This week's new releases from Cristina Ricci in Penelope to City of Ember
4/7 Dir Mark Palansky US (TBC) A prosthetically-altered Christina Ricci stars in this wilfully quirky fairytale set in a present-day city resembling both New York and London. If you thought Cyrano de Bergerac had it bad, meet Ricci’s Penelope. she’s got a veritable pig’s snout for a nose.
Said snout is the result of a family curse that can only be broken when Penelope is accepted by ‘one of her own’. Fearing ridicule, Penelope’s rich parents hide her away and audition aristocratic suitors, all of whom do a runner when they see the prize.
Desperate for a picture of the famed beast, reporter Lemon (Peter Dinklage) sends in gambler Max (James McAvoy), who’s armed with a secret camera. Max falls for Penelope at the sound of her voice (she’s hidden behind a two-way mirror), but his deception drives Penelope to run away from home.
Ricci and McAvoy work well together, his worldly charm nicely offsetting her cutesy naivety.
There’s solid comedy casting with Catherine O’Hara as Penelope’s paranoid mother, and a likeable turn from producer Reese Witherspoon as biker chick Annie.
A few novelty cameos feel cheap – most notably Russell Brand and Lenny Henry – although Nick Frost and Ronni Ancona are decent enough support. Too many characters compete for attention, however, and the plot is as cluttered as the casting, cramming in messages about celebrity culture, image obsession, self-worth, family ride and racism.
The story’s too busy, and the tone too light for many of these ideas to resonate, making Penelope an often enjoyable but largely forgettable watch. Anna Smith Dhs85 from Virgin Megastore
City Of Ember
5/7 Dir Gil Kenan US (TBC) Gil Kenan’s scary animated movie Monster House acknowledged its young audience’s ability to engage with a surprisingly grown-up story. This dystopian sci-fi adventure also refuses to talk down to the ‘family’ audience. Its fluid visual storytelling draws us into Ember’s subterranean world, where 12-year-old Lina (Saoirse Ronan) and her friend Doon (Harry Treadaway) scrabble to survive. The orphaned Lina also has to care for her doolally grandmother (Liz Smith) and her cute baby sister Poppy.
Presiding over this makeshift community is Mayor Cole (Bill Murray), who is too busy slurping tinned fish to bother with the city’s imminent demise. But messenger Lina and pipe-fixer Doon know that the lights are about to dim forever. In a race against time, they pit themselves against the smug Mayor, his smarmy flunky Barton Snode (Toby Jones) and his rat-like henchman Looper (Mackenzie Crook). Other obstacles include Doon’s fatalistic inventor father (Tim Robbins) and, when they venture into the forbidden hinterlands, a fearsome giant mole.
There are mysteries to be solved, but Lina and Doon have no idea what lies beyond Ember. Its myopic citizens have long since forgotten the teachings of their founding fathers, who created this city as a refuge from some surface-level calamity.
So as the exciting, theme-park-ride finale flings the children towards an unknown future, their excitement is tinged with fear. Adapted from Jeanne Duprau’s novel by Edward Scissorhands writer Caroline Thompson, this seriously entertaining film celebrates the idea that, despite their elders’ complacency, the young will find the strength to imagine a better future for themselves. Nigel Floyd Dhs85 from Virgin Megastore