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Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Movie Review - Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here (2013)
Starring Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price, and Antony Starr
Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Oh, what joy there is in discovering a little underseen gem of a film and being able to espouse its goodness to others.  Wish You Were Here is one such flick -- a taut, exciting mystery that I heartily recommend.

Steph (Teresa Palmer) and Jeremy (Antony Starr) are all set to travel to Cambodia for a relaxing getaway (with a slight amount of business thrown in for Jeremy).  Looking for a way to spend more time together, Steph invites her older sister Alice (Felicity Price) and her husband Dave (Joel Edgerton), hoping for some quality "sister" time before Alice gives birth to her third child.  While soaking up the sun in Cambodia, the quartet attend a party one evening in which they become intoxicated (or worse) and Jeremy ends up going missing.  Unable to locate him, Steph, Alice, and Dave return to Australia, carrying with them secrets that are gradually revealed as the film progresses.

While the story itself isn't necessarily new, co-writers Kieran Darcy-Smith (who also makes his feature debut directing here) and the aforementioned Felicity Price decide to let things unfold in a non-linear fashion.  While the initial bouncing around in time proves to be a bit disorienting, the debut screenwriters (who are also husband and wife) make a smart decision in the way they decide to tell their story -- just as the characters find themselves in a dizzying spiral caused by the loss of their friend, we in the audience are left a bit discombobulated as well and it's an interesting touch.

What makes the film really pop, however, are the performances of Edgerton and Price.  I'd never seen Ms. Price before in anything and I can only hope that she'll find herself branching out from Australian tv and into more films.  Price's role of Alice is a bit tricky as she's forced to often "react to" rather than
instigate situations.  However, her character's naivete is built out of love for both her husband and her sister and when she's forced to question the people for whom she cares deeply, her emotions are palpably wrenching at times.

Even in lukewarm films, Edgerton usually manages to make an impact.  Here, he plays a conflicted man with secrets that are weighing him down, literally causing him pain from carrying them.  Edgerton is given an interesting character to work with and he absolutely makes us feel for his nice guy thrown into a desperate situation.

In addition to getting great performances from his actors, director Darcy-Smith proves more than capable behind the lens, taking a tricky screenplay and making the pieces fit together effortlessly, slowly and constantly building tension until the film's final moments when the Australia present and the Cambodia past storylines combine.  Kudos all around (including some beautiful cinematography) for a fine piece of filmmaking.  Wish You Were Here is absolutely worthy of a stream from Netflix.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movie Review - I Give It a Year

I Give It a Year (2013)
Starring Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver, Simon Baker, and Olivia Colman
Directed by Dan Mazer
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I Give It a Year started out so promisingly.  Through a quickly paced montage, we see how Nat and Josh (Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall) meet and fall in love, leading up to their wedding.  Their reception is filled with hilarity thanks to Josh's best bud Danny (Stephen Merchant), but then the film skips ahead about eight months and Nat and Josh find themselves sitting in a marriage counselor's office talking about how they jumped into things too quickly and may not have been as compatible as they thought.  Through flashbacks we see that Josh has never really gotten over his girlfriend prior to Nat, an American named Chloe (Anna Faris) and the fact that they're trying to remain friends puts a strain on his current relationship.  Nat, on the other hand, is finding herself falling for an American herself -- a businessman (Simon Baker) whose suave and debonair demeanor is a bit more of a perfect match for her than Josh's lovable carefreeness.

Unfortunately, as I look back upon the film, I realize that even the humor that I enjoyed wasn't natural to the film itself.  In those opening minutes, I laughed more times than I can count thanks to Stephen Merchant's inappropriate speeches at the wedding and the reception.  However, Merchant's character seems out of place and affected as opposed to being intrinsic to the plot.  Similarly, the aforementioned marriage counselor (played by Olivia Colman) is a caricature rather than a real person.  The same could be said for Minnie Driver's best friend character whose purpose other than to provide a snarky comment here or there is beyond me.

The film doesn't help its leading actors either.  Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall -- both of whom are perfectly pleasant to watch and are fine in the acting department -- are bland and aren't given anything to do except stand around and get pissed off or glare at their partner so that doesn't help matters either.  Simon Baker is nothing except "The Perfect Guy," so his character is a bit yawn-inducing.  And poor Anna Faris is given a purportedly hilarious scene involving her character's experimentation in a threesome that is so incredibly out of place, I found myself cringing at writer-director Dan Mazur's taste levels.

