Sunday, September 13, 2020

DICKENSIAN RHAPSODY


Diverse cast, soaring spirit, fuel joyous
'Personal History of David Copperfield'

 

Anglo-Indian actor Dev Patel may not be the most obvious choice to play David Copperfield, one of Charles Dickens' most beloved and most autobiographical heroes. But casting the popular Patel is but one of many inspired and audacious choices made by Armando Iannucci in his smart and highly entertaining adaptation, The Personal History of David Copperfield.

 

Director Iannucci and his co-scenarist and frequent writing partner, Simon Blackwell, are best known for sly political satires The Death of Stalin, and TV's Veep, created by Iannucci. In their hands, Dickens' classic coming-of-age tale gets and energizing makeover that is absolutely true to this spirit of the novel. While unapologetically diverse in its casting, it never feels unduly PC, and is often brilliant in the originality of its storytelling.

 

Patel as Copperfield: Noteworthy
 The movie is framed as a theatrical recitation by acclaimed author Copperfield. (A nod to the kinds of public readings Dickens himself staged for his rapt admirers throughout his career.) As he narrates his life story, beginning with his birth, it unfolds onscreen, with the adult David popping up in the shot with commentary— one of the movie's many charmingly surreal touches.

 

David's idyllic childhood with his loving young widowed mother ends abruptly when she marries grim Murdstone, who arrives with his equally sour sister (an unrecognizable Gwendoline Christie). The spirited child David (Jairaj Varsani) is banished to London to work in a grimy factory. He's a teenager (now played by Patel) when he learns his mother has died, and walks all the way to Dover to throw himself on the mercy of his only relative, the formidable Aunt Betsey Trotwood (a delightful Tilda Swinton.)

 

Swinton, Patel, Laurie, Eleazar: al fresco
 Peter Capaldi is droll and wistfully philosophical as the impecunious Micawber, and Hugh Laurie is wonderful as the mostly befuddled but sometimes gently insightful Mr. Dick, Aunt Betsey's distant relation. He and David share a love of writing things down (David obsessively records his life in notes and sketches), giving the filmmakers ample opportunity to weave Dickens' delicious prose into the fabric of the movie. Ben Whishaw is unctuously oozy as conniving Uriah Heep, although there's not enough time to convey the full menace of his crimes. Aneurin Barnard is impressively grand as Steerforth, David's elitist schoolfellow, but he seems more of a poseur than genuinely charismatic; David's attachment to him never quite feels earned.

 

Meanwhile, the narrative strides boldly forward through Dickens' busy plot, hitting most of its emotional  high notes, yet boisterously funny throughout. Quick and clever editing keeps the pictures moving with smooth dissolves and ingenious expositions. When David falls instantly in love with porcelain, childlike Dora (Morfydd Clark), daughter of the lawyer who employs him, he sees her face painted on a pub sign in the street, and her blonde curls adorning a passing cart driver. To keep the narrative moving, the filmmakers even have the nerve to write out a key character, at her request. ("I really don't fit in.") I doubt if Dickens would approve, but it's a smart way to keep the movie's tone consistent and focused.

 

The movie looks terrific, from teeming London streets to the fresh, open countryside to the seaside. Motherly Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper), David's former nurse, lives with her family under the upturned hull of a boat on the beach at Yarmouth. (A magical place vividly realized by production designer Cristina Casali.) In addition to the Micawbers, Aunt Betsey and Mr. Dick, David's surrogate family includes his aunt's tippling but well-meaning solicitor, Whitfield (Benedict Wong), and his daughter, Agnes (played with good-humored warmth by Rosalind Eleazar). 

 

Patel plays David with the right balance of open-hearted exuberance and dawning maturity. The non-traditional casting also highlights the story's core question of identity. David earns many nicknames on his journey through life — Davy, Trot, Daisy, Doady — which are more expressions of who others need him to be than who he actually is. It's a nifty little victory when this David finally discards his nicknames to proclaim himself simply David Copperfield— the hero (at last) of his own life.

