Paddington


Please look after this bear. Thank you.

Please look after this bear. Thank you.

(2015) Family (Weinstein) Hugh Bonneville, Nicole Kidman, Sally Hawkins, Ben Whishaw (voice), Imelda Staunton (voice), Michael Gambon (voice), Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, Tim Downie, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Julie Walters, Matt King, Alice Lowe, Dominic Coleman, Matt Lucas, Jude Wright, Geoffrey Palmer, Kayvan Novak, Simon Farnaby, Julie Vollono. Directed by Paul King

The value of family can’t be overstated. Sometimes they drive us crazy but our families are in most cases our soft place to land, our bridge over troubled water. In our families we find support, often unconditional and comfort, usually without asking. Not every family is wonderful – there are some that savage each other and go out of their way to hurt one another but those sorts are rare. Most of us would rather have a family than not.

A young bear (Whishaw) lives with his Aunt Lucy (Staunton) and his Uncle Pastuzo (Gambon) in Darkest Peru. It is a good life, full of marmalade – a delicacy that these particular bears learned to appreciate after being visited by an explorer (Downie) who not only turned them on to the wonders of a good marmalade but upon discovering that the bears were capable of speech taught them to speak the King’s English. Filling their heads full of tales of wonder about a glittering city called London, he invited them to come visit him there one day.

However, an earthquake destroys the home of the young bear and wearing the lucky hat of Uncle Pastuzo – who had in turn received it from the explorer – proceeds to stow away aboard a steamer bound for London, where he smuggles himself in a mail bag to Paddington Station. There, wearing a tag reading “Please look after this bear. Thank you,” the extremely polite young bear waited in Lost and Found for someone to give him a home, which the explorer had assured his Aunt and Uncle would be bound to happen, given the English generosity of spirit.

Evening falls and busy commuters ignore the sad bear until the Brown family happen along. Mary Brown (Hawkins), the mum of the family as well as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, is taken with the bear’s sad situation and decides to take the bear to their home overnight until a more suitable situation might be found. Her two children – the easily embarrassed teenager Judy (Harris) and the whip-smart Jonathan (Joslin) are not thrilled with this turn of events and even less thrilled is father Henry (Bonneville), a risk analyst for a big London insurance firm.  Pronouncing that this will be for “just one night,” he urges his children to lock their doors in case the talking bear comes into their rooms and tears them to pieces. That’s what non-talking bears do, after all.

Mary christens their new friend Paddington, after the railway station where he was discovered and finds she can’t quite bring herself to just turn him over to authorities who will no doubt put the poor bear in an orphanage or a jail or a workhouse. Something Dickensian without a doubt. She visits the local antique dealer Herr Gruber (Broadbent) to see if the antiquated hat might be a clue as to who the explorer was so that Paddington could go to him and have a proper home. The explorer proves to be more elusive than you might think.

Also chasing Paddington is an evil taxidermist (Kidman) for the British Museum who sees Paddington as a rare specimen whose stuffed body needs to be mounted in the Museum. She’ll stop at nothing to obtain him. She’s assisted by the Browns’ neighbor Mr. Curry (Capaldi) who has taken quite a fancy to the taxidermist and in fact Doesn’t Like Bears in the neighborhood. A nuisance, that’s what those filthy creatures are.

Based on the beloved children’s books by Michael Bond, Paddington is surprisingly charming. In all honesty, I didn’t expect much from this project upon first hearing about it. Quite frankly, family movies have been just dreadful the past few years, particularly those not produced by Disney. I’m happy to report that this one is actually better than most of the family films that came out last year with maybe the exception of The LEGO Movie.

Whishaw actually has the perfect voice for Paddington; youthful, polite and warm. The animators (Paddington is a CGI creation) do a good job of matching the bear up with the illustrations from the books, yet giving him a realism that makes you think you’re looking at an actual bear.

The mayhem that ensues in the movie often takes Rube Goldberg proportions as Paddington unwittingly gets himself into trouble. There are a lot of fun bits here, although many of them appear in the trailer. Still, seeing the full sequence adds to the enjoyment.

Kidman is the villain here and her part seems tonally different than the rest of the movie. She’s bitter, angry and lethal which seems at odds with the gentle nature of the rest of the film. I think her part should have been softened a bit and less completely evil, although she does get a just comeuppance in the end.

This is perfect family entertainment; smaller children should be at an age where the Paddington books will appeal to them and their parents may well have grown up on the series as well. It was around when I was a kid, but for whatever reason my parents chose to go the Dr. Seuss route with their kids back then; I kind of wish I’d gotten to read them back then but they are still adorable now. Maybe I’ll get to read them to grandchildren one day.

