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Christmas Movie Review: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

wonderfullife

George Bailey (played by James Steward) learns that life is worth living in It’s A Wonderful Life.

This is something new I thought I would try. I thought I would try reviewing a few Christmas movies around this time. The first movie I thought I would do is It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s a Christmas staple, but I finally saw it in its entirety last year! Here are my thoughts.

It begins as Heaven is alerted of prayers for a George Bailey from Bedford Falls, New York. As it reaches Heaven, the angel assigned to save George is Clarence Odbody. Clarence is a second-class angel who needs to earn his wings. George is about to commit suicide and it’s up for Clarence to save him to earn his wings. Clarence needs to learn about George, so he learns more about his life. He learns that George saved his younger brother Harry from drowning in a sledding accident, but lost hearing in his left ear. Also in George’s younger years, he prevented a druggist Mr. Gower from giving away a prescription after it was accidentally poisoned.

As George enters adulthood, he plans to travel the world and visit college. He is re-introduced to Mary Hatch, his childhood crush, by Harry at his graduation party and the two hit it off. However his plans have to be put on hold after his father Peter suffers a stroke and dies. Peter was head of Bailey Brothers’ Building And Loan. George agrees to continue it, mainly to keep it from being overrun by the ruthlessly hypercompetitive banker Henry Potter.

George wants to keep the Building And Loan business a family business as he promises brother Harry a job after college, and even resorts to hiring his incompetent uncle Billy. The times pass and George is successful in keeping the Building And Loan active, but not without his challenges. He had competition from Potter to face, including a tempting deal from Potter himself, although he knew Potter’s true attempt was to shut him down. He is understand when Harry receives a bigger job offer from another place. He build Bailey Park: a neighborhood of housing for low-income people while Potter made apartments of overpriced slums. He fell in love with Mary and married, eventually fathering four children.

World War II happens. George can’t fight because of his deaf ear, but Harry joins the Navy and earns a medal of honor by shooting down a kamikaze plane. Uncle Billy causes a big blunder on the day Harry is to receive his heroes’ welcome. Billy taunts Potter with the newspaper honoring Harry. Billy places $8000 to be deposited in a newspaper only to pick up the wrong paper to give to the teller. Potter knows what happened but says nothing and sees it as a chance to get the Building And Loan once and for all.

George most feels the heat. He learns that this will face scandal and that the Building And Loan will crumble. George even faces an arrest from Potter. All George does is take out his frustration on the family and on others. Then George gets drunk at the bar and receives a punch from the husband of the woman he told off over the phone. George feels he’s worthless and he needs to kill himself. As George is about to jump, he notices a man who has landed in the river. He goes to help. He learns the man is Clarence and Clarence introduces him as his guardian angel. At first George doesn’t believe him. Clarence tries to find ways to convince George not to commit suicide but they appear to be going nowhere.

Finally George says “I wish I was hadn’t been born.” That’s the perfect opportunity for Clarence; show George life if he had never been born. He shows him that Bedford Falls would be Potterville: a dark and corrupt town with amoral people. Mr. Gower was just released from prison for manslaughter, because George wasn’t there to stop him from poisoning. The Building And Loan closed down because George was not there to take over after his father’s death. George’s mother doesn’t recognize him and says Uncle Billy was institutionalized after the Building And Loan failed. The area that was Bailey Park is a cemetery and Harry Bailey is buried there; drowned from the sledding accident because no George to save him. I addition, the soldiers from the transport ship died because Harry wasn’t there to save them. Finally he learns Mary is an unmarried librarian and screams for the police as she sees George a stranger.

It’s after seeing life had he not existed that George decides not to commit suicide. He’s finally convinced Clarence is his guardian angel and begs for his life back. Back in the full present, George goes back to his house, grateful to see Mary and his children and unafraid to face arrest. He’s happy to see his family and Uncle Billy was able to get the towns people to pay the missing $8000. Right as the sheriff is about to arrest George, he sees the amount of money raised and rips up the arrest warrant. Harry returns and toasts George as the ‘richest man in town.’ In the pile of money, George sees a novel Clarence carried. Inside the novel is an inscription from Clarence: “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.” The daughter notices the sign that an angel has earned his wings. George knows it’s Clarence.

