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Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004 03:20 am

movie review

Finding Neverland

When finding the path to salvation means never growing up

Very few films move audiences in an intimate and genuine way. Marc Forster's Finding Neverland is among the exceptions. In telling the tale of how J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, came to form an emotional bond with four boys and their widowed mother, Forster and his talented cast create a genuinely moving film, devoid of treacle or melodrama.

Coming off a colossal flop, the otherwise successful Barrie (Johnny Depp) wants to produce a hit play, in part to atone for the financial blow suffered by his producer, Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman). But personal trouble -- a passionless marriage to former actress Mary Ansell (Radha Mitchell) -- compels Barrie to escape into his work. One day, as Barrie writes in London's Kensington Gardens, he meets Michael, George, Jack, Peter, and the boys' widowed mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet). Taken by their frivolity and imaginative play, Barrie strikes up a friendship with the family.

Michael, George, and Jack, who seem to be coping successfully with the death of their father, willingly join Barrie's imaginary pirate and Wild West adventures. Peter, however, is reluctant. He believes that it's somehow wrong to lose himself in play, that his father's death has taught him to face up to life's harsh realities rather than escape from them. How Barrie reaches the boy who grew up too soon is a major part of the film.

Forster juggles the relationships among Barrie, Sylvia, and the boys with scenes of the Barrie's disintegrating marriage; the tense relationship between the author and Sylvia's mother, Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie); and lighthearted moments in which the author clashes with Frohman. Every plotline is engaging and entertaining, buoyed by strong performances.

At the time the film reaches its climax, Peter, his brothers, and Barrie are put to the test as tragedy descends once more. The young family learns that denying one's feelings only leads to more pain. In the end, Finding Neverland isn't just about creating great art but finding a path to salvation through art.

Also in theaters this week . . .

After the Sunset [PG-13] A master thief (Pierce Brosnan) retires to an island paradise. His arch nemesis, FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson), keeps an eye on him. White Oaks

Blade: Trinity [R] The Daywalker (Wesley Snipes) allies himself with the Nightstalkers, a group of vampire hunters, and together they battle their way to ol' Dracula himself.
Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Christmas with the Kranks [PG] Luther Krank (TimAllen) is fed up with Christmas commercialism and decides to skip the holiday and go on a vacation with his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis). When his daughter comes home, he's forced to celebrate the holidays. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Closer [R] Intriguing story about love, passion, and abandonment involving two couples. Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, and Julia Roberts star. ShowPlace West

Flight of the Phoenix [PG-13] Their plane crashes in the Mongolian desert so they decide to build a new one while struggling to survive the elements and each other. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

Friday Night Lights [PG-13] Chronicles the 1988 season of the Permian High Panthers in football-obsessed Odessa, Texas. Based on H.G. Bissinger's book. White Oaks

The Incredibles [PG] A family of superheroes lives quietly in the burbs thanks to the Witness Protection Program, until they're called into action to save the world. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Ladder 49 [PG-13] A firefighter (Joaquin Phoenix), trapped in a fire that's likely to kill him, reviews his life. John Travolta also stars. White Oaks

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events [PG] Three kids are sent to live with a distant relative (Jim Carrey) after their parents die in a fire. Turns out, he's a greedy guy intent on getting their family's fortune. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

National Treasure [PG] Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) hunts for a war chest hidden by the Founding Fathers prior to the Revolutionary War. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Ocean's Twelve [PG-13] Daniel Ocean (George Clooney) must find one more conspirator before he can pull off heists in Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam. Sequel to 2001's Ocean's Eleven. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

The Polar Express [G] Based on the popular children's book, a story of a boy who is whisked by train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Shark Tale [PG] The son of the shark mob boss is found dead and a fish named Oscar is at the scene of the crime. Voices by Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, and others. White Oaks

Sideways [R]A failed writer and divorcé and his best friend, a faded actor, take a weeklong trip through California wine country, where they explore their failures and, um, drink wine. Parkway Pointe

Spanglish [PG-13] Flor (Paz Vega), who knows no English, moves to L.A. with her daughter and gets hired as a housekeeper by an eccentric couple (Adam Sandler and Téa Leoni). Parkway Pointe

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie [PG] SpongeBob SquarePants leaves Bikini Bottom to track down King Neptune's stolen crown. Parkway Pointe

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