I Give It a Year wasn't offensively bad, but I can't say it's worth your time either.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, December 23, 2013

Movie Review - The East

The East (2013)
Starring Brit Marling, Alexander Scarsgård, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, Jason Ritter, and Julia Ormand
Directed by Zal Batmanglij

My conservative mindset certainly doesn't necessarily sympathize with the ecological terror group known as The East who take it upon themselves to secretly invade the homes and offices of big businesses and cause great harm to those whom they believe are corrupting the American people and the US soil on which they live.  However, director Zal Batmanglij and his co-writer Brit Marling give us a lead character in Sarah (also played by Marling) who, upon infiltrating the group as part of her job, questions The East's integrity particularly as the anarchist collective revs up their attacks, elevating them to more serious and possibly deadly retribution events.  Through the character of Sarah, a former FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm, the audience at least gets a modicum of moral questioning of the group who aren't quite given a free pass.

Admittedly (and anyone who disagrees with this just doesn't want to face the facts), The East certainly portrays its titular group as the more morally correct figures here.  The group's leader Benji (Alexander Scarsgård) is romanticized by both the lens and the character of Sarah herself.  However, the film doesn't necessarily let the members of The East get off scott free -- and they absolutely shouldn't considering some of the truly terroristic acts they inflict on others.

Brit Marling has been on my list of impressive up-and-coming actresses ever since her turn in 2011's Another Earth and she continued to showcase her talents in the fantastic and underseen Arbitrage (which is streaming on Netflix...so watch it).  It's obvious Marling is a smart cookie -- she co-wrote both Another Earth and this film, both movies that don't dumb down anything for their viewers -- and I love that she imbues her characters with the same intelligence she must carry with herself in real life.

However, once you move behind Marling's Sarah, the film doesn't give its other characters as much depth as they probably should have.  It also doesn't help that the film flounders a bit in its epilogue-like final fifteen minutes.  There's part of me that feels the film cops out a little bit and then there's another part of me that realizes it was really the only way the writers could've ended it without alienating one side or another of the political spectrum.  But then I ask myself, when has alienating one side of the political spectrum stopped Hollywood before?

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, December 20, 2013

Movie Review - Lovelace

Lovelace (2013)
Starring Amada Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Juno Temple, Chris Noth, Bobby Canavale, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, and James Franco
Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Deep Throat is the highest-grossing pornographic movie of all time.  Made in 1972, at the very least the film grossed $100 million although some estimates have it grossing $600 million (which is seemingly unfathomable for a film that played in only X-rated moviehouses).  The star of Deep Throat was the "normal-looking" Linda Lovelace who became incredibly famous thanks to her...um...oral capabilities. Termed a "sexy Raggedy Anne" by a character in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Lovelace, Linda was seemingly a gal who never imagined becoming a porn star, but was pushed into the industry by her husband who was desperate for money and essentially pimped out his wife in order to keep his head above water.

Following the film, I did a tiny bit of wikipedia research on Linda Lovelace and her story may have easily been sugarcoated for this film which is a love letter of sorts to the woman who only starred in one porn film and then managed to get out of the industry.  Still, despite the possibility of being one-sided, Lovelace is a decent picture...and this is coming from someone who's never particularly fond of biopics.

I typically can't stand Amanda Seyfried, but I think she gives her best performance to date as Linda.  Because of the way the film is cleverly set up, we see Linda's introduction to the porn industry through two different lenses -- one being the "excited" face she puts on for those around her and then, in a flashback, her seemingly true feelings about the industry.  Seyfried embodies both sides of Linda quite well and she absolutely makes Linda a relatable character.

As her husband Chuck, Peter Sarsgaard is a frightening and scary presence.  Having won over Linda's parents with his charm and grace, once married to Linda, his personality changes and his disgusting treatment of his wife is fodder for the second half of the film.  Sarsgaard is always good at playing a creepy guy, but here he successfully adds a menacing aspect that I haven't yet seen from him.