This is a film that gets replayed Christmas after Christmas. Hard to believe when it first came out, it did not do so hot at the box office. Over time, it would become beloved for many reasons such as its Christmas setting or even how it related to how people sometimes see themselves as failures. That feeling can often trigger around Christmas time. The film shows one example of a person who sees themselves around Christmas as a failure. George Bailey did a lot of great things throughout his life and meant a lot to a lot of people, especially people who feared the mere idea of the town being overrun by Henry Potter. Then a mistake happens and Henry sees it as the perfect opportunity to get George. George actually had it good for most of his life. Some people could even argue he’s the angel of Bedford Falls. But now that George fears arrest, all of that doesn’t matter anymore and George wants to take his own life. It’s Clarence who shows him the world had he not existed that changes George.

Sometimes it leaves you thinking there would be less suicides if people saw all the accomplishments they did in their lifetime and knew how many people loved them. It’s so easy to get caught and brought down in the ‘now’ of things.

The film’s ‘beloved’ status was not immediate. It didn’t do so hot at the box office. It would be relay on television around Christmas that would lead it to become one of the most beloved Christmas movies ever. The film was nominated for five competitive Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for Frank Capra and Best Actor for James Stewart. It was given an honorary Oscar for technical achievement for the  effect of simulating falling snow. There have been numerous depictions and versions of the story redone in media from a Married With Children episode to a cartoon of The Smurfs to the Billy Joel video of “You’re Only Human.” There have been dozens and dozens of adaptations. There have even been spoofs such as one sitcom, one ‘guardian angel’ shows an oafish male how life would be if he didn’t exist… and it’s better for everyone! That’s comedy for you!

Looking back, it’s better that the film was made in 1946 than today. 1946 would be more welcoming of a story like this. Stories of people starting as down and out only to end on a happy note were quite common and quite welcome at the time. If It’s A Wonderful Life was released today, some people would think of it having a corny premise. A lot of people don’t buy into guardian angels today. Some would find the ending of the film too hokey. Even that ending where people actually give money to keep George Bailey from being arrested would seem too farfetched for today’s people to buy. Even I don’t think you’d see the same monetary support for a fallen person if what happened to George would happen to someone else today. It’s a film that came out at the right time and had what it took to go the distance all these years. Plus it’s a good reminder of past great talents and stars like James Steward, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers. Interesting enough, Travers would retire from acting three years after the movie was released!

It’s easy to see why It’s A Wonderful Life is one Christmas movie that stands the test of time. Even if the ending seems too farfetched to happen in today’s world, it’s good it came out when it did and grew in its legendary status over the years.

 

Oscars 2017 Shorts Review: Live-Action and Animation

Cinema

Once again, I had the luck to see the shorts nominated for the Oscars for Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film. All were entertaining in their own way and all showed the qualities of why they were nominated.

Anyways here are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts:

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS:

Last year, all nominated shorts were in a language other than English. This year, four of the nominated shorts were in English. This year’s crop of stories are impressive to see. All five have a wide variety from the funny to the thought-provoking.

DeKalb Elementary: dir. Reed van Dyk – Today is supposed to be an ordinary day at an elementary school in the US, but a young man with an assault rifle comes in and threatens people. The receptionist tries deal one-on-one with him. She notices some mental instability and even some flaws in his thinking. She feels she can talk him into withdrawing his gun. She is able to talk with him, talk to law authorities, and get him to cooperate. In the end, the man is arrested and no one dies.

This is a remarkable story, especially since this is being shown during a time when a shooting incident in a Florida high school made headlines. It’s remarkable because it takes you there into the moment. You feel the intensity. Plus seeing in the film how brains win over brawn make this an incredible story to watch. That’s why this is my Will Win pick.

The Eleven O’Clock: dirs. Derin Seale & Josh Lawson  – A psychiatrist in 1980’s Australia has an appointment with a delusional mental patient who thinks he’s a psychiatrist. The doctor thinks he can handle it until he meets face to face with the patients. Soon it becomes an all-out verbal battle of madness and idiocies. Looks like he finally met his match.

For once, it’s nice to take a break from some of the more serious stuff and see something comedic. It was very enjoyable and can leave you hating the patient. However it has an appropriately bizarre ending where you’re left to wonder is he the doctor or the patient?

