Yogi Bear

Yogi Bear (2010): United States – directed by Eric Brevig

Rated G by the MPAA – contains some mild rude humor, forest fires started by a bear

One might think that a big screen adaptation of Yogi Bear might be ill-fated, and they would not necessarily be wrong.  There is not much about the film that excels, but it is mostly inoffensive and has enough slapstick to keep very young audiences entertained.

Tom Cavanagh is Ranger Smith, a nature lover in charge of Jellystone Park.  He has lived there much of his life, but the park has never been in this much danger.  The mayor (Andrew Daly) of the town (which apparently owns the park; maybe it is not Jellystone National Park?) is in dire straits, having spent the town’s budget on fancy suits and other excesses.  With his right hand man (Nathan Corddry) he is intent on finding new sources of revenue.  The most obvious is re-zoning Jellystone so he can auction off lumber rights to the highest bidder.

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The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011): United States – directed by George Nolfi

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some mild violent content, slightly mature themes, mild language

The Adjustment Bureau is not a standard sci-fi romantic thriller, as there is an interesting philosophical undercurrent that runs through much of the action.  And while it rarely rises to greatness, a good number of casual discussions will be started by a viewing.  Hard-core movie-goers will perhaps shy away from the simplicity of the themes, but casual seekers of entertainment will find something more to appreciate in the film.

Adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story, The Adjustment Bureau has just the right amount of plot to keep an audience engaged without becoming a science fiction epic.  David Norris (Matt Damon) is an up-and-coming politician.  The film opens as he runs for U.S. Senate, representing the state of New York.  His rough upbringing in Brooklyn has the masses cheering for him, but a slightly indiscreet photo ruins his chances of being elected.  But on the night of the election he runs into a young lady named Elise (Emily Blunt), and a tragic romance begins.

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Rango

Rango (2011): United States – directed by Gore Verbinski

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains violent content, dark themes, some mild language and rude humor

Some American audiences feel that all animated films fall into one of two camps; either the disrespectful, slightly adult comedy of Dreamworks Animation (How to Train Your Dragon [review here] being an exception) or the heartfelt mastery of Pixar films.  But Rango is enjoyable precisely because it aims for something totally different, and ends up feeling like neither type of film.  Rango’s young adult flavor, mixing some violence with dark themes and quirky, offbeat humor, may not be for the younger kids but is a refreshing addition to the genre.

And what animation: Rango may be the most detailed, gorgeous animated film I have ever seen.  There are moments that are pure bliss, with such an atmosphere as few other animated films have ever managed.  The film is essentially a Western mixed with Chinatown that manages to discuss Eastern mysticism mixed with classic American movie tropes.  Add in a blend of Johnny Depp/Gore Verbinski quirkiness and comedy, and the result proves rather enjoyable.

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Oscar thoughts 2011

2/28/11 – 12:09 am: Update: Not too shabby this year, going 20 for 24.  Missed out on Tom Hooper in the close Best Director category, and was delighted (and surprised) to see Inception take home Best Cinematography, though I feel badly for Roger Deakins.  Missed Art Direction, though Alice in Wonderland surely would have been my second guess.  And didn’t see The Lost Thing beating Day & Night, and am surprised and somewhat happy that a little short film could take down Pixar.  It deserved it, being one of the many very good animated shorts this year.  Glad I took a chance on God of Love, but that’s more of a wild guess than anything.  May as well enjoy beating my wife (finally) this year, as I’m not sure it’ll happen again anytime soon.

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It’s that time of year again, when Hollywood movie studios spend millions of dollars in the hope of persuading Academy voters they are worthy of the little gold statuette, which in turn (studios hope) will translate into more dollars at the theater and home entertainment market.  So they politic and campaign, blanketing Los Angeles with advertisements with the aim of reaching many of the fewer than 6,000 Academy voters.  Perhaps it is a shame that the Oscars represent so little in the way of quality or technical expertise, or perhaps not.  There is an art to the campaigning, and this year it again seems Harvey Weinstein will lead his little movie-that-could over several other little movies-that-could (and a couple larger movies-that-did).

I don’t wish to seem cynical; this is merely the way the system works.  What is quality, anyway?  And what is good?  The critics leaned one way with all of their year-end awards, and the guilds leaned another direction.  Who knows best what “good” means; those who study and analyze, or those who do?  The question can go much deeper than entertainment: ask teachers and educational specialists the best way to teach, and I suspect you will find different answers.  I favor the idea of an “art world” consensus, the thoughts of those who pursue academic study in the field aggregated into a rough, general consensus opinion on a piece of art.  This is one way to determine if something is “good,” but only one way.

But again, the Oscars are not about which films or performances are “good” or the “best.”  Predicting the winners is more a matter of judging the campaigns, more akin to political polling than anything else, only with a much smaller electorate.  It is still a tricky business, particularly in a year when a couple of key categories are almost too close to call.  While many races are fairly sure runaways, a number of races will provide the telecast with a modicum of suspense.  Below are some of my thoughts on who will win, and a brief comment on whom I think should win.  These will rarely align, but I am not an Academy voter.