The rest of the cast is full of well-knowns and they all do fine work.  If anything, the film doesn't allow these other characters to develop as much as Linda and Chuck thanks to the brisk pace that the directors employ.  Still, overall, Lovelace is a film that I wasn't expecting anything from, but found an interesting look at an "important" moment in the film industry.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Disney Discussion - Lady and the Tramp

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #15 of The Disney Discussion
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Featuring the voice talents of Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Peggy Lee, Verna Felton, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom, and George Givot
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske

Summary (in 150 words or less):
A cocker spaniel named Lady is gifted to Darling by her husband Jim Dear on Christmas in 1909.  We follow Lady over the span of a few years during which time Jim Dear and Darling have a baby which initially has Lady feeling left behind and forgotten.  When Jim Dear and Darling go away for a weekend and Aunt Clara arrives to watch over the newborn, Lady finds herself failing to get on Clara's good side.  After a chaotic encounter with Aunt Clara's two Siamese cats, Lady meets up with Tramp, a schnauzer, whose stray dog status doesn't match up with Lady's more polished upbringing.  Still, the two hit it off and romance blossoms.

Let the Discussion Begin...
Lady and the Tramp is the Walt Disney Company's fifteenth full-length animated feature film and was released on June 22, 1955.

At the time of its release, Lady and the Tramp was Walt Disney's most successful animated film since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, raking in $7.5 million in 1955 alone.  To date, the film has grossed over $93 million (unadjusted for inflation).

Initially slated to be made in a full frame aspect ratio, Walt Disney decided to make the film in the wider Cinemascope format making Lady and the Tramp to be the first animated film to utilize this aspect ratio.  This wasn't necessarily an easy undertaking for the animators as the wider scope permitted more detail for backgrounds, but less opportunity for close-up shots.

Lady and the Tramp ranked #95 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Passions list -- one of only two animated films to do so.  The film was also named one of Time Magazine's Top 25 Best Animated Films of All Time.

The Characters
(The Best...The Worst...The Villains...)
While humans are the first characters we see and hear in Lady and the Tramp, the film is certainly not in any shape or form about them.  For the most part, they are seen via the perspective of our title canine characters with even their names -- Jim Dear and Darling -- being the pet names the husband and wife call each other rather than their real names.
Instead, we focus on the animals -- the first full-length Disney feature to really do so since 1945's Bambi.  Lady is a cocker spaniel who is living the good life.  She's adored by her owners (the aforementioned Jim Dear and Darling), treated well, and has everything going for her.  Yet, rather nicely, the filmmakers don't make Lady too uppity.  Yes, she knows she has it good, but she's never a character to whom the audience doesn't want to relate.  Had that been the case, the film simply wouldn't have worked.  We wouldn't have cared about a prissy dog's woes.  Fortunately, the writers knew better.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Tramp certainly doesn't have that nice upbringing.  Instead, he finds himself roaming the streets looking for scraps to eat from restaurants and narrowly avoiding capture by the city dogcatcher.  Despite his "status," it's easily understandable why Lady falls for Tramp.  He's not a bad guy at all...he just hasn't been given the opportunities to succeed.
There's no villain in the piece, although Aunt Clara's Siamese cats, Si and Am, certainly cause chaos for Lady which, in turn, pushes her into the paws of Tramp.  Still, the lack of any tension is the film's huge downfall and it's one of the reasons that, despite the fact that the film is nicely animated and briskly told, I found it a tad on the boring side.

The Music
The film is best known for its romantic scene in which Lady and Tramp sit in the alley behind an Italian restaurant and are serenaded with the love song "Bella Notte."  It's a classic moment and certainly the best song in the film.  While there are a few other decent numbers -- the incredibly un-PC "Siamese Cat Song" is quite humorous and enjoyable, but would've never made the cut in today's society -- Lady and the Tramp is not known for its music.  (Of course, I say that and four days after watching it, I still find myself humming "La La Lu," a lullaby Darling sings to her newborn baby shortly after his birth.  That's got to mean something.)

My Favorite Scene
It would be easy to pinpoint the classic spaghetti moment discussed in the music section above, but I think the film's best scene is at the beginning when a puppy-sized Lady is gifted to Darling on Christmas.  Despite Darling's pleas to allow Lady to sleep in their bed "just for one night," Jim Dear feeling one night will lead to an eternity of nights, so he tries to barricade Lady in the kitchen.  The precocious puppy will have none of that.  She manages to pry the door open and sneak into their room and curl up in the bed.  Cut to a fade-out and fade-in on the bed with Lady, now fully grown, snuggling next to her owners.  I found it a humorous way to open the film.