 


Thursday, July 2, 2020

AUTO-IMMUNE

I was glad to leave the driving to him.
My name is Lisa, and I don't drive.

There's no 12-step program for it, but I might as well confess myself an alcoholic or a junkie.

It's especially weird for someone born in Southern California, and raised in outer Los Angeles, Freeway Capitol of the Known World. Remember the movie L.A. Story, with Steve Martin? Off to visit a neighbor, Martin's character jumps in his car at the curb in front of his house, and drives 12 feet to park in front of the house next door.

That's what it was like. Angelino babies are born with a silver set of car keys clutched in their tiny fists.

Except for me. Even in the throbbing heart of America's most turbo-charged car culture, I was resolutely auto-immune.

To be absolutely clear, it's not that I can't drive. I am in possession of a valid driver's license. I've aced every written driving exam I've ever taken, and passed my first (and only) test behind the wheel on the first try. (Okay, I only scored a 73, but it was a pass!)

It's just that, like Bartleby the Scrivener, I prefer not to.

Delhi: With and Without cars (Getty Images)
(Random English Lit Alert: Is Literature still taught in schools? Let alone Melville. Google it, kids.)

Well, that was true for most of the last 40 years, anyway, when Art Boy took over the household driving chores in his Art Boymobile. He was not a car guy. (He killed his very first car, a Camaro he bought from his older brother, because he didn't know he had to put oil in it.) He didn't love driving any more than I did, but it was one of the things he did more competently than me, so I was glad to let him.

I got to ride shotgun, and say "Home, James!"

In recent years, however, I've developed a much more compelling, even insurmountable excuse that has nothing to do with preference. One of the many disadvantages to MS, at least in my case, is the declining ability to lift my right foot. Whenever I'm extra tired and have to use a walker to get around, I drag my right foot like Quasimodo.

When people don't understand the connection between MS and driving ability, I say, "Have you seen me walk?"

My MS buddies in yoga class have the same right-side affliction, but they've been driving consistently all their lives, so they've learned to compensate for it behind the wheel. But after my late-inning diagnosis (I was 62), if I tried to drive the way I used to — with the right foot shifting between gas and brake —it was my foot, not the gears, that got stuck in neutral.

In an emergency, I don't want to be that dodderer who can't get her foot on the appropriate pedal in that crucial nanosecond, and ends up rear-ending someone, or plowing through a bunch of pedestrians on the sidewalk. Talk about a weapon of mass destruction.

So, instead, I've been leeching shamelessly off my friends for rides to the movies, or the market. (I'm surprisingly fine grocery shopping, as long as I have a cart to hold on to.) But now that movie theaters are closed and we're sheltering in place, like, forever, I have to depend on my village to do my shopping for me, and deliver the goods to my porch. I pay for my own stuff, of course, and I usually try to bribe, er, I mean tip my designated drivers/shoppers with home-baked cookies and cinnamon apple crumb cake.

Meanwhile, I try to delude myself that my not driving is good for the environment. We've all seen those photos of places like Delhi, before and after the coronavirus lockdown removed a majority of cars from the road. Not only is the sky suddenly visible at all, it's blue! In my old SoCal stomping grounds, you can see the San Gabriel Mountains rising above the L. A. basin from the beach!

That's my contribution to the fight against climate change, I think smugly: one less vehicle on the road. You're welcome.

But then, reality, that old killjoy, reminds me that somebody is burning fossil fuels to get me my groceries, even if it's not me. Until they start shipping my stuff via transporter beam, I can't pretend that my aberrant car-free lifestyle is in any way a virtue.

In the meantime, just call me the Leech Woman.

Friday, May 29, 2020

BETA BOY

"We could've written this!"

This refrain was often heard in our kitchen (usually over a glass of bubbly) when James and I came home after a movie and started analyzing where it had gone wrong.