My Nephew Emmett: dir. Kevin Wilson Jr. – This is a depiction of what may have happened the night before the 1955 abduction and lynching of 14 year-old Chicago boy Emmett Till who was just staying with his uncle’s family in Money, Mississippi, but was a victim of racism instead. His murder and his alleged killer’s acquittal would play a part in the Civil Rights Movement.

This might be a fictional depiction of what happened before, but it was very good in sending the message that all Emmett Till was doing was being a typical 14 year-old boy. Having it from the uncle’s point of view is important as the uncle would be interviewed by the media shortly after. It does a very good job of storytelling from the uncle’s point of view as well as recapturing the moments as they happen.

The Silent Child: dirs. Chris Overton & Rachel Shenton – A rich family hires a tutor to help with their 4 year-old deaf daughter. The tutor works very well with the daughter and gets her to sign. The results are pleasing to the father and her siblings, but the mother has higher demands. It gets to the point the mother makes a questionable drastic choice for the daughter.

The story is very good. It also catches your intrigue whether the mother has these high demands because she has high expectations or because she’s trying to cover up a family secret? The story reminds us that the connection between the deaf child and the tutor is a bond we so easily forget about.

Watu Wote/ All Of Us: dirs. Katja Benrath & Tobias Rosen – This is based on a true story. This takes place on a bus trip close to the Kenyan-Somali border. Christians and Muslims travel in the same bus. All have animosity towards each other. One passenger, Jua, has a certain animosity towards Muslims. Her husband and child were killed by a Muslim. She lets the Islamic ‘teacher’ raising money for his student know it. Then the bus is attacked by the group Al-Shabaab. They demand that all Christians be brought forth, but the Muslims defend by quoting scriptures from the Koran to protect them. At the end, police arrive and the teacher is shot. Jua is the one looking after him as they drive to safety.

This is the only film not in the English language. This story may be the darkest of all the stories nominated, but it’s very thought-provoking and it sticks with you. It packs a lot in its 20 minutes of time. You can really feel the hurt in Jua and you’re surprised to see her compassion in the end. That’s why I make this my Should Win pick.

ANIMATED:

This year’s animated shorts made news of what was included and what was not included. Ever since In A Heartbeat, the animated short of boy meets boy, went viral on YouTube back in August, people predicted it would win the Oscar. Even though it made the shortlist of ten back in December, it did not get nominated. A shock to all fans of the short! As for those that did get nominated:

Dear Basketball: dirs. Glen Keane & Kobe Bryant – This is a pencil-and-paper style of animation drawn by Glen Keane, son of Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane, and narrated by Kobe Bryant. It’s of the letter Kobe wrote to the sport of basketball upon his retirement.

The film is excellent in how it takes a simple style of animation and successfully makes the audience embrace the athlete’s story of passion. Excellently done. You’ll feel the heart and soul of the story within its four minutes. That’s why I choose this as my Will Win prediction.

Garden Party: dirs. Victor Caire & Gabriel Grapperon – This is funny. A bunch of frogs find themselves over at a mansion. They go around exploring and eating whatever comes their way. Then right as they make their way to the pool area, we learn it’s party time for all!

This is a fun humorous story. The events are slow, but they’re still fun to watch. They’re especially funny when the frogs accidentally find themselves in a mess. The ending is a complete surprise. Nevertheless the short is enjoyable from start to finish.

Lou: dirs. Dave Mullins & Diana Murray – This is the short shown before Cars 3. When kids come in from recess at an elementary school, you can guarantee there will be lots of things left behind. A certain ‘thing’ comes from the lost-and-found bin, which have its L, O and U missing, and gathers up all the stuff in the bin. The school bully J.J. steals the kids’ toys and it’s up for this thing to teach J.J. a lesson, and actually be a friend.

Pixar not only knows how to make a great feature, but they also know how to make a great short too. Even though there’s some dialogue in this short, it is definitely entertaining and fun to watch.

Negative Space: dirs. Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata – A son talks of how his father taught him how to pack and how it’s been passed on as a skill. The son reminisces about it at his father’s funeral.

This is an adaptation of a poem by Ron Koertge. This is a charming story with stop-motion animation. It has a humorous look at a story a son reflects around his father’s funeral. The story ends on a note one didn’t expect it to end on. Nevertheless it’s funny and it has its own unique charm.

