Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Frank Review of "Little Children" and "Venus"

I caught "Little Children," a film that turned out very different from what I was expecting, a ways back as part of a double screening at a local art house theater. The first quarter of the 2 1/4 hour film relies heavily on omniscient and quite amusing third person narration, as it brings to our attention the lives of a pair of married people who seem like they'd be much happier together than with their respective spouses. Kate Winslet's husband is demonized and dismissed by the 45 minute mark, never to be seen again. Jennifer Connolly delivers one of her liveliest performances in recent memory, sadly in the form of a one-dimensional overbearing wife. I don't see why Winslet rated an Oscar nomination, even though she's a delight and has a better handle on her American accent than was evidenced in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Perhaps she was being awarded the "goes without obvious make-up and hair styling while playing frumpy compared to Jennifer Connolly" Oscar? Never mind that we get to see her naked repeatedly and in fabulous form, to such a degree that I could see kicking J.C. out of bed for her. Well, I would anyway, but I'm trying to be general here. Anyway, sometime into the second hour, the narration all but disappears, as does the humor, and the dramedy that follows isn't nearly as fun. After the two hour mark, we go headfirst into melodrama, and I guarantee you'll be wiggling in your seat. Worse, most of that time could have been saved and more goodwill engendered if the pedophile subplot that weighs down the picture had been excised completely. For the most part, it only serves as a means to not make a cheat of an ending feel like it came out of left field. I enjoyed this movie, despite my criticisms, but I warn that it was fatty and tonally inconsistent.

I stepped into the lobby, grabbed a few free magazines, and stepped back into a theater to view "Venus." After the enjoyable but overlong film that preceded it, I began regretting this double bill almost immediately. Like "Children," a story point involves an older man lusting after a younger woman. The problem is, Peter O'Toole is supposed to make his lechery endearing, and fails miserably. As a man barely in his thirties, I see the teenage grandniece of O'Toole's best friend as a child at best, bimbo at worse. At nearly three times my age, O'Toole sees a last fling, and just comes off as terrifically pathetic for the full 93 minute running time, as he barters for the girl's attentions as though she were a prostitute. This is another one of those "aged actor plays a thinly disguised version of himself in his probable last major film role" numbers, and serves mostly as a cautionary tale. This beautiful man, once Laurence of Arabia, is now a grotesque, blotto caricature of the once dashing matinee idol. His last ride is dull, charmless, repetitive, and makes the viewer feel unclean by association. Not recommended, unless you want to make yourself feel pretty, young and vital by comparison to O'Toole's ravaged form.

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