Maybe there was a specific turning point in the narrative that shifted the whole story in the wrong direction. Maybe a character did something so inexplicably out-of-character that the whole thing lost its credibility.

But sometimes, as we went over plot points, themes and epiphanies, it seemed like the scriptwriter simply had not made the best use of all the elements that had already been set up and established in the storyline.

If this character had done this or that in the first quarter of the movie, we reasoned, then this exposition in the third quarter would make a lot more sense. Or this action that feels completely arbitrary might have been salvaged if it was done by a different character or from a different motivation. We often found everything needed to make the story work right there in its narrative bones, but it just hadn't been put together correctly.

After we'd figured out where it had gone wrong, and worked out the fix that could have saved it, it was time to clink those glasses. "Hey, we could've written this!"

I miss those critical download sessions, especially now that I'm grappling with my own busy fictional narrative that needs to be shaped into a coherent story. After my 187 years in journalism, I can still pretty much figure out what does or doesn't work in a movie. But I'm all at sea confronted with the unwieldy text of my own next book.

Among so many other metaphorical hats that my Art Boy wore around here, he was also my most trusted beta reader. If he didn't understand a plot point, even after the long-winded explanation in Chapter 21, or he questioned why a character said or did something peculiar, and my only defense was "because the author said so," I knew it was time to go back to the keyboard.

It was also at his urging that I started reading early drafts of my manuscripts out loud to him. Okay, he just didn't want to have to slog through all those pages in a box, himself, but it turned out to be great for me. If a word or sentence or passage felt clumsy in the mouth, or sounded tinny out loud, even to me, then out it went. Or, at least, it had to be finessed.

We were partners in my literary adventures, just like we were partners in everything else. Flying solo into new terrain still feels weird to me, but I just have to start viewing my own work through the lens of James' logical common sense and healthy skepticism.

Think of all those movies we saved, I tell myself.

We can write this!


(Top: A Book Is a Wondrous Thing, by James Aschbacher)

Thursday, May 7, 2020

MAIN STREAM MOVIES


Regular readers will note that I prefer watching movies on a gigantic screen, the way God intended. In the future, no doubt, movies will be digitally implanted directly into our lobes, but at this historical moment, we are somewhere in-between. Move theaters are closed thanks to COVID-19, so we're stuck watching movies on our home screens. With a zillion options, some are more worthy than others, but here are a few titles I've notice popping up on streaming platforms that might be worth your time!

THE ASSISTANT Her new job as office assistant to a famous movie mogul ought to be a dream come true for a bright young college graduate with ambitions to produce her own movies. But it's a nightmare for the conflicted protagonist who discovers enabling her boss's sexual conquests is the unspoken part of her job description in this taut, claustrophobic and entirely effective drama from filmmaker Kitty Green. The focus of her story is not on predators or their victims, but on the system of silence and complicity that allows such misconduct to happen. Julia Garner has the pale, porcelain face of a Renaissance angel, darkening with visceral anxiety over the course of her workday. (R) 87 minutes. (***) (2020) (Amazon Prime)

THE HANDMAIDEN It may seem like an odd collaboration: bad-boy Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park, famed for the violent male revenge melodrama Oldboy, and British author Sarah Waters, whose femme-centric erotic thrillers are set in the Dickensian underworld of Victorian London. But it turns out to be a surprisingly happy match-up in Park's Asian riff on Waters' novel Fingersmith. Filmmaker and source material are both edgy in complementary ways. Gorgeously shot and composed, audacious, and full of witty visual asides, it's a sly entertainment of sex, larceny, deception, double-crosses, and female liberation. (R) 144 minutes. In Korean and Japanese with English subtitles. (***1/2) (2016) (Amazon Prime)

