Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Return of a Winner

In our short visit to Connecticut, we have been immersed in Disney. Our grandkids are 4 and 2 and currently love THE LITTLE MERMAID(1989), the film began the renaissance of classic Disney animation that petered out in the late 1950's. Told in lush, expressionist colors that recall the gorgeous paintings of BAMBI and especially PINOCHIO and its dreamlike under water sequences, THE LITTLE MERMAID is ever so loosely based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson and sets a pattern that would be duplicated again and again in other new classics such as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST(1991), ALADDIN,(1992), and THE LION KING (1994).

So it was inevitable that we take four year old Rosie to see THE LION KING in 3-D. She was in awe of the spectacle but especially the cute animals, but she jumped into her mother's lap at key moments of Disney darkness--the wildebeast stampede and the snarling hyenas. I had been afraid that the 3-D version would be another mess like CLASH OF THE TITANS, but it was magnificent in its recreation of the original film's gorgeous vistas, streaked skies, the foreboding elephant graveyard, and, in fact, almost every visual aspect. While THE LITTLE MERMAID had not used famous voices, ALADDIN had employed a fantastic performance from comic Robin Williams as the genie, so the new trend was celebrity voices. Sometimes they work, often as not. But the two major adult characters in THE LION KING need commanding, strongly contrasting voices. And they got them!

Perhaps the most famous "Voice" in movies and television is James Earl Jones, who memorably gave Darth Vader his menace to the half-human, half-machine. Jones wisely toned down (or up, to be correct) his approach to voice Mustafa, the Lion King, and displayed strength as well as paternal love. As Scar, his jealous brother, Jeremy Irons practically stole the show, taking the Iago approach with smothering charm and cunning but acting with merciless cruelty. Iron's rich baritone-bass makes Scar one of Disney's greatest villains.

THE LION KING was made into one of the most successful Broadway musicals in history, holding on to its original songs and spirit and adding the puppetry magic of Julie Taymor's creative production as well as delightful new music. In the long run, the original film THE LION KING will always stand as one of the classic Disney animated films, proudly standing side by side with PINOCHIO and FANTASIA(both 1940), the height of Disney animation.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Movies to Make You Think AND Feel

Ever wonder why the better foreign movies are different from the typical Hollywood fare? Perhaps it's the guts to tackle difficult (read "depressing")subjects. Or maybe it's the pace without a car chase every five minutes and a booming soundtrack to mask how bad the movie really is (TRANSPORTERS 1, 2, 3).

We have recently watched two fine films, one Danish, and the other, French Canadian). The latter, INCENDIES (SCORCHED), relates a tortuous journey of adult twins looking into the mysterious past of their recently deceased mother. This 2010 drama tells the story of a woman with an incredibly painful past in the Middle East, who eventually escaped to Canada with her infant twins. What horrific things has she endured? And why does her will direct her children to look for the answers to her story and their parentage? The film follows the mother and her twins' difficult journeys towards the truth in a strongly realistic, take-no-prisoners style. The acting, especially that of the mother and the female twin, is superb. There is rarely any booming music, only elegaic when appropriate. INCENDIES was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 2010, but the trophy went to the Danish film IN A BETTER WORLD.

I could not easily choose one of these films above the other, but IN A BETTER WORLD is complex and gripping in terms of family dynamics, the loss of a parent, extreme bullying that leads to extreme results, a marriage dissolving.
And this is all in a small city in Denmark. The action shifts back and forth between an unidentified but brutal African country where a Danish doctor does incredible feats of caring and saving lives. Each time he goes home, he is faced with deeper conflicts within his family and another family, a Swedish business man whose wife has died from cancer and his bitter middle school son. The lack of communication between adults and their children leads to shocking actions, and the Danish doctor attempts to teach his son and his friend the nature of turning the other cheek. Ironically, he is forced to reconsider that attitude when faced with unspeakable evil in Africa. This beautifully filmed drama develops its central characters with vivid performances, believable conversations, and suspense.

Don't be afraid of movies like IN A BETTER WORLD and INCENDIES. Instead, embrace them and watch them with friends.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Famous Last Lines from Classic Films

Most of these are rather obvious, but here are some of my favorite last lines. See if you can match them to the movies they came from.

a. "Rosebud"

b. "After all, tomorrow is another day."

c. "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?"

d. "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."

e. "Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine."

f. "...there's no place like home."

g. "They can't lick us. And we'll go on forever, Pa...cause we're the people."

h. "The stuff that dreams are made of." "Huh?"

i. "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

j. "Oh, Jerry, please don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars."

k. "All right, Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my close-up."

l. "Let's go home, Debbie."

m. "Well, nobody's perfect."

n. "Why, she wouldn't hurt a fly."

o. "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!"

p. "Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life."

q. "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown (duh)

r. "This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off."

s. "I never had any friends on like I did when I was 12. Does anybody?"

t. "As you wish."

u. "The horror, the horror!"


2. ALIEN, 1979 15. SOME LIKE IT HOT, 1959



5. PSYCHO, 1960 18. STAND BY ME, 1986



8. THE WIZARD OF OZ, 1939 21. A STAR IS BORN, 1937, 1954


10. CHINATOWN, 1974


12. CASABLANCA, 1942

13. CITIZEN KANE, 1941

So, have fun and send some of your favorites.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Paul Rudd achieves the impossible

In the last ten years there have been so many movies with child-men, losers, and slackers as main characters that one shudders at the thought of another one called OUR IDIOT BROTHER. Think of these actors and their roles--Adam Sandler, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen. They are prime examples of the adolescent male who seems to never grow up. He exists to party, smoke a joint, play video games, and be as gross as possible.

Now we have OUR IDIOT BROTHER, which on the surface sounds like more of the same, but, be assured, this is a fresh take on the slacker syndrome and almost an antidote to those lame examples from the past few years. The main reason is Paul Rudd, who has added a few pounds for the part, grown a lot of hair and beard, and shed his usual smarter than thou persona. Rudd made his first positive impression in the delightful comedy CLUELESS (1995) playing a good-hearted liberal who genuinely cares for the main character, a teen based on Jane Austen's meddling EMMA. Since then he has been mostly a second banana to folks like Steve Carrell (THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and Will Ferrell (ANCHORMAN).

In OUR IDIOT BROTHER Rudd portrays Ned, a sweet guy who believes in trust and in helping people. He's just been released from prison for possession and sales of pot to a policeman (who entrapped him), his hippie girl friend has dumped him and taken his beloved dog, and he is forced to go home and stay with his mom and his sisters. At each stop Ned is painfully honest. He says what he thinks and does not seem to have a filter, which leads to some embarrassing domestic dilemmas with the sisters but also to the betterment of their lives. The movie is greatly aided by the sharp performances of Emily Mortimer as a passive mother who doesn't see that her controlling husband is having an affair, Elizabeth Banks as career-driven harridan, and Zooey Deschannel (a delight in 500 DAYS OF SUMMER), as a lesbian who strays and gets pregnant. They all love Ned, but he drives them all crazy with his innocent honesty.

But the film's driving force is Paul Rudd who gives Ned innocence as well as likeability. It's almost impossible not to like Ned because it's almost impossible not to like Paul Rudd.