3 Big Movies

'Pan' prequel can't measure up; 'Big Stone Gap' endears


“Pan”: Did you ever wonder how Peter Pan became the pint-sized hero who never grew up? No? Too bad, you’re going to find out anyway.

Hollywood’s latest prequel has its moments, but it fails to live up to the iconic character or a star eager to play the scenery-chewing villain.

Talented Levi Miller is Peter, an orphaned boy whisked away by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) for slave labor pursuits. Along the way Peter meets the future Captain Hook, a roguish type overplayed by Garrett Hedlund. Has anyone ever tried so hard to publicly audition for a role in the Indiana Jones reboot? Turns out Peter and Hook were friends before they first crossed swords, but the characters’ relationship is just one of many elements that doesn’t live up to our expectations. The less said about the cartoonishly callous nun characters in Peter’s orphanage, the better.

“Pan” offers frenetic action and a few sweet moments, and it all goes down in forgettable, albeit not unpleasant style. Given Jackman’s lip-smacking performance and the timeless source material, “Pan” feels like a missed opportunity. It’s like a marketing pitch gussied up as a major motion picture. Young audiences will be more forgiving, but parents should steer them to superior Pan sagas like The Walt Disney Co.’s animated “Peter Pan” or “Finding Neverland” with Johnny Depp.

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“Big Stone Gap”: How often do you see big-screen stories set in small town U.S.A.? Or a film paying tribute to coal and the men who break their backs to mine it?

It’s partly why this “Gap” is initially endearing.

Ashley Judd plays a single woman feeling the pressure of her social status in a humble Virginia town. When she learns something dramatic about her family history, it forces her to do some serious soul-searching. The story itself is rarely serious, relying on broad comic moments when smaller ones might have done quite nicely.

The strong cast keeps the confection afloat, including Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, Jenna Elfman and Anthony LaPaglia. Still, the lack of solid laughs turns an otherwise heartfelt ode to small-town America into a movie better suited for small-screen viewing. Setting the saga in 1978, and featuring the real visit of Sen. John Warner and then-wife Elizabeth Taylor in Big Stone Gap works splendidly.

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“99 Homes”: Can’t wait until “The Big Short,” a drama covering the recent housing bubble collapse, hits theaters later this year? Try these “Homes” on for populist size.

The new drama stars ex-“Spider-man” Andrew Garfield as a young man who just lost both his job and his home. Enter Michael Shannon’s sleazy, soulless entrepreneur who gives him a way to get his house back and shove his morality deep down in the process.

What follows is an indictment of both our system and a “winner takes all” culture, according to the early reviews, which makes it a snug fit with Hollywood’s Democratic bona fides. Shannon, a fidgety presence even when playing good characters, is drumming up some early Oscar chatter for his portrait of economic evil personified.

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