In any case, after a dearth of quality entertainment in the theaters Paddington is like a ray of sunshine on a stormy afternoon. With Pixar back and several intriguing family films in the pipeline, hopefully this year will be a much better year for families in the movie theaters than last year was. This is certainly a promising start.

REASONS TO GO: Relentlessly heart-warming. Exceedingly well-cast.
REASONS TO STAY: Plays it safe throughout.
FAMILY VALUES: Quite a bit of mayhem and some rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author Michael Bond who created the character originally cameos during the scene at Paddington Station as an elderly gentleman who raises a glass of wine to the bear.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/11/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stuart Little
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Cinema of the Heart begins!

Ceremony


All that's needed is a sexy R&B tune and you have a perfect romantic scene.

All that’s needed is a sexy R&B tune and you have a perfect romantic scene.

(2010) Comedy (Magnolia) Uma Thurman, Michael Angarano, Lee Pace, Reece Thompson, Rebecca Mader, Jake Johnson, Brooke Bloom, Harper Dill, Nathalie Love, Charlie Moss, Lisby Larson, Paul Amodeo, Philip Carlson, Catherine Russell, Jack Koenig, Jerrin Holt, Von Jeff. Directed by Max Winkler

Love is tricky. It is the ultimate expression of selflessness – putting the needs of someone else ahead of your own. It is also the ultimate expression of selfishness – we fall in love because of the way we feel, not because of the way we make someone else feel.

Sam Davis (Angarano) is an author of children’s books who, let’s face it, isn’t very good at what he does. His books are unnecessarily violent and profane and when he gives readings, only his pal Marshall (Thompson) is apt to show up and even that isn’t a given. Sam and Marshall have been squabbling of late and Sam decides to take Marshall out to a nice home out in the Hamptons to get away for awhile.

Marshall should have known that Sam was up to something. His ex Zoe (Thurman) is getting married to the egocentric and insufferable documentary filmmaker Whit Coutell (Pace) whose home it is they are going to and Sam intends to crash the wedding and win Zoe back. Marshall kind of goes along with this and Zoe certainly seems to be against the whole idea but Sam is nothing if not persistent.

Somewhat unbelievably, Sam is invited to stick around by the pompous Whit and sets out to win his girl back, despite the fact that on the surface they are far from suited for each other; Zoe towers over Sam, for example and is old enough to be his mom. However that’s just surface fluff; love goes much deeper than that and Sam is confident that Zoe will come around.

Different story for the rest of us. Winkler’s full-length feature film debut is unsatisfying on a lot of different levels. For one thing the characters here seem to be more of a collection of quirks and one-note characteristics – he’s suicidal, she’s a slut and so on and so on – and less genuine human beings who you would meet and want to hang out with. These are more like people who exist to advance a plot, or to provide elements of humor. Think of a film populated with sketch characters from the late-80s SNL and you get the idea.

Angarano has shown promise in movies like Almost Famous and more recently in The Forbidden Kingdom but hasn’t really fulfilled it yet. Like many young actors in Hollywood he is looking for that right role that will define him and push him up to the next level but to date he hasn’t found it yet. His character can be a bit overbearing and tends to pontificate and speechify more than speak. He’d be one of those cats you would never take on a road trip because you’d end up leaving him stranded at a truck stop or something.

Thurman seems to be slumming here. She’s a terrific actress who has come a long way since being know mainly for being beautiful (and she still is) but she’s acting in a different movie than everyone else here. I wish I’d been watching her movie; it seems far more interesting than this one.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t completely devoid of charm and there are some moments that are genuinely funny but not enough of them. I think Winkler was going for quirky in  a Wes Anderson kind of way and wound up being quirky in a Lars von Trier kind of way. The way that makes an audience stare longingly at the exit.

Winkler seems capable enough a director and visually this is a good looking film. I think he has some good films inside him but the Hollywood learning curve can be brutal. I hope he gets a chance to make those good films coz I’d hate for this to be his cinematic legacy.

WHY RENT THIS: Some funny moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Characters tend to be one-note caricatures instead of three-dimensional human beings. Sam is annoying and borderline creepy.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few curse words here and there, some sexuality and a bit of drug usage.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Winkler is the son of actor Henry Winkler, better known as the Fonz.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A faux documentary by Whit is one of the features here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22,270 on an unreported production budget; it’s extremely unlikely that the film was profitable during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Made of Honor

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Croods