Jimmy Carter is the first American president I heard of. So you could imagine a documentary like Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President would naturally catch my attention.
The opening image of the documentary starts in the empty Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. That’s where Jimmy experienced most of his knowledge and influence in his life. It was the church where he was taught his values. It was in a multi-racial town like Plains where he was taught to see African Americans as equals instead of below whites like him. It was his father and how he helped with management of the family peanut business that he learned of hard work and integrity.
One unknown thing about Carter is it was music he connected to most. Carter collected records from a wide variety of musical genres from blues to country to gospel to even rock ‘n roll, which was something presidents before him didn’t want to connect with at all. His first connection started with folk. He took an interest in the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan, especially the song Maggie’s Farm.
His first touch with Rock ‘n Roll came in 1971 as he was campaigning for the Governor of Georgia and stopped by the Macon office of Capricorn Records. There he experienced the music of the Allmans, the Charlie Daniels Band, and Marshall Tucker. Carter struck up a friendship with Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden and the two formed a campaign strategy. During the time, Carter was listening in to recording sessions and developing friendships with the musicians.
When Carter was elected governor of Georgia in 1971, he did a lot to improve the reputation of the state of Georgia as well as the south. The south could be seen as a place where progress was being made instead of clinging onto its racist past. The big surprise was in 1974 when Bob Dylan was invited to see Cater. Jimmy’s song Chip was a big fan of his music. Jimmy complimented Bob on his music and Bob was shocked to how a leader of government, a member of the establishment, quoted his songs back and showed a liking to them.
That same year, Carter announced his intention to run for President. His campaign started with him $300,000 but he knew how to have musicians connect with voters. His biggest help came from the Allman Brothers Band as they helped to raise funds for him. Carter wasn’t simply using them. He was friends with the Allmans. Then in 1976, Carter held a Florida benefit concert with the Allmans, Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker and The Outlaws. However it’s not to say Jimmy didn’t have rivals. Edmund G. Brown, who was also running for the Democratic candidacy, also held a benefit concert with many acts including his girlfriend Linda Ronstadt.
In the end, Carter won the 1976 Democratic ticket. During his acceptance speech, he quoted a line from a Bob Dylan song of “a generation busy being born, not busy dying.” When Carter was elected president, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin sang at his inaugural balls. During his presidency, rock stars visited the White House. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stopped by in 1977. That same year, Willie Nelson smoked a joint on top of the White House with son Chip. In 1978, Carter had a pig-roast dinner with the Atlanta Rhythm Section.
The documentary then focuses less on his association with rock musicians and more on how he served as president. His presidency was one of many great international feats. His goal was to bring back accountability and integrity to politics that appeared lost after the resignation of Nixon. His biggest achievements were in international relations. He wanted to improve the reputation of the US in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. His biggest achievement was the Camp David Summit in 1979 where he was able to strike a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
However things turned on him in 1980. The Islamic Revolution in Iran that started in 1979 had many American held hostage and they still weren’t free. The boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow failed to put pressure on the Soviet government to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Back home in the US, there were economic problems. The KKK were even starting anti-Carter rallies. By the time the next election came, Ronald Reagan won. Despite losing, Carter made last-ditch efforts to free the hostages in Tehran. They were finally freed January 20, 1981: the day he left office.
The film continues into his charity and mission work he has done since leaving office. His work has been both national and international. His most famous effort is the Habitat For Humanity housing projects he helped build for low-income families. Even at the age of 96 (which he turned on October 1st), Carter is still at it. Some say his biggest moments came after his presidency.
In retrospect, I think the title is misleading. Yes, Carter liked rock ‘n roll. Yes, Carter had many a rock ‘n roll act as a supporter for his presidency. Yes, the documentary does point it out. However rock ‘n roll wasn’t the biggest thing of his presidency. It does make for something interesting how he had a love for music and how he had many musicians as friends. Nevertheless I found it a bit inconsistent with how the documentary focused on it during the first half but appears to have forgotten about it during the second half.
I was very surprised to see a CNN documentary as part of the VIFF roster. Usually I’d expect to see documentaries that are more creative or more experimental. Not that I’m complaining. I will admit this is the least original or least stylish documentary that I saw at the VIFF. Despite it, I found it very informative and very intriguing to watch about a president I continue to admire to this day. The documentary left me convinced that Carter is way more Christian than Donald Trump ever was. Carter lived out his beliefs.
I give credit to director Mary Wharton and writer Bill Flanagan for creating the documentary. Even though it appears boring in terms of documentary style, it was not short in terms of giving the information. The film did a good job in presenting a president who was a man of dignity and kept his work. Our modern world make it look like being a person of dignity look like a weakness because of how cutthroat the real world is, especially in politics. The film does show how tough it was for someone like Jimmy Carter to be President. Some of today’s politicians would label Carter a ‘marshmallow’ by today’s standards. Nevertheless, it also shows Carter as the President the USA needed in the eyes of the World. He was there to redefine the American South and he was there to redefine the USA after Vietnam and Watergate.
Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President may be one of the least creative documentaries at the VIFF this year. Nevertheless it does make for a good biographical documentary for a president who appears underappreciated during his time.
Until now, It appeared to be the one big Stephen King novel that has not had a big screen adaptation. Sure, there was a miniseries back in 1991, but nothing beats a big-screen showing. Finally it’s here, and the excitement is just beginning!
The story beings in the fall of 1988 in Derry, Maine. Sick and in bed, a stuttering Billy Denbrough makes a paper boat for his younger brother Georgie to play with on a rainy day. While playing with the boat, it falls into a sewer. Georgie goes to get it, but comes across a clown named Pennywise who manipulates Georgie by biting off his arm and taking him down the drain.