Random Thoughts
  • Lady is given to Darling on Christmas and she's presented in a box with a bow...I didn't see any air holes in that box.  Poor girl...
  • Did they really just feed Lady coffee?  That can't be good.
  • I seriously love the way the Scottish terrier Jock walks.  With his quick pattering of feet, it reminds me a little bit of the Peanuts characters' dance moves.
Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
There's nothing bad about Lady and the Tramp.  Admittedly, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you anything I heartily disliked about it.  However, the film never really "works" for me overall.  Maybe it's the fact that there's no villain to provide tension.  Maybe it's the fact that the story was too simplistic for its own good (seriously, the film's "exciting" conclusion is Tramp chasing a rat out of Lady's house).  Or maybe it's the fact that I'm just not an animal person.  I'm not sure what it is about the film, but I failed to get invested fully in the characters.  The animation here -- presented for the first time in widescreen Cinemascope -- is good and the voice acting is decent.  The characters, however, just didn't jump off the screen the way they did in Peter Pan or even in Alice in Wonderland (the latter of which, I admit, is a more flawed film).  So, despite the fact that I can't necessarily negatively criticize the picture, I'm not sure I'd place it in the Disney Pantheon.

(You can sort of tell my apathy towards this film by the brevity of each of the sections above.  I'll try and step up my game next time.)

The RyMickey Rating: B-

I'm taking a holiday break from the Disney Discussion since the next two Wednesdays are Christmas Day and New Year's Day.  Join me on January 8 for Sleeping Beauty, the sixteenth film in the Disney Discussion 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movie Review - Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O'Hare, Dallas Roberts, and Steve Zahn
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Ron Woodruff is an electrician by day and a bull-riding rodeo wrangler by night.  He's a ladies' man, a guy's guy, and is filled with stereotypical Texas bravado.  So on a fateful day in 1986 when Ron is told by a doctor that he's contracted the HIV virus, he can't even fathom how that would be possible.  To him and all his buddies, HIV and AIDS were exclusively found in the homosexual community and Ron angrily refuses to believe his doctor's diagnosis.  However, after being given a thirty day life expectancy, Ron succumbs to the diagnosis, but starts researching his options on how to survive with HIV.  While the local hospital is experimenting with the FDA-approved drug AZT, Ron travels to Mexico to get a drug cocktail of sorts and the results are fantastic.  Seeing how poorly AZT is working within the gay community of Texas, Ron sets up his own medical distribution center of sorts -- the Dallas Buyers Club -- while constantly battling the government and the medical professionals since his treatments are faring better than what the FDA is providing.

And therein is the true story behind Dallas Buyers Club.  Unfortunately, the rather straightforward manner in which I presented the summary above without a lot pep, pizzazz, or vigor, is the way Ron Woodruff's story is presented to us as well in the film.  While the movie isn't a chore to sit through or boring per se, there's no momentum driving the film along.  The arc of Woodruff -- tough guy who hates homosexuals morphing into less of a tough guy who begins to feel compassion for the gay community -- isn't surprising in the slightest and leads to a film that doesn't really go anywhere since we know where it's going right from the outset.

Fortunately, the film is buoyed by a very strong performance from Matthew McConaughey who famously lost a lot of weight for his role as Woodruff.  McConaughey couples his smooth Southern drawl with an obviously chauvinistic demeanor to give us an initial impression of Woodruff that sets him up as a staunchly homophobic guy.  (I don't mean to imply that a Southern drawl equates with a homophobic mindset -- it's just the way McConaughey carries himself that gives us that idea of the character.)  Rather nicely, the film slowly allows Woodruff to come to the realization that his predisposed ideas about the gay community in Texas were perhaps wrongly skewed and I enjoyed McConaughey's quiet transformation he has Woodruff undergo as the film progresses.

Much awards buzz for the film has been centered around the performance of Jared Leto as Rayon, a transgender woman whom Woodruff meets in the hospital.  Wryly sarcastic and unafraid to fight back against Woodruff's homophobic jabs, Leto's Rayon provides some of the humor this heavy story needs.  However, considering that Rayon herself is fighting for her life having also contracted the AIDS virus, I was expecting to be moved by her story and I never was.  It doesn't help that the character of Rayon doesn't have a "moment" to me -- something that is seemingly important if you want to make it far in the awards race.  This is why it's rather surprising to me that Leto seems to be the early frontrunner in awards prognostications.  Simply dressing up as a woman isn't enough to impress and Leto's character wasn't given enough gravitas to warrant the buzz in my opinion.

