Gulliver’s Travels 2010

I know I run the risk of stating the obvious here. Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black does not deliver the messages in the book. It’s obvious because most reviews show that most people aren’t expecting it to. Still, even those who expected your typical Jack Black movie are giving it a 6/10 or less. That’s about what I think of the movie. It focuses on CGI instead of the human perspectives that shine in the original written work.

The film was directed by Rob Letterman (Shark Tale, Monsters vs Aliens …). His work on this film marks a departure from animation and I don’t think he ever leaves the gate. It plays more like a wild-eyed cartoon than an intelligent comedy. He spent more time directing tiny cannonballs into Jack Black’s CGI tummy and then flexing them back at the little people than he did making sense of anything in the original story. That’s a shame.

The 2010 movie is, in a nutshell, about Lemuel Gulliver, Jack Black, who is basically a loser clerk in the mailroom of a newspaper. The beginning of the movie shows laboriously how Gulliver will never amount to anything beyond the mail room. Amanda Peet plays Darcy Silverman, a professional byline writer who Gulliver seeks to impress through lying and plagiarism. Bear in mind, none of this has anything to do with the original Gulliver’s Travels.

Gulliver ends up being assigned his first big correspondent trip to the Bermuda Triangle. There, he has encounters with small people. Really small. In the book, this is used as a metaphor to show how perspectives can change when our size changes. In this movie, it’s just crazy antics with miniature and giant plastic devices. It was sort of cool when they used a giant iPhone, but not cool enough to stop my yawns.

Other stars in the film include Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, and Billy Connolly. If you like to see these actors whether the script and acting is good or bad, go see Gulliver’s Travels. If you are hoping to see a side-splitting comedy that uses intellectualism to tickle your funny bone, you’ll wind up empty after this one. Do yourself a favor and make a gamble on Tron instead. I wish I would have.
[xrr rating=1.5/

The Grapes of Wrath

My wife and I watched “The Grapes of Wrath” recently and while it was a bit tedious at times, it packed some powerful and therapeutic messages for me. The adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel was about the Joads, a family from Oklahoma, traveling in the 40’s to find work. It is during the ferocious dust bowl period that made farmers’ land fallow. Those who once owned the farms were now vagrant/migrant workers. The greed and selfishness of the banks and landowners is an eerie backdrop to this realistic fiction. With our country in such financial crisis it seems it could return to this. Maybe it’s not so bad to be afraid of that.

The whole aura of the movie always gets to me emotionally because my grandpa came to Bakersfield, CA from Arkansas when my dad was just a kid. Certainly my dad was younger than Tom Joad being born in 1945. I see the Joads as “my people.” It is quite a powerful movie when you really connect with the messages. Those messages re about life, death, family, faith, hard work, government, and more.

Favorite scene: When the Joads ask to buy a loaf of bread for a dime in a diner. They are told the bread is 15 cents a loaf and not for sale anyway. This being all they had, the storekeeper lets them have it for 10 and lies about how much the candy costs so the Joad kids can have some swirl sticks. The movie is great from beginning to end, but that scene is forever etched into my mind.

Where the Wild Things Are

This post I wrote was published first at Blogcritics.

I waited months in anticipation of this movie based on my favorite childhood book, Where the Wild Things Are. My parents used to read it to me at bedtime and I recall such vivid images of Max’s bedroom, the far-off land of the wild things, and those creatures with their yellowy eyes. It was oddly scary and comforting at the same time to hear that story each night. That’s probably why I was curious to see what director Spike Jonze would do with the big screen adaptation. Unfortunately, this movie had few positives for me.

It’s the kind of movie I wait and wait for and then wind up feeling empty once it’s over. I will concede that my opinion is not the norm. I read five reviews on Blogcritics alone before I decided I must be from another planet. I felt this movie was like cheap merchandise with nothing to back it up.

The movie begins with a sort of “grunge” look to it. The beginning scene is very short and the title of the movie sort of “freeze frames” in sloppy strokes reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon. That was cool but after that we get a contrived character of 9 or 10 years of age. He is stricken with fury at his mother, his sister, and those around him in those scenes. My wife and I have a debate going over whether he shows evidence of mental illness. Make no mistake … this is decidedly not the “Max” of the original book.