The story progresses to June 1989: the end of the school year. Bill has found himself with a clique of three misfits which include bespectacled big-mouth Richie Tozier, sickly asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak, and fearful Stanley Uris who’s the son of the rabbi. End of the school year won’t mean the end of torment from a group of bullies led by Henry Bowers, son of a police officer. Bullying is Henry’s favorite past-time as he loves tormenting almost every kid. His last victim on this last day of school is Ben Hanscom, an overweight kid new to the town. The bullying however does result in Beverly Marsh, who’s bullied by the popular girls in school and called a ‘slut,’ coming to the rescue. She takes a liking to Ben as she learns he too likes the New Kids On The Block. She doesn’t appear bothered by her own bullying at school because she gets it worse by her father at home. Last day of school just means work on the farm for Mike Hanlon, an orphaned African-American boy who’s raised by his grandfather.
The abduction of Georgie is still very much on Bill’s mind. Actually it’s on the minds of most people in Derry. Derry has a dirty secret that children disappear six times more often than the national average. Bill tries to get his friends to locate the possible whereabouts of Georgie, believing he may still be alive and in a marshy wasteland known as the Barrens. Ben does research into the town of Derry. He learns of the explosion of 1908 which killed many children. He also learns of how children of Derry go lost most frequently: a curse going back centuries. Ben encounters a headless boy in the basement and runs off, only to be encountered by Henry’s group. Ben successfully fights them off and runs away bumping into Bill’s group. Adding to the drama of Derry, the group including Ben find the sneaker of a young girl. Patrick Hockstetter, one of Henry’s bullies who is chasing after Ben, is killed by Pennywise and becomes the latest of the missing.
The following day, all five of the boys have some type of nightmarish encounter with It. Later they encounter Mike Hanlon after he was bullied by Henry’s group. Mike becomes part of the group which now calls itself the Losers Club. Mike also possesses some knowledge about this entity and how it’s haunting Derry. Later in the summer, the group get together to do research into this entity that haunts them each. Bev finds her way into the group, thanks to Ben. They come across some interesting facts: they are all haunted by the same entity in the guise of what they each fear; awakens every 27 years to prey on children before returning to hibernation; and uses the sewers to travel about the town upon where a shabby abandoned house on Neibolt street is built.
They see the house on Neibolt as a chance to get to It. Most are afraid, but Billy wants to do this for the sake of finding Georgie dead or alive and to prevent other children of Derry from receiving this same threat. All agree the first time, but after having to wrestle with Pennywise the first time. Inside, Eddie breaks his arm, making him vulnerable to Pennywise. Fortunately Bev impales Pennywise, forcing him to retreat vowing revenge. However the group is threatened to disband as Eddie’s mother is furious with what had happened. Bill insists on continuing to fight It, but all except Bev and Ben leave.
August comes. Bev is threatened by her abusive father and threatens to rape her, but she kills him with a toilet lid. Unfortunately Pennywise abducts her. This prompts Bill to reassemble the Losers Club to rescue Bev. Even Eddie returns to the group after he learns that his asthma is fake and drug-induced by his mother. Meanwhile It goes into the guise of a children’s television host to compel Henry to kill his abusive father and then kill the Losers Club over at the Neibolt house. Henry fights Mike only to pushed down a well to his death. Inside the Neibolt house, they try to make their way to It’s central location, only to have Pennywise bite Stanley’s head with It’s sharp teeth. Soon they make their way to a cooling tower where they find It’s lair, containing a mountain of decaying circus props and children’s belongings. They also find Bev floating in a catatonic state. The group are able to bring Bev down and it’s Ben’s kiss that restores her consciousness. Now it’s up to the Losers Club to defeat It. The film ends with a spectacularly haunting ending that’s both triumphant, tragic and in anticipation for what’s next.
Adapting a Stephen King movie to the big screen is very much a case of hit-or-miss. Not everything can be adapted from the novel so the writers and directors have to work to bring it to life within two to two-and-a-half hours. That would mean a lot of picking and choosing and a lot of pairing down. There have been a lot of cases where it has worked excellently like Carrie, Christine, The Shining, Stand By Me, Misery and The Shawshank Redemption to name a few. There have been duds too like Maximum Overdrive, Needful Things, Dreamcatcher and Cell. YouTube countdown channel WatchMojo even did a countdown on how movie adaptations of novels actually differed greatly from the real thing.
Before there could be a big-screen adaptation of It, the film had to be organized. This is a movie that took eight years and the efforts of three directors to develop and loads of casting changes. It started when David Kajganich decided to adapt the screenplay when he learned Warner Bros. would be in charge of it. In 2012, direction then went into the hands of Cary Fukunaga. He had a vision of the story and originally planned to cast Will Poulter as Pennywise and Ty Simpkins as Bill. That changed when New Line Cinemas stepped in. Fukunaga withdrew from directing feeling that New Line and their concern with budget cuts was interfering with the creative process.
Then in July 2015, it was announced Argentinian director Andy Muschietti would be signed on to direct with Fukunaga remaining as scriptwriter. Muschietti has had a modest success that took off overnight with his 2008 short film Mama being expanded to an English-language release in 2013 with Jessica Chastain as lead actress. Casting changes came about with a new Bill and a new Pennywise most noticeable. Muschietti is the only director that went the full distance.
Then the adaptation of the story. This adaptation from It makes a lot of notable changes from the original novel. First we must remember the novel was released in 1986. The characters as children were set in the 1950’s. The characters as adults were set in the 1980’s. Here, we have the child characters set in the summer of 1989: a summer that’s close to my heart, too. Setting that part in the 1950’s would seem like a good choice as made evident in Stand By Me, but it could also be a hindrance. 2001’s Hearts In Atlantis was set in the late-50’s and it flopped. I feel it made sense to adapt the Losers Club part of It to 1989. It worked here.
Then there’s the choice of whether to do the full novel in this It movie or have this as a movie series. We’re talking about a novel that first required the format of a mini-series in order to get its first adaptation. It made sense to have the first It movie with focus exclusively on the Losers Club as children and then have a second It film possibly with the Losers Club all grown up. It would also be a gamble as this first It film would have to avoid performing poorly at the box office to get a second It film happening, despite the chances of that being extremely slim. I’ll mention later why they won’t have to worry about that.
