Talking Movies

October 25, 2019

From the Archives: Nancy Drew

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Teenage amateur sleuth Nancy Drew (Emma Roberts) moves to California with her lawyer father Carson (Tate Donovan). She tries to fit in at school but quickly becomes entangled in an old mystery surrounding their rented LA house which was owned by a murdered starlet whose manager is Carson’s new boss.

Nancy Drew is a very old character. She was created in 1930 which makes her eight years older than Superman. And just like Superman she’s an impeccably polite do-gooder who’s considered difficult to pull off in a big budget live action movie in the present climate. By present climate we mean that while Superman has been made to appear sort of lame by recent interpretations of Batman, Nancy has to contend with TV’s tough teenage PI Veronica Mars. Batman is dark, brooding, dangerous and prone to violence. Superman never lies and acts like an overgrown boy scout. Nancy Drew also doesn’t lie, is as nice as pie, and has a very curious non-relationship with her absent boyfriend Ned who is introduced by her as “a really good friend from home” when he pops up here. Veronica Mars played her own father to pull off a spectacular con against the FBI, has a tempestuous on/off relationship with a confirmed bad boy, is vindictive as hell to people who cross her and never stops spewing one-liners and sarcastically narrating her life. See the problem here?

How do you depict Nancy after Veronica? IGNORE VERONICA! Director and co-writer Andrew Fleming has chosen to go for something termed ‘retro-modern’. Don’t even try to fathom what that means, I spent half an hour at it during the film and I think I broke something in my mind-box. Nancy and Carson dress and act like they’re in the 1950s while everyone around them is defiantly 00s. At times the school in LA Nancy moves to feels like it’s the one from Bratz. You suspect that Fleming is doing an awful reprise of The Brady Bunch Movie, setting Nancy up for humiliation after humiliation. Thankfully after a while this temporal confusion ceases to matter. The mystery surrounding the previous owner of the house, a tragic starlet, is actually pretty damn involving and Nancy is smart, dogged, and resourceful in solving it. There are also some very good jokes including two cameos when Nancy wanders onto a film set that are too good to ruin here.

It’s always a joy to see Rocky Horror star Barry Bostwick in anything while Tate Donovan is an effective if underused Carson Drew. Emma Roberts carries this film scarily well for a 16 year old but then her aunt is Julia Roberts. The last half-hour is very gripping, with menacing villains and very showy direction from Fleming, which raises the suspense brilliantly. Perfect fare for the Big Big Movie crowd but if you’re a teenager you should probably be watching Veronica Mars and Batman Begins.

3/5

August 25, 2019

From the Archives: The Bratz Movie

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up a deservedly forgotten shameless live-action cash-in distinguished mostly by a nose.

‘Best Friends Forever’ Yasmin, Cloe, Jade and Sasha drift apart as soon as they start high school. A session in detention, however, sees them decide to rebuild their lost friendship by destroying the suffocating clique system imposed by student body president Meredith.

This film does not start well. The spectacle of 18 year old girls playing characters just starting High School and acting far more immature than that is a horrendous sight. Thankfully things pick up after those ghastly introductory scenes as soon as we arrive at Carry Nation High School. The school is, joyously for those who like their visual humour, run like a prison by Principal Dimly (Jon Voight). Voight is having fun wearing a false nose yet again, which is referenced in a wonderfully silly in-joke. Dimly’s daughter Meredith (Chelsea Staub) assigns all freshmen their clique, complete with seating chart… All this owes a lot to Mean Girls but Bratz doesn’t aim that high. Indeed you can’t help but suspect that the screenplay by Lizzie McGuire writer/producer Susan Estelle Jansen tones down substantially the story scripted by Adam De La Pena and David Eilenberg. Their resumes are chock full of Ali G and animated shows for grown-ups, not fare calculated to sell toys to tweenies, even if it would help parents to retain consciousness.

For those unfamiliar with Bratz there’s great comfort in how much The OC informs the dialogue. Indeed Jade (Janel Parrish) seems to be a very thinly disguised Asian version of Summer Roberts. Hardly surprising really, as Parrish appeared in The OC. The cast is chock full of Nickelodeon regulars while Skyler Shaye who plays Cloe was in Veronica Mars, from which one of the best lines of this film is stolen. There’s also hints of The OC’s Taylor Townsend about Meredith, though the writers choose to go more with Rachel McAdams’ Mean Girls queen bee persona. Such steals are actually of great service in making this film better than one would have expected. Director Sean McNamara at least partially justifies this film appearing in cinemas and not television with some big set-pieces. A beautifully choreographed food-fight sequence takes place to the strains of the Blue Danube. This film though is far too long. It is two excellent musical numbers, performed by Broadway star Chelsea Staub, that really sustain its flagging final forty minutes.

For those tired of the Barbie image of perfection, which has led to such idiocy as shoehorning Jessica Alba into an Aryan model of beauty in the Fantastic Four movies, the Bratz dolls have done the world some service in pushing beauty ideals of mixed ethnicity. Parents though should note that breaking apart a clique system seems to involve a suspiciously large amount of expensive shopping led by the fashionista Jade. Oddly enough the Bratz cartoon series in which the BFF’s are crusading student journalists is probably more empowering and definitely more succinct than the live action version.

3/5

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