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO This first feature from director Joe Talbot is remarkably assured and absorbing meditation on the mythology of the city's fabled past while its characters — two young black men born and raised in the city — reckon with the uncertainty of its present. As a semi-autobiographical version of himself, Jimmie Fails' character is obsessed with a stately Victorian-style house built by his grandfather that his family no longer possesses. Jonathan Majors offers poignant support as his best friend in this dreamy, splendidly composed mood piece about the search for home and identity in the rapidly evolving city they love. (R) 120 minutes. (***1/2) (2019) (Amazon Prime)

MILLIONS Money doesn't grow on trees, but it does fall out of the sky in this wonderful film from the ever-surprising Danny Boyle, about the comic misadventures of two young brothers in the working-class north of England when they find a mysterious suitcase stuffed with cold cash. Little Alex Eitel is terrific as the boy whose superheroes are the Catholic saints; he's up on all their biographical stats (birth, death, martyrdom), and they keep popping up in the story to help him figure out how to use the money to do good. Boyle's fresh, kinetic filmmaking style complements a touching story that's acute, funny, sophisticated, and full of imagination. Not a kids' film per se, this is a story told from a child's perspective that beguiles viewers of all ages (****) (PG) 97 minutes. (2005) (Disney Plus)

St. Peter (Alun Armstrong) (note keys and halo) instructs Alex Eitel in Millions
SONG OF THE SEA Anyone who loves seals, ancient Celtic folklore, fairy tales or mythology will be utterly charmed by this magical Irish animated feature. Directed by Tomm Moore, whose previous film was the lovely Secret of the Kells, inspired by the famed illuminated manuscript, this Oscar-nominated fable combines traditional tales of the selkies (seals who transform into humans on land) with a stunning visual palette, and an endearing tale of a young girl and her destiny. Every hand-drawn frame of this movie is ravishing — even on a small screen! (PG) 93 minutes. (****) (2014) (Netflix)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

FREE BOOK!


Hey, if the Rolling Stones can jam with each other online from their rec rooms, what am I waiting for?

Here's my response to the global coronavirus shutdown; my "lost" second novel available in its entirety online — for free!

Now that we're all sheltering in place with time to spare, it's the perfect opportunity to revisit Tory Lightfoot and Jack Dance, protagonists of my first published novel The Witch From The Sea.

(Pirates! History! Romance! No Zombies!)

I always envisioned their story as a trilogy, and although the next two novels were never published in book form, they do exist.

So I've decided to bring Tory and Jack and their further post-pirate adventures in the tropical West Indies back into the public eye.

Borrowing a leaf from the Charles Dickens playbook, I posted the entire second novel in the trilogy, Runaways: A Tale of Jonkanoo, in serial chapters online.

Jonkanoo parade, Jamaica, 1838
In the coming weeks, I'll be posting links to each successive chapter on my Goodreads and Facebook pages for anyone who wants to follow along.

Just doing my bit to provide a little escapism in these anxious times.

Nothing to join, nothing to buy, no passwords required. Just follow the links and enjoy!

Here's the Introduction to the story. (Find out just what the heck "Jonkanoo" means, anyway!)

PS: The entire novel is already up, as regular readers of this blog probably know (if you've ever scrolled all the way down to the murkiest depths of the right-hand menu). So feel free to binge away if you don't want to wait for my prompts!



(Above L: Runaways Frontispiece by moi.)

(Above R: Belisario 08, as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

HOLD THAT (DEAD)LINE

After 40-odd years in journalism (some of them damned odd), I respect deadlines.

It's not that I grudgingly obey them, or that I've had to coach myself to accept them. I need them. I cling to them. They are the dangling carrot that propels my life forward.

Obviously, deadlines determine when I go see a movie (remember going to the movies?) in order to get my review in the paper. Sometimes, they influence which movie I see, depending on which showtimes are more favorable to making my deadline.

My entire week is orchestrated around seeing a movie on Friday, writing my review on Saturday, and sending the finished piece to my editor by Sunday afternoon — all to make my Monday morning deadline.