The film has a nice, though underwritten, performance from Jennifer Garner as a doctor sympathetic to Woodruff's needs but unable to assist as she's tied to the FDA's regulations.  Denis O'Hare also is quite good as the head doctor at the Texas hospital who's seemingly in the pocket of the FDA providing a nice counterpoint to Garner's character.

Still, overall, Dallas Buyers Club doesn't have the emotional arcs I wanted in a film like this.  The film doesn't drive its story forward in such a way that felt exciting or impacting.  Woodruff's story -- if this film tells the truth (and I have no reason to believe it doesn't) -- is compelling and interesting, but it may have been better served as a documentary.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Disney Discussion - A Brief Hiatus

The upcoming holiday season coupled with a broken Blu-Ray player have hampered my Disney Discussion capability this week.  Check back next Wednesday for an analysis of Lady and the Tramp.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Movie Review - This Is the End

This Is the End (2013)
Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, and Danny McBride 
Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

Those who have read this blog in the past may be aware that I don't exactly hold humor derived from drug-induced stupor in the highest regard.  So, considering This Is the End begins with Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel getting high, I wasn't quite sure I was in for something I'd find enjoyable.  Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how humorous I found the flick.  With actors Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride essentially playing exaggerated versions of their real-life personas, the film isn't afraid to take jabs at the inanity of celebrity culture and that's the biggest reason This Is the End works.

The plot is fairly simple.  The aforementioned actors have gathered for a party at James Franco's posh abode (along with several other big-name cameos playing themselves as well) when all of the sudden, the apocalypse arrives.  The "good" people are whisked up to heaven in Star Trek-esque beams of light, whereas those less than worthy humans are left on earth desperately trying to hide from the devilish creatures that are sent to hunt them down.  Played for laughs rather than for scares or drama, the apocalyptic story gets a different spin than we've seen before.

Co-directors and co-screenwriters Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen were aware that without their cast gamely poking fun of themselves, this film wouldn't have worked, so they definitely stack the movie with humor related to their cast's "real" lives.  It's these moments where the film certainly shines.  The flick does veer off track a little bit when it actually tries to tell its basic story -- a rather unique criticism perhaps.  I found myself not caring so much about the apocalypse itself and wanted to spend more time learning about Danny McBride's masturbation techniques -- something I never thought I'd say and perhaps will wish I never said.  (Nonetheless, it was a scene that had me cracking up hysterically.)

I've been sitting on this review for over two months now.  I'm not quite sure why, but I think it stems from the fact that while I enjoyed This Is the End, I'm well aware that as a story, it's weak.  Fortunately, the balance of the real-life humor elevates the film to something worth watching.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Disney Discussion - Peter Pan

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #14 of The Disney Discussion
Peter Pan (1953)
Featuring the voice talents of Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Bill Thompson, Tommy Luske, and Paul Collins
Directed by Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, and Wilfred Jackson
Summary (in 150 words or less):
The non-aging Peter Pan whisks the three Darling siblings -- Wendy, John, and Michael -- off to Neverland where they meet a wide array of characters including the nefarious Captain Hook who will stop at nothing to capture the film's title character.

Let the Discussion Begin...
Peter Pan is the Walt Disney Company's fourteenth full-length animated film and it was released on February 5, 1953.  

The film was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, but didn't walk away with a win.  It did, however, receive the honor of being the highest-grossing film of 1953 which was a huge boon to Disney after the disappointment of Alice in Wonderland.  Made for $4 million, the film had made $7 million by 1955 and through subsequent re-releases has a (unadjusted for inflation) gross of $87 million.

Walt Disney intended for Peter Pan to be his fourth animated film and work was begun on the film as early as the 1930s, but WWII brought a stop to production.  Throughout the downtime, various changes to J.M. Barrie's original story were proposed, but in the end Disney decided to stick close to the original source material.

Peter Pan is the final Disney-produced animated film to be released by RKO Pictures.  After this film, Disney founded his own distribution company.  Also interesting to note, Peter Pan is the last animated feature in which all of Disney's Nine Old Men worked together.  So, this was the end of an era in more ways than one for the Disney team.