The Max in the book is a garrulous young boy of about six years old. He is sent to his room without his supper. The Max of the movie is deeply disturbed and much older and he ends up running away from home. There is serious convolution of character and plot here.

When the “movie Max,” played by child actor Max Records, gets to the island on his boat, the book’s magic is lost. The movie has already cashed in on the book’s familiar appeal.

I should say here that this movie is decidedly not for kids. My 2- and 4-year-old girls were on the verge of tears a couple times. A friend of mine has a daughter who cried uncontrollably through the opening snow tunnel scene. Well, maybe that was an over-reaction, it’s not terrible I suppose. More than that, it is a bait and switch from the book we all read growing up.

One particularly scary aspect of the movie is the character Judith, played by Catherine O’Hara. She is not a playful character and seems to show direct and unbridled hate toward Max in a few scenes. I have a feeling the movie wants to be a statement about refusing to grow up. This is the opposite of the book’s message, which brings acceptance of growth and maturity upon Max’s return. I could accept the Judith scenes if he grew somehow. Instead, he just seems to eventually run away again.

If you want to watch disturbing images in and out of realistic fiction, this movie will appeal to you. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate disturbing images when they make a point. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed the 1970’s Pink Floyd movie The Wall. It made excellent points through disturbing images. The difference from WTWTA is that The Wall didn’t claim to be a big screen adaptation of a beloved children’s book.

If I had to pick one positive aspect of this film I’d say it’s the Jim Henson muppet wild things. They look awesome. If that alone is worth your trip to a movie, I won’t steer you away. However, if you want a warmhearted adaptation of a children’s book, pass on this one.

I Love You Man

Here’s some of what I had to say about a hilarious movie, I Love You Man:

This post I wrote was first published at Blogcritics.

I just saw I Love You, Man, the latest film by director John Hamburg (The Letter, Along Came Polly) and I laughed myself silly. The operative word here is “silly” because in the same spirit of Hamburg’s Along Came Polly, this movie is a laugh a minute. Despite some crude references, which are more the norm than the exception in Hollywood these days, this is a wholesome R-rated comedy (if that is possible).

Peter Klaven, played by Paul Rudd, is a real estate agent in his 30s, set to be married to Zooey, played by Rashida Jones. Peter needs a best man. His brother can do it but he feels they are not that close. Instead, Peter chooses to start “man-dating.” This sets a stage where some truly hilarious scenes take place. These are jokes about the insecurities some guys have about getting close. There’s nothing gay going on but it feels like that same category of humor (i.e. Reno 911, The Birdcage, etc). This is a clever job of writing; it’s nice to see a movie that takes a spin on something that’s already been done and makes it original.

One of the themes revisited several times in this film is the “man cave.” Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) has a man cave and invites Peter into it to jam Rush songs and observe his “special chair” (one of the crude references I alluded to earlier). Every guy 21 and up can relate to a man cave: a place to jam music and talk about chicks!

The conflict at the end is quite predictable, especially in its resolution, but frankly, I didn’t care to be critical. I was laughing and enjoying myself right up until the end. They might have made the Sydney character a bit more normal since most guys have friends like that. Then again, this is a movie so it doesn’t have to be exactly like real life, I guess. It never became as odd as The Cable Guy but that sort of weirdness in another shade is what I’m talking about. Take it from this writer, friends don’t have to be that weird to be weird according to our wives. I thought the writing of Sydney was a bit overkill.

The Southern California settings were beautiful, starting in Pasadena, working through Venice Beach, and finally culminating in the real on-location wedding in Santa Barbara. I found the realism of setting reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s recent film Yes Man which was shot in Pasadena, Balboa Park, and at the Hollywood Bowl.

I recommend this one to guys and/or couples 21 and up. My wife and I laughed our brains out. Sure, it could have been better with a more realistic characterization of Sydney but who’s keeping track of stuff like that in new movies that really make us laugh?

Harvey (1950) 5/5 – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ meets ‘Psycho’

Jimmy Stewart is one of the most impressive and emotive actors of all time. His voice creates a presence of calm and attention. He usually has something to say in a film and in Harvey it’s life wisdom hand over fist.

