Emma Thompson has won Oscars for both writing (“Sense and Sensibility”) and acting (“Howard’s End”). She has played a character based on Hillary Clinton (“Primary Colors”), a Hogwarts faculty member in two Harry Potter films, and last year alone, Dustin Hoffman’s love interest in “Last Chance Harvey,” a stern headmistress in “An Education,” and a former hippie in “Pirate Radio.”
This week, she plays the title character in “Nanny McPhee Returns,” the sequel to the 2005 film she wrote and starred in about a nanny who has a special — you might say magical — knack with naughty children.
Nanny McPhee says that when she is not wanted but needed she must stay but when she is wanted but not needed she must go. Is it a challenge to teach children the difference between wanting and needing?
Of course but you must understand I don’t make these films to teach people lessons — that would be awful. I make films to delight them and make them laugh and have a really wonderful time and then they’ll think about stuff if that’s what they want to do. Internally, some of the stuff that goes on in those movies is that it’s very true that when need people but don’t particularly want them that’s when they have to stay and help out, but when you are desperate for them to stay but don’t need them, that is when you have to let them go. So, yes, that’s very true but the message is carried very subtly. More importantly, she’s there to say to children, “You can solve your own problems. You don’t need an adult to solve them for you.” That’s even more important.
One of the pleasures of a movie like this one is the vicarious enjoyment of being naughty like the children in the film. Were you a naughty child?
I was profoundly obedient. I was brought up in a rather austere London by a Scottish Presbyterian. You weren’t very naughty. I do remember drawing on the bathroom walls with pencil and having to rub it all off, which took hours, sobbing gently. But I wasn’t naughty.
Is it fun for you to put on a false nose and teeth and make yourself look ugly?
Yes it is good fun and a relief from that rather fascistic insistence on glamor and you’ve got to look this way and be this shape and so there’s a small rebellion in the act itself.
How does the costume help create the character?
The costume was designed in the first instance by Nick Ede, a wonderful designer. We worked very hard on how big she was going to be, whether we would trim it with jet which is how she is described in the book, what her silhouette is like, when to introduce a waist. It was great fun and the costume and make-up is everything really. It does so much work for you. Actors often say they don’t feel like the character until they have the costume on.
Is this movie based on the books?
The first movie has a lot of story that isn’t in the books. They’re really based on a character rather than adaptations of the books. They’re wonderful books but there’s a lot of repeat behavior and the second film is an entirely new story.
Why did you decide on a WWII setting?
I was wanting the father to be absent for some reason or other. I was in Berlin when I was thinking about the story, and I thought maybe I can have this father absent because of war. I already knew I wanted it to be about two sets of children who came from different backgrounds and hated each other and fought.
Will you do another one?
I hope so. It all depends on how this one goes. Market forces will decide that for us, but I am thinking about a third one, certainly.
The song from The New Seekers is a special memory for many people who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. It was the title song in an album about equality, tolerance, respect, and understanding our feelings. There was also a book and a television special.
Now Target has used the song in an ad, equating being yourself with buying stuff to express your individuality. It’s completely contrary to the original intent of the song and a real shame.
Miley Cyrus shows us how her reach exceeds her grasp in “The Last Song,” an attempt to move past Hannah Montana. She has become Disney’s most valuable property through the force of her personality, comic timing, and way with a pop song. But pop princesses grow up, though usually not quite as quickly as they want to. And valuable properties are hard to turn down. So when one of the world’s biggest superstars-turned-brand wants to make a grown-up movie, she gets her way.
That is why “The Last Song” plays like a check-list of everything a 17-year old would like to make as an antidote to the perpetually sunny Hannah Montana rather than a movie that works. After the sugary Disney Channel hijinks, she gets to play something a tiny bit edgy, a sulky teenager with a pierced nose, sent to live with her estranged father for the summer. Nicholas Sparks, for the first time adapting one of his own books, supplies his brand of synthetic syrup — broken hearts must find love amidst devastating losses, preferably through some exchanges of mail, all of this near a body of water with a beach.