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Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008): United States – directed by Kurt Kuenne

Not rated by the MPAA – contains strong language, incredibly difficult subject matter

There are few movies as emotionally devastating as Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.  The fact that it is a documentary makes the story even sadder, and the possibility for hope more bittersweet.  To make the film even more challenging, the director is so close to the subject matter that it becomes almost impossible to separate the craft from the story.  Perhaps this is for the better.

Director Kurt Kuenne was best friends with Andrew Bagby growing up.  They played together, and Andrew always starred in Kurt’s home movies.  Andrew went to medical school, made more friends, influenced more people’s lives.  The film starts as a letter, as the title states, to Andrew’s son Zachary.  But Zachary doesn’t come into the film until about halfway through.  The less a viewer knows about this film, the better.  It is most certainly worth watching.

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Adam

Adam (2009): United States – directed by Max Mayer

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some mild sexual content, brief strong language

Adam is a fairly conventional romantic dramedy, albeit one with a slight twist.  The poster proclaims that it is a story about two strangers, one a little stranger than the other.  This may be true, as the titular Adam (Hugh Dancy) has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (a label that may soon no longer be diagnosed, as it will perhaps be described as simply autism, albeit high functioning).  And while this small twist does make for a slightly elevated telling of a conventional romantic drama, it isn’t enough to make the film entirely memorable.

At the beginning of the film Adam loses his dad, though he doesn’t react as most NT’s (neuro-typicals) might in the same situation.  He doesn’t cry, doesn’t emote at all.  He simply goes home and continues his life, going to work at a toy company where he is able to practice his electronic engineering skills in relative isolation.

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Gnomeo & Juliet

Gnomeo & Juliet (2011): United States – directed by Kelly Asbury

Rated G by the MPAA – contains rude humor, Borat-style swimsuit, violence, some innuendo

Gnomeo and Juliet.  The title says it all.  Really, what title has ever been more descriptive of a film, other than perhaps The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? This is the tale of Romeo and Juliet, as told by garden gnomes in England.  Naturally, a children’s film such as this cannot end as tragically as the Bard intended, a fact the Bard himself addresses in one of the film’s most humorous moments.  Unfortunately, the rest of the film is as not-particularly-good as the title suggests.

There are humans in the film, but they are never fully revealed.  There is a Capulet and a Montague, and their houses are attached.  But they are also painted strikingly different colors.  There is red on one side, and blue on the other, even down to the shared chimney stack.  The neighbors hate each other, almost as much as their respective garden gnomes hate each other.

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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010): United States – directed by Michael Apted

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some scary moments and action violence

This third entry into the Chronicles of Narnia series has a new distributor, and a smaller budget, but this is not immediately evident.  After Prince Caspian failed to live up to its enormous budget, Disney dropped the Walden Media production, and Fox picked it up.  Thus, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes to us courtesy of Fox Walden.

I have not read the Narnia books in many years, and will take other’s word that this entry includes some of the plot of Dawn Treader, with some other strains from The Silver Chair.  Nevertheless, the plot here is rather straightforward.  Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are the two remaining Pevensie children, stuck in England during the war.  Peter and Susan are in America, along with their parents.  So Lucy and Edmund stay with their cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter), a whiny, petulant boy who sneers at their fanciful notions of Narnia and its magic.  Naturally, a painting on the wall starts pouring water as they fight, and they are all sucked into the sea.

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Another Year

Another Year (2010): United Kingdom – directed by Mike Leigh

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some language

When writing about Blue Valentine [review here] I commented that few films these days mention staying in love, as it is so popular to fall in love, over and over again.  My comments may have been short-sighted, even if Another Year does not entirely nullify the sentiment.  Another Year contains a long-married couple who are the roots of the film, surrounded by a great deal of rotten fruit.  But even this rotten fruit is portrayed honestly, and tragically, and with such a surprisingly old, happy married couple at the core the film is well worth the time for viewers interested in character dramas.

Mike Leigh’s newest film is certainly a character drama.  There are events that happen during the course of the film, but little in the way of plot.  Instead the film charts out a number of happenings over the course of a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen).

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986): United States – directed by John Hughes

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some language

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has become a classic, the epitome of 1980’s teen comedies.  For one day, during school, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) manages to live out nearly every high school kid’s fantasies.  To carry out his schemes he must go through nearly as much planning as the Allied POW’s in The Great Escape [review here], and while the payoff might not be as dramatic in this film, it will speak volumes more to each generation of high schoolers.

Ferris is aware.  He is aware of how the world works, how his parents work, how the school system works.  And he’s aware that he’s in a film, or at least pretends it’s a video journal, as he breaks the fourth wall at key points to describe what’s about to happen and how.  His first step is to trick his parents, who seem to genuinely care but are naive, into thinking he’s just sick enough to stay home but not sick enough to go to the doctor.

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