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This week:
Finding Neverland

Filthy says:
"They sure as hell didn't find it."

I wanted to come up with some really good excuse for why I saw Finding Neverland this week instead of something new. After all, this thing's been out for months already. I'm not really clever enough, though. I'm good at making up lies, but usually they only make me look even stupider. Like, "No, I wasn't trying to get a cricket out of my pants, I was masturbating." Tell people you have a cricket in your pants and then they want to know why. Saying you were only trying to keep it warm doesn't satisfy anyone.

So, sometimes it's just better to tell the truth. Not often, sometimes. In this case, the truth is I didn't see Finding Neverland for any reason except it only cost two dollars and that's all I had. Holy shit, do I love shabby second-run theaters. They don't judge you when you pay in pennies. They don't even complain when they have to separate the buttons and safety pins from the change. I love the Arvada Elvis Cinema because they need me as much as I need them. Plus, people go to a two-dollar theater for only one reason: to be entertained. The customers aren't the kind who have to see movies before anyone else. They aren't even movie buffs and they obviously aren't snooty about sound and projection systems. Some of us just like to sit in the dark and watch movies. It's like a church, you know, if church didn't have preachers or faith, and replaced penitent introspection with the occasional gratuitous tit shot

Two bucks. That's probably about right for Finding Neverland. This isn't a great movie. It's the fictionalized story of James M. Barrie, the author of the play and novel Peter Pan. I've never seen the play. I have a phobia about Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby dressed as little boys. Lots of people do. The novel, though, is awesome. It's one of the best stories I've ever read. It may be the only one that's ever made me cry, it's ending is so sweetly sad.

Barrie was an oddball. Depending on who you believe, he was either a pedophile, philanderer or just a bit off his nut. He was married but really had no interest in sex or even adulthood. Peter Pan, his masterpiece, is a reflection of his own struggle to stay a boy in a world that demanded he grew up. The book is bittersweet because while everyone else matures and moves on, Peter Pan stays young forever, forging no real relationships and disappointing others. He's happy only in Neverland where he is surrounded by forever-young playmates and the villain is a jealous pirate chased by a crocodile with a ticking clock in its belly.

It doesn't take Freud to read a shitload into Peter Pan. Hell, even I can figure out most of the symbolism. The weird thing, though, is that Finding Neverland doesn't bother. It's too busy being one of those big, year-end formulaic tearjerkers to look at what was genuinely interesting and tragic about Barrie. And what was truly tragic is far more moving than this movie.

As this movie sees it, Barrie was a paternal figure who never had children of his own, served as a saintly surrogate father to the four sons of a terminally ill widow. He's not a sad man who cannot grow up himself. In fact, Johnny Depp's Barrie is nothing but grown up and rather boring. Even when he's at play, he's staid and adult. Despite what Peter Pan is really about, it comes across here as a gesture Barrie made as a tribute to these kids.

After stripping Barrie of anything interesting, Director Marc Forster leaves his movie's heavy lifting to the usual Oscar-bait horseshit. A playwright thought to be finished and desperate for a hit tries something daring against the advice of others. And, guess what? It's a hit! A pretty widow (Kate Winslet) is dying of the prettiest consumption ever and gets one last glimpse of joy and closure before leaving her four, charming young sons behind. Along the way, the movie clicks along mechanically. There is little tension, but what's there is corny and so Victorian it would bore the piss out of a horse. Any sadness Finding Neverland tries to generate serves two purposes: to manipulate the audience and to set up the cornball redemptive ending, where Depp proves his gentlemanliness and maturity, Winslet dies happy and the one boy who didn't trust Depp changes his mind. Along the way, Depp's own marriage collapses, but that just conveniently lets him off the hook for spending so much time with Winslet.

Depp's portrayal of Barrie is so square it's damn near impossible to figure out how the man dreamed up a such an awesome world of mermaids, pirates, Indians and fairies. He plays the Scottish Barrie as an Irishman. I don't know why, maybe the Miramax hinchos figured the Academy liked giving trophies to drunks more than biters. Winslet is equally restrained. She's usually so damn great, but here she's too damn busy portending her own death to lighten up. Really, everything about this movie, including its attempts at whimsy, are muffled by DOUR IMPORTANCE like a heavy wool blanket.

The movie is so dumbly obvious, too. It wants to pretend to be smart, or at least smarter than the audience, by explaining shit best left unsaid. It tells us that the crocodile with the clock in its belly is really time chasing all of us. No shit? I thought it was just some cautionary warning about feeding reptiles. One of Winslet's sons has to tell us that, really, Barrie is Peter Pan. Actually, it's a damn good thing the character blurts that out because it isn't clear from Finding Neverland .

The movie did remind me of a tangential thought, though. That is, is someone's art supposed to be judged on its own merits or through the prism of the artist's personality? Basically, why should we give a shit about James M. Barrie when Peter Pan is its own story and stands alone as a masterpiece? Is it better if we know Barrie is Peter Pan or if we see ourselves in the pixie?

Why do people insist judging art on personality? It undervalues the art made by assholes. Could Jackson Pollock's "Lucifer" be more beautiful if he hadn't had bad manners? Is Doolittle less great an album because Black Francis is a weirdo? Alfred Hitchcock hated women--or at least was scared shitless by their femininity--but, to me, that doesn't make his movies any less fantastic. I remember once I got an e-mail from a lady who said I couldn't mention any of Hitchcock's flicks without pointing out his misogynism. And because of it, the movies can't be considered great. Fuck her. She's got her panties so wadded up she's missing some of the best movies ever.

I know there are plenty of people who have e-mailed me and after my response decided I'm an asshole. But so what? My reviews can suck all by themselves.

Ah, fuck, maybe we're all just nosy assholes. It's just that as long as you want to tell us why a piece of art as great as Peter Pan exists, why bother if you're can't be as genuine and entertaining as the source material? Two Fingers for Finding Neverland.

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Clay Smith of Access Hollywood

The Pacifier is "James Bonds meets Mary Poppins... pure fun for the whole family!

Filthy's Reading
J. M. Barrie - Peter Pan

Listening to
They Might Be Giants - Apollo 18