REVIEW: PENELOPE

Starring

Christina Ricci (Lizzie Borden Took an Ax)
James McAvoy (Glass)
Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz)
Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice)
Reese Witherspoon (This Means War)
Richard E. Grant (Logan)
Ronni Ancona (Skins)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Simon Woods (Starter for 10)
Nigel Havers (Pope Joan)
Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim)
Russell Brand (Army of One)
John Voce (Crush)
Lenny Henry (Chef!)
Martin McDougall (Batman Begins)

Christina Ricci in Penelope (2006)Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci) is a young woman from a wealthy family. What sets her apart is that she has the ears and nose of a pig. Generations ago, an embittered and vengeful witch (Michael Feast) placed a curse on the Wilhern family after their son had an affair with his daughter, one of the Wilhern servants. He was talked out of marrying her by his arrogant and disapproving family, abandoning her and married someone of his own status. The heartbroken and pregnant servant girl then threw herself off a cliff. Furious, the witch then cursed the Wilherns so that the next daughter to be born into the affluent family would have the face of a pig. For five generations, the Wilherns produced only sons, until Penelope was born with her “ugly” face, stricken with the curse. It is said that the curse can only be lifted if ‘one of her own kind’ learns to love her, which her parents interpret as meaning that Penelope must marry a man of noble birth.Christina Ricci and James McAvoy in Penelope (2006)A tabloid reporter named Lemon (Peter Dinklage) begins stalking the family to get a photograph of the infant Penelope resulting in Penelope’s mother Jessica (Catherine O’Hara) blinding his right eye after he breaks into their house. Then Jessica and Franklin (Richard E. Grant) decide to fake their daughter’s death and cloister her away in their mansion where Penelope spends her life immersing herself in intellectual pursuits such as literature, horticulture, and music. When Penelope becomes an adult, her parents attempt to introduce her to possible suitors, hoping that one of them will fall in love with her and break the curse, with the help of a matchmaker named Wanda (Ronni Ancona). Unfortunately, every man who lays eyes on her flees in terror, including Edward Humphrey Vanderman III (Simon Woods), a spoiled, arrogant snob who finds her repulsive (even enough to believe she has fangs). Normally, Jessica and Franklin’s butler Jake (also Michael Feast) catches them before they leave in order to force them to sign an agreement that they will not discuss Penelope’s appearance, but he fails to catch Vanderman.Christina Ricci in Penelope (2006)Vanderman’s panicked flight from the Wilhern house results in a newspaper article dubbing him insane. To redeem his name, Vanderman decides to team up with Lemon (who is now wearing an eyepatch over his right eye) in an effort to get a photograph of Penelope. The two of them track down Max Campion (James McAvoy), a young blue blood disowned by his family because of his gambling problem and in desperate need of money. Lemon and Vanderman pay Max to pose as a new suitor for Penelope, hiding a camera in his jacket so that he can steal a picture of her. After talking to Penelope through a one-way mirror, Max is unexpectedly caught off guard by her sweetness and charm, and Penelope also trusts him enough to show him her face. Though Max is not frightened of Penelope, he accidentally triggers the camera in his jacket, which causes him to retreat.Christina Ricci in Penelope (2006)A heartbroken Penelope believes that Max too finds her monstrous and instead begs him to marry her simply for her status and in order to break the curse, even promising to kill herself if the marriage doesn’t break the curse. Max, though obviously torn, insists that he cannot marry Penelope. He then calls off his agreement with Lemon and Vanderman and destroys the camera, realizing that their