Harvey

“Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six foot-tall rabbit for a best friend, a whimsical middle-aged man is thought by his family to be insane – but he may be wiser than anyone knows.” -IMDB
Cast

James Stewart Elwood P. Dowd
Josephine Hull Veta Louise Simmons
Peggy Dow Ruth Kelly
Charles Drake Dr. Lyman Sanderson

Directed by

Henry Koster

Written by

Mary Chase, Mary Chase

Other Info

Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Not Rated
Fri 13 Oct 1950 UTC
111min
IMDB Rating: 8.0

Directed by Henry Koster, this film was in a long list of highly successful films of its time. One that rings a bell with me is The Bishop’s Wife (1947) but the list is quite long. It makes sense such a prolific creator would have made a gem like this. Clearly he was acquainted with mental health facilities and care of the time. They are presented realistically for the time.

James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, a happy-go-lucky homebody dedicated to taking care of his sister who is ailing and a bit hysterical. He keeps her calm and we can see early on how relaxed as a person he is. Peggy Dow plays Ruth Kelly, a beautiful young nurse who is kind and helpful to Elwood even though she may think him crazy. I hope if I am ever thought crazy I get such wonderful sweet treatment. Charles Drake plays Dr. Lyman Sanderson. This doctor has a crush on nurse Kelly and they provide some romantic tension in the plot. There are a few more really great performances in this movie. I am honestly blown away every time I see it.

The story here starts with Elwood (Jimmy Stewart). He talks to a 6 foot rabbit who the audience may or may not ever see, you’ll have to decide. Maybe you just see the impact of him but not him physically. That’s really the point of the movie. Is it bad to have delusions that don’t hurt anyone? In fact, can these delusions even help everyone?

FINAL THOUGHTS
Harvey is on my shortlist of best movies I’ve seen in my lifetime. I like it because I sometimes waffle back and forth into the land of what people expect of me and what I want for myself. Elwood P Dowd is my reason to dwell in the latter. I like movies that make me think and give me something to talk about with my wife and friends. I think we can see every neurosis there is in these characters and choose the one we want to act the part of. As for me? I pick the delusional Elwood. See it, make some coffee and call me, we’ll chat it up!

5/5

Boyhood

I waited a while to review this movie because I had a feeling it would age better in my memory. This movie doesn’t show life before our eyes, it puts us among it. I loved this movie for so many reasons, let me set down a few. This film project took 12 years to complete. The director, Richard Linklater, had a vision of using the same actors over a long period of time. The idea was that is would be good cinema, and it is but not for a whole lot more than that. If the film wasn’t so long, I think more people would have found the aging actors thing stunning. As it is, not many people have seen this movie.

Sarah and I drove down the hill to see it at the Ontario Mills mall. We love that place, it has many happy family and couple memories. That could be why we were emotionally MOVED by this film. We have been through the years with kids presented in the film. I have looked in the mirror through decades and seen the changes so evident in this avant garde film. I would say we are given permission to be among the family as it weaves through. The boy reminds me of Hayden Christensen. He does an okay job. Actually I thought the title was lost on such a one dimensional actor. The teen years ad up really show he can’t carry a movie. Still, having once been a boy, I appreciate the title. You’re going to see and feel a whole lot more in Boyhood than the boy. A better name might have been something like Travellin’ thru time with the fam. But hey, I wasn’t around when they were batting around names right? It’s a novelty and if you have a family with kids you’ll pour your own experiences in and have a great time. Unfortunately the film relies solely on its novelty and not enough on a believable script and actors.

Previewing Best Documentary Short Nominees – My post on the LAMB

The Large Association of Movie Blogs (LAMB), run by Jay Cluitt, has been sort of my conduit to blog film criticism and specifically posdcasting. I was on the MOTM episode last weekend and found out I had time to submit an article for ‘Best Documentary Short’ nominees for the Oscars. I was quite happy about that.

I watched all 5 short films and wrote mini reviews. Jay was kind enough to publish my post today on the LAMB.