Cyrus plays Veronica (Ronnie), a recent high school graduate who is so angry at just about everything and everyone that she is refusing to go to Julliard in the fall even though she is so talented that they accepted despite her refusal to play the piano. They just knew how great she was and accepted her anyway. Her mother (Kelly Preston) drops her off with her little brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman in the film’s most natural performance) at their dad’s beach house. Jonah is thrilled to be there but Ronnie is still angry with their father (Greg Kinnear as Steve) for leaving them and refuses to have anything to do with him as she had refused to read his letters.
Ronnie meets a cute guy named Will (Liam Hemsworth) and they bond over protecting a nest of sea turtle eggs. A falling-in-love montage is quickly followed by a trying-on-clothes-in-the-vintage-shop montage, which at least has the advantage of giving us a break from the dialogue and plot developments. But before long, the screen is littered with complications as Will and Ronnie have to cope with divided loyalties and then with something much more serious.
It’s all pretty enough, and Sparks is an expert at manipulative melodrama. Cyrus has a likable, unforced screen presence but does not have the training or focus to make Ronnie real or show us any change more significant than the switch from black to pastels and the disappearance of the nose stud. The screenplay feels episodic and scattered, like a collection of discount greeting cards. And the movie feels like a very expensive screen test for a star who needs to learn that sitcom skills are not enough to make a movie drama work.
Some movies are content to settle for the lowest common denominator, combining trashy ethnic stereotypes, bathroom humor and cheesy slapstick jokes in the hope of luring audiences for a cheap laugh.
But some movies aspire to go even lower. “Furry Vengeance” is that movie.
Keep your children far away from this odious film about an unscrupulous developer who is bulldozing a forest to make room for houses and ultimately, “a shopping mall with a forest theme.” Brendan Fraser plays the local manager for the developer. He has moved his
wife Tammy (played by Brooke Shields) and his son Tyler (played by Matt Prokop) from Chicago to the small town of Rocky Springs to supervise the construction of a few homes, not realizing that the master plan is to demolish the entire forest. The woodland creatures
(led by a wily raccoon) have figured out the sinister plot and launch an insurrection against Frazer and his company to protect their forest.
The movie “Idiocracy” imagines a future day when our society will be so dumbed down that we will be entertained by TV shows consisting of nothing but jokes about a man being hit in the crotch. Well, gentle readers, that day is here. Brendan Fraser not only suffers the predictable “I-landed- on the peak of a roof and it went right into my crotch” pratfall, but also the “a raccoon is biting me the crotch and won’t let go” and even some new ones: after he has been submerged in the pond Fraser announces, “I need to remove a leech from my no-no zone.” Then there’s the time his woodland foes adjust his lawn sprinkler to spray him in the crotch and the embarrassed Frazer announces ” look at Mr. Pee-Pee pants.”
It’s hard to think of who might not be offended by this wretched movie. Frazer’s ruthless Asian boss from the home office talks in a screechy sing-song voice, relies on calculators, electronic gadgets and hand sanitizers. The equally unscrupulous money men from India fare no better (“If my Indian investors wanted to be reminded of pollution they would stay home in Calcutta. Stinko!”) And of course, the movie doesn’t miss the opportunity to make fun of the difference between American Indians and citizens of India (“Wigwam? Teepee? Squaw?”) Then there’s the stereotyped Mexican laborer at the construction site, or the elderly teacher who is senile and annoys everybody with her slow pace and long lapses.
The entire movie is speckled with excrement, both literally and figuratively. Brendan Fraser gets trapped in a port-a-potty which rolls over and over and gets turned upside down. Birds with extreme digestive problems dive-bomb their enemies and spatter them with bird poop. When the Indian financier is about to sign the contract, a big wad of excrement spatters on the document and a discussion ensues about who is going to clean it off. And when it seems the prop department might have run out of excrement, skunks spew thick clouds of noxious fumes and animals spray other bodily fluids on their beleaguered foes.
Gender is treated in an equally appalling way. Fraser, with soap in his eyes, reaches out for a towel and ends up drying his face with his wife’s bra, which then unaccountably slips onto his arms so that it looks like he has been wearing it. At this moment, the woodland creatures raise the curtains so that the construction workers outside believe Frazer is a cross-dresser. The animals further cement this idea when they trick Fraser into wearing his wife’s pink exercise outfit (with the words “yum yum” written on the butt) out in public.
Normally, I try to find something good to say about each movie I review. Dear readers, I am speechless.