Revolting Rhymes: dirs. Jakob Schuh & Jan Lachauer – This is done by the same studio that did the Gruffalo series. This time they return with a story of a babysitter meeting up with a wolf. There we learn the shocking truth of what happened to Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and The Three Little Pigs!

It’s a funny and charming short. Does get a bit confusing when you learn about these new ‘truths’ and even surprising when you learn some shocking things like the Seven Dwarfs’ gambling problem. Well-written, well-animated and very entertaining. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

And there’s my look at this year’s Oscar nominated short films. Lots of creativity and a lot of good storytelling. However the shorts are two of the hardest categories to predict the winner. The winners are often a surprise. Time will tell this Sunday.

 

 

Summer Movie Spotlight: Superhero Movies

This was to be a triple-movie review I had planned to release shortly after the end of the summer.  The VIFF, feeling tired, and two illnesses kept it from publishing in due time. Even though most of the films here are on DVD, Blu-Ray or on NetFlix, I still feel this is a focus on summer movies worth publishing even now. Especially since many will be eligible for the technical categories of the Oscars. Hey, don’t rule them out.

And this one is on superhero movies, and rightly so as they’ve become the creme de la creme of the summer movie season. You can easily see why. Their popularity, their ability to bring in a wide range of an audience from children who love superheroes to action movie fans to thriller lovers. No doubt their the hype of the summer. I saw three such movies this summer– The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Ant-Man, and The Fantastic Four — and all three had something to say about them in either their successes or failures.

THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

The Avengers returned opening up the summer movie season with Age Of Ultron.

The Avengers returned opening up the summer movie season with Age Of Ultron.

The Avengers blew us away in their first movie back in 2012. It even set a box-office record for the first ever movie to open with a $200 million weekend. It was right that there be another Avengers movie in due time. Sure enough the sequel came this summer and it was the Age Of Ultron.

It’s one thing to bring a set of superheroes together as one team but also to have one of the superheroes’ main villains to be the bad guy of this Avengers movie is something else. I wasn’t expecting Loki to be the villain. Another thing I liked about this is that in the first Avengers movie, it looked like Tony Stark was stealing the show too often. This time it appeared like there was less of a case of one hero trying to steal the show.

Overall I feel the story worked as it delivered the excitement one would normally expect from a superhero movie. You know that when Joss Whedon tackles a Marvel script, he will deliver. That and dazzling special effects of course. The interesting thing is that the ending leaves one to think that there will be a new generation of Avengers and the original Avengers have retired from their duties as a team. Nevertheless there is talk of the next Avengers sequel — actually the sequel is divided into two parts– and that all the original Avengers will be back. Should be interesting.

The box office results for Avengers: Age Of Ultron are quite interesting. Their opening weekend of $191.3 million made it second only to the first Avengers movie’s $207.4 million as the highest ever. Both would eventually be bumped down a spot six weeks later thanks to Jurassic World’s record-setting $208.8 million. Eventually it would gross a total of $459 million in North America and $1.4 billion worldwide. Its totals make it the eighth-highest ever in North America and sixth-highest ever Worldwide.

The Avengers: Age Of Ultron show some common traits of the first Avengers movie but have some noticeable differences of their own. Nevertheless they still deliver on excitement.

ANT-MAN

Paul Rudd proves in Ant-Man size does matter. The smaller the better.

Paul Rudd proves in Ant-Man size does matter. The smaller the better.

Last year Marvel was able to unleash a superhero ensemble no one had ever heard of, The Guardians Of The Galaxy, and they became household names. Marvel attempted to unleash another unknown superhero to the public named Ant-Man. Although it didn’t have the same buzz as the Guardians, it was impressive and succeeded in making it well-known to the public.

Ant-Man is no recent superhero of Marvel’s. Ant-Man has actually been around since 1962. Here was Ant-Man’s first crack at the big screen.  It follows a formula familiar to Marvel superhero movies intended to be the first one of the superhero. It creates a clever opening scenario involving an humorous introduction to the person who will become the hero as well as an opening scene of the person to become the villain. That is to be expected in such Marvel movies as they are shelling these movies out to people of various ages from children to adult sci-fi fans. However it risks being a disappointment if not done right. It was not exactly done wrong but I did feel the beginning emphasized on the humor too much and the scenes involving Scott Lang and Luis started the movie on a cornball note. There were even scenes where Scott–ant-sized as he just discovers the Ant-Man suit–gets himself in humorously troubling situations. I know it’s natural for Marvel to add humor to their films for family viewing and enjoyment but I felt they overdid it there.

