Monday, August 4, 2008

Movie of the Month: "Millions" (2005)

(Click on title to link to the trialer; it's got Asian subtitles - Korean? - but the sound is in English. Sorry about the poor video quality, but this is a much better trailer than the one they made for American audiences.)

What would YOU do with a million pounds?

Completely unsubjective opinion: I adore "Millions." I'll admit its origins are unlikely. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce ("Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" - bawdy adult comedy - & "Hilary and Jackie" - sexually dysfunctional adult drama) teams up with director Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting" - nihilistic druggie drama - and "Shallow Grave" - nihilistic crime comedy) to make a family fantasy comedy? Okay, so that might not seem the most natural pairing, but the surreal elements of both creators' previous works blow the top off of this genre's normal sugary fare. This film reminds me much more of "Finding Neverland" and "Willy Wonka" than the recent "Water Horse" (or anything featuring Dakota Fanning). In other words, this is adult-friendly material that will still entertain your kids. (I'd guess Grade 4 or 5 and up: some language.)

"Millions" does share a few things with other films: the charming young Alex Etel as lead (also the lead in "Water Horse"), an imaginary world contrasted with reality ("Bridge to Terabithia"), and the premise of ill-gotten gain discovered by innocent bystanders ("Shallow Grave" amongst others). But the film is its own creature. Any movie featuring a ten-year old lead teeters on the brink of wooden unbelievability (hello, "Episode One"). But the brilliantly direct young Etel disarms us; his constant conversations with dead saints revolve around practical considerations vs. googly-eyed wonder, such as "Can you smoke in heaven?" and "Have you seen my mother?" The rest of the excellent cast includes James Nesbitt as the father (prob most familiar to US audiences from his UK TV series - 'Adam' in "Cold Feet" and 'Murphy' of "Murphy's Law") and newcomer Lewis McGibbon as the older brother who sees the boys' discovery of thousands of pounds in a duffel bag with very practical eyes. (He buys himself a posse and girlfriends - Tony Soprano of the 8th grade.)

When the boys discover the money is stolen, their innocence slowly seeps away as adult avarice, fear and brutishness sully their find. Or does it? Can you face greed and crime with the best of childish intentions and still retain your goodness? And are we really born good, or just selfish?

Well, kids, that's what great storytelling is all about. Dancing along in the gray areas without getting lost. Screenwriter Boyce manages all this darkness with deep bursts of humanity as director Danny Boyle out-finesses Tim Burton, while keeping his off-kilter sensibility, with rich animation which plunges us into the main character's imagination - without ever feeling like we've left common sense behind. Together, they keep their fantastic premise bound to reality without the maudlin overacting of a Hollywood tear-jerker or the black-and-white boundaries of a Hallmark special.

Available on DVD (as well, of course, on Netflix) and sometimes reshown on IFC, this is a movie that will reward your seeking it out with professionalism all the way around. And always worth the effort: an emotionally satisfying English film.

Others Recommended in this vein: "About a Boy" (2002) (kid convinces Hugh Grant to grow up) and "Finding Neverland" (2004) (kid convinces Johnny Depp to never grow up). And for something far more Burton-esque but still convincingly human: "Mirrormask" (2005), a Dave McKean/Neil Gaiman animated/ live action fairy tale about a teenage girl who works for the circus and just wants to be normal, but has to fight the evil Queen of her own drawings to win her way back to reality - quickly gaining cult classic status amongst the high school set. (See my full review here: