider it a good thing that the talented Mike Nichols, the director, features a subculture that is so often viewed in a negative light. In here, no one gets infected or dies of AIDS, no one gets jumped, and no one commits suicide. Everyone’s pretty much happy with themselves; it’s just that the circumstances require three characters to change the way they act even for just a couple of hours. I also loved Christine Baranski as Futterman’s biological morther. She’s spunky and smart even though she seems a bit cold and tough at first glance. The one thing that didn’t work for me was the pair of journalists hoping to get the latest exposée from the conservative family. I think if various reporters were featured, the film would’ve had more chances of making fun of different types of reporters with different methods of acquiring controversial information. Still, “The Birdcage” deserves a high recommendation because it works as a farce and a classic comedy of errors. You rarely go wrong with Nichols’ films because most of them have smart characters and witty dialogues. This one is no exception.