I do commend director Peyton Reed and the four scriptwriters for creating a good story that knows how to entertain and thrill. I also admire the special effects team for creating dazzling effects that fit the film well. I also commend the good acting from Paul Rudd, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Canavale and the other actors in the film. However I felt there was something missing in this film. I can’t exactly say what. Maybe because I can’t see of a superhero the size of Ant-Man being that believable. Whatever the situation, I felt it lacked a certain shining quality one would find in some of Marvel’s best movies like X-Men or even Guardians Of The Galaxy. Once again I reiterate Ant-Man was no disappointment. It was just lacking a certain flare.

Ant-Man didn’t have the same box-office success as the Guardians Of The Galaxy did last year. It made $179.5 million in North America but also scored an impressive additional $337.9 million internationally. The film’s success has prompted plans for a sequel in either 2017 and 2018. Rudd will be returning.

Ant-Man doesn’t have the same flare as Guardians Of The Galaxy but it is an impressive introduction to a previously unfamiliar Marvel superhero.

THE FANTASTIC FOUR

The revamp of The Fantastic Four fell short of expectations and enjoyment.

The revamp of The Fantastic Four fell short of expectations and enjoyment.

If there’s one film that failed to live up to people’s expectations this summer, it has to be this year’s revamped version of The Fantastic Four. If you saw it yourself, you could easily see why it was a disappointment.

The opening scene where Reed Richards and Ben Grimm first meet in elementary school and develop a friendship opens the movie on a promising and intriguing note. However whatever intrigue one has in the story is put to the test throughout the movie. The story when the four eventually adopt their superhero personas appears to take forever. I even remember one time around the halfway point, I had to check my watch asking “Are they the Fantastic Four yet?” Even the moments in the story that attempted to stimulate excitement and intrigue didn’t keep me from asking that.

Even after the four have adopted their superhero personas, it appeared that they weren’t together and not yet the team of the Fantastic Four. The middle of the movie does make obvious that the four have their superhero personas and their elements of action to go with it but it left me confused. Even as the four do eventually meet together and do battle against Doom on another planet, I was still left wondering when the four became The Fantastic Four. I felt leaving it until the very end was not a smart thing to do.

It’s not fair to say it’s a terrible movie. When I saw it had less than 10% at Rotten Tomatoes, I wondered how unwatchable it would be. I was expecting a disappointment or a clumsy disaster. It wasn’t. It was very watchable as a movie. In fact I consider Vacation a way worse movie from this summer. Even the young actors of Miles Teller, Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan and Kata Mara did nothing wrong and did well in their acting jobs. The problem is the movie made a lot of noticeable mistakes. The special effects of the film were excellent and one-of-a-kind but they could not hide just how off the story was.

You can bet that just before the movie’s release and even after, the bad news came out and in various forms. Later on I read stories of how the director Josh Trank lost interest in the project and that it caused problems in terms of finishing the story. If that’s the case, it shows. Even despite the lackluster story, I felt ten years was too soon to release a revamp of The Fantastic Four. I remember the first one. It was a fun story that was enjoyable and a thrill to watch. It appeared Marvel did the right moves. Here, it looks like it’s aiming for a darker story with less comedy which makes it less enjoyable than the first. I can understand the aim for more drama than entertainment but this is a movie that really tests our patience despite the top notch special effects.

The box office results showed how disappointing this Fantastic Four was. It cost $120 million to make but didn’t even make half of it back in North America: $56.1 million to be exact which is less what the two previous Fantastic Four movies made in their respective opening weekends. The foreign box office of $111.6 million kept it from being a complete flop. There was talk of plans to be a sequel at first but the box office numbers definitely will put it in question.

Yes, superhero movies were one of the tour-de-forces of the summer box office as has been in recent years. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron prove they’ve still got it, Ant-Man proves that introducing a new superhero is still a challenge and The Fantastic Four proves even Marvel is not infallible to shelling out flops. We’ll see how next summer’s crop of superhero movies fares.