Rating: B+/ Although it is understandable to be wary of a documentary focusing on the ‘unrehabilitatable’ fighting dogs seized from disgraced NFL-er Michael Vick’s compound, The Champions isn’t the gory affair you might expect. Concentrating on the long, arduous road to rehabilitation and the people who have dedicated their lives to helping dogs that are dismissed as hopeless cases, the film is a heartwarming if biased affair, with enough brutal honesty to keep it from becoming too saccharine. Continue reading Movie Review: The Champions (2015)→
Rating: A-/ So, I got to go see a movie in the cinema for the first time in ages the other day. My sister really wanted to see Zootopia and she was afraid her friends at school would spoil the ending for her before she got a chance to watch it. To be honest, I was pretty psyched to see it too, and my dad took us as a family to the movies (except for my mom, who wasn’t feeling well.) And I’ve got to say, Zootopia (or Zootropolis, as it is sometimes called) is a very cute family movie. But among the cuteness and the comedy and the talking animals, there’s a very good message and social commentary afoot. It’s not just a dumb kids film, there’s an emotional and socially conscious core that is rare to find in any family flick, except maybe those that happen to be made by Pixar studios. Continue reading Movie Review: Zootopia (2016)→
Bad things can’t seem to stop happening to Bim, The canine protagonist of the heartbreaking Soviet Russian film White Bim Black Ear. Despite happy beginnings with a tender-hearted widower named Ivan Ivanovich (Vyacheslav Tikhonov,) Bim’s life is thrown into turmoil when Ivanovich’s old war injury deteriorates and he is placed in the hospital.
Despite Ivan placing a neighbor in charge of feeding and taking care of Bim, the faithful dog pines for his master, wandering the streets every day desperately searching for his person and meeting people both sympathetic to his plight and merciless. Is suffering to be Bim’s lot in life? Must he consistently be exposed to the worst human nature has to offer, even when aching for his owner’s return?
Warning; if you’re at all sensitive to cruelty to animals and/or a dog lover, this movie will hit you hard. My helpless weeping at the end of this film can not even be counted as a cathartic cry as such; it was an ugly cry, complete with my vision blurring so badly through a multitude of tears I couldn’t even see the screen. There’s only one movie involving doggie melodrama that made me cry even more than this one; and that movie was Hachi- A Dog’s Tale (the ultimate canine grief porn weeper, which you will desist from so much as mentioning in my presence.)
Although the emotional factor of this movie is alarmingly high, it is by no means a perfect movie. For one thing, it’s wwaaayy too long, just over three hours. It could probably be cut down by thirty minutes or so, but the director is intent on getting every moment of brutal tragedy in there. Luckily, I have a really long attention span for movies; on the other hand, some people don’t. Those people are likely to find White Bim Black Ear excessive or even, ahem, boring (it does manage to be bafflingly grueling at points, especially for a film that seems to have a fairly small story to tell and an awful lot of filler.)
I also have questions concerning how Ivan’s corpulent, gossipy neighbor (Valentina Vladimirova) is portrayed. She really doesn’t seem to have much motivation for ostracizing Bim, rendering her one-dimensional and almost cartoonish. The strident nature in which is she is portrayed in the film doesn’t really work, especially since it is her that deals the final fatal blow to Bim’s fate. It seems like she should be taken somewhat more seriously by the script; the only reason I can imagine for her atrocious behavior is that she is a horrid and deeply bored old hag, intent on making those around her suffer. She seems too over-the-top to be a real person though, despite the definite existence of people somewhat like her in this world.
Now for the good; the animal wranglers have picked an amazing dog actor to play Bim. Vyacheslav Tikhonov does an excellent job as BIm’s much-loved master and has good chemistry with the canine who plays him. This movie really shows the loyalty of dogs, although it goes to far at times at making Bim more intelligent than a dog could be in actuality (including making Bim know in his heart that the note placed in front of him on the floor is from his hospitalized master- I mean, I know that we’re told a million times that Bim is an intelligent dog, but come on.)
Take heed, this movie is not for children. It’s agonizingly sad; you keep holding out your hope things will turn out okay, but the tragedy overrides any happiness that might have been had by the characters. However, if you like heartbreaking Russian stories, drowned in hundreds of years of tears and Vodka, this movie is for you. Bim is a true innocent, ignorant to maliciousness of many human beings, but, as they say, sometimes it is the innocents who suffer. Keep tissues handy.
There is one great moment in Phenomena, Dario Argento’s frustratingly Schizophrenic fright flick. In this sequence, which stands head and shoulders above the rest in an otherwise incomprehensible movie, a pet chimpanzee named Inga rushes to warn her human daddy John (Donald Pleasence) that a killer has broke into his house. Alas, John is paraplegic, and as he slides down the stairs on his device built for wheelchairs to let the poor simian in, the killer, cloaked in shadow, pushes the button on the control panel to trap him on the staircase.
It’s a tense moment, punctuated by the screams of the frightened ape. But the rest of the movie is a shoddy mess, with jarring metal music and terrible acting. This is my first Dario Argento horror film. Maybe I should have started with something else? There are times that Phenomena is so bizarrely put together, like a pastiche of hellish themes and images, that is almost becomes so bad it’s good. Almost. Argento had an amazing idea, but it’s ultimately all for naught. Could this be a classic horror movie actually in need for a remake? Purists would shudder to think of this film being refurbished, but I think it is actually a distinct possibility.
Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly, in a very poor performance) is a teenaged schoolgirl neglected by her wealthy actor father. She is sent to boarding school at the beginning, and while she might seem like your everyday debutante with too much money on her hands and not enough to do with it, she is anything but ordinary. Firstly, she is much more down-to-earth than the other girls in the academy, but that is not what sets her apart. Jennifer can communicate telepathically with insects, and this might come in handy with a serial killer on the loose. With girls dropping like flies (no pun intended), Jennifer befriends John (Pleasence,) an entomologist studying the part bugs play in the decomposition of corpses. Not creepy at all, right? He also has a pet monkey, who’s kind of important, as she turns out to be much more deserving of the title ‘hero’ than Connelly is.
Phenomena has an abundance of imaginative images and ideas, but ultimately it comes off as an unintentional comedy. Part of this is the acting; while Pleasence is competent at his craft as always Connelly can barely deliver her lines in a convincing manner and the rest of the cast is just terrible. Heavy metal songs by artists such as Iron Maiden and Motorhead cut into the action at the most unsuitable times, and the film has a definite MTV vibe to it. You practically expect Beavis and Butthead to be commentating in the background. Yeah, Jennifer Connelly is… hot. Motorhead is… cool. Uh-huh-huh. In fact, America’s two favorite idiots would be easier to take seriously than this movie. Forget how powerful Connelly was in Requiem for a Dream. Watching her here is positively painful. It’s like seeing the ass-to-ass scene from Requiem a billion times back-to back. You just want to cry for her. And not because of her aptitude for the craft, either.
The last twenty minutes are almost worth watching just for the crazy turns the plot takes, but they’re not enough to sit through a hole-filled, badly acted, and yes, boring story. Why is this school open when girls are constantly dropping dead? Why does John send Jennifer to find the killer all by herself? Why does the killer kill? No seriously, did someone just happen to overlook the villain’s motivation? Why can Jennifer talk to insects but not larvae? Why does the little boy look like that? The reason for all of these, of course, is because. Because that’s the loony-ass direction the plot takes. Terrible actors, dated music video-style sequences, characters we don’t give a damn about; Phenomena is a muddled mess. It’s high point is that it should provide some unintentional comedy for undiscerning viewers. No wonder the ape was the only one I liked.
Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is the kind of man no one would suspect of any wrong doing- well-groomed, mild-mannered, and charmingly naïve and uncomplicated, he gets along with all his co-workers at the bathtub factory at which he works, and lives a comfortable life with his cat and dog in the podunk town of Milton.
But Jerry has deep-seated problems- problems that stem from his Schizophrenic mother, his abusive stepfather, and his own out-of-control fantasies and delusions that manifest themselves in voices and often comforting, if woefully misleading, visions. Like many mentally ill people, Jerry finds that all the color is drained from his life when he takes the zombifying pills his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) prescribes.
But Jerry has a secret. It’s not that shocking that Jerry talks to his pets (Hell, doesn’t everybody?) But his animals have been particularly vocal lately. His cat, especially, has been known to push him to the edge. And Mr. Whiskers has an agenda- an agenda that turns downright murderous after Jerry accidently kills his indifferent love interest Fiona (Gemma Arterton) in a fit of panic.
Mr. Whiskers is insistent that Jerry kill again, but Jerry’s lovable mastiff, Bosco, tries to convince Jerry to live a morally righteous life. Jerry’s descent into madness is both wickedly funny, fairly disturbing, and oddly touching. “The Voices,” helmed by the graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi (‘Persopolis,”) is an offbeat morality tale about the pressures of being a ‘good boy’ Vs. giving in to your inner sociopath.
The script is convoluted, and downright ridiculous at times- the deer scene will make you laugh if you aren’t too busy cringing at the copious gore. But it’s all part of the blackly comic vision screenwriter Michael R. Perry has offered up on screen for us. “The Voices” is also visually striking; there’s a distinct contrast between the beauty, presented up in rich hues that makes up how Jerry sees the world and the dank, dark reality of Jerry’s bloodstained apartment.
Ryan Reynolds gives a commendable performance as Jerry, an upbeat man-child with a homicidal streak, and disturbingly, you’re forced to sympathize with his earnest if deranged worldview, and thus, to some extent, his crimes. Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are also voiced by Reynolds, which makes perfect sense, being that they are quite literally extensions of Jerry himself.
Considering the talent that is on display here, the totally WTF ending is regrettable to say the least. It’s like the writer went ‘what the hell’ after days of writer’s block, got high, and quickly scrawled down an ending with no real cohesion or connection to the rest of the story. Why not have a big song and dance sequence at the end of your horror film? Add Jesus? What the hell! We don’t see enough of that guy these days anyway.
For people who wanted an actual conclusion to Jerry’s story, that you know, made any kind of sense whatsoever, the ending will be a huge disappointment. Simply put- this is not a great movie. But it is the kind of movie I like to watch, off-the-chain and quirkily, even shallowly psychological, so I’m bound to cut it more slack than some people might.
For those viewers who set their expectations (reasonably) low and prepare for a stinker of an ending, for those movie lovers who like their comedies pitch-black and all kinds of twisted, The Voices” might turn out to be a strangely gratifying experience. Because like poor Jerry Hickfang, we all see the world the way we want to see it. But unlike Jerry, most of us are unwilling to kill for that vision.
I wish I had connected with “Paddington” more than I did. This CGI-animated family adventure has beautifully lifelike special effects, and the jokes commonly hit the mark, at least to some extent, but the film, plot and character-wise, leaves much to be desired. Of course, it’s an entertaining feature to pass the time, and kids and adults should be amused by this diversion, but it fails as a truly great family feature.
When Paddington Bear (voiced by Ben Wishaw)’s home in the rainforest gets demolished and his Uncle Pastuzo (voice of Michael Gambon) unexpectedly dies, the bear’s Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) sends him as a stowaway on a boat bound for London, where she encourages him to get in touch with the intrepid explorer who befriended the bears an indeterminate amount of time before, Montgomery Clift (Tim Downie.)
The continued lifespan of Clift seems highly unlikely, but while waiting at the station Paddington is taken home by the eccentric rown family- loving mother Mary (Sally Hawkins,) uptight dad Henry (Hugh Bonneville,) and bored kids Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Judy (Madeleine Harris.)
The irate Henry has trouble warming up to this big-hearted bear with a knack for trouble, and while the family unit gradually succumbs to Paddington’s cuteness, Cruella De Ville-esque baddie Millicent (Nicole Kidman) prowls the scene, set on stuffing Paddington and putting him on display in a museum!
“Paddington” is quite the potpourri of happenin’ British talent, including Julie Walters as a live-in relative of the Brown’s and Peter Capaldi as the kind of meddling neighbor everyone’s had at one point or another, who becomes stupidly enamored with Kidman’s venomous femme fatale. The CGI is amazing, and brings vim, vigor, and personality to the bears that the script falls a little short on.
Now for the weaknesses- I didn’t really care about any of the characters, not even Paddington, who despite being cute and fuzzy, and a brilliant visual creation, was not really all that compelling. The plot of very typical and the big showdown was mundane as they come. The kids were annoying and rude, particularly the girl.
On the other hand, she was obviously going through a scary time called puberty, so her dark moods and constant embarrassment at the antics of her family were realistic, they just weren’t very fun to watch. The boy wasn’t as bad but was very disrespectful to his father, stating at one point that “Dad’s always been boring and annoying.”
I didn’t perceive a development of genuine respect between the kids and their father. Dad gets treated like a trained monkey throughout, rewarded with hugs and conditional love when he does right, and being totally disregarded when he acts like a grouch. Should the monkey rise to the occasion and let the bear stay, give him a banana. The characters and relationships were rather stereotypical, although the actors did what they could with the clichéd material.
However, the jokes were often effective, and I laughed readily at various points of the movie. Paddington wrecking the bathroom, Mr. Curry’s hopeless crush on the villainess, Henry Brown going into the information bank in very deep disguise… these scenes were amusing (if somewhat sitcomish and, in the cast of Capaldi’s infatuation, ripped directly from “Enchanted.”)
I felt conflicted while watching “Paddington” because while I was entertained overall by the motion picture, I kept thinking that the British actors featured had been in much better movies that won’t get nearly the attention that this did. Make no mistake, I think this is a good family movie that adults should get enjoyment out of. But it is not worthy of the rave reviews it has been getting. It just doesn’t have the innovation and genuineness of something like “Frozen” or “Up.” In other wards, a good kids movie, but not an outstanding film.
Although it may be a little intense for young tykes due to its alcoholism, poverty, and prejudice themes, “Into the West” is an overall charming and appealing family film with a compelling storyline. It’s plot is hugely unbelievable (two Irish lads rescue their magnificent white horse from an abusive owner and ride across Ireland evading the authorities at every turn,) but something about this story touched a warm fuzzy place in my heart.
Gabriel Byrne plays the alcoholic father of two young boys, Ossie and Tito (Ciarán Fitzgerald and Rúaidhrí Conroy,) who live with their perpetually drunk dad in a squalid Irish tenement building. The boy’s grandfather (David Kelly) is the proud owner of Tir Na Nog, a beautiful white horse. When Tito and Ossie decide to smuggle Tir Na Nog into the apartment (not an easy feat considering the tiny size of the place is barely livable for a family of three,) the police confiscate the horse and give him to a shady and rich hobbyist.
The duo track down the horse-owner and steal back the steed, riding him across the hills and fields of Ireland and getting into all sorts of trouble along the way. Meanwhile, their father John gets back in touch with his gypsy heritage and reconnects with Kathleen (Ellen Barkin,) an old friend in an attempt to track his sons.
John is a interestingly compelling and three-dimensional character- sometimes volatile, sometimes violent, he loves his sons but constantly manages to disappoint them. He pressures the illiterate oldest (Tito) to learn to read because as it so happens, he cannot. Tito does not appreciate the fact that his father is trying to do what is best for him, and he and his brother believe John does not love them. Gabriel Byrne plays John as occasionally heroic, sometimes pathetic, but never as a blunt, angry stereotype.
There are fantasy elements considering the almost supernatural majesty of the horse, but they never take over the human element of the story, which is closer to British Social Realism than director Mike Newell’s later J.K. Rowling adaptation “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” While “Goblet of Fire” is my favorite Harry Potter adaptation, “Into the West” is a little more low-key, more about growing up and learning to let go that sorcery and magic.
There are relevant social commentary (reflected by the prejudice towards the ‘travelers,’ the pressure of impoverished conditions, and the less-than-kosher treatment of the horse by the rich horse breeder,) and the acting is pretty strong overall, especially by Gabriel Byrne and the oldest son Rúaidhrí Conroy, although the performance by Ciarán Fitzgerald (Ossie) can be a little tiresome.
Overall, “Into the West” is a good kid’s movie with a lot of heart. Consider this a a superior alternative for teens and tweens to the the “Twilight” films and “Alvin and the Chipmunks- The Squeakquel” (God help me.) It is a rarity- strong and underrated family film that remains interesting after you turn ten. Worth watching for kids and adults alike.
Above all, “Lassie Come Home” is a heartwarming, frequently heartbreaking testament to the bond between a boy and his dog. Penniless lad Joe Carraclough (Roddy McDowall) is devastated when his desperately poor Yorkshire parents (Donald Crisp and Elsa Lanchester) sell his beloved dog, Lassie, to a wealthy dog breeder (Nigel Bruce) in Scotland. In the breeder’s ownership, Lassie languishes in a cage and is misused by her new owner’s nasty servant Hynes (J. Pat O’Malley.)
Lassie repeatedly tries to escape, only to be dragged back and imprisoned by Hynes. One day she gets away for good and embarks on the 1,000-mile journey back to her family. Lassie suffers many hardships and meets several kind people on her trip, but never forgets where she belongs- in the arms of her boy Joe.
Chances are, this movie is going to cause some serious feels even for the most hardened filmgoer. For one thing, the child actor (who went on to play flim-flam artist ‘vampire slayer’ Peter Vincent in the original “Fright Night”) is almost too convincing. In the scene where he realizes Lassie won’t be meeting him in the schoolyard after class anymore, McDowell buckles in an explosion of snot and tears. It really puts the sentimental, gently grating child actors of today to shame.
For another, Lassie goes through a living Hell to get back to her master. There were moments where I seriously wondered if the humane society was present at the time of this movie, for example, where Lassie swims through a muddy, slimy body of water and collapses, disheveled, outside the home of a caring, elderly couple.
Unfortunately, there were some corny elements, like a dastardly duo of villains named ‘Snickers’ and ‘Buckles’ (Those are their street names, yo) who give the kind carny Rowlie (Edmund Gwenn) an incredibly fake beating. However, my sister (who had read the book adaptation) refused to watch the scene where the gruesome twosome dole out a fatal kick to the carnie’s dog, Toots.
If you’re willing to put your cynicism away (it helps if you are a dog lover,) “Lassie Come Home” makes an entertaining, if oddly melancholy, watch. It does a good job of seeing Joe’s parents side of things as well; though it probably won’t matter, kids will likely hate them for selling Lassie anyway. Older viewers will see that what they did what they did out of desperation, not cruelty.
Classic film buffs might want to note that Elizabeth Taylor is featured as the breeder’s granddaughter, Priscilla. Frankly, it seems to me like the two sequels (“Son of Lassie,” “Courage of Lassie”) whose advertisements are featured on the DVD are probably not worth bothering with. For Chrissakes, “Courage of Lassie” doesn’t even have Lassie IN it. But I digress.
In summation, “Lassie Come Home” is a overlooked and effective family film, though probably not of the very young or very sensitive.
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