One thing we shouldn’t forget is that this is a Stephen King film. Adaptations of Stephen King novels have been known to be a case of a lot of paring down of the story to mish-mashing to including only one part of a multi-chapter novel. Stephen King’s novels have a lot of common elements. For those unfamiliar with Stephen King novels, the first common element is the setting in a smalltown in Maine, most commonly the fictional town of Derry. Another is the case of main child characters being the misfits in a harsh time in their lives. Another is the situation of parents who are either negligent, manipulative or downright abusive to their children. Another is of religious figures or religious people with some even possessing a warped sense of blind faith. Another is the element of evil that King works into his villains.
The film included a lot of elements common to a Stephen King story. It’s set in Derry and the misfits form a clique of their own: The Losers Club. As for parents: Billy’s parents are too distraught with the loss of Georgie to pay attention to his issues; Stanley faces the pressure of being the rabbi’s son; Eddie’s mother has a case of Munchhausen syndrome which explains the fake Asthma she induces with pills; Henry Bowers’ father uses his gun to ‘traumatize’ sense into him; and Bev’s father… I don’t want to go there. Religion or religious figures are not seen as so much of a threat, curse or interference in It, but some could argue Stanley’s strict religious upbringing made him a fearful person. As for evil, the character of It is one that messes with the characters minds and fears it took a group of seven children to solve who It is and to end It once and for all.
The film also had to leave some things from the novel out. It’s not just changing the setting of 1958 to 1989. There were some guises of It in the novel that didn’t appear on film. Henry’s bullying of Stanley includes anti-Semitic slurs in the novel. Here in the film, it’s limited to throwing Stanley’s yarmukel like a frisbee. Patrick Hockstetter is not killed by It as Pennywise, but It as an army of leeches. Henry attempts to kill the Loser Club with his friends Vic and Belch in the novel, but he’s on his own in the film. In the novel, Bill confronts It through the Ritual Of Chud. And finally, Bev has sex with all six of the Losers Club boys in the novel after they make a blood oath. You can understand why that ending was changed to what it is.
In the end, Andy Muschietti delivers a winner of a film. He was not the most experienced director when being hired on to do It but it paid off and delivers an excellent thriller that frightens and gets one excited for the next It film. Kudos to scriptwriters Chase Palmer, Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman for putting together an excellent adaptation and making a lot of choices that worked. The story of the Losers Club bonding as one to fight It gives one memories of Stand By Me and even a lot of similarities to Stranger Things. Having Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhart adds to that factor even under those big glasses. The film also did a good job of adding humor into the film. The film is situated around a bunch of 12 year-olds so having some humor adds to it, despite how dark a story it is. Plus the music from 1989 adds to it too.
For those who are complete ‘virgins’ to It— I’m taking about those who have never read the book or seen the miniseries– it will keep them intrigued and scared. It will also seem confusing at first with most being haunted by Pennywise but others scared by other images too. In the end, it will all come together. All are being haunted and tormented by It. They will first think Pennywise is It, but It takes the guise of many figures like Bev’s abusive father, the children’s TV show host that pushes Henry to commit murder, the animated picture from the painting that haunts Stan. Pennywise is the most dominant guise of It and used mostly to lure young children. It’s right and proper that It meets its match as Pennywise and from Billy.
For those who are fans of the novel It and even the miniseries, they will admire that this is a film that captures the best and truest aspects of a Stephen King horror thriller. It doesn’t stray off like so many other adaptions nor is it a victim to too much studio tweaking of the story. Sure, it sets the Loser Club part of the story 30+ years of when the novel sets it, but the characters of the Loser Club and those surrounding them are very much in tune with the novel. Most of the incidents that happen in the movie It closely match what happens in the novel too. I’m sure fans of Stephen King novels will be proud of this movie. Also I feel Stephen King fans will feel that the producers made the right decision to have this first It movie focus strictly in the Losers Club story and have the incidents of 27 years later focused in It: Volume 2, which I will elaborate on in conclusion.
However the best thing about It is that this is a rare case of a horror movie that delivers excellence. The genre of the horror movie is very hard to master. Most horror movies often come across as junk loaded with blood, gore and other elements for the sake of shock value. Us 80’s kids had that with all the Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street movies. Millennial kids got that with the Saw movie franchise. Most of the time, these horror films become horror ‘comedies’ because of how stupid the situations are and how the actors are told to act idiotic on purpose. It takes a lot of effort to deliver a horror story on screen with a good story and good character development to add to it. It’s even possible to create a masterpiece of a horror movie. Movies like Psycho, The Exorcist, Carrie and even Get Out from this year are some of the best examples. Even good acting can come out of a horror movie as Sissy Spacek’s performance in Carrie earned her the first of her six Oscar nominations as did a nomination for Piper Laurie. It delivers in having a well-written script, a well-directed story and dead-on acting from the actors. This should be a template on how to do a horror movie right.
Jaeden Lieberher did a very good job in playing Bill Denbrough, especially in making the stutter look natural instead of wooden, and in making the quest to fight It a personal battle for Bill. The best thing about Lieberher was he was good at being unselfish with his lead role as he knew the other members of the Losers Club had their moments too. Sophia Lillis was possibly the biggest scene-stealer as tomboy Bev as was Finn Wolfhart whose role of Richie Tozier will entertain you, but also make you want to tell him to shut up! Good performances included Wyatt Oleff as the fearful Stanley Uris, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben the misfit who finds his way, Jack Dylan Glazer as sickly Eddie who develops an inner strength over time and Chosen Jacobs as the farmboy who becomes a help to the clique. All seven of the Losers Clubs kids not only had to play their parts but also make their characters grow. We see it in all the characters, especially Bill. Bill didn’t lose his stutter but he gained a new inner strength.
The actors in the Losers Club did a good job in playing salty-mouthed 12 year-olds that were not afraid to let loose, get sassy and even act like jerks at times. That’s definitely an appeal as Hollywood has a way of making child performances to innocent or ‘sugar-coated.’ Just turn on the Disney Channel and you’ll see what I mean. The kids of It were very unlike the squeaky-clean crystal-clear purity-ring-wearing Disney Channel kids; more like the foul-mouthed kids of Stranger Things. And all the better for it.
It’s not just the Loser Club that delivers in terms of acting. There’s also Bill Skarsgard who did a good job in giving Pennywise his sinister demeanor. There’s also Nicholas Hamilton who succeeds in transforming Henry from simply a jerk bully to being possessed by It’s evil leading to his own death. The mix of music of 1989 hits and the score of Benjamin Wallfisch blended well and fit the scenes of the film well. The visual effects of the film are also excellent and needed to be top-notch to make the movie work.
Already It has broken a load of records in its opening weekend. It set a September opening weekend record of $123.4 million, breaking the old record held by Hotel Transylvania 2 of $48.4 million: more than 2 ½ times that! Usually September is a quiet month for movies and they usually yield low box office results. Mainly because people had their fix during the Summer Movie Season. Summer’s over and now it’s time to get back to regular life and wait for the movie excitement to return in November as is custom. It proved that the September movie season had something to deliver, and right on the weekend after Labor Day, of all weekends! Usually that’s the lowest-grossing weekend but not this year! Other records It broke and feats It achieved according to Box Office Mojo are Widest R-Rated Releases, Widest R-Rated Openings, Highest-Grossing Fall Opening Weekend, Second-Highest Opening Weekend for an R-Rated film, Highest Grossing Stephen King Film (in just five days!), right now the third-highest grossing R-Rated horror film and second only to Deadpool for the biggest opening weekend for an R-rated film! And I’ll bet there will be more to come!
SPOILER ALERT: Do Not Read This Paragraph If You Don’t Want To Know The Ending! The film gives evidence that this will be the first It movie and there’s a Volume Two coming. It’s in the end credits and it’s very well-hinted when the Loser Club makes a ‘blood promise’ to return to Derry in 27 years if It returns. There’s already talk of It: Volume Two on IMDB. There’s a lot of talk about it from Muschietti to the producers to even the young actors. As of yet, nothing is finalized. It’s possible one could assume the film could be set in 2016–27 years from the first It— and Pennywise makes a return to the Losers Club all grown up. It’s very possible the original Losers Club from this film might have a low presence in Volume Two. That could help or hinder the story because all seven of the Losers Club helped make this adaptation of It a hit and their absence might mean the absence of their charm in Volume 2. However nothing is finalized and it leaves those that saw It in big anticipation of what’s to come.
It delivers as a Stephen King horror movie that has all the right moves–a rarity for horror movies as a whole– a hotly-anticipated Stephen King adaptation that works on the big screen, and a big reason for people to go to the movie theatres in September! Some say this could be the best Stephen King movie since 1976’s Carrie. You be the judge.
Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters are some of the most beloved cartoon characters in history. The Peanuts Movie brings them back into action in 2015. And in winning style.
It’s winter. While the kids are having fun skating and playing hockey on the ice, Charlie Brown is nervous. A family has moved into town and with them is a girl– the little Red Haired girl– he wants to win the attention of. However he has a track record of bad luck in the neighborhood and among his peers. He sees Lucy for ‘professional help.’ She advises him to make a winner of himself and be more confident.
First chance is at the school talent show. Charlie has a magic act planned with Snoopy and Woodstock assisting. Charlie’s last up. Sally is second -last up with her cowgirl act. However she gets ridiculed by the crowd. Charlie decides to help her win the contest at the expense of his own humiliation. It works. She wins and he makes a fool of himself.
Next chance is the school dance which consists of prizes going to the winning solo dances for both boys and girls. The little-red haired girl wins the female prize. Charlie Brown appears to have winning form but a slip causes him to fall and disrupt the sprinkler system which disrupts the whole dance. Again a blockhead!
Next chance is a book report which he’s partnered with the little red-haired girl. Then comes aptitude testing which Charlie Brown is believed to score the highest. Just before Charlie Brown is to receive a medal for his perfect score, he learns the truth and declines his medal on stage. To make matters worse the book report Charlie Brown wrote for the little -red-haired girl is destroyed in the air by Snoopy’s plane.
Summer approaches and classmates are assigned to be pen pals. The little red-haired girl chooses Charlie Brown. The thing is she’s to spend the summer at camp. Charlie Brown has one last chance to meet up with her. Does he do it or doesn’t he? Those who saw the movie will know for sure.
What the filmmakers had in terms of bringing the Peanuts back to the big screen was a challenge. The first challenge was for possibly the first time, the Peanuts characters were 3D in a 3D world. The second challenge was what to include in the film. No doubt the film was to include the common traits of the characters as well as the common lines used by the characters throughout. The other challenge would be what kind of world would The Peanuts be in? Would they be in their past world consisting of common things like books, playing baseball and Snoopy using a typewriter? Or would they be in the modern world where kids use iPads, skateboard, hop onto Wikipedia for whatever info they want and save their essays as Word Documents?
I believe the writers and animators made the right choices to have the story situated in the traditional world of the Peanuts characters. That’s how fans of the cartoon series best remember them and converting them into the modern world would be very tricky stuff and may turn long-time fans off. Another element I liked is that it maintains a lot of familiar situations from Peanuts cartoon strips and Peanuts cartoon shows of the past. The humor of Charles Schulz had to be kept with the story as well as the familiar personality traits of all the characters.
However with this being a feature-length movie, it had to present a legible story with a beginning, middle and end. This was a challenge to write out such a story and mix in the common humor of the Peanuts characters and familiar moments of the Peanuts history. I feel it did an excellent job of creating a consistent story with mixing in the humor of the Peanuts franchise as well as giving all the other characters their moments too. It can’t all be about Charlie Brown. Plus I’m sure all of us wanted to see Charlie Brown win the ‘little red-haired girl.’
Kudos the Charles Schulz’ son Craig, grandson Bryan and Cornelius Uliano for writing an excellent story true to the Peanuts series as well as entertaining from start to finish. Additional kudos to director Steve Martino. To make such a movie work, they had to put it in the hands of someone who knows how to direct animation. Martino has proven himself in the past with Horton Hears A Who and Ice Age 2: Continental Drift. Here he delivers again. I also give the animators credit for making 3D characters of the peanuts characters for possibly the first time. That was another challenge: keep them 2D or make them 3D? They took the risk with 3D and it worked very well. I will admit I did see a few glitches in terms of speed but the form of the characters as well as the settings were flawless.
