Reel Critics: Nanny McPhee comes back for more

Young kids behaving badly are a common theme in many children's books. Magical nannies like Mary Poppins, who teach proper manners to the kids, are also a staple in these stories. Almost 50 years ago, Christianna Brand wrote similar tales about a nurse who watched over English children sent to the countryside for safety during the Nazi blitz of London.

Oscar winner Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay that adapts Brand's original concept for the screen in "Nanny McPhee Returns." Thompson also stars as the homely nanny and former army nurse who appears out of nowhere to rescue an unruly household. Transplanted city kids have invaded the comfortable world of children on a farm. They wreck havoc on the rural routine while an evil uncle also complicates their situation.

As Nanny McPhee changes each bad habit of the kids, her own ugly features are also transformed. As each child develops worthy character traits, her warts and wrinkles disappear. There's lots of great life lessons along the way to the expected happy ending. It may be predictable, but the wholesome PG plot is a welcome addition to the family-friendly film world.


'Kingdom' of doom

A young man sits next to a woman quietly watching TV. We think she is asleep, but she's dead from a heroin overdose — and she's his mother. Confused and alone, Joshua calls his estranged grandma who immediately takes him under her wing.

As narrated by Joshua (James Frecheville) in the gripping "Animal Kingdom," his mother had kept him away from the family because she was afraid. She was right — be very afraid.

Sweet-voiced Grandma Janine (Jacki Weaver) is the tiny, fiercely protective mum to three sons who made a successful career out of armed robbery along with their partner Baz (John Edgerton).

But things are going wrong. Eldest son Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) is hiding from police ready to shoot him on sight. Another is strung out on the drugs he's dealing, which further fuels the paranoia.

Australian writer-director David Michod has crafted a powerful story of people clawing desperately for survival, where both criminals and the law are corrupt and cunning.

Guy Pearce ("LA Confidential") gives a thoughtful performance as perhaps the lone voice of good amid all the evil. Weaver and Mendelsohn provide spine-tingling menace in a story filled with shocking violence and characters that rank right up there with the Corleones and Sopranos.

JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.

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