(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Chris Noonan, w/ Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
Of the nine toughest effects to pull off in cinema, charm is the most fragile. Lose the tone for an instant and it shatters. Push too hard and it curdles to cutesy-poo.
Miss Potter blows its charm often, then gets right back up and trips gracefully onward.
So much for theories about fragility, and all praise to the cast, director and subject herself. Beatrix Potter was an upper-middle-class Edwardian woman who ditched the traditional marriage route to pen a massively popular string of children's books still in print today, and then became a leading light in England's nascent conservation movement. It's the Potter material that makes the extras here worth watching.
The movie focuses primarily on the love between beginning author Potter (Renée Zellweger) and her novice publisher (Ewan McGregor). Zellweger and McGregor are a matched set of high spirits, awkwardness and genuine tenderness. A few more outings together and they could end up as one of the screen's legendary couples. In the supporting cast, keep your eye on Potter's mother (Barbara Flynn) and maids for some fine comedy.
Much of Potter's appeal lies in her drawings, so naturally sweet they can cause intense nostalgia in a small child - a disturbing emotion when you're six. Director Chris Noonan adorns his movie with her illustrations, some of them animated - and that's where the trouble starts: Zellweger talks to the animations like a little girl with her dolls. Highly cringeworthy. Other times, she pushes her enthusiasm so hard you think her head is about to burst into flames.
But the cringe never lasts. The charm of the subject, the lovely period setting and lively performances win hands down.
Extras Director commentary, making-of doc, Beatrix Potter doc, music video. Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Al Pacino Collection
(Fox) Rating: NNNN ; DVD package: NNN
(2000) D: Pacino, w/ Pacino, Jerry Orbach. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
The Local Stigmatic
(1990) D: Pacino, David F. Wheeler, w/ Paul Guilfoyle, Joe Maher. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NN
Looking For Richard
(1996) D: Pacino, w/ Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey. Rating: NNNN ; DVD package: NNN
(2005) Rating: NNNN ; DVD package: n/a
The high rating for this box is relevant only to those seriously interested in the theatre and/or acting and/or Pacino. Those in search of more polished entertainment would be better off with The Panic In Needle Park, The Godfather I and II, Scarface, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Merchant Of Venice or any of the other 40-odd films that have made Al Pacino one of the leading actors of his generation.
As films, two of the three plays here are rough 'n' ready jobs, designed to simply get the drama on screen. Fine for Chinese Coffee, a funny, insightful study of the friendship between two aging, broke Greenwich Village artists. Pacino and Jerry Orbach understand these guys and turn in a great job.
The Local Stigmatic bombs. It's a good play about a couple of toughs who run into a well-known actor, but Pacino's ill-fitting Cockney accent kills it dead.
Looking For Richard presents Pacino's attempt to come to terms with Richard III and the idea of Americans doing Shakespeare. It's a great look at the production process and the challenges of the Bard.
Babblelonia ties the whole thing together. Hanging out in New York's Actors Studio with film professor Richard Brown, Pacino describes his professional interests and concerns in detail. He's articulate and insightful about film, theatre and his own work
Extras Chinese Coffee: Pacino prologue and commentary, Pacino epilogue with Orbach. Wide-screen. English, Spanish subtitles. The Local Stigmatic: Pacino prologue and commentary, Pacino epilogue with director. Wide-screen. English, Spanish subtitles. Looking For Richard: Pacino prologue, Pacino epilogue with Baldwin. Wide-screen. English, Spanish subtitles. Babblelonia: Full-frame.
Bridge To Terabithia
(Disney, 2007) D: Gabor Csupo, w/ Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
It isn't until the big dramatic turn just after the midpoint that Bridge To Terabithia delivers a powerful dose of genuine emotion and turns into something well worth watching more than once for anyone over 10.
Till then, it's a pleasant enough tale of two outsider kids (Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb) beset by bullies at school (and, in his case, an unsympathetic father) who create an imaginary kingdom in the woods.
The spirit of enchantment mostly works well. The kids interact believably with the kingdom (great effects from Lord Of The Rings' Weta Digital company), but the fantasy flops a couple of times when we just can't figure out what's supposed to be happening in the real world. Did he fall out of that tree or didn't he?
Csupo's pacing plods until the dramatic turn, and Aaron Zigman's score oversells the emotion. But the script does not condescend, the characters are well played and the young stars likeable and convicing. As the dad, Robert Patrick makes much out of very little, and five-year-old Bailee Madison is a wonder as our hero's little sister.
Hutcherson and Robb's commentary is fun. They're going for actorly poise but continually reveal the kind of kids they really are underneath. On the other hand, beware of the themes documentary - a gang of librarians and teachers telling you what the film is all about. Make up your own mind first.
Extras Director, writer and producer commentary, Hutcherson, Robb and producer commentary, themes doc, making-of effects doc. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(WB, 2007) D: Vic Sarin, w/ Jimi Mistry, Kristin Kreuk. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NN
In 1947, India was divided into Muslim Pakistan and secular India. Millions of refugees crossed the border in both directions. Much violence ensued, including massacres among Muslims and Sikhs.
Writer/director Vic Sarin sets a romance between a Sikh man (Jimi Mistry) and a Muslim woman (Kristin Kreuk) in the context of Partition and allows it to unfold in a leisurely, almost novelistic way that lets us fully engage with the characters.
As the Sikh ex-soldier, Mistry makes a great romantic hero - handsome, manly and quietly brooding. Kreuk, sunshine to his shadow, is beautiful and lively, though you'll have to watch the passage of time carefully to accept her recovery from a shattering trauma. Neve Campbell and John Light add much as a helpful English pair. Both suggest an unease that makes them as believable as displaced persons as the doomed lovers.
Doing his own shooting, Sarin gets a accurate sense of period and some good visuals, but too much of his composition and rhythm look like conventional television. It's a budget problem, and he discusses it on his otherwise so-so commentary.
Extras Sarin and Kreuk commentary, making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French audio. French subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, June 26
La Jetée/Sans Soleil
( Criterion, 1962, 1983) New transfer, new subtitles for a pair of great experimental films by Chris Marker. The former inspired Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys.
Black Snake Moan
(Paramount, 2006) Christina Ricci and Samuel Jackson do blues and redemption. From Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer.
Colossus Of Rhodes
(Warner Bros, 1961) Three years before A Fistful Of Dollars, Sergio Leone directed this low-budget, largely forgotten spears 'n' sandals epic.
(Tartan Asia, 2005) Recent Cannes selection by top Korean director Kim Ki-duk (3-Iron).
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb