Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

The Wizard of Oz

Movie Review #727

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Directed by Victor Fleming. Uncredited directors: George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor (director: Kansas scenes). Screenplay by Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. (Adaptation: Noel Langley. From the book by L. Frank Baum.) Uncredited writers: Arthur Freed, William H. Cannon, E.Y. Harburg. Uncredited contributing writers: Irving Brecher, Herbert Fields, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash, Robert Pirosh, George Seaton, Sid Silvers. Uncredited additional dialogue: Jack Haley, Bert Lahr. Produced by Mervyn LeRoy, presented by MGM, produced by Loew’s Incorporated. Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe, Clara Blandick, Toto, and the Singer Midgets (also credited as The Munchkins). Premiered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939. Distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer in wide release on August 25, 1939. Re-releases: April, 1949 (limited); June, 1949; June 17, 1955; November 6, 1998 (re-mastered version); September 20, 2013 (limited, 3-D version). Rated PG: some scary moments. Runs 102 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

I’ve been reading a lot on the history of film, and as you might guess, “The Wizard of Oz” is a staple to this subject. This wasn’t the first movie musical (in fact, movie musicals were a huge trend all throughout the 1930′s), but it was the first movie that dared to go into a completely new realm of special effects, and it came around when children’s movies were only in bloom. So it’s not surprising that the production was difficult. What’s surprising is how difficult everything turned out to be. Looking at a small portion of it, there were five directors. One is credited, and that’s Victor Fleming, but George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor also helmed the project. Remarkably, the film coheses of L. Frank Baum’s timeless story. In fact, an extra flow of beauty swarms in when transitioning from Vidor’s Kansas scenes, into the fantastical Munchkinland.

Although the movie was universally spat upon in its initial release, “Oz” has become one of the most belovèd films by all ages. If you haven’t seen it by now, my review will not be the one to convince you. Can you claim to have a childhood? An adulthood? I’m not saying the movie’s the greatest movie ever made, but it’s certainly a must. It’s a matter of momentary mistakes that keeps me from hailing the movie as perfect. What makes it a classic is the fact that, 75 years after its release, it’s still one of the twenty, if not the ten most cinematically, historically, and culturally important movies there ever was.

And importance doesn’t always imply entertainment for a film as old as seventy-five years, but that is undisputedly the case here. The screenplay, written by almost twenty individuals, can be most accurately assessed as wonderful. Among its most enthusiastic deliverers stand Judy Garland as Dorothy, Terry as Toto, Frank Morgan as the titular fellow, and most especially Margaret Hamilton as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. As for the friends Garland meets on her way to see the Wizard of Oz, they’re debatably the three most crucial features to her journey, the story a westernized individual knows as well as his or her own date of birth. They’re the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, portrayed respectively by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr. I’ll note the first two for their enthusiasm, but as far as Lahr, the enthusiasm goes disturbingly over the top. Over time, though, some things just manage to lose what initially made them great, and that might explain why Lahr’s performance seems so awful nowadays. It’s a wonder the entire rest of “Oz” stayed intact over seven and a half decades.

Tomorrow’s Review

All Quiet on the Western Front

THE WIZARD OF OZ IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.

The Princess Diaries

Review No. 566

Dear Diary: I watched a movie. It sucked.

princess_diaries_ver1

D-PLUS

CREW:
Director — Garry Marshall
Producers — Whitney Houston, Debra Martin Chase, Mario Iscovitch
Screenplay — Gina Wendkos
Based on — The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

CAST:
Anne Hathaway — Mia Thermopolis
Heather Matarazzo — Lilly Moscovitz
Héctor Elizondo — Joseph “Joe”
Mandy Moore — Lana Thomas
Caroline Goodall — Helen Thermopolis
Robert Schwartzman — Michael Moscovitz
Julie Andrews — Queen Clarisse Renaldi

OTHER:
Distributor — Buena Vista Pictures
Release Date — August 3, 2001
Language — English
Country — USA
Running Time — 1 hour, 55 minutes
MPAA Rating — G

THE PRINCESS DIARIES WAS WATCHED ON AUGUST 10, 2013.

If you’re a stereotypical six-year-old girl, whatever I say about The Princess Diaries won’t mean a thing to you. Of course, that’s given that I’ve now mentioned the word “Princess.” This is a fun movie for that audience, and since that’s the intended audience, that’s good. The problem? This is a fish-out-of-water comedy. I can imagine a whole theater full of parents and their six-year-old girls, and even in that mental picture, I don’t hear a single laugh. So let’s just assume that you aren’t a six-year-old girl. And let’s assume you manage to make your way through The Princess Diaries. Your surprise that you made it through will be as intense as the surprise you undoubtedly felt when you saw that I had actually reviewed the movie.

The Princess Diaries is a so-called “family movie.” I beg of you, don’t assume that I believe “princess movies” are not “family movies.” It’s just the opposite, and if Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs doesn’t say so, I can provide several more. This isn’t a “princess movie,” though. This is a confusing misadventure. You don’t even need a quote-unquote for that moniker. I’ll give you two examples, as if one doesn’t suffice: First of all, this is a story about a fifteen-year-old girl named Mia (Anne Hathaway), living in San Francisco, the biggest “loser” in her school, and all of a sudden, her grandmother (Julie Andrews) tells her that her deceased father was a prince…which makes Mia a princess. Better yet, her grandmother happens to be a queen of a country off in Europe, as Grace Kelly tosses in her grave like a monkey being used to test amphetamines. Wouldn’t Mia have been told this by now, if it was so important? Better yet, wouldn’t the father have at least gone off with another woman and had a more tolerable daughter, so that the princess wouldn’t be a girl who vomits when she speaks in publics, and who needs a makeover to be respected? It would’ve made a much interesting story. No less episodic, but much more interesting. (Shall I define “much more interesting”? After all, the results we do have aren’t very interesting so I could be saying mind-blowing, or I could be saying fairly interesting.)

The whole movie is a debacle. Oh right the second example (did you forget? I almost did): transportation is an impossible concept in this movie. Mia is driven to school in a limo. How’s she get home? Scootering. So either a scooter just magically appeared for her, or she stole it from some other rich white-trash snob at this private school of hers. (How’s her family affording this school? She’s of marginally better social status than Molly Ringwald was in Pretty in Pink.) I’d like to think it was magic. After all, it was Disney! But Disney, they can make me feel their magic often times. I felt the enthusiasm of Julie Andrews, and Anne Hathaway was exuberant throughout the feature. I also felt the slap-in-the-face I gave myself on more than one occasion, because I felt so sorry for such actresses, those who resort to wasting their precious time in order to make money.

Introducing: Featurette!

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The Gold Rush

Review No. 539

Chaplin done struck some mighty fine comic “Gold”.

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B

WRITTEN, PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY CHARLIE CHAPLIN. 1942 RE-RELEASE NARRATED BY CHAPLIN. STARRING CHAPLIN (THE TRAMP – LISTED AS “THE LONE PROSPECTOR”), MACK SWAIN (BIG JIM McKAY), AND TOM MURRAY (BLACK LARSEN). ALSO STARRING GEORGIA HALE, MALCOLM WAITE, AND HENRY BERGMAN. DISTRIBUTED BY UNITED ARTISTS ON APRIL 18, 1942; ORIGINAL SILENT DISTRIBUTED ON JUNE 26, 1925. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES; ORIGINAL SILENT PRODUCED IN ENGLISH INTERTITLES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 9 MINUTES; ORIGINAL SILENT RUNS 1 HOUR, 36 MINUTES. SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES.

THE GOLD RUSH WAS WATCHED ON JULY 23, 2013.

I’d like to start off by stating that this review is, to a slightly greater degree than my other critiques, a personal reaction. That being said, if you strongly disagree with my points in the paragraphs that follow, you’re likely to enjoy The Gold Rush significantly more/less than I did.

Please do note that while I have nothing against “silent films,” I find them overrated. Maybe that’s not the correct word, since I have the utmost respect for the way they have shaped films and, in some cases, culture. But if going to the movies in 2013 meant that I was going to travel thirty minutes to see a black-and-white flick that relies on facial expressions and “intertitles” to tell a story, featuring a guest musician or two to cover up an awkward silence, I wouldn’t love movies nearly as much as I do.

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My expectations.

I was expecting something mediocre of The Gold Rush. This was my first time facing Charlie Chaplin, a filmmaker who loved the silent era like no one else. I was, instead, taken aback by how much appreciation I suddenly felt for the sort of film. The 1942 re-release features Chaplin’s narration in the place of intertitles. The narration is presented much more like an audiobook than a radio show performance. It’s a remodeling that affects the movie’s pace, but most importantly, the candid delivery puts the silent era on a forefront in a way that is far more convincing than it deserves to be.

The story in The Gold Rush is as if it were a Jack London novella told through the eyes of a farce writer. As you might guess, Chaplin features as his signature character, “the Tramp,” as he makes his way through the titular events. Chaplin has so much fun writing and directing himself around the Yukon, particularly when it means his persona gets into a mess. Yes, the film drags on an unintended length eventually, but it’s much more interesting than it is without the petite “sound era” adjustment. I now feel determined to watch more of Chaplin. Most of it’s because The Gold Rush feels like a thankfully extended sketch. You can say that one of them is enough, but that’s like turning on Saturday Night Live (a much more recent example, but spiritually similar) and only sticking around for one of the send-ups. You can do that, but only until you feel the guilt of not committing to the welcoming plethora of laughs.

STAY TUNED FOR MY “FROM DUSK TILL DAWN” REVIEW @ 4:30

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Despicable Me 2

Review No. 520

“Despicable Me 2″ is a pretty abeebin dwah doo dee doe do movie!

Despicable Me 2 teaser poster

B-PLUS

DIRECTED BY PIERRE COFFIN AND CHRIS RENAUD. PRODUCED BY CHRIS MELEDANDRI AND JANET HEALY. SCREENPLAY BY CINCO PAUL AND KEN DAURIO. FEATURING THE VOICES OF STEVE CARELL (FELONIOUS GRU), KRISTEN WIIG (LUCY WILDE), BENJAMIN BRATT (EDUARDO PEREZ / EL MACHO), MIRANDA COSGROVE (MARGO), RUSSELL BRAND (DR. NEFARIO), STEVE COOGAN (SILAS RAMSBOTTOM), AND KEN JEONG (FLOYD EAGLE-SAN). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF COFFIN, RENAUD, ELSIE FISHER, DANA GAIER, MOISÉS ARIAS, NASIM PEDRAD, AND KRISTEN SCHAAL. DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES ON JULY 3, 2013. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 38 MINUTES. SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES.

DESPICABLE ME 2 WAS WATCHED ON JULY 7, 2013.

Despicable Me 2 picks up directly where its predecessor left off, with a similar appreciation for “evilship,” regardless of how much the hero has changed. Felonious Gru (Steve Carell) has now abandoned his career as a supervillain and instead become a loving father to his three adopted daughters. But his supervillainy is still a major part of his past. He’s brought to the Anti-Villain League, an association that uses former supervillains to think in the minds of current supervillains.

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Abeebin. Dwah. Doo. Dee. Doe. Do.

Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio must’ve had a lot of fun writing the script. It flows along ever so freely. As a result, we get a lot more of the minions, which is such a delight. Unless you simply do not have an inner child to let loose with, it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at their antics. I hear there is a spinoff simply called Minions due for the holiday season of 2014, and I’m already excited. Where the script fails is in a cohesive plot. After the story has come to be, it’s subplot after subplot after subplot. A good eighty to eighty-five percent of the time, the jokes can distract you from the fact that there’s no real glue to hold this movie together.  The other fifteen to twenty percent of the time, it drags.

When I watched Despicable Me not too long ago, I was convinced it was the new Shrek: an animated film that coaxes you into loving an undeniably bad guy. Perhaps, then, Despicable Me 2 is the new Shrek 2. Particularly when it had every nerve to take the money and run, it’s a worthwhile followup. Not quite as great as the original, but worthwhile by any standards.  It’s splendidly animated and abeebin dwah doo dee doe do.  I’m not sure what the hell all that means, but the minions (directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud) said it ever so enthusiastically, and it stuck.

STAY TUNED FOR MY “RUN LOLA RUN” REVIEW @ 4:30

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Despicable Me

Review No. 507

Baby wants to watch! Baby wants to watch “Despicable Me”!

A

DIRECTED BY PIERRE COFFIN AND CHRIS RENAUD. PRODUCED BY CHRIS MELEDANDRI, JOHN COHEN, AND JANET HEALY. SCREENPLAY BY CINCO PAUL AND KEN DAURIO. STORY BY SERGIO PABLOS. FEATURING THE VOICES OF STEVE CARELL (GRU), JASON SEGEL (VICTOR “VECTOR” PERKINS), AND RUSSELL BRAND (DR. NEFARIO). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF COFFIN, RENAUD, JULIE ANDREWS, MIRANDA COSGROVE, DANA GAIER, ELSIE KATE FISHER, WILL ARNETT, KRISTEN WIIG, JEMAINE CLEMENT, JACK McBRAYER, KEN JEONG, DANNY McBRIDE, AND MINDY KALING. DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES ON JULY 9, 2010. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 35 MINUTES. SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES.

DESPICABLE ME WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 22, 2013.

“I’m havin’ a bad, bad day
It’s about time that I get my way
Steamrolling whatever I see
Huh, despicable me”
–”Despicable Me” by Pharrell

I love movie villains. You take a good script and a good actor, and I can’t get enough of them. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, the Joker in The Dark Knight, Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, Jack Torrance in The Shining, Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange. I could go on, but these are the five “bad guys” that do the most heinous things in cinema, yet their personalities are too appealing to not love. We can safely say that due to a well-written script, neatly executed animation, and a flavorful voice performance from Steve Carell, Despicable Me and its main character deserve a spot on that list as well.

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I would quote them, but I can’t, for the life of me. Anybody have an English-to-Minion dictionary?

Despicable Me outsources to every member of the family by making villains into caricatures. Our story is absurd but fun. Gru (Carell) has everything laid out for him in his career as a super-villain. His assistant, Dr. Nefario, is always there on his command; and although his minions are no more than oversized Twinkies who can fluently speak Gibberish, he has enough of them to keep him from doing much at all. The problem isn’t in this, but in Egypt, where the Giza pyramid has been stolen and replaced with an inflatable pyramid. The act has been dubbed the “crime of the century,” and Gru is determined to commit a greater crime: stealing the moon from its location in outer space. But how can he do so on a deadline, when his plan has taken him so far as to adopt three clingy girls?

Despicable Me embraces the realm of villainy, immersing us into Gru’s past. It’s not very clear or logical at the moment he adopts the girls, but we learn through flashbacks that perhaps Gru isn’t trying to use these girls for his evil plan. Perhaps, deep down, he wants to give them a more rewarding childhood than he himself had. The story is genuine, funny, thoughtful, and inventive. You can’t get up from the film unless it is understood, the irony that a movie flaunting evil, villainy, and pure badness, could be such a good time.

FOOTNOTE: Kudos to anyone who “got” the nod in the headline.

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Monsters University

Review No. 506

A welcome return to Pixar’s “best in class” status.

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A-MINUS

DIRECTED BY DAN SCANLON. PRODUCED BY KORI RAE. SCREENPLAY & STORY BY SCANLON, DANIEL GERSON, AND ROBERT L. BAIRD. FEATURING THE VOICES OF BILLY CRYSTAL (MICHAEL “MIKE” WAZOWSKI), JOHN GOODMAN (JAMES P. “SULLEY” SULLIVAN), AND STEVE BUSCEMI (RANDALL “RANDY” BOGGS). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF NOAH JOHNSTON, JOEL MURRAY, SEAN HAYES, DAVE FOLEY, PETER SOHN, CHARLIE DAY, HELEN MIRREN, ALFRED MOLINA, NATHAN FILLION, AUBREY PLAZA, TYLER LABINE, JOHN KRASINSKI, BONNIE HUNT, BILL HADER, BOBBY MOYNIHAN, JULIA SWEENEY, BETH BEHRS, BOB PETERSON, JOHN RATZENBERGER, AND FRANK OZ. DISTRIBUTED BY WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES ON JUNE 21, 2013. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 44 MINUTES. SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 22, 2013.

Monsters University is a prequel to a movie that hit theaters over a decade ago, and its effort proves that while Pixar is in business for the money, they’re more concerned that the audience gets their money’s worth. I do remember Brave, which defied this rule with every soporific cliché possible, but now I’m willing to forgive the studio. I can only do my best in explaining how the magic of Disney has brought Pixar back to its Golden Age, but if explaining means honoring Disney, I’m more than obligated.

Particularly for those who have seen Monsters, Inc., there isn’t anything unexpected about the setup. It’s basically a story about friendship, competition, popularity, and when each one is most important. Therefore, it’s the exact same idea as Inc., but it feels as fresh as ever, provided the back stories of cyclopean Mike (Billy Crystal), bearlike Sulley (John Goodman), and reptilian Randall (Steve Buscemi).

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Do the Harlem Shake.

The screenplay is structured not as a single plot, but as several continuous events. Through this, you can literally tell what time of day it is through the animation, which uses a wide range of visuals to illustrate the weather outside, the atmosphere of the scenes, etc. Never has Pixar released such a beautiful film. On the other hand, the script’s one fault is a verification of why the similarly structured (albeit much, much different) Catcher in the Rye has never made it to the big screen: the shifting between a vast number of events causes pacing errors. As a result, the film does drag toward the end, particularly with its precise lead-in to the 2001 film. But it’s constantly making up for these slights by amusing the entire family.

I’ll leave those as a surprise to be revealed in experience only. Monsters University is exactly what I’d imagine an Oozma Kappa (the fraternity featured in the movie) party to be: in a nutshell, everybody’s smiling, always.

FOOTNOTE: With regard to the first paragraph, I know Brave won an Academy Award, but if you’ve seen Wreck-It Ralph, Frankenweenie, and perhaps anything else in the category, you know deep down that you’re about as pissed at the Academy as I am.

Despicable Me

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Fantastic Mr. Fox

Review No. 497

“Fantastic” film.

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A-PLUS

DIRECTED BY WES ANDERSON.  PRODUCED BY ANDERSON, ALLISON ABBATE, SCOTT RUDIN, AND JEREMY DAWSON.  SCREENPLAY BY ANDERSON & NOAH BAUMBACH. BASED ON “FANTASTIC MR FOX” BY ROALD DAHL. FEATURING THE VOICES OF GEORGE CLOONEY (MR. “FOXY” FOX), MERYL STREEP (MRS. FELICITY FOX), JASON SCHWARTZMAN (ASH FOX), BILL MURRAY (CLIVE BADGER), WILLEM DAFOE (RAT), AND OWEN WILSON (COACH SKIP). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF ERIC CHASE ANDERSON, WALLACE WOLODARSKY, MICHAEL GAMBON, ROBIN HURLSTONE, HUGO GUINESS, HELEN McCRORY, JARVIS COCKER, BRIAN COX, ADRIEN BRODY, GARTH JENNINGS, WES ANDERSON, ROMAN COPPOLA, AND MARIO BATALI. DISTRIBUTED BY 20TH CENTURY FOX ON NOVEMBER 25, 2009. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 27 MINUTES. NOT FOR ALL AGES, DUE TO SMOKING AND MILD VIOLENCE.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 10, 2013.

“Boggis, Bunce, and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks,
so different in looks,
were nonetheless equally mean.”
–music and lyrics by Alexandre Desplat

Creative writing prompts are a matter of reusing and recycling; I think the one I land on the most happens to be: “Choose two different people from two different periods of time. Let them have a conversation with one another. What does one person say, and how does the other react?” The next time I face this prompt, I shall write a response concerning Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson. The problem I’ll run into is the time constraint. These two would sit around all day and not notice sunrise become midnight. You just can’t condense a high-spirited conversation the length of ten, elaborate novels, into a three-page short story.

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From a “West Side Story”-esque scene – the Foxes vs. the Humans.

The animated comedy at hand is tremendously enjoyable for all ages. Wes Anderson has always been fond of expressing stories with adult humor and youthful attitudes, but he’s never been able to channel his work to both parties, due to the inhibitions of the R rating. Fantastic Mr. Fox is rated PG, and in almost every scene, there’s a melodic balance in humor. Anthropomorphism is outstandingly realized. One of my personal favorite moments was a rather fleeting instance: it’s funny for both young and older audiences when Kylie the Opossum starts playing the piano. One age group would laugh at the thought that an opossum can actually tickle the ivories; the other age group would find it amusing that an opossum is able to serenade his critter family as if he were George Gershwin.

My theory is, these five seconds were a subtextual cameo of Anderson’s. If there’s anyone who can adapt Roald Dahl’s work, it’s Wes Anderson. Henry Selick, Danny DeVito, and Tim Burton have all tried and failed. Proverbially, they knew the notes, they just couldn’t play the music. Anderson doesn’t just play the music, he plays it like George Gershwin. It’s been a while since I’ve read Dahl’s book, so I can’t say so for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if along the way, Anderson gave the notes a little twist. A twist that would make even Roald Dahl smile and remark, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Warm Bodies

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Spirited Away

Review No. 496

A movie for all ages, and for THE ages.

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A

WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY HAYAO MIYAZAKI. PRODUCED BY TOSHIO SUZUKI. FEATURING THE VOICES OF RUMI HIIRAGI (CHIHIRO OGINO), MIYU IRINO (HAKU/SPIRIT OF THE KOHAKU RIVER), MARI NATSUKI (YUBABA / ZENIBA), TAKASHI NAITO (AKIHIKO OGINO), YASUKO SAWAGUCHI (YUMIKO OGINO), TSUNEHIKO KAMIJŌ (CHICHIYAKU), TAKEHIKO ONO (ANIYAKU), AND BUNTA SUGAWARA (KAMAJII). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF YUMI TAMAI, RYUNOSUKE KAMIKI, AND AKIO NAKAMURA. ENGLISH DUBBING FEATURES THE VOICES OF DAVEIGH CHASE, JASON MARSDEN, SUZANNE PLESHETTE, MICHAEL CHIKLIS, LAUREN HOLLY, RODGER BUMPASS, JOHN RATZENBERGER, AND DAVID OGDEN STIERS; AS WELL AS THOSE OF SUSAN EGAN, TARA STRONG, AND BOB BERGEN. DISTRIBUTED BY WALT DISNEY PICTURES ON JULY 20, 2001. PRODUCED IN JAPANESE BY JAPAN. NOT FOR ALL AGES, DUE TO SCARY MOMENTS AND MILD VIOLENCE.

SPIRITED AWAY WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 8, 2013.

“Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember.” –Zeniba (Japanese: Mari Natsuki / English: Suzanne Pleshette)

There’s an adage that if something can go wrong, it will. Spirited Away is a tale that presents this perfectly. Young Chihiro is instinctive, but she’s also shy. She’s moving into a new house, and as soon as she opens the car door to get out, she’s petrified with fear. Her parents’ one mistake is in dismissing this as pure shyness. They proceed to an abandoned carnival, notice food, and eat it. They’ve been corrupted by their own greed so much that they don’t even notice how the food is so hot in a carnival so deserted. They are transformed into swine, and in order for them to change back, Chihiro is sent to work herself to the bone in a bathhouse, run by spirits who could care for nothing more than to get their grubby paws on some money. Chihiro is able to forgive her parents for betraying her, only because she is devoted to them. But is it possible that one little girl can use devotion as a weapon against greed, the single driving force that motivates the hundreds that now surround her?

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Miyazaki has an imagination, and he isn’t afraid to use it.

The ending is a dead giveaway. It’s in getting there that an unpredictable beauty takes over. Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a brilliant “good vs. evil” fable. The story takes the fantasy genre and does it inside-out, similarly to how Guillermo del Toro constructed his Pan’s Labyrinth. This is, in fact, the exact opposite of Pan’s Labyrinth. That film featured a young girl who used her dream world as an escape from her father, a fascist World War II captain, and ended up getting the two worlds dangerously confused. Spirited Away concerns a girl whose reality becomes a world full of nightmares, which she must escape in order to return to her parents.

Spirited Away is either a wholesome film in the costume of a horror movie, or a horror movie in the costume of a completely wholesome film. I’m flummoxed as to which of the two it is, but I’m sure that this is a movie that has touches of both tameness and horror. Hayao Miyazaki proves flawlessly that it’s possible to craft reality out of a fantastical anime. The dangers Chihiro encounters aren’t accessible, but the one fear she has is one that every human has. You could say Spirited Away is more accessible to children who cannot afford to lose their parents, to which I’d argue that there’s someone, something, or some concept in your own life that you can’t possibly separate yourself from. I first watched Spirited Away when I was in the fifth grade, and it struck an emotional chord for me. Although the one this time was an emotional chord of a different pitch, it was just as strong.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Parental Guidance

Review No. 471

“Parental Guidance” not suggested.

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C

DIRECTED BY ANDY FICKMAN. WRITTEN BY LISA ADDARIO AND JOE SYRACUSE. STARRING BILLY CRYSTAL (ARTIE DECKER), BETTE MIDLER (DIANE DECKER), MARISA TOMEI (ALICE SIMMONS), TOM EVERETT SCOTT (PHIL SIMMONS), BAILEE MADISON (HARPER SIMMONS), KYLE HARRISON BREITKOPF (BARKER SIMMONS), AND JOSHUA RUSH (TURNER SIMMONS). ALSO STARRING GEDDE WATANABE, CADE JONES, MAVRICK MORENO, MADISON LINTZ, AND KARAN KENDRICK. FEATURING CAMEOS FROM TONY HAWK AND STEVE LEVY. DISTRIBUTED BY 20TH CENTURY FOX ON DECEMBER 25, 2012. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 45 MINUTES. SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE WAS WATCHED ON MAY 3, 2013.

“My granddaughter’s birth has made me want to create things she will love.” –Billy Crystal

It’s amazing that I could predict how Parental Guidance would end as soon as it had begun.  Actually, scratch that.  If this were a movie that showed a modicum of decency toward a genuine movie lover, then to predict the ending would be impressive.  But it’s just common knowledge here.  Parental Guidance isn’t as far as you can get from original, but aside from a few minor touches, it recycles gags that seem to have gotten old fast.  The film is only as unpredictable as the sight of birds in the early morning.

I’ve been accused of being too generous to movies, but perhaps to Parental Guidance, I just need to be a bit more generous.  Movies like this don’t care about plot or pacing.  They don’t care how suddenly their characters change, because we won’t notice.  Maybe we will, but we won’t care.  Movies like this are the PG equivalent of a standup routine.  You try and “make ‘em laugh.”  Nothing else.  Just a joke.  Another joke.  And another joke.  Maybe a quick gross-out scene right when the under-eight audience is about to fall asleep.  Don’t want the comedy to be too boring.

And that’s exactly the problem with Parental Guidance.  It can’t make us laugh very easily.  You can see where it’s going, for sure.  You know what jokes it’s trying to tell; they just don’t come out right in delivery.  Sure, kids will laugh at this, but there’s several other movies that would treat them to much harder laughs.  The juvenile humor is evened out rather noticeably with Billy Crystal’s “adult humor.”  Fortunately, he steals the better half of his scenes (mind you, he features in a main role).  As for the other half, unfortunately, the writing of Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse (no, I hadn’t heard of them either) manages to fail even an old-school genius like Crystal.  And unfortunately, there’s no kid who will get his jokes.

Parental Guidance is a substandard family comedy.  You take two parents that don’t look to us like they’d be strict, and apparently they’re Household Hitlers.  They don’t let their kids do anything but what is (hypothetically) good for them.  That includes not meeting their grandparents.  And it’s not until they do meet their grandparents that they realize that they’ve been brainwashed into the rule of their parents, and that their parents realize how totalitarian their rule is.  Seeing from how the movie plays out, you can stop questioning my level of exaggeration.  The movie adopts a great deal of caricature into its namesake.  As you would expect, results are both to success and failure.  But this story is so common.  You could do a two-minute Google search for something that takes the caricature to hilarious extremes.  And I guarantee, you’d find not one, but at least ten to your satisfaction.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Review No. 464

Filthy hobbitses, it tricked us into believing we would not enjoy “The Hobbit”! *gollum, gollum*

20130421-065435.jpg

B-MINUS

DIRECTED BY PETER JACKSON. SCREENPLAY BY FRAN WALSH, PHILIPPA BOYENS, JACKSON, AND GUILLERMO DEL TORO. BASED ON “THE HOBBIT, OR THERE AND BACK AGAIN” BY J.R.R. TOLKIEN. STARRING IAN MCKELLEN (GANDALF THE GREY), MARTIN FREEMAN (BILBO BAGGINS), RICHARD ARMITAGE (THORIN OAKENSHIELD), ANDY SERKIS (GOLLUM), AND BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH (THE NECROMANCER). ALSO STARRING BARRY HUMPHRIES, CATE BLANCHETT, CHRISTOPHER LEE, ELIJAH WOOD, GRAHAM MCTAVISH, HUGO WEAVING, IAN HOLM, JAMES NESBITT, KEN STOTT, LEE PACE, MANU BENNETT, AND SYLVESTER MCCOY. DISTRIBUTED BY WARNER BROS. PICTURES ON DECEMBER 14, 2012. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY NEW ZEALAND, THE UNITED KINGDOM, AND THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 2 HOURS, 49 MINUTES.  NOT FOR ALL AGES, DUE TO SCARY MOMENTS AND VIOLENCE.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY WAS WATCHED ON APRIL 20, 2013.

“Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking.”

I am not a Lord of the Rings fan. Yes, I’ve read the Tolkien works and seen each of Peter Jackson’s film transformations. Although I absolutely love the classic world J.R.R. Tolkien created in print, I must say that I find the initial film trilogy overrated. And if there’s one movie that transforms Tolkien’s upbeat magic to the silver screen with majestic attitude, it’s this prequel. You’d have to be blind to deny the grandeur that skyrockets to unbelievable heights. I wish I hadn’t so strongly refused to see it in theaters, come to think of it.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is for The Lord of the Rings, what The Phantom Menace was for Star Wars, what TV’s Bates Motel is for Psycho, et cetera. It’s more childlike than the original story, much less stern, much more colorful. The story is as simple as pitching the original in a past generation. In The Fellowship of the Ring–2001′s opening act to the LOTR trilogy–Frodo Baggins set out on a quest for the One Ring. In An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo Baggins sets out on a quest where he discovers the One Ring.

The movie entertains, but it also drags. Each of the three Lord of the Rings films was based on a book longer than J.R.R. Tolkien’s prelude installment–The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. An Unexpected Journey is based on merely the first third of this work, and it runs almost three hours. You can forget what I said about wishing I’d seen it at the cinema. The tale is exquisite, but it can be overly elaborate. It’s just too easy to get distracted from the story so that you can start wondering when you won’t have to feel so numb in the ass. Whereas long epics such as Titanic completely numbed away my ass at the theater, but I was too involved to notice.

I must applaud the cast for their excellence. The Lord of the Rings has always been cheesy, but in a way that takes a purist approach to high fantasy. We hear an elongated “No!” in these movies and it’s different than hearing Daniel Day-Lewis say it. The vast majority of the cast doesn’t see a limit to having fun with such clichés. Specifically, I applaud Andy Serkis for his vocal work as Gollum. The Hobbit is a mostly forgettable experience, but I don’t think I’ll ever tear away from the famous “riddles” scene. Serkis nailed it in the rare, outstanding role that makes one wish the Oscars honored voice acting.

So here’s a riddle for you:

It minuses but does not subtract.
It is yellow but it does not shine on the act.
It does not speak strictly to one pole,
The many words above it make it whole.

[The answer to the riddle is the letter grade off to the right.]

TOMORROW, ON CINEMANIAC REVIEWS…

The Fugitive




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