The entire book-publishing industry also runs on deadlines. They exist for turning in that first draft, for each new revision, for providing front and back matter, author photos, Q&A guidelines, PR material — everything depends on each successive deadline being met in a timely manner. Miss one, and the entire infrastructure stutters to a halt.

The habit has spread to every other part of my life. I pay bills according to which due date is looming next, and plan meals around which item in the fridge is most likely to rot if ignored much longer. I'm inspired to clean house when I know visitors are coming, and dress according to whatever events are going to take me out into the public eye.

But now all that's changed. The coronavirus pandemic has claimed yet another casualty: the deadline.

Five weeks into lockdown, and my schedule is completely out the window. Movie theaters are closed and I'm taking my yoga classes on Zoom, so I'm liberated from the task of having to actually go out in public. I don't drive any more, so I'm not even shopping; kind-hearted friends are picking up my groceries and bringing them to me. Some are intrepid enough to come in the house; others do a porch drop. Most days, the only one I interact with is my cat.


Did I say "liberated?" I'm in freefall. Without deadlines, where's my motivation?

The decline was gradual. First, I stopped strapping on what I call my ID bracelets every morning, vintage Celebracelets by Faye Augustine with my book titles spelled out in tiny silver alphabet-block beads. I never used to appear in public without them, but now . . . 

Then, I stopped washing my hair every single morning, a big adjustment for someone as psycho about her hair as me. Maybe once or twice a week, if it doesn't look too hideous, I dare to let it go. Who's going to see me?

Some routines are still inviolate, in the absence of actual deadlines. I have to get dinner on the table by 7 pm in time for Jeopardy, and cleared away at least by 8:30 to have time to read before bed. Monday night is still Pizza Night, without fail — but the rest of the week, all the days tend to run together.

I don't go out, so the clothes I wear in public (you know, the ones that are still intact) stay in the closet, while my comfort outfits (sweatshirts, jeans, pom-pom slippers) get worn all day. I still wash my clothes every Saturday — even though the loads are smaller — but I'm down to washing my sheets only every other week.

I used to make jokes about Miss Havisham — until she popped up in my mirror.

Meanwhile, my living space is showing signs of — let's call it benign neglect. If those discarded slippers are littering the stairs all day, or a cobweb the size of a volleyball net is hanging from the hallway ceiling, who's going to know?

I'm starting to feel like that tree that falls in the forest. Am I still a sloth if there's no one to see me?


(Cartoon by Mick Stevens)
(Helena Bonham-Carter as Miss Havisham, Great Expectatons, 2012)

Monday, April 6, 2020

THE IMPOSSIBLE MEME

Okay, we've all seen that meme: William Shakespeare wrote King Lear while under quarantine in London during the Bubonic plague.

The intention of circulating this (probably relatively true-ish) factoid, of course, is to make us all feel like a bunch of whining slackers. Want to feel even worse? Remember that Anne Frank wrote her famous Diary while hiding from the Nazis in a cramped attic in Amsterdam with her family of four and three other people. For two years. 

The fruits of these labors, composed under impossibly stressful conditions, are inarguably masterpieces, Frank's Diary for its honesty, optimism and compassion, and Lear for its brilliant and enduring insights into the human condition.

So what are the rest of us waiting for? Now that we're all under house arrest, we have nothing but time.

But consider too that Lear is one of Shakespeare's darkest plays, in every respect. It's full of howling storms and furious rages, delusion, betrayal, calamity, madness, folly, treachery and despair. Hard not to see at least a psychological parallel between the work itself and the temper of the times in which it was written.
Colette: Holed up like a Parisienne

So, if I wanted to write something gloomy and despondent, this would be the perfect time to do it! Indeed, there would be no excuse not to spend these grey, wet, solitary days hammering away at the keyboard, grappling angst and uncertainty into something (hopefully) brilliant.

But, no. Me, I'm trying to cobble together a lighthearted romantic comedy, full of magic and music, for Young Adult readers.