attempt to exploit Penelope is wrong.1_L-XwBXUvSEsTGI2ihATNPAMeanwhile, Penelope, inspired by Max’s conversations about the outside world, decides to flee the protection of her parents’ home, and journeys out into the city, naive and ignorant about normal life. She uses a scarf to cover her face. While at a bar, Penelope ends up befriending a delivery girl named Annie (Reese Witherspoon) who becomes her “real world” mentor and best friend. Having no money and seeing that Lemon and Vanderman are offering a reward for a photograph of her, she decides to collect on the reward by producing a photo of herself while remaining anonymous in public with her scarf. Penelope’s courage in going out to the world then acts as an inspiration for Max, who quits gambling and starts work in an old theatre. When her parents see Penelope while trying to find her and take her back home, she runs from them and then passes out in a bar with Annie, causing Penelope’s scarf to be removed. To her surprise, Penelope becomes an overnight celebrity, flocked by adoring fans who are not disgusted by her face.pen_31Meanwhile, Vanderman’s father Edward Vandermann II (Nigel Havers), seeing the public’s fondness for Penelope and embarrassed by his son’s vocal cruelty toward her, coerces Edward into proposing to the girl. Lemon eventually discovers that the man he and Vanderman recruited to photograph Penelope is not Max Campion, but actually another man named Johnny Martin who took the job for money while the real Campion (Nick Frost) is in jail. On Penelope’s wedding day, he provides the information to Jessica and Wanda. Though Wanda wants to tell Penelope the truth, Jessica forces her to keep it a secret, believing that Edward is Penelope’s only chance to break the curse. Penelope nearly marries him, but backs out of the wedding at the last minute when she realizes that she does not want to marry simply to break the curse. Though Penelope’s mother urges her to marry Vanderman and at last lead a ‘normal life’, an exasperated Penelope says that she likes herself the way she is. This breaks the curse, as Penelope has at last been loved by ‘one of her own kind’ – herself – and her pig snout and ears disappear.MV5BZjZlMzRlOGQtMzViMS00NDk4LWFmOWUtZDRiZWZjYWE3Y2ZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTYxNzc0NjU@._V1_As the months pass, Penelope moves on with her life, becoming a horticulturist and teacher, and the spectacle of her former appearance is gradually forgotten by the public even when the news of a gorilla boy being found in a laundry hamper eclipses it. After he quits his job after 25 years, Jake is revealed to be the witch who had cursed the family long ago and renders Jessica unable to speak with magic. After realizing that Jessica can no longer speak, Wanda breaks down and tells Penelope about Johnny Martin. That Halloween, Penelope finds several of her students dressing up as her old pig self, and dons a “Penelope” mask as she goes to reunite with Johnny, who she discovers lives nearby. Johnny, not knowing that the curse has been broken, kisses Penelope and apologizes to her, saying that he does not have the power to break the curse. Penelope then reveals that she had the power to lift the curse all along, and the two share a passionate kiss, beginning a romantic relationship.penelopeIn the final scenes, Penelope concludes telling her story to a group of children in a park-like area. When Penelope asks her class what the moral of the story is, they give out answers like “rich people stink” and “it’s always the mother’s fault”, until one bright boy replies, “it’s not the power of the curse, it’s the power you give the curse”, Penelope acknowledges the answer. After the children are dismissed, Johnny and Penelope walk up the hill to a swing, where he is seen happily pushing her. Meanwhile, on a nearby lake, Lemon rows up in a small rowboat and is about to take a picture revealing to the world what has happened to Penelope. Observing their happiness, Lemon decides to leave them alone as he rows away.