The vocal talent from the young actors were all there as they not only sounded like the characters but they personified them as we commonly knew them. Additional kudos for Christophe Back for providing the score familiar with Peanuts animation of the past as well as adding some things of his own.
The Peanuts Movie is an excellent movie with all the right moves to win over fans of Peanuts cartoons and introduce the Peanuts kids to a new generation of children.
You saw I did a triple-movie review yesterday. That’s what I plan to do as far as reviewing summer movies. Review two or three summer movies that are in the same genre. Yesterday was a review of three summer comedies. Today is the review of the two hit animated movies of the summer: Inside Out and The Minions Movie. Both were two of the biggest hit movies this 2015 and both were different but both also had their own qualities.
This is actually Pixar’s first original movie since Brave. It’s been awhile and it was commonly assumed that the buzz of Pixar–the buzz of quality and creativity–was fading with movies like Cars 2 and Planes. They also had to face the fact in recent years they were no longer alone at the top with Illumination Entertainment emerging and Walt Disney Studios returning to their winning ways. However Pixar did come back with a vengeance this year with Inside Out.
Pixar went once again to its dream team with Up director Pete Docter doing the direction as well as co-writing the script with Josh Cooley and Meg Le Fauve. Michael Giacchino returns to do the music and vocal talent comes from the likes of Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Diane Lane, Bill Hader and John Ratzenberger.
The biggest achievement of the film is that it doesn’t just simply deliver a great story that can keep the audience intrigued but it creates a unique and dazzling world of the human mind. Here they invented the world of the human brain called Headquarters, creates characters related to human emotions, creates a system where emotions are delivered by Headquarters subconsciously via a control console that any of the five emotions can control, has memories kept in colored orbs in its own storage system and has islands that reflect the most dominant aspects of a person’s personality connected by the train of thought which is an actual locomotive.
That already looks like creative stuff on pen and paper. However it took Pixar’s animators to make this world come alive. If you’ve seen Inside Out, you too would be dazzled to see the world inside the mind of Riley Anderson, the main character. It’s one thing to think up this world. It’s another thing to have this world come alive on screen and be good enough to dazzle and even mesmerize the audience. Were you mesmerized? I was.
However despite the mesmerizing world, it still had to have a solid and entertaining story to go with it. The story consists of five characters representing the five core emotions. Those emotional characters are inside the mind of Riley Anderson: a hockey-loving 11 year-old girl who is trying to adjust to a move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Promising enough. However it also took the right juggling of the story to go from focus on Riley to focus on the emotions and their world inside Riley’s head. It was a balancing act.
The story had to make Riley a likeable and identifiable character. It also had to make the emotions likeable characters too. Like it couldn’t make Anger as an abusive brute or Sadness into a manic depressant. C’mon, this is a family film for people to enjoy rather than see characters that cut deep. I’ll admit I did find the story rather confusing at first. However it starts to make more sense over time long after you leave the theatre. Inside Out is like a lot of Pixar movies where the focus is more on the story or the world rather than it being too character-driven or too entertainment-driven. That’s how Pixar has created some of the best animated movies of the past 20 years and that’s how they succeed here again.
Inside Out isn’t simply another charming animated story from Pixar but an escape to a world that will leave you dazzled. The ending will even get you thinking you have five characters in your head just like them!
Without a doubt, this decade’s top movie stars are not of flesh and blood but yellow and pill-shaped. Yes, the Minions who have been the aces at stealing the show from Gru in all the Despicable Me movies. Their popularity over time made the possibility of their own movie eventual. However it was to be a big question of The Minions Movie. Yes, they can steal the show from Gru but can the hold their own? Or will people become sick of an hour and a half of Minions?
Firstly in order to do a 90 minute-long film about Minions, one should have a solid but entertaining story to go with it. Interestingly enough they didn’t pick Despicable Me writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio to write the story. It went to newcomer Brian Lynch who actually wrote for the Minions Mayhem short three years ago. Despicable Me co-director Pierre Coffin returns to direct this but his co-director this time is Kyle Balda, who co-directed The Lorax with Despicable Me co-director Chris Renaud. Renaud is Executive Producer of the Minions movie. Hmmm, looks like Pixar’s not the only animation team in town.
The story does seem a bit formulaic as they try to look for a master of evil to serve. The master they think they found turning on them isn’t that original either. Even the ending where they eventually find themselves the master of Gru was not unexpected. The strength of the story was for it to have a decent plot but put major emphasis on the entertainment factor. Let’s face it, people are in love with the Minion characters. If one writes a story that’s very plot-centred like most Pixar movies, the flavor of the Minion characters would be lost. People love the goofy nature of the Minions. They story could not be two plot-centred if the Minions had to have their hyper but cute charm maintained.
Nevertheless they had to have a good story not just to keep it going to a feature-length but to entertain as well. That was achieved well with the story of Scarlet Overkill having them under their wing. Sandra Bullock made Scarlet fun to watch. Even if you knew the Minions would turn out okay with whatever Scarlet plotted against them, the movie still kept you wondering and hoping that they’d come out alright.
I give the writers and directors credit to writing and directing an entertainingly good story of how the Minions found Gru. However like most other movies, I usually question the choices made or if it could have been done better. Sometimes I wonder was it a good idea to pick three Minion characters as the lead Minions instead of maybe more? Was there too little time spent on how they met Gru at the end? Was Bob more idiotic than he should be? Actually I can’t really judge because I’m not a Hollywood writer. However I do feel that the ‘Hair’ number shouldn’t have been the only Minion musical number.
Minions is a mission accomplished: making a feature-length film of the top scene stealers in Hollywood right now. However it is imperfect and can make some people think it could have been done better.
As for the two movies, they both turned out to be the two biggest money makers of the year. Sure, Jurassic World is #1 but both are comfortably in this year’s Top 5 with Inside Out grossing $352.8 million and Minions grossing $332.8 million. It looks like animated movies are among the strongest films out there right now. Often they’re better at making favorite characters than most live-action movies. What Pixar and the other animation teams have up their sleeves has yet to be seen.