It's the second book (although not a sequel) stipulated in my contract for Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, which was already too dark and perverse for the general YA readership, according to my Goodreads reviews. This new one is supposed to be fun and upbeat.

Hah.

Blissfully untarnished by reality
Not that it couldn't be done. When the Nazis marched in to occupy France, the celebrated novelist Colette was 67 (the same age I am now), and nearly bedridden. Yet, holed up in her Paris apartment for the duration, she produced Gigi. Harking back to France's golden age of the Belle Epoque, it told the sunny tale of a spirited teenage girl raised to be a courtesan who defies expectations by charming her designated client into marriage.

And I have no doubt that if my Art Boy was still here to shelter in place with me, he would have turned out three or four of his magical paintings by now, and sketches for many more.

His work was always blissfully untarnished by everyday reality; his ideas bubbled up directly out of the teeming wellspring of his own imagination — flying fish, joyous dancing figures, pink bunnies and all. How he would have relished the excuse to stay home and paint all day!

I'm trying to view this temporary (we hope) dystopian sojourn as an opportunity to be relished. That's what James would do! And who knows? If the present coronavirus lockdown stretches on for another eternity, a deep plunge into the imagination might be just the escape I need.



(Above: Act of Creation, James Aschbacher)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

I WAKE UP STREAMING

It’s official — I’m superfluous!

With theaters shuttered (temporarily, we hope) due to the coronavirus, and no one going out to the movies, nobody needs to know my opinion of a movie they can stream from the privacy of their own couch.

It’s not like they have to pay to get in!

So my column in Good Times is suspended until further notice. If we, as a town/state/country/planet ever achieve normalcy again, I expect to be back on the job. But who knows how long that will take?

In the meantime, I encourage housebound film fans to boldly go into the archives of the product-delivery service of your choice — Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, You Tube, Viewmaster, whatever — and explore titles from over a century of vibrant cinema.

Silent films, for instance, are astonishingly creative!  Check out anything from about the turn of the last century through the 1920s, back when the pictures were first learning to move, and they were making it all up as they went along. You’ll be amazed at their ingenuity!

Then there are Errol Flynn swashbucklers, Film Noir, MGM musicals, French New Wave, Hitchcock, Fellini, the Marx Brothers; they’re all out there, just waiting to be discovered.

Be adventurous! If something doesn’t grab you in the first 20 minutes, dial up something else. There won’t be a quiz, and there isn’t anywhere else you have to be.

Me, I’ve been catching up on movies I missed the first time around. Last night it was The Greatest Showman, an utterly berserk fantasia on the imagined life if P. T. Barnum, staged like a Hollywood musical.

Famed 19th Century opera diva Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) sings a power ballad. Keala Settle as the Bearded Lady leads a chorus of Barnum’s circus sideshow attractions in an empowering Millennial-style anthem.

But, hey, in the midst of it all, there’s Hugh Jackman in the top hat and ringmaster’s outfit, singing and dancing up a storm. I’m home alone — I have to have some fun!

Sure, I’d much rather be watching movies the way God intended, on a great big theater screen. And I fervently hope all this enforced home viewing doesn’t signal the end of the neighborhood movie house down the road, by giving viewers one more excuse not to interact with each other in public.

Still, there’s something to be said for watching a move with a cat on your lap — as long as she doesn’t mind the occasional popcorn kernel bouncing off her head.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

FEMME NOIR


Mayhem, matriarchy merge in entertaining Blow the Man Down

With movie theaters temporarily closed and everybody cocooning at home, the best way to see a movie right now is curled up on your own sofa. Okay, lots of us have already figured this out — there's no dress code and no assigned seating. Even better, with the rise of so many streaming platforms, there's plenty of new product out there too, just waiting to be discovered.

Just released last week on Amazon Prime, Blow The Man Down is an entertaining New England chowder of black comedy, femme-noir, and mood-making from co-writers and directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. Set in a small fishing village on the rugged Maine seacoast (is there any other kind?), the story revolves around family legacies, deep, dark secrets, and fish — lots of fish, chopped, sliced, and pan-fried.

