Eileen Essell - News Poster


Academy Awards Film Series: 'Neverland' Found, Genuine Drama Lost

'Finding Neverland' movie: Johnny Depp as James M. Barrie, with the Llewelyn Davies family: Kate Winslet, Freddie Highmore, Joe Prospero, Nick Roud and Luke Spill. 'Finding Neverland' movie review: Losing reality Back in 2001, German-born director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, World War Z) brought a much welcome non-Hollywood touch to the independently made psychological drama Monster's Ball. Besides the daring (if way overlong) sex scenes, that film imparted a refreshingly realistic atmosphere that was much enhanced by Forster's minimalist approach. As the title implies, his follow-up effort, Finding Neverland (2004), has absolutely nothing to do with reality, whether Peter Pan author James M. Barrie's or anyone else's. Even so, Forster's early, no-nonsense directorial touch is sorely missing from what is little more than your usual big-studio holiday movie whose “magical moments” might as well have been created by a computer. 'Finding Neverland' plot: James M. Barrie
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Curious to know what movies and TV shows are coming to Netflix Watch Instantly over the next few weeks? Get a head start and mark your calendars using the list below, just released to us by Netflix.   Film Avail 1/1 Duplex (2003) Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, Eileen Essel, Harvey Fierstein, Justin Theroux, Maya Rudolph New York City couple Alex and Nancy dream of the departure of their upstairs neighbor, who'shogging a rent-controlled apartment they'd dearly love to have. If she doesn't move out, they may have to take matters into their own hands. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman Charming sociopath Tom Ripley maneuvers into the lush life of Dickie, a young...

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Friday, Sept. 26

NEW YORK -- The darkly comic situations of "Duplex" remind of Danny DeVito's first two movies as director, except that this time, they're coated with scatological humor. Chances are that the resulting puke and gunge gags, coupled with a romantic pairing of Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore, will connect with teens and twentysomethings at the boxoffice. But more demanding viewers hoping for the cruel wit of DeVito's "Throw Momma From the Train" or "The War of the Roses" will likely be disappointed by its lack of comic bite.

Predictable situations mean that "Duplex" fails to scale any comic heights, though belly laughs will be had by those with an appetite for crass physical humor -- gags about excrement, sick and the like. The film's emotional core also is problematic. It demands that viewers empathize with a young couple who, however appealingly portrayed, are still yuppie upstarts trying to murder an old lady for no greater sin than being a nuisance.

The story, scripted by coproducer Larry Doyle, begins with Alex (Stiller) and Nancy (Barrymore) deciding they need more living space. So they move out of their Manhattan apartment and buy a duplex in Brooklyn. It's a great-looking pad, which comes with only one small problem -- the top floor's a rent-controlled apartment occupied by ninetysomething tenant Mrs. Connelly (86-year-old Brit Eileen Essel).

Alex and Nancy don't anticipate problems with Connelly and joke that she'll probably pass away soon, anyway. But from Night 1, they're kept awake by "Hawaii Five-O" reruns blaring from the old lady's TV. Daytimes aren't much better because Connelly pesters the pair to run errands and do repairs. What's more, she seems very healthy.

Complaints lead to trouble with New York cop Dan (Robert Wisdom from "Storytelling"), Connelly's self-styled guardian angel. So Alex and Nancy decide to rid themselves of the elderly pest by hiring a hit man. They fail. Despondent, they sell up.

The story resembles DeVito's earlier works as director, though he only became involved after Doyle's script was finished. There are clear similarities to "Throw Momma", DeVito's 1987 directorial debut, and his 1989 "Roses". The former tells of a talentless writer trying murder his odious mother. The latter's a bitter story of a husband and wife who duel over possession of their dream house.

Early scenes in which the couple find their house actually play like a rerun of "Roses". But Stiller and Barrymore lack the vengeful barbarity of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in that film. "Duplex" demands that the couple remain very nice people while they're trying to do a very nasty thing, and the director's desire to keep them likable become the film's fatal flaw. Couples who try to kill old ladies aren't good people, yet DeVito works overtime trying to convince us that they are. Some of the comic nastiness of "Roses" or "Train" would have given Alex and Nancy more credibility.

Stiller performs with his usual panache, reprising his accident-prone character from "Meet the Parents". He acts with every bone in his body and manages to make the gags funnier than they really should be. Barrymore hasn't quite got the comic chops to keep up. Essel is fine as the old lady, playing innocence with an undercurrent of grumpiness.

Tech credits are all very good indeed. Camerawork by Anastas Michos ("Death to Smoochy") is stylish. Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch's production design makes the duplex look both desirable and worn-in, and editing (by Lynzee Klingman and Greg Hayden) ensures the film moves at a snappy pace.


Miramax Films

A Red Hour Films/Flower Films production


Director: Danny DeVito

Screenwriter: Larry Doyle

Producers: Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfield, Jeremy Kramer, Nancy Juvonen, Drew Barrymore

Executive producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Meryl Poster, Jennifer Wachtell, Richard N. Gladstein, Alan C. Blomquist

Co-producer: Larry Doyle

Director of photography: Anastas Michos

Production designers: Robin Standefer, Stephen Alesch: Music: David Newman

Costume designer: Joseph G. Aulisi

Editors: Lynzee Klingman, Greg Hayden

Supervising sound editor: Bobby Mackston


Alex Rose: Ben Stiller

Nancy Kendricks: Drew Barrymore

Mrs. Connelly: Eileen Essel

Kenneth: Harvey Fierstein

Coop: Justin Theroux

Chick: James Remar

Officer Dan: Robert Wisdom

Running time -- 89 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13

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