Inside Out and Minions are two of the biggest winners of the summer. they not only entertained but they also showed why animated movies are one of the tour de forces in moviemaking right now.
Summertime may be the perfect time for Beach Boys music but the film Love & Mercy isn’t one to give you that summery feeling that comes with their music. Actually it’s a lot deeper.
The film alternates between two time periods: between the mid-60`s and 1987. In the 60`s, the Beach Boys, consisting of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, cousin Mike Love and high-school friend Al Jardine have hit the big time. Their California sound of girls, cars, beaches and surf have made them a phenomenon. However it`s not to say they face competition from the British Invasion, especially the Beatles.
However something`s not right despite their success. It becomes evident when Brian has a panic attack on an airplane. After the incident, he resigns from touring with the band and goes into seclusion into an attempt to make `the best album ever made.` During the time, he continues to make music but it becomes more his music rather than music of the Beach Boys. Often Brian hires other musicians and usually features the other Beach Boys only in vocals. This leads to a lot of disharmony among the band sensing this may be a vainglorious Brian Wilson solo project. Brian also does other unorthodox things like build a sandbox around his piano and experiment with LSD which even his own wife is comfortable with.
The end result is the album Pet Sounds which received a lot of critical praise but was a commercial failure despite two Top 10 hits. The lack of commercial success is especially rubbed in by his father Murry who acts as their manager and expects the band to succeed just like it was any other act he owned.` He even announces to Brian that the Beach Boys are fired and he manages a new band which he feels has better chart-topping potential. Even after The Beach Boys resume their top-selling ways with songs like Good Vibrations, that changes nothing especially since some of Brian`s other creations are rejected. Brian goes into seclusion after a mental breakdown to the point he alienates everyone including his wife and newborn daughter Carnie.
In 1987, Brian is in a Cadillac store in California where he appears to be shopping for a new car. He stumbles across attractive saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter. However his psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy stops him. Brian is able to give Melinda his number. He goes on dates with her in which he was surprisingly honest to the point he even revealed his father`s abusiveness to him and his brothers. It`s obvious Brian is still as troubled mentally as he was back in the 60`s. The accidental death of brother Dennis three years earlier only added to his distress.
Over time, Landy demands more supervision of Brian. Melinda is already sending Landy becoming overbearing and even controlling when he tells Brian out loud to wait for food at a barbecue. Landy`s controlling nature becomes even harsher when Landy supervises his music and even demands that no visitors be with Brian. It becomes especially evident that he has a certain contempt towards Melinda. Melinda tries to get Brian to turn away on many occasions but Brian is too mentally weak to drop Landy. It comes down to Melinda threatening a legal suit to put an end to this and she gets what she needs. The ending tells us that Melinda is the best thing to ever happen to Brian.
The film is not just about Brian`s mental condition but also about the Beach Boys music at the time and even the time in music history when it was happening. Hard to believe the whole time the Beach Boys appeared as the epitome of surfing culture in the early 60`s, only Dennis surfed. They were an act packaged by their father Murry and it paid off into hit record after hit record. However Brian had other creative juices of his own and he felt he had to put it to record.
It showed the inspiration he transpired into the record studio but it also showed the conflict he had with other band members and the commercial pressures expected with every big name act. We often think of the mid-60`s as a time when rock bands did away with the typical `bubble gum` sounds that made them chart-toppers and started getting more creative and changed rock `n roll forever in all angles. True, but it didn`t make them immune to the commercial expectations they faced. Sure, there were albums like Sgt. Pepper that paid off commercially and changed music forever. However there were albums like Pet Sounds that were just as creative but flopped. It`s a gamble no matter how you put it. Even that scene where Murry tells Brian he fired the Beach Boys in favor of a new act, you could tell by the look on Brian`s face it appeared like a case of a father disowning his sons. It sure looked like it.
Without a doubt the mental illness ordeal of Brian Wilson is the focal point of the film. His ordeal is something most of us already know but only few knew the full details. The film gives the story of how it all started especially with Brian`s upbringing and what all happened at its start and most noticeable troubles during the 1960`s. The film also showed why it took so long for it to be resolved. You could easily see why a doctor like Eugene Hardy would make the situation worse than better. It makes you wonder why was Eugene so controlling to Brian? His star status? Landy`s own psychiatrist ego? Or Landy`s own problems?
It also made you wonder why was Brian afraid to leave Landy? Was it because he trusted him? Or was it because Landy appeared to him as the father figure he didn`t get from Murry? Even though the story is about Brian`s mental condition, it`s also a love story as it was Melinda whom Brian meets by chance that becomes the best thing for him. For his life and for his mental well-being. You`re left feeling that way at the end that love really does conquer all.
Director Bill Pohlad and scriptwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner succeed in creating a film that`s both autobiographical and also about the music of the Beach Boys and the time when Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations were released and also about how persistent love solved a decades-long psychological issue. The story however could not shine without the phenomenal acting. Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian who was full of music but very troubled and couldn`t be helped. John Cusack was excellent as the older Brian who was still troubled and too afraid to break free from Landy. Also excellent was Elizabeth Banks as Melinda. She was excellent for portraying the one who knew nothing about psychology but knew how to solve Brian with love. Paul Giamatti was good as Eugene Landy but his performance was as typical as most of the other characters he`s done in past films.
Love & Mercy is a biographical film of a musician but it`s a lot more. It`s about the music of the time and a reminder that one who loves you enough to care can see through hard situations.
Anyone else here who missed seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel back when it was released in the spring? Yes, I’m guilty of that too. I can blame it on things like me being tired right after last year’s Oscar season to having a lot of preoccupations in my life at that time. This year’s Oscar race sent me the message of what I missed out on the first time. I finally saw it on DVD a few days ago and I now finally see why it ranks among one of the best of 2014.
This is another review of mine where I won’t give an analysis of the plot. Instead I will put focus on the movie’s strengths and possible flaws.
