Inkheart

Rating:

WRITE OFF

Main Cast: Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany

Director: Iain Softley

Everybody here at Star is Born productions is absolutely on fire with the idea of bringing Dames at Sea to Broadway as a starring vehicle for yours truly in my continued efforts to bring nothing but the highest quality in stage and screen entertainment to the great American public.  Of course, we’re going to have to adjust the title slightly to Dame at Sea as there can only be one dame in a Vicki Lester show.  Vera Charles, who has agreed to play a small supporting part, will have to be satisfied to be billed lower down, just below baritone Corey as Bruce the Shark.  I suppose we can put a box around her name or an asterisk or something but she’s likely to be too sozzled to notice.  Time is of the essence if we’re going to get my show up before that other Broadway bound version opens and we’re having difficulty getting a vacant theater despite multiple calls to the Shuberts and the Nederlanders.  Normy has come to the rescue, having found an old parking garage on 48th at 8th Avenue that we can have quite reasonably.  All we need to do is move in some folding chairs and bring in the sound and light systems.  It’s going to provide quite the opportunities for some unusual environmental staging, especially as a number of the pillars in the middle of the stage area are structural and cannot be moved.

School Buses by John Lloyd

Look out Broadway, Vicki Lester is on the road!

Of course we still need to get my whole production team relocated from here at Chateau Maine to Manhattan.  How I long for the old days when we would leap on the Super Chief or the Twentieth Century for a truly elegant cross country trip but alas, those days are just a dim memory, even to those of us who remain eternally thirty nine for professional reasons.  A quick trip through the yellow pages did bring me to a fleet of surplus Pacoima Unified School District buses that I was able to get for a reasonable price and they will be here in the morning to load us all up for the trip east.  Wardrobe is going to need at least three buses alone as my seamstresses not only have to create a whole series of dazzling outfits for me to wear on stage, they also have to finish up all those lawn flamingo outfits for my iDollaTree boutiques.

I took a look at the script last night and it will never do. Ruby, my character, simply does not have enough stage time or a dream ballet in the second act so I have made an emergency call to Mr. Abrams, my favorite wordsmith, to do a quick rewrite to make it into a star vehicle and add a full chorus of three dozen or so.  He’s promised to have me pages tomorrow.  This made me happy and I mixed up a large Manhattan in celebration (although we were out of vermouth and I had to substitute limoncello).  I then headed off to the home theater where I flipped through my ‘to view’ pile and ran across a film celebrating the power of words and storytelling, 2008’s Inkheart starring Brendan Fraser.   I had first run across Brendan as a gawky teen when he worked in the box office at the Intiman Theater in Seattle.  I was there for a few weeks some decades ago playing the title role in an all tap version of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.  We’ve always kept in touch and I have given him innumerable pointers in how to maintain a star presence in Hollywood over the decades.

Inkheart is based on a novel of the same name by the German writer Cornelia Funke (no relation to Tobias) from 2003 and comes out of the same modern Mitteleuropean juvenile fiction tradition that produced The Never Ending Story a generation earlier.  It’s a bit darker than American and British juvenile fantasy and isn’t afraid of tackling themes of which Disney would not approve. It’s the story of young Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) who is the daughter of Mortimer (Brendan Fraser).  Mortimer, or Mo as he is known, is a Silvertongue.  What is a Silvertongue you may ask?  It is a human with the rare ability to make the world of a book come alive as he or she reads aloud, freeing the characters from the confines of their pages.  There also is a converse of sucking those of our world and trapping them in the fictional setting of a novel.  It turns out that Mo has been searching for a copy of the novel Inkheart in antiquarian bookshops throughout Europe.  Meggie, frightened as characters from that medieval adventure start to come to life around her starting with the rogue Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), presses her father for answers and recognizes that this is all tied up with the mysterious disappearance of her mother Resa (Sienna Guillory) who has been missing without explanation since the prologue.  Soon she and her father are on the run and team up with a previously unknown bibliophile of a great aunt (Helen Mirren effortlessly stealing every scene she’s in) and the author of the original Inkheart novel (Jim Broadbent).  Our plucky heroes face various perils, literary and otherwise, some very familiar to generations of readers and film goers.  All eventually comes right, or does it?  There are two more novels but I doubt the film will spawn a sequel.

The film fails due to the very nature of the film medium.  The book is about how imagination turns words, those little black bugs on the white of the page, into fantastical worlds.  The visual literalism of film does not allow this to happen, no matter how fantastical the imagery or brilliant the colors.  This clash between medium and theme keeps the project firmly earthbound when it should soar.  Perhaps it would work better as a stage piece when the visuals would need to be metaphorical rather than realistic in nature.

There is talent in the performances.  Brendan Fraser is a relaxed and confident everyman hero.  (Fun fact:  author Cornelia Funke actually based the character of Mo on his screen persona when she was writing the original novel.  Apparently she never sat through The Passion of Darkly Noon.)  He carries the film, even in the more ridiculous scenes.  The supporting cast is also strong and plays their parts with great gusto.  Helen Mirren gives a performance so good and so right for the material that she nearly makes you forget the film’s weaknesses when she appears on screen.  Her introductory scene in a storybook mansion on the banks of Lake Como is a master class in comic timing.  Paul Bettany and Andy Serkis, in a rare non-motion capture role.

The film has a handsome look due to the art direction by Rod McLean and Stuart Rose and the cinematography of Roger Pratt.  There are wonderful touches of whimsy in the corners of the frame when you look for them and there are a mix of visual effects from the stunning to the silly.  It’s definitely worth a look if it comes your way and it will appeal to children who love the fantastical, but it does not rise to the quality that would allow it to enter the pantheon of children’s classics.

Floating red riding hood.  Confused Rapunzel.  Shackled scullions.  Gratuitous fire eating.  Out of print books.  Multiple Wizard of Oz references.  Evil shadow.   New Silvertongues revealed.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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