l_2ecb2b84-4a72-41b0-9c2e-83a750ad9684All-in-all, this movie is as good, and as endearing, as ‘Edward Scissorhands’ was over generation ago. A definite must-see!

REVIEW: BEETLEJUICE

CAST

Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Alec Baldwin (Mission Impossible 5)
Geena Davis (The Fly)
Winona Ryder (Star Trek)
Glenn Shadix (Hercules: TLJ)
Annie McEnroe (Wall Street)
Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone)
Jeffrey Jones (Sleepy Hollow)
Robert Goulet (Two Guys & A Girl)
Tony Cox (Bad Santa)
Jack Angel (A.I.)

Fun Halloween movies more often than not fall flat on their faces; I’d say that Beetlejuice is the best in years. The straightforward script by Michael McDowell (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Warren Skaaren (Batman ’89) posits Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin & Geena Davis) as the cute owners of a hilltop house in New England, who run afoul of “life-continuance issues.” As ghosts in the next world, they fail to absorb the wisdom in a thoughtfully provided Guidebook for the Dead, and are horrified when a New York family moves in and begins remodeling their happy home.
Charles (Jeffrey Jones) is a financial adviser taking a break from the strain. His wife Delia (Catherine O’Hara), an artist hungry for recognition, insists on turning the house into an avant-garde eyesore. Daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) dresses in widow’s black and luxuriates in morbid thoughts. The Maitlands make contact with Lydia, who is delighted until her parents attempt to co-opt the ghostly tenants as a moneymaking status symbol (this is the 1980s, after all). But Adam and Barbara have troubles too. Frustrated by the red tape they find in the afterlife — pictured as a welfare office manned by the acerbic Juno (Sylvia Sydney) — the Maitlands are so keen to evict the new owners that they summon the services of the demon Betelgeuse, aka Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), an obscene, unkempt imp who bills himself as a “bio-exorcist” — a Ghostbuster in reverse.
Filmmaker Tim Burton may work within a limited range of themes, but in his personal playroom there’s nobody better. Beetlejuice is crammed with visual invention and whimsical allusions. The Maitlands’ moment of crisis on a New England-style covered bridge is a lampoon of a Norman Rockwell “human interest” painting, complete with a “cute” dog. Delia is obsessed with annoyingly aggressive modern artworks. When possessed by spirits, one of her sculptures crawls like the brain-things in Fiend Without a Face and another engulfs Delia like an Iron Maiden (one of umpteen recurring motifs in Burton films). Charles’ attempt to relax through bird watching results in an hilariously black comedy throwaway gag worthy of Charles Addams.
The pushy small town real estate agent (Annie McEnroe) balances the script’s New York snobs, played by Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett. In his best film appearance, Cavett dismisses poor Delia as a consummate flake. Burton uses the gathering to pull off an uproarious musical number, using Harry Belafonte music to great effect. Glenn Shadix’s conniving art hustler Otho is forced to dance along to the calypso beat. As the ultimate humiliation, Beetlejuice throws Otho into a brightly colored leisure suit. Otho’s reaction proves that horror is where one finds it.
 The over-the-top Michael Keaton figures in only about of the third of the show, which is perfect judgment. Beetlejuice rattles on like Robin Williams, eats bugs and tries out the raunchier jokes. Running his bio-exorcism racket like a used car lot, Beetlejuice hangs out at the brothel in Adam’s miniature model of the town; to scare the humans he turns into a manic phantasmagoria of illusions. The character was such a success, it was incorporated into a theme show for the Universal Tour.
Winona Ryder is the first live-action representative of Burton’s ideal introvert’s girlfriend, initially represented as a portrait of the “Lost Lenore” in his animated short Vincent. Since then Burton’s dream girls, from the Corpse Bride to Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd have all had tiny chins and soulful eyes … hmm … Burton’s ego-surrogate Johnny Depp follows the same pattern. Like Natalie Portman in Mars Attacks!, Lydia suffers in the shadow of overbearing parents but blooms when confronted by real adventure — in this case her friendship with the dead. Even in the afterlife, the Maitlands continue to be caring individuals. This makes Beetlejuice less of a horror spoof than a charming addition to the ranks of Films Blanc.
Tim Burton’s arts ‘n’ crafts visual sense invests Beetlejuice with several arresting stylized environments. The yuppie heaven of the Maitland home gives way to Delia’s Manhattan tastes. The attic has Alec’s hobby world, the miniature map of the town. A hole in a brick wall leads to the expressionist bureaucracy of Juno’s welfare office, where an ordinary janitor mops the floors of Caligari-like corridors. Beetlejuice can slip between dimensions as long as he’s given a verbal passport, like Rumplestiltskin. Seen first in cheesy advertisements, Beetlejuice can inhabit Alec’s miniature as well as perform fantastic transformations. He appears as a gaudy carousel and as a giant demon-snake (courtesy of stop-motion animator Ted Rae). Turning the comedy to a darker tone, Beetlejuice resurrects Alec and Barbara as Dia de los muertos wedding ghouls. He summons a toad-like preacher from hell for his marriage to the dazed Lydia — who finds herself outfitted in a scarlet wedding dress. All of this great fun is at the expense of Fritz Lang, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, with free public service messages thrown in about smoking and Ecuadorian headshrinkers. In the spirit of playfulness, Burton leaves us with a literally uplifting calypso coda. Lydia spoke idly of suicide, but her happy times with the dead