The Peanut Butter Falcon

Release: Friday, August 23, 2019

→Theater 

Written by: Tyler Nilson; Michael Schwartz

Directed by: Tyler Nilson; Michael Schwartz

Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz make their narrative feature début with what could be the year’s most Googled movie title, The Peanut Butter Falcon. Previously known for their short films and documentaries, the duo are now behind this year’s biggest crowd-pleaser, a breezily entertaining, stunningly authentic slice of southern living that updates classic Mark Twain for a 2019 audience, one in desperate need of a feel-good moment.

As an evocation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the narrative adheres to a predictable formula, following a pair of runaways who form an unexpected bond in the pursuit of a better future all while being pursued by their own troubled pasts. Shia LaBeouf plays the scraggly Tyler, the ‘Tom Sawyer’ archetype, on the run after having stolen some crab pots from a rivaling crabber (John Hawkes) and his Yelawolf crony, while newcomer Zack Gottsagen, a 34-year-old actor with Down syndrome, gives us an unforgettable ‘Huck Finn’ in the form of Zak — uh, that’s without the ‘c’ I guess. An escapee of the nursing home to which the state of North Carolina has banished him, his newfound independence becomes an increasing concern for his caretaker, Eleanor (a wonderful Dakota Johnson).

After literally setting fire to the competition, for Tyler the goal is simply to get out of dodge and move to a small fishing town in Florida where he can get a new start. That mission gets more complicated when he finds a stowaway on the same johnboat he’s planning to commandeer — a young man, wide-eyed and slathered in what appears to be jelly, barely clinging to his underwear. Zak declares he’s on his own mission to track down the whereabouts of his wrestling idol, The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), who he’s watched on VHS so many times his former roommate (Bruce Dern) knows all the moves himself.

Where The Peanut Butter Falcon really distinguishes itself is in the acting department, particularly in the leading duo — and eventual trio — whose natural chemistry makes it no secret as to what the culture behind the scenes was like. According to the filmmakers this was quite an atypical film shoot; everyone got to know each other intimately. Coming to work meant being part of a family wherein cast and crew spent “morning, noon and night” together, swimming, grilling out, getting into rap battles — basically doing the things Adam Sandler does every year, except the difference is a quality product. (And it’s also hard to envision a Happy Madison production regularly wrapping in a big, group hug — something mandated, apparently, by the outwardly affectionate Gottsagen.)

It is almost impossible not to look at The Peanut Butter Falcon as a redemption story for the seemingly perennially embattled LaBeouf, who really seems motivated to put the distractions behind him here as he filters the turbulence of the last several years through the foibles of Tyler. However it is Gottsagen who is the movie’s heart and soul. His character’s arc is inspired by the true (and truly feel-good) story that has been his own journey to the big screen. The aspiring movie star was discovered by Nilson and Schwartz a few years ago by way of a short film produced at an acting camp for those with and without disabilities. When they finally met, the directors were candid about his chances of making it in an industry where those with Down syndrome — indeed, a wide range of physical and mental development problems — are among the most marginalized. Entirely unfazed, Gottsagen compelled what would become his future bosses and creative partners to be those first few people to “make it happen.”

What ended up happening is one of the year’s warmest and most entertaining movies. What began life as a 10-minute short (available on YouTube as The Moped Diaries) evolved into one big mama hug of a full-length feature film, one that couches the universality of its themes — ostracism, self-worth, independence and friendship/family — within the filmmakers’ distinct sense of regionalism (it helps Nilson is actually from North Carolina). The movie is also shot beautifully and with some degree of poignancy, Nigel Bluck’s photography capturing both the geographic character and economic stagnation that explains the likes of Hawkes’ desperate Duncan, a man who, like everyone else, is just trying to live life but is really struggling.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is what you would describe as an original property — it’s not a direct adaptation of an IP or a sequel of any kind — but of course it’s not wholly original. Nilson and Schwartz are drawing from the deepest parts of the well of American literature. Importantly this modern incarnation is kept rooted in southern soil (though we exchange Missouri and the Mighty Mississippi for the tributaries and barrier reefs of the Outer Banks) and it retains many of the symbols native to the source material while telling its own story with unique and memorable characters. With a renewed spirit — and an intensely infectious one at that, thanks to the fantastic performances — The Peanut Butter Falcon softens Mark Twain without sacrificing the grit and pain that was so pronounced in his writing, the film managing not only to justify itself but to make what’s old not necessarily feel new but certainly revitalized and just an absolute joy to sit through once again.

