Monday, January 26, 2009

Now Playing: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

In the extras of “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” there is a behind the scenes video of people clowning around on the set. At the end of it, co-star Jason Bateman sits in a chair while someone off-screen pelts him with a Nerf gun. Bateman refers to the guy by name then says, “He can write, direct, and shoot a Nerf gun.”

I turned to My Fair Lady and said, “Yeah, but he shoots the Nerf gun like he writes and directs. Poorly.”

“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” is an absolute disaster, a cornucopia of elaborate special effects meant to convey wonder yet fail utterly to do anything other than distract (briefly) from the limp script and razor thin characters. Natalie Portman (who I’m convinced will still look like she’s 10 even when she’s pushing 60) plays Molly Mahony, the store manager for Mr. Magorium.

The big M (Dustin Hoffman) is a 200+ year old toy maker with wild hair, an odd not-quite-a-lisp, and a child-like view of the world. He makes magical toys and wonders to amuse children and has a giant silent guy living in his basement who builds the books of Magorium’s life. Oh, and no one in NEW YORK CITY thinks it the slightest bit odd that all this goes on in a small store sandwiched between two skyscrapers.

If that sounds odd, then let me state one thing right off: That’s all the odd there is in the film.

I watched as this beast lumbers along once the emporium grows surly following Mr. Magorium’s announcement he’s leaving. His departure requires him to bring in an accountant (Bateman) to get the financials in order so he can pass the building on to Mahony, despite her heart being set on a life as a concert pianist. There’s also a kid named Eric with a hat fetish and an annoying narrative voice.

Which brings up a point that made me want to set fire to the film. It’s called “SHOW, DON’T TELL!” Basic screenwriting 101 states this message very clearly at the top of the chapter called “How to write a screenplay,” and when an amateur film maker feels the need to have a voice read off text that’s clearly visible on screen, in addition to spelling out details that are RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES, it hacks me off. Every. Single. Time.

You want an example of how to use narration to amazing effect? Watch “The Shawshank Redemption.”

You want an example of how to do childlike wonder and “pointless but it really does have a deeper meaning” philosophy? Try “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the Tim Burton version, not the awful 70’s version).

My Fair Lady commented after it was over how the film was ultimately pointless and I agreed. This is a mountain of suck that’s a waste of talent and, more importantly, your time.

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