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Column
'Children of Men,' 'Arthur and the Invisibles' and 'Mary Poppins'
by Scott Holleran
Clive Own in Children of Men
January 13, 2007

Burbank, California—Director Alfonso Cuaron's visually distinctive Children of Men, adapted from the P.D. James novel, putters along at a nice clip. Clive Owen plays an everyman who can save the world with Julianne Moore as a rebel leader, and they both strive to survive in fascist Britain.

The slice of bleak, dystopian life, which concerns an infertility epidemic under totalitarianism, includes references to homeland security and a widespread backlash against immigrants. These are ultimately superficial issues in the moody movie, which holds but loses interest since it doesn't really have much of a point. In the broadest sense, the revolutionaries—most of whom are steeped in eastern mysticism—seem to favor life, but beyond that, Children of Men is devoid of deeper meaning.

What caused the rise of fascism? What caused the epidemic? What caused regeneration? Once the plot takes shape, it's more or less about birthing a baby, and the vacuous Children of Men is like an episode of something slightly absurd on the Sci-Fi Channel. Credit goes to Cuaron for smooth transitions and neat camera work.

The live action/computer generated hybrid Arthur and the Invisibles is also not without merit, though it kept reminding me of Star Wars with Freddie Highmore's young protagonist—considerably younger than Luke Skywalker—pining away for an older woman (Madonna sounding and behaving like Madonna) and locking sabers with a David Bowie-voiced creature that looked like one of those Star Wars viceroys.

A few of the modern jokes are funny and it is nice to see Mia Farrow, who appears as Arthur's grandmother, on screen again. But director Luc Besson's frantic pace and the save-the-farm plot, which depicts a businessman as a buffoon, neutralize the advantages, rendering Arthur and the Invisibles neither sufficiently wholesome nor offensive. The fantasy aspect, framed by a formulaic plot, sort of sits there without much to do. David Bowie has a good time as the villain.

Better children's fare appears over on Hollywood Boulevard, where Mary Poppins is scheduled for an exclusive sing-along engagement on the big screen at Disney's El Capitan Theatre now through Jan. 31. The 1964 live action/animated musical also takes an anti-capitalist tone, portraying the children's father (David Tomlinson) as a stereotypically cold-hearted banker while the mother (Glynis Johns) has to abandon her noble cause, but gay music and brightly colored animated sequences—a fox hunt, merry-go-round and tea-serving penguins—serve the movie's sense of laughter and lightness.

Thursday night's premiere included a performance by Mary Poppins' songwriter Richard Sherman, who played bits from his and brother Robert's extensive collection of music for Winnie the Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book. Mr. Sherman talked about playing "Feed the Birds" for Walt Disney, who appeared in an old television clip joking with a band of Mexican singers doing "Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious" in Spanish.

On Feb. 1, the El Capitan will make way for a two-week run of Walt Disney's 1953 animated classic Peter Pan.

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RELATED LINKS
Scott Holleran's Past Columns
El Capitan Official Web Site

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