Recommendation: The Peanut Butter Falcon makes it fun to float the river with a trio of sincere, heartfelt performances, and easy to set aside any preconceived notions we might have of some of the cast. Plus, wrestling fans are sure to get a kick out of a couple of well-placed cameos. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “What’s Rule Number One?”

“. . . Party!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.variety.com 

Brigsby Bear

Release: Friday, July 28, 2017 (limited) 

→Theater

Written by: Kevin Costello; Kyle Mooney

Directed by: Dave McCary 

THIS REVIEW INCLUDES DETAILS THAT COULD BE CONSIDERED SPOILERS

Like last year’s gloriously weird Swiss Army Man, Brigsby Bear is a film guided by its own compass. Granted, not a penis, but rather the element of human empathy and compassion. It’s one of the year’s bona fide feel-good films, one that consistently offers surprises and subverts expectation at almost every turn. Given the times in which we are living, it’s an experience you really shouldn’t miss.

There are a few fleeting moments early in the film during which you feel the heat of a potentially mean-spirited drama beginning to rise. But that discomfort is soon assuaged by the stunning direction taken by Dave McCary, best described as the result of a choice between ostracizing his oddball protagonist and making him the hero of his own story. To that end, Brigsby Bear is a celebration of weirdness and individualism handled with maturity and grace — so much so, it begs the question why more movies can’t set this kind of example.

Brigsby Bear is an educational television show geared towards children, a Barney and Friends featuring a man dressed as a bear instead of a purple dinosaur. It’s a program to which James (Kyle Mooney) is completely dedicated. As a full-grown man he’s the show’s biggest fan. He’s . . . kinda the only one. Living in an underground bunker with his parents Tim (Mark Hamill) and April Mitchum (Jane Adams), the show is the only impression the apparent man-child has of the outside world. When the curtain finally falls on Brigsby, a confused James is challenged to find a way to keep it alive, as well as his sense of identity.

Brainwashing and child abduction aren’t subjects that strike you as comedic material, yet McCary embraces the opportunity to turn a negative into a major positive. Besides, the goal isn’t to seduce audiences into uncontrollable giggling fits. Think Napoleon Dynamite stuck in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. James’ transition into the real world could have been difficult to endure. I suppose it is at the very least disturbing. Notes of melancholy occasionally bubble to the surface, particularly in scenes featuring his biological parents (played by Matt Walsh in what feels like a long time coming for one of my favorite character actors, with great support from Michaela Watkins).

But why waste time manufacturing more hatred when you can provide audiences this kind of uplift? The comedy is never left untainted by some degree of sadness, but it’s the choice to look beyond the pain that defines McCay’s directorial debut. What’s more surprising than the quality of the material — an original collaboration between Mooney and Kevin Costello, inspired by the former’s fascination with ’80s children’s programming (and VHS tapes) — are the names who have helped nurture its transition from page to screen. Brigsby Bear has the backing of a number of SNL alums, including its director and lead actor (who, by the way, is nothing short of revelatory), as well as the members of American comedy trio The Lonely Island — with Andy Samberg taking a small part as a patient at a psychiatric ward, a cameo that is going to elevate his street cred as an actor not inconsiderably.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it occurred, but I knew that when it happened I was watching something special. Maybe it was that party scene, a sequence that turns almost every single stereotype associated with hard-partying millennials on their heads and boots them to the curb. What happens to James is never quite what you expect. Yet, morally, it’s not something you should be surprised by. With the events of the last few weeks alone, Brigsby Bear reminds us that the smallest acts of kindness, of supportiveness and cooperation should not go unappreciated or unnoticed. In that way, this feels more than just another Sundance darling familiarly outfitted with a funny name and quirky characters.

Recommendation: Richly emotionally satisfying, morally upstanding and winningly geeky (with hints of hipsterdom and a touch of creep to really spice things up). There are only moments where the film tips over into sentimentality but the trump card is the film’s earnestness. This is a tribute to the creative process insofar as it is an exploration of the people who help make their dreams realities. If you only see one movie a year, choose this one. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 97 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Blue Jay

blue-jay-poster

Release: Friday, October 7, 2016 (limited) 

[Netflix]

Written by: Mark Duplass

Directed: Alex Lehmann

In Blue Jay, Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson make a little adventure out of being a couple long since broken up. When the former high school sweethearts bump into each other at a grocery store in their hometown after 20 years, they spend an entire movie — the first in a four-movie deal Duplass has recently inked with Netflix — taking a stroll down memory lane.

It’s actually a wonderful conceit and who better to handle the walking and talking and thick-beard-charmery than Mark Duplass? Looking fresh off the set of a Carhartt commercial (yet well within the definition of a typical mumblecorian protagonist), he stars as a 30-something-year-old blank slate barely named Jim at the beginning of the film. Over the course of a breezy 80 minutes we will come to know more about him through his awkward-then-amazing interactions with co-star Sarah Paulson, who plays his high school girlfriend, Amanda.

The two find themselves back in their native Crestline, California for different reasons. A conversation over coffee soon reveals just how many other things have changed in their lives. But their genuine attraction to one another has clearly endured. They slip right back into roles they have long since vacated as they go about town reminiscing about their youth and “uncool-ness,” enjoying the most romantic not-date anyone has ever experienced.

Throughout we become privy to a series of revelations that intimate a shared past filled with joy but one not devoid of pain. The question looms ever larger despite (or perhaps because of) all the fun being had: what could have possibly caused such kindred spirits to drift apart?

While Duplass has a screenwriting credit, the foggy haze of memory and nostalgia is realized through a combination of improvised dialogue and intuitive performance. As is true for any low-budget indie, well-made or not, the experimental approach carries with it a significant risk of failure. Blue Jay was also shot in black-and-white on a camera originally designed for military use. This would all seem like a tick-list of indie affectations had the film shown no interest in connecting with its audience.

Blue Jay is quite a lot more than artifice. It’s a perpetually enlightening experience chiefly concerned with the way we romanticize the past, particularly past relationships. Jim and Amanda prove that reconciliation is possible if you really want it. (I guess you also have to be a little lucky, too.) I wanted for this to go on longer. Eighty minutes simply isn’t enough when you’re in the company of people who are as adorkable as Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson.

dance-party-with-mark-duplass-and-sarah-paulson

4-0Recommendation: Bittersweet indie film is tailor-made for fans of Mark Duplass’ unique sensibilities. It’s also a great showcase for Sarah Paulson, who steps into a role I don’t think I’ve ever seen her play before. Blue Jay gives us so many different ways of dealing with the pain that inevitably comes with the break-up. In that way the movie is pretty inspiring. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 80 mins.

Quoted: “Are you going to be the first female white rapper to open for Public Enemy?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Jungle Book

'The Jungle Book' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 15, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Justin Marks

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Forgetting about your worries and your strife is pretty easy to do when Jon Favreau’s bold decision to remake the Disney animated classic all but steals you away to a wonderful world filled with adventure, danger and English-speaking animals.

It’s actually quite amazing how talented a director Favreau (yes, as in Tony Stark’s favorite body guard, Happy) is as his latest passion project showcases a knack for both interpretation and reinvention, borrowing that which made the 1967 animation a timeless adventure while modifying certain elements with an even more intimate examination of life in this complex jungle, first envisioned by 19th Century poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling. Though it’s not the first time the actor/director has offered up a heaping helping of popcorn-munching entertainment, The Jungle Book could well be his most complete and emotionally satisfying piece. And it has just one human actor in it.

The Jungle Book, first and foremost, is the epitome of a Disney production. It’s wholesome, family friendly and heartwarming. Our capacity for empathy is a testament to the effectiveness of the digitally-rendered characters; by all accounts this is the film we remember, only it’s not animated. Bathed in the same effervescence of innocence and self-discovery that defines Disney’s animated offerings, Favreau’s interpretation gains strength as playfulness and good spirits eventually give way to danger and darkness as the story we fell in love with so long ago is played out once more but on a much more visceral level.

That the film actually benefits from treading familiar ground is also a testament to the strength of Favreau’s convictions that this is a story worthy of the live-action treatment. More importantly, The Jungle Book hits all the beats we expect it to, even finding time to add new dimensions to the many character interactions we’ve held so dear for nearly half a century. A fixation on the harsh realities of surviving in this tropical environment also helps steer the production away from utter predictability, even though the showdowns that threaten the very fiber of the MPAA’s standards for what makes a PG-rated film are expected from the very beginning.

Favreau (yes, as in the guy whom Paul Rudd puked all over in I Love You, Man)’s wisest decision was to place emphasis on characters, letting the nature-versus-nurture debate at the heart of this tale of survival manifest naturally. As Mowgli learns the kinds of things he’s capable of — he’s quite handy when it comes to building things — is he doomed to repeat the actions of his elders? Can he be taught to be different, to not abuse the power of fire?

Mowgli (introducing Neel Sethi) first comes flying into the frame with wolves in hot pursuit, an apparent training exercise designed by his panther protector Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) to help the man-cub outlast predators. We get a deeper sense of his adoptive family unit as we’re introduced to the wolf pack clan gathering at the edge of a rocky precipice, preparing for the rains that are soon to come, soon to summon animals of all kinds to a nearby watering hole. Life seems pretty swell as a member of the pack, especially if you call the honorable Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) dad and the warm, fiercely protective Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) mom.

But then there are threats to such peace, like the prowling beast Shere Khan, a villain made viable on the virtue of Idris Elba’s deep, booming voice alone — a monster of a tiger whose facial scars are inextricably linked to Mowgli’s past. This isn’t, however, a villain introduced for the sake of it. Khan’s concern is actually one shared by all sorts of animals, including the wolf pack: that the man-cub will one day be a grown man and, based on experiences, fully grown men bring nothing but death and destruction to the jungle. Animals greatly fear their “red flower;” fire, the ultimate villain, plays just as dramatic a role here as it did in the 1967 version.

Mowgli’s fate, with one or two wrinkles thrown in, is the same as before: his future is largely unknown. Bagheera and Akela agree that he’d be safer with his own kind, and Bagheera sets off on a journey with the boy that will expose the pair to intermittent treachery and silliness, including, but not limited to, seductive snakes (Scarlett Johansson as Kaa is genius casting, even if she’s underused), oafish bears desperate for honey (Bill Murray is, and probably to no one’s surprise, the pinnacle of excellence here, making for an arguably better Baloo than Phil Harris) and one gigantic ape with delusions of grandeur. (On that note, Christopher Walken unfortunately shares Johansson’s plight of being stuck with an underserved subplot; it’s basically a cameo.)

You can’t really overstate the impact an A-list cast has on a movie like this; personalities fit the wild animals to a T and all signs point to everyone involved taking this project extremely seriously . . . even Emjay Anthony, who Favreau liked enough in the making of Chef to give him a small part as one of the wolf cubs. And the knock-on effect: we, the paying customers, get to kick back and enjoy the simple bare necessities of escaping from reality and into the visual wonderland and heightened sense of humanity only anthropomorphic animals who have a tendency to break out into song and dance can provide.

The Jungle Book is many things: it’s one of the year’s biggest surprises, an achievement in CGI rendering, and a new standard to which all upcoming family outings must rise this year. Above all, it’s an immensely enjoyable blockbuster-type release. It is that way from beginning to end. Even though a few scenes expose the more obligatory side of Favreau’s directorial style — King Louie really needed a longer introduction and a less rushed exit, as did Kaa — there’s more than enough here to proclaim 2016 as the year in which Kipling’s visionary tale about man and animal coexisting became immortalized.

Recommendation: The Jungle Book is proof that sometimes, just sometimes, with great risk comes even greater reward. Jon Favreau rewards audiences with a remake that stays true to not only the characters, but the emotional challenges and even a few of the songs that popularized the original animated version. Fans of the original, it’s time to let out that sigh of relief. Favreau and his excellent cast have truly outdone themselves. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “No matter where you go or what they may call you, you will always be my son.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Brooklyn

Brooklyn movie poster

Release: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Nick Hornby

Directed by: John Crowley

For future generations, when kids look up the word ‘nostalgia’ in the dictionary, they’ll just see a poster of The Force Awakens beside it. And, you know, that’s cool. I can’t say that would be a poor definition.

I guess what I’d like to see is a little asterisk directing attention to the footnotes, where John Crowley’s Brooklyn would get at least some recognition for its heavily nostalgic appeal.

Here is a gorgeously mounted production, the culmination of inspired performances from rising stars and notions of old-fashioned romance steeped absolutely in nostalgia. A labor of love propelled by an urgency to prove ‘old-fashioned’ isn’t necessarily synonymous with ‘old hat.’ Okay, so the film is set several decades ago but its consideration of foreign environments and experiences resonates strongly in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis. And any American watching on is sure to be reminded of their own border crisis with their southern neighbors.

I should probably stop myself there. This film needs not to be introduced as some polemic political statement. Immigration isn’t so much problematic as it is traumatic. At the same time, Brooklyn shouldn’t be misconstrued as a film that romanticizes the immigration process. In this film life is far from a fairytale — it’s tough, and so it should be. Driven by emotion, it depicts the conundrum Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) finds herself in having left the comforts of sleepy Enniscorthy behind to pursue a life in the States. Story ultimately measures the success of its protagonist on the basis of her ability to overcome (or perhaps embrace) notions of familial customs, cultural acceptance and personal growth.

Screenwriter Nick Hornby adapts the 2009 Colm Tóibín novel of the same name, fashioning a drama that warms the heart as effortlessly as it breaks it. Though the story certainly drifts and never forms into something entirely unexpected, the more contemplative scenes play out naturally, unburdened by structure, and are rather potent given the conditions the protagonist must endure for some time. It all feels a little less aimless when Eilis meets the kindhearted Tony (Emory Cohen), a boy from an Italian family whose confession over liking Irish girls — hence his presence at a small get-together put on by Irish Brooklynites — endears him to her.

And so it is: Brooklyn becomes an acting showcase. Cohen turns out to be nothing short of a revelation. His Tony oozes the kind of charisma most Movie Stars today wish they were gifted with. He may not light up as many cigarettes or don any leather jackets, but Cohen has that James Dean swagger. Tony is the kind of stand-up guy who merits comparisons to the likes of Romeo Capulet and Jack Dawson. In that way, the film aches with nostalgia for the days where genuinely good men fell into genuinely romantic relationships, not contrived meet-cutes in which the likes of Gerard Butler and Justin Long find themselves flung into . . . because, script.

In this movie our ultimate concern revolves around relationships, but that’s not for a lack of ambition. For someone trying to assimilate to another part of the world, establishing relationships is a crucial step. It’s the only step at first. Through a deeply introspective character study Brooklyn proposes that one little step can form an entire bridge. For the thousands of people who have passed through Ellis Island and elsewhere, it can be a matter of life and death, and that’s not a reality the film takes for granted.

Of course, ultimately Eilis is a very fortunate young woman. And the film doesn’t take that for granted. Tony’s introduction tinges the film with a romantic filter. The light in an otherwise dark room. Call it a fairytale if you wish, but precious little feels good about the sacrifices Eilis must make in order to get to a good place. There’s nothing particularly magical about the background from which Tony hails. He may be a plumber, but he’s also a hard-working, good-natured young man who shows genuine interest in Eilis’ determination, intelligence and forward-thinkingness. If ever there were a couple who deserved one another’s company this year it is these two.

In the context of contemporary romantic offerings, Brooklyn reigns supreme in 2015, but don’t call it a perfect movie. Serendipity isn’t the right word, but a subplot involving her return to her homeland following a tragic development is rigged with convenience at every turn. Locals seem to conspire against Eilis ever returning to America: a friend is to be married a week after she is scheduled to return to Brooklyn and her mother accepts an invitation on her behalf; she is set up on dates with eligible bachelor Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson, picking up steam now); Eilis is even coerced into taking over her sister’s desk job. People can’t seem to stop talking about Eilis’ good fortune. Time constraints come to define this phase of the story and some of these later scenes, and Gleeson’s character in particular, feel underdeveloped as a result.

But the purpose of the return journey is very well understood. Going back to Ireland adds complication. The second boat ride gives an already conflicted girl (and viewer) yet another perspective to consider. What if life in Enniscorthy actually could be different, more opportunistic? How radically has the girl changed in the time since? The transformation may not be so dramatic but it is certainly noticeable and remarkable. If it weren’t for such confident and prideful work from its young stars, the film wouldn’t be in a place where it could reasonably pose these questions. Brooklyn is stunningly authentic, incredibly enjoyable and the fact it so effectively communicates its reverence for classic cinema qualifies it as one of the finest this year has to offer.

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 6.23.02 PM

Recommendation: Brooklyn has classic romantic appeal, and with any luck it will attract a larger audience than its silly little trailers are likely to generate. Performances make the characters easy to buy into and feel for in the end, while a sublime 1950s milieu is too easy to believe as the genuine article. A great study of character, not to mention a great date night.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “I wish that I could stop feeling that I want to be an Irish girl in Ireland.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com  

The Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur movie poster

Release: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Meg LeFauve

Directed by: Peter Sohn

Life’s pretty good if you’re a Pixar film. Contrary to the fact the ambitious animation studio is consistently held to a higher standard than the likes of DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Fox and Warner Bros. (to name a few), such an impressive track record has earned it the luxury of being able to crank out the occasional less-ambitious production without fearing a major media storm in which words like “disaster,” “major setback” or “uninspired” could comprise the headlines of the day.

Since introducing Woody and friends in the mid-90s the studio has essentially controlled its own destiny. So why shouldn’t it be allowed to conjure something that, narratively speaking, doesn’t aspire to classic status? I haven’t seen everything the studio has put out, not even close, but I feel comfortable suggesting that Cars 2 looks forward to greater replay value than, say, Hotel Transylvania 2. After all, the one constant that can be found in these films is the visual grandeur. In fact Hayao Miyazaki’s team of impossibly talented artists over at Studio Ghibli seem to be the only ones interested in giving Pixar a legitimate run for its money.

I don’t mean to suggest Pixar should ever become complacent though. With its latest adventure, The Good Dinosaur, a charming tale focusing on a family of green apatosauruses, there is an undeniable emphasis on graphics rendering over narrative construction. It tells of Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an unconfident and wobbly-kneed youngster trying to make his way back home after falling in a river in his attempts to fend off an intruder in the form of feral child Spot (aw, how cute! — no, wait; he’s going to eat these dinosaurs out of house and home . . . not cute).

The Good Dinosaur theorizes something pretty radical: what if the meteor that wiped out these prehistoric beasts never actually hit Earth? In this scenario, millions of years on, dinosaurs not only still exist but dominate the landscape, and have developed to the point of being able to articulate their thoughts and verbally communicate with one another. Arlo’s family happen to be efficient farmers. They place high value on working hard and loving one another, with Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) encouraging their three offspring to make their mark — a literal mud-print on the side of their stone silo — by doing something for the family and not just themselves.

Inevitably Arlo and Spot become reluctant traveling companions as Arlo starts to realize his enemy might actually be of help in getting back home. In practical terms, he recalls the advice of his father: as long as he follows the river he’ll find his way, but in this harsh, unpredictable and ultimately impossibly beautiful environment Arlo could use the company. He often benefits from Spot’s defensive nature and knack for finding sustenance. In a brilliantly crafted scene that sees the pair mourning — with almost no dialogue — their respective home lives, Arlo learns the little boy is also desperate for companionship.

The Good Dinosaur boils down to a generally well-intentioned though considerably flawed protagonist having to confront his deepest fears and ultimately overcome them. As the film expands, the meteor strike that never was turns out to be a footnote rather than a headline. It’s nothing if not a convoluted way to justify talking dinos and the role reversal between humans and prehistoric reptiles.

We get the requisite subplot that obliges Arlo to put others’ needs in front of his own (just as Poppa had encouraged him to do). A trio of Tyrannosaurus Rex, led by Sam Elliot’s intrepid Butch, ends up rescuing the pair from some insane pterodactyls. Arlo pays it forward by helping them recover a herd of long-horned bison they had lost track of. In the process, he gets one step closer to being back in familiar territory.

As an audience we never truly leave familiar territory behind. We’ve seen this story replayed dozens of times before, and within the Pixar universe. Thankfully, the photorealistic backdrop goes a long way in compensating. As per usual, the world is fully realized and completely immersive. Throughout our journey we come across creatures both friend and foe, bare witness to spectacular sunrises that crest the jagged peaks of Teton-esque mountain ranges, and weather severe storms that manifest as some of the film’s most unforgiving antagonists.

In keeping with tradition, almost everything you see on screen is a character unto itself, with some becoming far more memorable than others. Arlo comes in a close second behind the curious little Spot, who is very difficult not to fall in love with come the tear-jerking conclusion. I’m willing to forgive the film it’s few shortcomings because, and I reiterate, this isn’t proof of Pixar forgetting how to tell sophisticated stories. This is proof the studio knows there are different ways to express sophistication.

umm. . .yeah, supposedly this is an animated film

Recommendation: This isn’t a film that satisfies both halves of its audience in equal measure. Adults aren’t going to share in their children’s giddiness in the same way they did with Pixar’s earlier 2015 offering but there’s more than enough here for those with more matured palettes to feel comfortable kicking back and basking in the technical achievements made possible by the advent of superior graphics rendering software. And while the story isn’t the most ambitious, The Good Dinosaur is still a beautiful film in more ways than one.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “The storm provides!” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

new tbt logo

If you’ve been following along with this segment, you might be aware I’ve spent the last several installments picking titles at random — and in a slight panic, with several of them being decided upon (or even watched) at the very last possible second — so it’ll be nice to reintroduce some semblance of consistency here again, in the form of Holiday Cheer movies. Granted, the next several posts should be fairly predictable. Let’s just say that I’ve graduated from scrambling for random film titles to scrambling to find an appropriate monthly theme. 😉 With all that said, I know this entry today revolves around Thanksgiving rather than Christmas but you know what, I’m prepared to take the flak. You want to hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. 

Today’s food for thought: Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Planes Trains and Automobiles movie poster

Being victimized by public transportation services since: November 25, 1987

[Netflix]

I can’t believe I’ve only now sat down to watch for the first time Steve Martin interact with the comedic genius that was (is?) John Candy. Now the real question: is that something I should have admitted?

I suppose it doesn’t matter as I can say with Del Griffith-like confidence that John Hughes’ classic fits snugly into the brand of comedy I cherish more than any other. That’s not to say, however, that Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the kind of story you can’t find reproduced elsewhere. It’s a tried-and-true road trip adventure featuring two distinct personalities who, despite all odds, wind up growing on one another having endured several days’ worth of mishaps that border on the (amusingly) catastrophic. Replete with sight gags and punchlines that, by comparison to today’s standards, feel sophisticated and novel, Planes is of course capped off with a happy and wholly satisfying ending that epitomizes the feel-good spirit of the holiday season.

The film explores the dichotomy of the psychological effects the hectic holiday season has on people. Ignoring the isolated incidents that seem to occur on Black Friday, the day where everyone seems to take pleasure in being their worst selves, the days and weeks leading up to Christmas have potential to be some of the most stressful all year. It’s that reality that Hughes taps into using Martin, who plays an uptight and rather uncharitable marketing executive named Neal Page, and his polar opposite in Candy’s happy-go-lucky, perpetually cheerful shower curtain ring salesman Del. While it might be more comforting — beneficial, even — to assign personalities and dispositions to a spectrum ranging from very negative to positive, there’s no denying the stereotype is alive and well during the holiday shopping season.

In Planes, Neal faces one setback after another in his attempts to get back to his family for Thanksgiving dinner, starting with missing a taxi to the airport that almost causes him to miss his flight home to Chicago from New York. This is where he first bumps into Del, who would later laugh about how amusing it was that Neal tried to steal *his* cab. Wouldn’t you know it, the two end up sitting next to each other on the flight, one that ultimately ends up having to land in Wichita due to a terrible snowstorm in Chicago. Del is quick to remind Neal once on the ground that given the circumstances it will be next-to-impossible to book a hotel room anywhere, and the two end up taking a room at some seedy motel miles away, which sets up the iconic “I don’t judge you, so why do you judge me” speech.

Things only get worse from there, as Neal is faced with the prospect of continuing to travel with Del as he seems to be the only way he’s going to get out of this crummy town. They board a train that later breaks down and end up having to cram into a city bus that threatens to fall apart at any moment. Much to our amusement the quality of transit vehicles only adds to Neal’s mounting frustrations. It all culminates in a literally explosive car ride that sees the pair brought to their knees at yet another cheap-o hotel, where the question finally must be asked: “is it me, or is it just everyone else around me that’s crazy?”

Existential rumination aside, Hughes’ judgment of character development couldn’t have been more satisfying. There are so many instances throughout the course of this escapade where we think there’s no way Del can screw things up any more than they already are; there’s no way Neal can possibly be any more unpleasant than he was trying to rent a car. And yet developments belie expectations, but only to a point. There’s a wonderful scene at another rundown motel in which the pair are confronted by their own consciences. It’s not like the humbling process isn’t unexpected. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Hughes’ filmography, it should come as no surprise the slide into relative despair can’t be sustained; this is a road trip comedy after all. Yet it’s the aesthetics of the scene that really impact. There’s something about the faux-wooden interior of this particular room that resonates warmly.

In the end, Planes‘ episodic nature epitomizes the oft-exaggerated emotions and experiences of the holiday season. Whether it’s finding the ideal gift for a loved one, putting together a master shopping list for the big dinner or simply attempting to shoulder the responsibilities of throwing a seasonal party, this time of year presents stress in many forms. Hughes is keenly aware of that reality, and he has a field day with it thanks to the interplay between these comedic greats.

Planes Trains Automobiles Martin Candy Fire

Recommendation: Planes, Trains and Automobiles satisfies on many levels with its diverse and highly effective collection of comedic situations and running jokes. It’s another one of those entries that makes one sorely nostalgic for the days of quality comedy. Thanks to great turns from Steve Martin and John Candy this is a film that fans can re-watch over and again.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

TBTrivia: Perspectives are a funny thing. John Candy and Steve Martin have both named this film as their favorite films of their own. Ask other crew members who worked on the film and they’ll describe the shoot as “hellish,” as they were obligated to drive back and forth between locations on the East Coast and the Midwest since each time they arrived at one place the snow they were hoping to find melted too quickly. According to some crew members, John Hughes was in a terrible mood for much of the process as he was enduring difficult times in his personal life.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com; http://www.haphazard-stuff.blogspot.com 

TBT: The B.F.G. (Big Friendly Giant) (1989)

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Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and now here we are, at the end of Roald Dahl month on TBT. I hope you all have enjoyed going through these posts as much as I have in creating them. I have to confess, when we entered the new year I had absolutely no game plan for January. But that actually happens with most months. 😀 I wanted to start off this year with a more well-defined series of throwbacks. Then I thought about all the Roald Dahl books I had read as a child, and all the films I had watched that were adapted from his work. Of course some escaped me. Throwback Thursday has helped me explore more of his world and has introduced me to some wonderful motion pictures at the same time, and with any luck I’ve helped some of you do the same. Now, we close out the month with one of the more obscure entries, but a solid one nonetheless. 

Today’s food for thought: The B.F.G. (Big Friendly Giant)

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Release: Christmas Day 1989

[Netflix]

Although this is arguably one of the strangest and most obscure of all the Roald Dahl big screen translations, The B.F.G. is undoubtedly Dahl through-and-through. Though this might be the first time some have ever heard of it, this touching adventure could be one of the more heartwarming pieces he had to offer.

A lonely orphan named Sophie (voiced by Amanda Root) is suddenly snatched from her bed in the terrible confines of the Clonkers Home for Girls by a mysterious giant figure late at night. It takes her far away from this place and to seemingly another world, where other giants apparently exist, ones that are not quite as nice and friendly as this one. She is stolen away to the giant’s little nook in the side of a mountain, where he introduces himself as The Big Friendly Giant. He explains that not only is he different from the rest because he’s pleasant, but that he has no intention of eating humans like the others. Thank goodness for that.

The two become fast friends. Being the inquisitive little girl that she is, Sophie wants to know what he was doing in her town late that night. As it turns out, the B.F.G. is a dream-weaver of sorts, as his job is to catch dreams in a spectacular place known as Dream Country and then to travel back to our world and blow them into the imaginations of sleeping children all throughout the night using a trumpet-like device. He bottles the dreams and stores them in his home until he decides where he’s going to take each one. Sophie is at first reluctant to believe that this is real, until the B.F.G. takes her there himself.

It’s not long, however, before one of the evil giants senses that there is a human in the area. This being a Roald Dahl adaptation, these beasts have some really odd names: there’s the Butcher Boy, the Fleshlumpeater, the Manhugger, the Childchewer, the Meatdripper, the Gizzardgulper, the Maidmasher, the Bloodbottler and, of course, who can forget the Bonecruncher. It is he, the Bonecruncher, who stumbles upon the B.F.G.’s lair one night and trashes his place in his search for this child but the friendly giant insists there’s no one there and that he is just talking to himself.

The thing with beasts, you see, is that they like to sleep all day and scour the land by night, looking for children to gorge themselves on. The B.F.G. wants nothing to do with them, and actively avoids going near them. With the help of this young girl, maybe the B.F.G. can become brave enough to find a way to rid the land permanently of these vicious creatures. Indeed, that is just what they do together.

When one trip back to Sophie’s home town finds the two in danger yet again since the Bonecruncher has found a way to follow them, the B.F.G. realizes that they might not ever be out of danger. He feels awful for putting Sophie in harm’s way. Returning to the land of giants, they form a plan that will involve the Queen, her Royal Air Force and a few acts of courage to rid this world of danger.

The B.F.G. has unfortunately slipped through the cracks compared to other productions based off of the renowned author’s scribblings. That’s strange considering the popularity of Dahl’s book. The novel’s 1981 release ensured a loyal following had already formed behind it (this book was his eleventh). However, that’s not to say the picture lacks in its passion for showing that there are indeed good people in this world. The B.F.G. represents the good adult role model wayward children so desperately need in their lives, and thanks to David Jason’s wonderful voiceover work, the film indeed offers that.

Scenes like the one in which the B.F.G. introduces Sophie to what he calls frobscottle — a strange drink in which the carbonation bubbles drift to the bottom, rather than up to the top, causing the person to fart (or ‘whizpop’) rather than burp — proof that this film is decidedly more for the benefit of children rather than adults; all the same, it’s an enchanting adventure that will often take you by surprise.

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3-0Recommendation: The B.F.G. is definitely worth the searching through Netflix’s immense collection, and should you choose it, be prepared for a great deal of silliness and perhaps even more strangeness. Reiterating, the younger viewers will benefit more from this quirky little animation and the film doesn’t quite hold the classic appeal of some of Dahl’s more popular adaptations, yet the journey is still a great deal of fun and I wish I had gotten to it sooner. At least I have now.

Rated: G

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “Meanings is not important. I cannot be right all the time. Quite often I is left instead of right.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.youtube.com; http://www.mubi.com