This film is quite typical of what to expect from a Wes Anderson film. It has an eccentric situation along with eccentric characters and a lot of comedy along the way. However this movie has its charm: the common charming eccentricity with Wes Anderson movies that continuously attract fans of his movies and moviegoers looking for something different. It’s also a trademark charm of the director that does not run stale with their movies time after time and continues to be enjoyable.
This too is a film that offers a lot and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at first but makes sense as it goes along. It starts with a young girl paying honor to a writer in the present. Then flashing back to the writer in 1985 talking about hearing from Zero the owner of the practically lifeless Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 about why he won’t close it down and Zero flashing back to 1932 to explain the whole story why. Wow, a lot of flashing back!
The story itself unravels itself over time with its various chapters from Zero joining the hotel as an orphaned lobby boy to the fictional country of Zubrowska nearing war to the owner Monsieur Gustave’s affair with Madame D to inheriting her most coveted painting much to the anger of her own family who hoped to have it to being framed for her murder. Yes, already bizarre. However the colorfulness comes with Zero’s love for the cakemaker Agatha whom he eventually becomes engaged to and helps bake cakes with escape tools.
The situation gets weirder as an assassin is on pursuit for him and the hotel needs to be managed, especially since news about a second will from Madame D is in existence somewhere. It’s after a pursuit while at a winter sport’s to kill off the assassin that the can return to the hotel only to find it overtaken by soldiers in the war and police on the hunt for Gustave.
As you can tell, this all makes for a bizarre confusing story and even leave you wondering about why the hotel is still in existence. Understanding it means having to see the story for itself from beginning to end. There may be some confusing moments along the way and even a lot of eccentric humor but you will understand it and even the reason why a mountaintop hotel that’s completely useless is still in existence. You’ll even understand why the lobby boy is the only person in the world Gustave can trust wholeheartedly and would eventually own it. It’s no wonder Wes had to write a story along with his writing partner Hugo Guinness in order to bring this to the screen and make it work.
There are even times when I felt the story resembled Farewell To Arms, albeit with Wes Anderson’s dark humor intertwined into the story. Actually the credits in the end say the film was inspired by the readings of Stefan Zweig. I’ve never read Zweig’s writings so it’s hard for me to judge on that factor. Nevertheless the fact that Zweig was an Austrian Jew who fled to Brazil for refuge where he died may have some bearing on this. Even seeing how the character of The Writer looks like Zweig gives a hint. Whatever the situation and even if the story does not go as well as you hoped it would, it does leave you feeling that it does end as it should.
Despite this film being another excellent work from Wes Anderson, we shouldn’t forget that this is also because of the excellent ensemble of actors. Many of which have already acted in Wes Anderson movies of the past. Here they deliver well as a whole to make the movie enjoyable and true to Anderson’s style of humor and style of film making. However it also succeeds well with those who have never acted in a Wes Anderson movie before, like lead Ralph Fiennes. He delivers a character that’s humorous and true to the humor of the movie. Newcomer Tony Revolori also adds to the charm of the movie as the young bellboy who becomes Gustave’s partner in crime as does Saoirse Ronan as Agatha. You can easily see why she won his heart. Even minor roles from other Anderson first-timers like Jude Law and F. Murray Abraham add to the story.
Even the technical aspects of the story are excellent. The costumes designed by Milena Canonero are perfect to a T in this movie as is the set design and the makeup and hair. All these elements fit the times they’re set in and add to the film’s charm. The cinematography by Robert Yeoman fit the story well and the music from Alexandre Desplat also fit the film.
The interesting thing to note is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s highest-grossing film ever with $59.1 million in North America and almost $175 million worldwide. Buzz for the film first started after it won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Buzz continued after it continuously impressed film festival after film festival. Although his box office total in North America is not too impressive, it should be seen as respectable as it opened around the same time as the summer movie phenomenon that was happening. It made for a nice humorous alternative to the overhyped summer schlock.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a DVD worth watching. We all didn’t know what we were missing during the summer and now we can finally see why.
Even though I’m excited about the summer fare in movies, I’m also interested in what the independent movies have to show. Blood Pressure is one. Shown at the VIFF Theatre in Vancouver, it’s Canadian-shot, Canadian-produced and Canadian-made. But is it one film for those who want to get off the beaten path?
The film begins with the reading of a letter addressed from ‘a friend.’ It’s to a woman named Nicole. The letter from this ‘friend’ appears to be one who knows a lot about her. The ‘friend’ knows she’s a pharmacist and married mother of two living in a Toronto suburb. The ‘friend’ even knows where she graduated from. The friend also knows she’s not too happy with her job and her family life. You’ll soon see the friend is right. She’s not happy with her marriage or her job at a pharmacy. The one person she can confide to is retiring from the pharmacy.
Interestingly the ‘friend’ knows what to give Nicole as this ‘friend’ gives her a card for a complimentary massage and a manicure. The friend even knows of her wishes as just days after talking to her husband about a vacation to Mexico, she follows a set of lights to a chair with a plane ticket to Mexico. And the friend gives her shooting range sessions and martial arts classes. The ‘friend’ then asks of her to do things to prove her loyalty such as set up a flyer in the mail a certain way. Then the requests get bigger as the ‘friend’ asks her to observe a young man with a cane in a cafe at a certain time. Then the requests become even more voyeuristic as the ‘friend’ asks Nicole to observe the man while talking on the phone without being noticed. It didn’t work and the friend asks her to view the man in his bed at a certain time and be very observant.
However this fixation of these letters starts to bear down on Nicole’s life. The shooting sessions and martial arts classes work for her and even improve her relationship with her daughter. However it’s leading to difficulties in her marriage and even disputes with her boss on the job. Then the moment when she can finally find out who the friend is: a request to give the man an envelope at the cafe. It’s there she finds out that he’s the friend but it’s at his hotel suite she finds out why. At the suite she learns of this man, Darryl Saunders, and of his debilitating physical handicap. He is impressed with her loyalty to him and gives her one last request: kill him.
Nicole doesn’t know how to take this request. She tried looking up his medical information only to learn of a Daria Saunders instead, who is Darryl’s deceased wife. Meanwhile she develops feelings for the man and has simultaneously won over the attraction of her pharmacy boss. This even has her husband suspecting an affair. This all leads to a surprise decision from Nicole which leads to finding out another surprising truth about Darryl. The end result is one that will surprise you and the movie ends on a note that can leave the audience deciding for themselves how it all ends.
