This off-beat and uneven fairy tale has something in common with its heroine — an uncertain incongruity. That heroine is Penelope (Christina Ricci), an educated, wealthy young woman with a loving heart and the nose of a pig. More of a snout, actually. While it is actually kind of cute, Penelope’s prospective suitors are so horrified by it that one after the other they leap out of her mansion through the window, wanting to get away so fast they do not have time to take the stairs and leave by the door.
The pig nose is the result of a generation-spanning curse. Knowing that the curse can be broken if Penelope is loved and accepted by her equal, her parents (Richard E. Grant and Catherine O’Hara) keep her hidden away and parade dozens of suitable suitors in front of Penelope’s two-way mirror. If they can just keep her indoors until the curse is broken, they think she can have a normal life.
But being kept inside like a hothouse flower (the production design includes bell jars and a terrarium) is not normal. And so, as all captive princesses in fairy tales must, she runs away. And as all romantic comedy leading ladies must, she meets a prince with a secret (James McAvoy).
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Three cheers for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In a press release issued today, CCFC announced that “As a result of CCFC’s Federal Trade Commission complaint, Baby Einstein has completely redesigned its website and is no longer making educational claims about its DVDs and videos.”
I have been a long-time critic of DVDs for under-twos and am delighted that they can no longer be marketed as “educational.” Studies have shown that babies learn less from watching these DVDs than they do from spending the same amount of time observing the world around them. The FTC and Disney have acknowledged what parents have known for thousands of years — that babies learn best from interaction and observation.
The anniversary of the shrine at Lourdes is a good reminder of the lovely performance of Jennifer Jones in “Song of Bernadette,” the story of the young girl who saw “a beautiful lady” and became Saint Bernadette Soubirous.
If Wes Andersen ever decides to treat his characters with the same loving attention he treats his props, he will make better movies. Oh the tschotchkes in this movie! It’s like a long, loving J. Peterman catalogue commercial. If only the people in front of and carting around all of these delectable objects were as intriguing as the objects themselves. Especially those being carted around — the fabulous numbered matching set of luggage brought along on this journey is more compelling than the people carrying it.
That would be the three estranged brothers who inherited the baggage, both metaphorical and literal. The journey is organized by Francis (Owen Wilson, with his head elaborately bandaged through most of the movie), who has brought along an aide with a printer and a laminating machine to hand tuck daily itineraries under the door of the title train’s compartment. Francis has invited Peter (stork-legged Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) to take the train ride with him after a year apart following their father’s funeral.
It is beautiful to look at and there are some intriguing developments. But they are encrusted with precious quirkiness and ironic air quotes that get in the way. Casual cruelty and cool reactions to tragedy attempt fall short of insight. Too much goes on around the edges and too little goes on in the center of the screen.
There are brief moments that show what Anderson is capable of. A pan through the train cars, reminiscent of Joan Crawford’s dazzling vision in “Possessed,” makes us want to see the movie that sensibility is capable of.
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