Below is an excerpt, you can visit the LAMB site to read the whole thing. I found these shorts to be some of the most powerful films I’ve seen ever, even just at 20 minutes or so each. A common theme is “connectedness” of the humans on several levels.

This year’s short film documentary nominees are all excellent, however they aren’t really “feel good” films but they use the documentary short genre to deliver important and powerful information of our time. Recurrent themes like the plight of refugees and the Holocaust abound. This is great news to me because I believe in these causes and movies are a powerful medium to broadcast them. I rate this type of film by how captivating the presentation is, and my how captivating they can be! Since the Oscar should go to the film as an art form, the topic is actually secondary.

Extremis

Currently streaming on Netflix. This difficult short film takes the viewer into the real ER and hospital beds of the critically ill. Whether it’s cancer or a disabling disorder requiring a breathing tube, we see what doctors and families face every day. I have become increasingly interested in the right to die with dignity movement. This short really makes a great case for consideration. These are real patients filmed in a real hospital setting. The interviews with their families as well as the footage of them being interviewed by doctors are all real. It is almost impossible to watch in a comfortable way but then again, impossible to turn it off.

The White Helmets

Also streaming on Netflix. The Syrian conflict is unknown to a lot of Americans. It’s relevant because Obama’s administration gave a lot of aid and assistance to the refugees. I was always a proponent of this because I hated to think people had nowhere to go except into the bombs. This film made me realize I was right to support the Syrian aid. It focuses on a group known as the White Helmets. They are a volunteer Syrian force that assists those in the bombing zones. Like Extremis this is a hard short film to watch. It’s also a great film because you can’t turn away from it, it draws you in. …

Read the rest of my post at the LAMB site.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This movie opinion piece is based on my article first published as Voyage of the Dawn Treader Actors Grown into Their Skin on Blogcritics.

Much can be said in praise of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Among those praises is the acting. We saw most of these characters in the prior Narnia films, but never so grown up in their acting skills. In a way I think the franchise would have been better with all of them at this age (2010). I don’t know if the messages of Narnia can be properly played by kids who haven’t lived much. Maybe I have to go back and see the old one again? Whatever I may find in reviewing prior films, the actors in Voyage of the Dawn Treader are grown up to perfectly play the kids of Narnia.

The director Michael Apted is one to be respected. His back catalog includes Nell with Jodie Foster, a Bond film The World is Not Enough, and a slough of other films through the years that most any fan of film culture has heard of. All his efforts come together and make this movie appear a professional, emotive film for our times. It is regal, like the impression you get looking at a fine chandeliers.

There are three screenplay authors: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni. The first two worked together on the previous Narnia films while Petroni was brought in just for this one. This may be what adds a new dimension to this film for me. Of course, with three writers adapting a novel to a screenplay, it’s impossible for a humble viewer to say who brought what.

Stellar acting is delivered by the once small Lucy Pevensie, Georgie Henley. I can’t say enough good things about her. She is growing into an accomplished actress and yet she maintains an unassuming air rarely seen in big time actors. There is a scene before she goes into Narnia when she is in her school uniform talking with her siblings and I could tell by her experiences voice and movement that she had grown into a more soulful, mature actor.

Another actor grown into his own skin is Skandar Keynes, Edmund Pevensie. His interactions with the white witch in this film are much more believable than the ones previously. This is crucial to the impact of this film in as much as “dealings with the devil” are important to all the works of C.S. Lewis.

Ben Barnes, who plays Caspian, also plays a very maturely acted role and adds a lot to the film. When I look at photos of him off camera I am struck by how much older and mature he looks in the movie than how he appears in real life. I think all the characters really grew up to act in this film and it provides a positive impact.

Last but not least, Will Poulter plays Eustace Clarence Scrubb. This character by far gives the film more depth than previous Narnia ones. While we may not find him a loveable figure, we see ourselves in Eustace. Whoever has been self conscious or fearful can find relatable material in his character. He does an excellent job conveying an “unlikeable” character to the audience. The payoff? In the end we learn it’s ok to be imperfect. Aren’t we all? Furthermore, the imperfect can inherit the promised land.

It is clear to me the Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be remembered more than the prior ones in this franchise. This is due in large part to the actors having grown into their own skin and their craft.