Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Dec. 30 2003 11:52 AM

Peter Pan, All Grown Up

Does the remake feature too much heavy breathing?

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Peter Pan (Universal). The latest remake of the children's classic is a straightforward adaptation whose main novelty is that a boy—rather than a woman—plays the title role. L.A. Weekly thinks that Hollywood has finally gotten Peter Pan right; director P.J. Hogan "strips it right back down to its narrative essence, then reinvigorates it with all the candy colors of a child's paint box." More equivocal critics are split on the film's tone. Newsday calls it a "heavy-breathing remake" and complains about "the pubescent frisson generated" between Peter and Wendy. USA Today, however, thinks it's "tepid but inoffensive." Newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood gets universal praise as Wendy: Entertainment Weekly calls her "a rare vision of sophisticated innocence." And Swimming Pool's Ludivine Sagnier turns up as Tinker Bell; the Chicago Tribune grumbles that she "pouts and sticks out her tongue so often, you want to take out her twinkle with a slingshot." (Buy tickets to Peter Pan.)

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Monster (Newmarket). Charlize Theron, previously known for such mainstream fare as The Italian Job, doesn't seem the likeliest candidate for a Method makeover. But her portrayal of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos wins raves. "With the addition of about 30 pounds, prosthetic dentures, and skin made to look freckled and sun-damaged, Theron breaks through with a ferocious performance —a real career-changer," applauds New York. "Not since De Niro in Raging Bull has an actor pulled off so thorough a physical transformation," says Premiere, calling Theron "in-your-face scary." And Roger Ebert puts Monster at the top of his year-end list, saying it's "a luminous work of empathy, showing us a woman whose destiny was already sealed as a battered child." But some think the film romanticizes its subject: Entertainment Weekly gripes that it "makes the half-baked suggestion" that Wuornos "is some sort of a victim." (Read David Edelstein's review.) (Buy tickets to Monster.)

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Cheaper by the Dozen (Fox). This adaptation of the children's book stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as the parents of 12 children; when they both spend time away pursuing great career opportunities, chaos ensues. Entertainment Weekly calls Cheaper by the Dozen"a sprightly, shiny, updated fantasy of family togetherness," but the Los Angeles Times thinks it's "as synthetic as a plastic Christmas tree." The cast is packed with teen stars like Hilary Duff and Tom Welling, and Ashton Kutcher has "one of the fall-down funniest (and perhaps most honest) moments" in a self-mocking cameo as a wannabe actor who confesses he'll have to make it on looks, not brains. The picture is partially redeemed by Martin and Hunt's "casual flair for mining laughs from even the most generic lines of dialogue," says the Hollywood Reporter. But only partially: USA Today sighs that Martin "seems about as bored starring in this movie as we are watching it." (Buy tickets to Cheaper by the Dozen.)

Paycheck (Paramount). "The title of this limp retread of Minority Report," says Rolling Stone, "presumably refers to the reason the big names involved did this movie." Other reviewers are no kinder to Ben Affleck's new sci-fi thriller, directed by John Woo and based on a Philip K. Dick short story about a tech engineer whose memory is erased after he completes a multimillion dollar contract. The Chicago Tribune calls it "slick dreck, well-done but ridiculous" and cracks, "You may wish you had the picture's gimmickry at your disposal, so you could erase your own memory of it." The only image Entertainment Weekly retains from the film is "the cleft chins of Affleck and [co-star Aaron] Eckhart, pointed at each other like Woo weapons." And the Los Angeles Times complains that "Even Woo's trademark moves—a bird fluttering in slow motion, men jamming guns in each other's faces—feel recycled." Still, Newsday does think it's "the tightest John Woo movie since his Hong Kong heyday." (Buy tickets to Paycheck.)

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Cold Mountain (Miramax). Anthony Minghella's Civil War epic offers a double dose of Oscar bait, says the Village Voice: "It's a big fat war movie and a tender love story." Adapted from Charles Frazier's best seller, the film follows a Confederate soldier (Jude Law) and his odyssey home to North Carolina and his love (Nicole Kidman). Fans are swept away: David Denby says Cold Mountain is more "visionary, erotic, and tragic" than Gone With the Wind and calls its style "hallucinatory realism—high-flown yet filthy with the mire and blood of war." Skeptics are unmoved: Entertainment Weekly thinks the film is "emotionally detached" and New York finds Law and Kidman too pretty, saying, "It's difficult to ponder hardship and starvation while all this preening is going on." (However, most think we can pencil rambunctious Renée Zellweger in for Best Supporting Actress.) Also, wonders Time, "Where are the slaves? Ahem, where are the black folks?" (Read David Edelstein's review.) (Buy tickets to Cold Mountain.)