This film is a very good example of a creative idea paying off. It all started with an idea from scriptwriter Bill Fugler from an idea while talking with writing friends at a café bookstore. Co-writer and director Sean Garrity added narrative elements to bring the story to the big screen. It was originally to be filmed in Winnipeg when a sudden career change with his wife led to shoot it in suburban Toronto: Richmond Hill to be exact. Jonas Chernick was cast to be Darryl. Michelle Giroux, a friend of Jonas Chernick, was a stage actor and originally only read with the male actors during pre-production. Garrity was so impressed by her reading, she was cast as the lead. It was an excellent choice as Giroux owned the film. She was given a very complex lead role that spoke volumes even when she wasn’t speaking at all and she delivered excellently. Jonas was also good as the hurting Darryl as was Jonah Katz as the struggling husband. Tatiana Maslany did an excellent job of portraying a teenage daughter despite being much older.
After seeing Before Midnight, I was tempted to think that Blood Pressure was about reaching middle age in today’s world and the emotions that run through people. Even though Nicole possessed a lot of feelings and frustrations one would have at middle age, it’s not what this movie’s about. It’s more of a psychological thriller that uses human emotions to keep the audience thrilled instead of special effects.
One thing unique about Blood Pressure is its surprise success. The film made its big screen debut at the Busan Film Festival. It was screened in Garrity’s home city of Winnipeg in February 2013 to sold out shows at Cinematheque cinema which led to a screening at the Grant Park Cinema weeks later. The film would soon have popular screenings in Toronto in March. Its success in Toronto and Winnipeg has led to other screening nationwide including Calgary screenings and a Vancouver debut on June 29th. I actually thought something like this would make its Vancouver debut at the VIFF. looks like its buzz made it happen faster.
Blood Pressure is a surprise for the summer but not on a large scale. Those interested in Canadian film will like this. This is an excellent triumph for Manitoba filmmakers.
Moonrise Kingdom is one of those films one who wants get off the beaten path might want to see. Knowing that Wes Anderson is directing it is one sign this is something out of the ordinary. But is it enjoyable?
The film starts with a young girl, the oldest of four children and only daughter, has her binoculars out for a search. She leaves her house on the search with her cat, six books and a record player but we don’t know what she’s searching for. Her name is Suzy Bishop. Meanwhile it’s rise and shine for the Khaki Scouts at Camp Ivanhoe. Only one scout is missing and no one can find him. His name is Sam Shakusky.
Flashback a year ago. Suzy is about to perform for a church musical for Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten. Sam sneaks in and meets Suzy. It was like love at first sight for the two. Over the year’s time, they were pen friends and they made a secret pact to reunite in the summer and run away together. Now today is the day. As Suzy is walking to the area with binoculars in hand, Sam paddles his canoe over the lake well-equipped with camping equipment. They meet and camp out for several days on a secluded cove which they call Moonrise Kingdom. Their love blossoms as the days pass and as Sam paints pictures of her.
Eventually the two are located by the scoutmaster, the police and Suzy’s parents. They’re first able to evade escape by the scouts after Suzy stabs one in the side with lefty scissors. But it’s all too late as they are caught. Suzy is taken home by her parents and is ordered never to see Sam again. Sam is in custody with Captain Sharp and is about to be sent to ‘juvenile refuge’ because he is an orphan and his foster parents no longer wish to house him. The two run off again and hide. One other thing to add: a hurricane is expected to hit the area in a matter of days.
It’s this second incident that people are more cooperative. The Scouts learn of the love of the two and believe it their duty to help them hide. The Scouts even seek out the help of Cousin Ben to help them in the hiding out. It appears to be successful but there are many twists and turns including a flash flood within the camp and the recovering stabbed boy blockading Sam’s escape. After a lengthy chase, they return back to the church as it is about to do a musical. Problem is all those attempting to chase the two down head there too and the hurricane is slowly but surely approaching. Sam and Suzy refuse to give up and even go as far as going to the top of the church steeple while the storm is at its wettest and windiest to evade capture. The ending ends in an offbeat way but it’s a happy ending that ends in a charming manner.
I’m unsure if Wes was trying to get a point across in this movie or if he was just trying to deliver a quirky but nice story. It’s easy to sense that there may be a message here with a lot of elements in the story: 1965, New England, scouts, church plays, lawyer parents, an orphan who runs away a lot, a girl with behavioral problems. Whatever the situation, Wes succeeded in making this offbeat kiddie-romance quite charming. Wes has had a history of doing charming but quirky movies like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and even the animated family movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Here he has a story of children in love that commonly make for a typical cutesy story, adds his own quirks in there, gives the two children in love unique characters and delivers a winning and entertaining story. How often can a director accomplish that?
Besides Anderson’s filmmaking, the film has other great qualities too. The script he co-wrote with Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola, adds to the charming quirkiness of the movie. The acting performances of the leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward were very good, especially since they’re debut performances. The one thing is that Wes Anderson wanted the two to act in a certain style of acting that would fit the movie instead of your typical acting. Both did a good job of not only doing their character but succeeding in making the chemistry both quirky and a perfect aspiring at the same time. Anderson also brings back actors he has worked with in past movies like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Larry Pine and he also includes Edward Norton who will star in his upcoming The Grand Budapest Hotel. Their addition as supporting players also add to the story as well as supporting performances from other established actors like Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton.
It wasn’t just the writing, directing and acting. The music also added to the movie as well. The first is the inclusion of Benjamin Britten’s music in the movie. It’s obvious Wes had a liking to Britten’s music as a child. In fact we hear the Young Person’s Guide To the Orchestra played by Suzy’s little brothers at the beginning. The original music from Alexandre Desplat also added to the movie’s charm too. Many can agree that the use of such music had a lot to do with the movie’s charm.
Moonrise Kingdom is an odd and quirky story that will win you in the end. Great movie to watch for moviegoers who want to get off the beaten path.