The Characters
(The Best...The Worst...The Villains...)
What's unique about Peter Pan is this is Disney's first full-length animated feature to place a male front and center -- a human male, that is.  (Yes, Pinocchio had a male character as the lead, but was he really human?  Not until the final moments...I rest my case.)  Heretofore, Disney's leading stars have been ladies and now we finally get a guy's perspective at the forefront.  I must admit that it was a refreshing change.  Granted, our title character is a bit of a rapscallion, but his joie de vivre and youthful exuberance (brought to life in part thanks to a nice vocal performance from Bobby Driscoll) is unique thus far in the Disney landscape.
As is often the case in Disney's films, for every protagonist there is an antagonist and Peter Pan is no exception, bringing to the screen the iconic role of Captain Hook.  Hook is an interesting character in that in our first glimpse of him, he's seen shooting one of his crew members simply because he wouldn't stop singing.  This tells us right off the bat that Hook isn't a guy to be take lightly.  However, as the film progresses, we see that the character of Hook is placed into more comedically treacherous situations and the bumbling nature of his first mate Mr. Smee never really permits Hook to gain that maliciousness that is so common amongst Disney's villains.  While some would criticize this atypical villain characterization, I loved Captain Hook.  I've always viewed Hook as a melodramatically over-the-top kind of guy -- the perfect character for a proper British actor to sink his teeth into and have a lot of fun.  That's the case here with Hans Conried perfectly embodying the role.  Carrying on the tradition of the stage play, Conried also plays the role of the father in the Darling household and it's interesting to see how the persona isn't all that different from Hook.
Speaking of the Darling household, Peter Pan wouldn't be complete without the siblings our title character brings to Neverland.  Older sister Wendy (voiced with motherly compassion by Kathryn Beaumont, Alice in Wonderland's title character) and her brothers John and Michael are, like the aforementioned Hook and Peter, wonderfully animated.  The animators were really getting into the swing of creating smooth, realistic movements and all three were given unique personalities.
Considering that in all previous incarnations of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell was simply a spot of light that bounced around the stage, the Disney animators took it upon themselves to give this character a face and body for the first time.  According to Leonard Maltin's wonderful book The Disney Films, Disney was quoted in a magazine article as stating that Tinker Bell was modeled after Marilyn Monroe who was rising in popularity around the development of this film.  If there's truth to that statement, it's certainly believable as Tinker Bell, despite her nymph size, exudes a sassy sexiness.  She's well endowed both in front and behind -- a characteristic that the animators use in a comedic bit at the beginning of the film as she finds herself unable to fit through a keyhole -- and has a "mean girl" attitude that is absolutely conveyed despite the fact that she says nary a word throughout the whole film.

All this and I've failed to mention the rambunctious Lost Boys, the adorable Darling dog Nana, and I've only given a passing word on the humorous Mr. Smee.  Quite honestly, the film is full of rich characters and the Disney folk have J.M. Barrie to thank for that.

The Music
I don't know why, but I remembered music playing a much more pivotal role in Peter Pan than it actually does.  That isn't to say that there are some stand-out numbers (two, in fact), but the remainder of the tunes are throwaways and one, in particular, should've been left on the cutting room floor.  (And, in retrospect, I imagine the PC Disney Police wish it never made it into the film as well...but more on that later...)
The film's most iconic song is Sammy Cahn and Sammy Fain's "You Can Fly, You Can Fly, You Can Fly," but perhaps most interestingly, it starts off as simply rhythmic talking.  Peter starts talking the words and the Darling children pick up where he leaves off, but none of the characters burst into song.  Instead, as Peter, Tink, and the Darlings fly out over the beautifully animated London landscape, the Jud Conlon Chorus omnisciently takes up the banner of doing the actual singing.  It's actually a rather brilliantly conceived scene.

The other standout song is "Following the Leader" (by Oliver Wallace, Ted Sears, and Winston Hibler), but it's admittedly a bit of a unnecessary piece that doesn't advance the story so much as it gives the animators a chance to wow us with their brightly colored backdrops as well as giving us quite a few chuckles as the previously serious John takes the Lost Boys (and his constantly lagging-behind younger brother Michael) on a journey to find Neverland's tribe of Indians.
And as for those Indians...well, this is where I imagine the current crop of Disney management wishes Walt had the foresight to know what would've been deemed "improper" in future decades.  I probably don't have to say anything else other than the title of a song for you to know where the un-PCness lies -- "What Makes the Red Man Red?"  Um...yeah.  Personally, I'm not offended by the song's subject matter -- what offends me is that the song is horrible.  That said, I'm happy Disney didn't remove the song from the recent Blu-Ray release (as we've seen them do with flicks like Fantasia and Melody Time) as retroactively making things politically correct in this manner makes us forget our past.

My Favorite Scene
I think the aforementioned songs -- "You Can Fly" and "Following the Leader" -- are the best portions of the film.  Both are whimsically enjoyable and beautifully animated.  This film, more than any other so far in this Disney journey I've embarked upon, was actually most difficult to pick out a favorite scene.  And that's not because I didn't like it -- in fact, it's been one of my favorites thus far.  Instead, I think the difficulty stems from the scenes in the movie flowing rather effortlessly from one to the other.  The movie felt "whole" rather than feeling like "individual set pieces," if that makes any sense.

Random Thoughts
  • The film starts with a male narrator introducing us to the Darling family.  The omniscient voice, however, is abandoned after about two minutes.  It's something I absolutely don't remember and don't feel was necessary in the slightest.  We didn't need the exposition provided by the narrator to grasp the story.
  • This is the first film in this Disney Discussion where the musical score (here by Oliver Wallace) was noticeable to me.   Peter Pan has a three note trill that pops up often when he appears and it's still stuck in my head hours later.
  • I certainly remembered that Tinker Bell wasn't fond of Wendy's encroachment into Peter Pan's life, but she's nearly as evil as Captain Hook in that she sets out to kill Wendy right off the bat out of sheer jealousy.  
  • I've already mentioned the sexy design of Tinker Bell, but then the animators throw in half-clothed mermaids as well.  It's not surprising to me that some in the public weren't fond of these more curvy designs.
  • Shadows play a major role in the beginning of the film and I very much enjoyed the way the animators utilized them.
  • On tapes and cd's from my youth and in a piano book collection of Disney songs I own, the tune "Never Smile at a Crocodile" is given prominence.  Much to my surprise, the song was cut from the film.  Although the music appears in the movie as a prelude to the Tick Tock Crocodile's appearances, there are no lyrics in the film.  While it's probably a good choice story-wise to abandon the lyrics, I was taken aback by their absence.

Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
I won't deny that Peter Pan has its faults -- the Indian subplot was actually completely unnecessary -- but I had a smile on my face pretty much from the get go while watching this one.  While Alice in Wonderland felt like the animators failed to create a cohesive film, Peter Pan (based on another famous British novel) comes together fantastically.  The colors, the animation, the voice acting, the story -- all of it works swimmingly.  Peter Pan doesn't necessarily have any "WOW" moments, but it's delightful and completely enjoyable...so it absolutely deserves a spot in the revered Disney Pantheon.

The RyMickey Rating: A-

Join us next Wednesday for Lady and the Tramp, the fifteenth film in The Disney Discussion.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Movie Review - Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives (2013)
Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm
Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'll be completely honest right up front and say that I didn't get Only God Forgives at all.  Then again, I'm not sure there was much "to get."  Blanketed in a sea of deep reds and blacks, Nicholas Winding Refn's film is well shot, but that's all it has going for it.  While it looks pretty, there's just nothing for the viewer to care about in the slightest.  The little story there is -- a man seeking revenge against the police officer who killed his older brother -- is generic, but it should at least stimulate a little bit of excitement in the viewer.  Instead, Refn (who is lensing his own screenplay) bathes his characters in an emotionless moroseness.  If they can't get riled up about anything, how in the hell am I supposed to give a damn about these characters' plights?

Ryan Gosling (who also starred in Refn's Drive) is Julian, a shady character in Bangkok's criminal underworld (although what he actually does isn't really specified), whose brother (also a shady character) is murdered thanks to a nefarious plot set up by Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), the head police officer in the area.  When Julian's mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) hears of the news, she travels from London to Bangkok in order to seek revenge for her son's death.  Julian, who heretofore was an empty, emotionless void, tries to muster up some modicum of energy to help his overbearing mother in her quest, but he finds himself depressed by the power-hungry role his mother plays in his life.

Ryan Gosling wanders around aimlessly saying next to nothing (he probably speaks ten lines throughout the entirety of the piece) while Kristin Scott Thomas chews up the scenery (in a refreshing way given the monotony of everything else) as the vicious Crystal.  Ultimately, the problem with Only God Forgives is that it's overbearingly plodding, slow, and depressing...and absolutely not worth watching.

The RyMickey Rating:  D