“Pan,” the origin story of Peter Pan from the fertile imagination of director Joe Wright, is an action-adventure movie featuring “Harry Potter” level darkness tempered with humour, slapstick and Wright’s incredible visuals.
“Sometimes to know how things end,” says the opening narration, “we have to learn how they begin.” That means taking us back to London, circa World War II when Peter (Levi Miller) was a baby, abandoned by his mother at an orphanage. Turns out the high-spirited boy was born of a fairy prince and a human girl, and when he is kidnapped by the evil pirate Blackbeard (an almost unrecognizable Hugh Jackman)—“ He’s the pirate all other pirates fear,” they say. “The original nightmare!”—he soon learns his fate is to go to Neverland—a colourful kingdom that looks like it would have pretty good tiki bars—and lead an uprising against the tyrannical pirate. With the help of Indiana Jones wannabe James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) Peter learns of his mother (Amanda Seyfried), his powers and his place in this magical world as the leader of the lost boys.
“Pan” is a high-tech, old-fashioned adventure that doesn’t handle kids with kid gloves. From the evil looking clowns that snatch orphans from their beds to Peter’s longing for his absent mother, the movie is unafraid to mine the nightmares and emotions that keep children up at night. It’s all in service of the story, however, and never feels gratuitous. Instead Wright fills the screen with wonder and imagination, from giant floating oceans and a chicken who lays an egg mid air to Smee’s rows of tiny teeth to the skeletal Neverbirds, all dreamlike images that should fire imaginations rather than inspire bad dreams.
Wright sneaks in a few treats for the ears as well. The Ramones’s “Blitzkrieg Bob” makes a remarkably effective pirate chant—“Hey ho, Let’s go!”—and “Smells Like Teen Spirit’s” refrain, “Here we are now, Entertain us,” becomes a catchy work song for pixie dust miners.
In every scene is newcomer Miller. As Peter he puts you in the mind of Daniel Radcliffe, a self-possessed performer who does a good job at battling the special effects and Jackman’s scene chewing. Jackman hands in a highly theatrical, but very amusing performance as the dandy but dangerous pirate.
The casting of Mara as the indigenous tribal princess Tiger Lily has been a lightening rod for controversy. She handles herself well, but it would have been nice to see an actor of Native American background take on the role.
Near the end of the movie Neverland is described as, “a dream from which you never wake up,” but by the time “Pan” gets to the climax, shot in a pixie dust vault that resembles Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, the film becomes less dreamlike. A noisy conclusion to the story allows the special effects to take over and “Pan” becomes a little less magical and a bit more mundane.
The mid-seventies were a confusing time to be a music-obsessed kid looking to latch onto pop culture in Nova Scotia.
Old hippies weren’t my people—they were everywhere, sporting peace and love hangovers, tie dyed t-shirts and dazed looks. With them came bad hygiene and battered copies of Aoxomoxoa. The free love stuff sounded pretty good to me, but I never liked Birkenstocks and stoner rock wasn’t my thing, (although Silver Machine by Hawkwind was usually worth a fist pump.)
In syncopated lockstep with the 60s leftovers were the disco Dan’s and Dani’s, polyester-outfitted goodtime seekers looking to boogaloo to the top of Disco Mountain. I did the Bump at school dances, I suppose, and played the hell out of my Jive Talkin’ 45, but I was six three at age twelve so wearing platforms were out of the question. Even if I could have worn them the hedonistic woop-woop of disco felt alien to me, like it was emanating from a different planet where everyone had glittery skin and mirror balls for eyes.
Singer songwriters wrote about things that didn’t touch me. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover? I didn’t have a lover to leave once, let alone another 49 ways. Also, lover? Who did Paul Simon think I was? Marcello Mastroianni?
Country rock was OK, although at nine plus minutes Freebird overstayed its welcome by about six minutes. Country music was for hillbillies (it wasn’t until much later I discovered the joys of Waylon and Willie and the boys), soft rock was for girls and I’m pretty sure only dogs could fully appreciate Leo Sayers’ high-pitched wailing. I liked KISS although their “rock and roll all night, party everyday” ethos seemed unrealistic, even to a teenager.
My parents listened to the smooth sounds of Frank Sinatra which frequently clashed with the hard rock racket emanating from my brother’s room.
I was left somewhere in the middle.
Of course I had records. A stack of them.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was usually near the top. It was a touchstone then as it is now because of its exceptional songwriting, cool cover and otherworldly sounds. I also had the obligatory copy of Frampton Comes Alive! but I also had pop records, heavy metal albums and some disco. But I hadn’t yet heard the definitive sound. For my brother it was Jimi Hendrix’s string stretching. For my dad it was Bing Crosby‘s croon.
I was fifteen and hadn’t yet passed that most important—to me anyway—rite of passage: finding the combination of notes and attitude my parents wouldn’t understand.
In those days the top ten charts were really diverse and fans were regularly exposed to a baffling array of music. The Billboard charts hadn’t yet fragmented off into genre specific listings and radio wasn’t yet run by robots with limited imaginations. Playlists were all over the place, and if you weren’t quick on the dial you’d awkwardly segue from the slick jazz of George Benson into You’re the One That I Want’s pop confectionary.
