February 2nd, 2005

Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

"Finding Neverland" reviewed on December 2, 2004

It looks as if the 2004 Oscar race for best actor will come down to biographical figures; Jesus (Jim Caviezel), Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) and James M. Barrie (Johnny Depp). All three actors give good technical performances, but communicate with honest emotional depth. "Finding Neverland" details the creation of J.M Barrie's literary signature piece, "Peter Pan" and the circumstances that inspired this Scottish author.

It is London circa 1903 and it is opening night for J.M. Barrie's work "Little Mary," a stuffy work produced by Charles Froham (Dustin Hoffman). The play is not successful and Barrie retreats to a local park to write his next opus. Distracted by the playful Peter Llewelyn Davies (Freddie Highmore), Barrie is introduced to Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies (Kate Winslett) and her 4 boys. Sylvia is a recent widow who has a hard time keeping house. Davies must also contend with her mother (Julie Christie), a patron of high society who is concerned about her daughter's relationship with the struggling playwright. Barrie is also going through an icy relationship with his wife, Mary Ansell Barrie (Radha Mitchell).

Despite the financial pressures of producing a successful show, Barrie indulges himself by playing pirates and Indians in the park with the Llewelyn-Davies boys. Barrie inspires the Llyewelyn- Davies Family with imaginative games, role-plays and tall tales. Barries also observes the British Empire's societal conventions and finds a way to lampoon them with the genesis of his new play, "Peter Pan."

There has always been a dark side to the Peter Pan myth, "Finding Neverland" is also a tale of grief. J.M. Barrie and Mrs. Llewelyn Davies suffer from the lost of a family members and are seasoned in grief. The bite of "Finding Neverland's" tragedy is the humor of the characters. "Finding Neverland" celebrates imagination inspired by subtle things. At one point the wicked mother(Christie) berates a child with a garden implement, Barrie observes this moment as the inspiration for Captain James Hook, Peter Pan's arch nemesis.

The performances create credibility for "Finding Neverland" Dustin Hoffman is a delight as the befuddled benefactor and theatrical producer. With her work in "Troy" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban," Julie Christie is enjoying a career renaissance in 2004. Despite her character's icy persona, Christie improvised a key reaction in the film that inspired her young costars - it is a key moment in the film that reveals her character' vulnerability. Kate Winslet is today's most reliable movie actress given her work in "Titanic," "Iris" and "Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind." She can do it all, but Winslet does seem quite at home wearing the costumes of the early 20th Century. Johnny Depp also brings forth his wealth of experience in costume dramas like "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Edward Scissorhands" and "Sleepy Hollow." As J.M. Barrie, Depp taps into his "Ed Wood" playfulness while giving a sustained and consistent performance. Last, but not least, there is Freddie Highmore as Peter. This young actor steps into the sneakers that Haley Joel Osment and Daniel Radcliffe have outgrown. Depp was so inspired by Highmore's performance in "Finding Neverland," that Highmore will be Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton's adaptation of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

The Box Office performance for **Finding Neverland** has been less than steller. It is an entertaining holiday film that has much going for it; laughter, tears, good performances and gorgeous cinematography. Hopefully "Finding Neverland" will find it's audience on the DVD rack some Sunday afternoon.
Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

"Ray" ONLY in AMERICA ! ! !

Some people remain cool for multiple generations. Ray Charles was such an American individual. With a good clean sound system, a Ray Charles tune can get many people to roll their neck in time to the music. Ray Charles music crossed ethnic boundaries. By creating unity from diversity, Ray Charles could intergrate Gospel, Rhythm 'n Blues and Country Western Music and turn his original sounding tune into a number one chart topping hit.

A sharecropper's son in Northern Florida, Ray Charles Robinson lost his eyesight before he became a teenager. After graduating from a conservatory music school for the blind in Saint Augustine, Ray conned his way to a bus ticket to Seattle. After befriending a street musician named Quincy Jones (Larenz Tate), Ray joined a Nat King Cole Tribute band. Learning from Oberon (Warrick Davis) that he is being cheated, Ray left the band and hit the road. From 1948 to 1964, Ray Charles created music that fused the roots of bluegrass, blues, boogie woogie and gospel. Ray married Della Bea (Kerry Washington), raised children and lived the American Dream. Yet the ghosts of his troubled youth haunted Ray Charles and the musician sought relief through heroin.