As the story begins, most of the denizens of Easter Cove are filling up the parlor of the Connelly sisters after the funeral of their beloved and respected mother, Mary Margaret. Now, responsible older sister, Priscilla (Sophie Lowe), and her more rebellious sibling, Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) — who's had to postpone her freshman year at college — have to figure out how to maintain the family home and fish market on their own.

After the sisters' private spat away from their guests — Mary Beth is so done with Easter Cove and wants out — the younger sib stomps off to the local bar, just looking for trouble. She finds it. But when the chips are down, it turns out, a girl's best friend is her sister.



Saylor and Lowe: Bundle up
 Life in Easter Cove is beautifully realized — you can almost smell the raw fish, and you might find yourself shivering from the snowy chill. (Better bundle up while you watch.) The mood is heightened by a chorus of grizzled fishermen singing sea shanties (like the title tune) deftly salted into the action. But it's the women who really run things; men are relegated to the (largely ornamental) police force, the bar, and the fishing boats.

This subtle tweaking of gender expectations gives the movie its own lively viewpoint. As the entwined dramas and dueling mysteries play out, one character notes, "Lotta people underestimate young women. That's why they get away with a lot." Women of all ages emerge as a collective force to be reckoned with in this diverting fish story of a movie.
(Read more)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

KIDDING AROUND

Children vs, grown-ups in modern Peter Pan remix Wendy

Benh Zeitlin has very specific ideas about how a movie should look and feel, and what kind of story it tells. His first movie, the dreamy, impressionistic Beasts of the Southern Wild, explored themes of childhood resilience, the power of Nature, adult frailties, and community. All of which ideas resurface in his sophomore effort, Wendy.

As the title might imply, Wendy is the filmmaker's nod to the Peter Pan legend. It's a modern remix of the story of children who refuse to grow up, relocated to an uncharted island off the southern wild of America (it was shot largely in and around Louisiana bayou country), told not from the viewpoint of Peter, but from the little girl who, along with her two brothers, is caught up in his dream of eternal childhood.

Written by Zeitlin and his sister, Eliza Zeitlin, the movie stays grounded as much as possible in everyday reality — the kids' mom runs a diner at a whistle-stop on a freight train route; they hop a slow-moving train to "fly" away — kissed with a dash of magic realism. Their take on familiar Peter Pan tropes is often deftly done, from the fate of Lost Boys who outgrow Peter's tribe, to an eerie, unsettling origin story for Captain Hook.

But trying to shoehorn his unique sensibility into the existing structure of the Pan legend seems to dampen the audacious originality displayed in Zeitlin's earlier film. How well the story works may depend on whether or not you think the idea of never growing up is a good thing.

Young Wendy (Devin France) and her twin brothers, Douglas (Gage Naquin) and James (Gavin Naquin), have grown up in the diner run by their mama (Shay Walker). The train rattles by every night, and when they see a giggling figure scampering over the boxcar roofs one night, luring them to come away, they clamber on board.

He is Peter (Yashua Mack, a native of Antigua with a head of bouncy rasta dreads), who leads them to a mysterious volcanic island far out below the train trestle where he and his tribe of unsupervised children play all day long and never age.
(Read more)


Having tinkered so shamelessly with the dans macabre between Captain Hook and Peter Pan for my own purposes in Alias Hook, I'm always fascinated to see what others bring to the story. And it strikes me that, in the end, the Zeitlins make the same mistake as plenty of other recent Peter Pan retellers — promoting this half-baked notion that Hook should just let go of his grumpy adult perceptions and embrace the unalloyed joy of spending the rest of eternity playing pirates with a gang of mangy boys.

Hey, wouldn't that be fun?

Here's what my James Hook has to say about that:

It is my fate to be trapped here forever in a nightmare of childish fancy with that infernal, eternal boy.