There weren’t many stations were I grew up but there was a smörgåsbord of sounds to be heard, but around the time Barry Gibb became the first songwriter in history to write four consecutive #1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart the music on the radio started to have less appeal for me.
On the quest to figure out your identity there are few things more soul destroying for a fifteen-year-old than finding yourself inadvertently humming along to a song on the radio as your dad drives and hums in harmony.
I didn’t want the shared family something-for-everyone experience radio offered. I wanted my own experience so I began to regard the radio I grew up listening to as Musicology 101. With its indiscriminate playlists, it’s ability to embrace all genres I had a solid base to build on, but like many good relationships we outgrew one another.
Songs by Kenny Rogers and the like were everywhere but tunes such as The Gambler sounded hopelessly old fashioned; like a Zane Grey dime store novel put to music. So when the radio, which had been my constant companion, fell away as a source of discovering new music I turned to Hit Parader, Circus, Cream and any other magazine I could to find out what was what.
There I saw pictures of the Comiskey Park Disco Demolition Night that lead to the jettisoning of my Bee Gees singles. I read about Elvis Presley dying on the toilet, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane bursting into flames, killing six while, ironically, promoting the Street Survivors LP.
It felt like the old guard was fading away. Sure Queen (liked them) and Barry Manilow (not so much) and Village People (see Manilow note) were still having hits, and Bruce Springsteen was still being loudly touted as the future of rock and roll (by rock critic turned Bruce’s co-producer Jon Landau who wrote, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”) but I wasn’t ready “to trade in these wings on some wheels.”
At the same time my one-time hero Alice Cooper got sober and made the worst record of his career to date but that stuff was quickly fading as I began to hear about—but not actually hear—some exciting music from London and New York.
The only thing I knew about New York came from TV and a family from Manhattan who rented a cottage every year at one of the three beaches that framed my hometown. They told me that if you left your bike unchained at the corner of Ninth Street and Second Avenue it would disappear almost immediately, as if by magic.
London I knew only from history books, James Bond and Monty Python.
But in the pages of my mags I learned about a new youth movement, a musical incubator spearheaded by bands like The Ramones, The Clash, Wire and Television.
Hilly Kristal became known as the Grand Curator of Punk. As the owner of CBGB, the American birthplace of punk rock, he auditioned hundreds of bands and gave groups like The Ramones, Blondie and The Talking Heads their first big breaks. When he liked a band he’d say his now legendary catchphrase, “There’s something there…”
After watching “CBGB,” the Alan Rickman movie based on his life and club, I was reminded of Gertrude Stein’s famous catchphrase, “There is no there there.”
When we first met Hilly (Rickman) he’s a divorced father with two failed clubs to his credit. When he stumbles across a dive bar on New York City’s Bowery he sees an opportunity. Taking over the lease, he befriends the neighborhood’s junkies, bikers and musicians, even if his original idea of presenting country, blue grass and blues (hence the acronym CBGB) gets passed over in favor of underground music by bands like Television and The Ramones.
The club is a hit, but Kristal is a terrible businessman who never pays his rent or liquor distributors. That job falls to his daughter Lisa (“Twilight’s” Ashley Greene) who pays the bills as an endless parade of musicians with names like Iggy Pop (Taylor Hawkins), Joey Ramone (Joel David Moore), Cheetah Chrome (Rupert Grint) and Debbie Harry (Malin Akerman) create a new youth movement on the club’s rickety stage.
Punk rock was a glorious racket, a stripped-down music designed put a bullet in the head of the Flower Power generation. Loud, fast and snotty, the music was ripe with energy and rebellion.
In other words it was everything that “CBGB” is not.
Director Randall Miller gets period details mostly right—the film’s set features artifacts from the punk rock shrine, including the bar, the pay phone, the poster filled walls and the infamously funky toilets—but entirely misses the spirit of the times and the music.
A movie about punk rock should crackle with energy. Despite a rockin’ soundtrack, “CBGB” feels inert. The story focuses on Kristal but Rickman barely registers. The actor reduces the flamboyant character to a morose monotone; a man at the center of a hurricane but who doesn’t feel the breeze.
The impersonations of the musicians are mostly quite good. The surprising stand-out is Rupert Grint as Dead Boys bassist Cheetah Chrome. It’s as un-Harry Potter a performance as you could imagine and he enthusiastically embraces Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Potter habit of showing his bum as often as possible.
Others acquit themselves in suitable snotty fashion, but the recreations mostly made me wish “CBGB” was a documentary and not a feature film. It has interesting tidbits about the time. For instance when Hilly first meets the Ramones he asks if they have any original songs. They say they only have five tunes, four of which have “I Don’t Wanna” in the title while the fifth is called “I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” It’s a funny story, whether true or not, it hints at the kind of details that may have fleshed out a film that spends far too much time focused on the club and not on the music.
Not that there is a shortage of music, but it feels more “Rock of Ages” than “Raw Power.”
“CBGB” takes an exciting story of an important time and shaves all the rough edges away, leaving behind smoothed over vision of a rough-and-ready time.