Not that "Ray" is a diary of a drug addict. This motion picture soars when Ray Charles and his studio crew create songs. From moments of pure pain, comes the lively tune "Hit the Road, Jack!" After changing record labels, Ray Charles produced "Georgia," which went on to become the state song. When a nightclub performance ended too soon, Ray Charles improvised the crowd favorite, "What I'd Say?"

From the television show, "In Living Color," Jamie Foxx has come a long way since wearing a dress with vaseline covered lips as ugly Wanda. Ugly Wanda is forgotten with this Oscar caliber performance. Foxx actually becomes Ray Charles, crossing the reality perception that all actors strive for their entire career. Sharon Warren portrays Ray Charles' mother Aretha during flashback sequences. Though her part is small, the actress reveals a full range of emotion, from raging grief to a quiet joy as she realizes that her handicapped son will persevere. Warren is likely to be Oscar nominated for best supporting actress for realistically portraying a positive influence. Regina King portrays the tragic Margie Hendricks, a memorable vocalist from two of Ray Charles' signature tunes.

"Ray" is a summation of Ray Charles Robinson's career. This iconic musician was involved with the production of the film before he died in June 2004. Director Taylor Hackford has created a soulful biography that is part musical celebration and part psychological detective story. While the narrative becomes a bit clunky at times, "Ray" is still an inspiring motion picture that could only happen in America.
Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

"SIDEWAYS" slips into the last Best Picture Oscar slot.

In terms of Best Picture Oscar nominees, "Sideways"is this year's "Lost in Translation." Both movies feature neurotic leading men, picturesque travelogue scenery and many conversations. The topics of these
conversations range from unrequited love to the mundane.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a flustered novelist who is mourning the two-year anniversary of his divorce. Miles is a wine expert and plans to drive through the California wine country with his old college buddy, Jack (Thomas Haden Church). An actor renown for his work in television commercials, Jack is to wed and Miles is his best man. Jack sees the trip as one last road trip and a chance to revisit his youth. After visiting Miles' mother, the odd couple arrives at the Hitching Post lounge. Being a regular of this establishment, Miles reconnects with his regular waitress, Mia (Virginia Madsen). Mia is recently divorced has become a graduate student. Even though he is preoccupied with his own hound dog sexual pursuits, Jack sniffs romance in the air between Jack and Mia.

At over two hours running time, "Sideways" unfolds at a leisurely pace. The colors and cinematography of the California wine country should sell many vacation packages. Like the Richard Gere-Jennifer Lopez movie "Shall We Dance," the leading characters and their relationships are defined by their hobby. Miles and Mia consummate their relationship after a lengthy conversation about the pinot grape.

As supporting actors, both Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen has been Oscar nominated. Sad sack Paul Giamatti actually owns this motion picture as a quasi Woody Allen leading man. A reliable character actor from "Howard Stern's Private Parts" "Saving Private Ryan," and "My Best Friend's Wedding," Paul is the son of the late Bart Giamatti, the Major League Baseball commissioner who banned Pete Rose from major league baseball.

The musical score created by Rolfe Kent should have been Oscar nominated. The breezy jazz score acts as a third companion in the car with Jack and Miles. This musical score should be noted for its sense of humor. When Jack and Miles go on the prowl, a subtle variation of a James Bond tune -"Miss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"- can be heard.

"Sideways" is the fifth best picture nomination from a rotten cinematic year. Not to condemn the artistic success of the film, "Sideways" does succeed as a breezy lightweight comedy. Yet, should this little motion picture have taken the best picture slot from "The Passion of the Christ?" The challenge of
making a religious movie in two dead languages (Aramaic and Latin) that grossED over 370 million dollars deserves best picture recommendation.