Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Family Movie Night #1

Recently, I picked up several movies from loved ones that had been suggested to me for quite some time. Films that other loved ones enjoyed, one that I should watch or just movies that are a good time. 

In this new segment, I will reviewing each of these films with my brief thoughts on each of them. Similar to my “The Hooper” style reviews, minus the sticky theater floor.

Let’s get started with the first movie suggested to me,

“Easy A” (2010)

This film got under my skin, but not in a good way.

I had heard from many different people about how funny and creative “Easy A” was, but there were many things in this film that left me upset and angered.

The premise has plenty of comedic potential: Olive (Emma Stone) is an awkward high school girl without many friends. One day though, a rumor accidently gets spread that she lost her virginity to a guy she made up and she suddenly becomes the school slut. Other high school boys hear about this and learn that she made it all up, deciding to extend the lie by pretending they had sex with her to increase their own popularity. As time goes on and Olive begins to embrace her new lifestyle as the slut, the rumor gets out of control and some things are taken way too far.

There are certainly jokes to be had here, and some of them are effective, mostly revolving around some of the pathetic lives of the boys who want Olive’s services.

There are multiple things that drag me out of the experience and make me angry at film. 

For one, we have to believe that Emma Stone is this unattractive high school who can’t seem to get a boyfriend or doesn’t want to date. I don’t buy that for a second. Emma Stone is gorgeous. If she wanted to, she could have any guy in the school. This premise doesn’t work if the girl is drop dead beautiful.

Another reason is that this film takes so many disrespectful shots at the Christian lifestyle. Now, I’m not a Christian, but I do respect the lifestyle choices of those who wish to pursue it. The characters who are hardcore Christians in “Easy A,” such as Amanda Bynes’ character, have no depth and has one setting: Stereotypical Christian.

It seems like the filmmakers only see Bynes and others as a means to talk about how messed up the Christian lifestyle is. Yet the film only seems to focus on the bad side of that style, never the good. It doesn’t give an accurate portrayal. 

The thing that pisses me off the most about “Easy A” are Olive’s parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. These two are terrible parents, especially the mother. There only purpose in this film is spout out one-liners, rather than what parents are supposed to do: Teach their kids how to be responsible people and to help them through difficult times. To show them the light when their kids only see darkness.

Olive goes through some emotional moments over the course of the film and not once do the parents do anything other than crack jokes at Olive’s expense. To be fair, Tucci does get off some good one-liners, which is why I give him more credit than Clarkson, but that still doesn’t excuse his behavior.

So while “Easy A” had some good jokes and an interesting premise, there were many characters that were poorly written and many jabs that felt unnecessary and disrespectful. Parts of it worked, others did not.

Final Grade: D+

“Tangled” (2010)

When you think great animated Disney movies, what comes to mind? Some might say “Beauty And The Beast”, “Aladdin”, “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” or even “Fantasia.” Now, I can honestly say “Tangled” joins that list.

Some might immediately dismiss it since the film is a 3-D animated movie and not a traditional Disney film, but to be honest, “Tangled” is a 2-D movie in a 3-D film’s body. It follows all of the classic tropes and stories of the wonderful past Disney movies and does them just as well as films like “The Lion King,” if not even better.

Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom, a princess was born with magical hair that could heal the sick and elderly, due to her mother eating a magical flower when she was sick and pregnant with her. One night, the princess, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), is kidnapped by an old woman (Donna Murphy) who plans to use her mystical locks to stay forever young.

18 years later, Rapunzel has grown up and wants to leave the tower that the old woman has locked her in. But the old woman, pretending to be her mother, forbids Rapunzel from ever leaving, saying that the world is too scary and dangerous for her. It isn’t until a theft, Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) finds his way to the tower and sets a series of wacky events in motion.

I’ll admit, as a kid, I wasn’t into many of the Disney princess movies. It was more aimed towards girls, with female protagonists, an abundance of musical numbers and very touchy feely stories. As a young boy, that’s usually the last thing you want to see.

Nowadays though, I find that most of the Disney princess movies are excellent films, especially during the early days of the Disney Renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s. “Tangled” is an excellent film in much the same way as those films. 

Not only is the film beautifully animated, the story is competent, interesting and adds a whole new spin onto the story of Rapunzel. The characters are understandable in their struggles, while still have a fun sense of adventure and comedy, yet with our two lead characters having great backstories.

But what really shines through this film is the age old filmic tradition of being able to tell so much of your film without every saying a single word. To let the images speak for themselves, rather than telling the audience what is going on, something that goes back to the silent era of filmmaking. 

There are at least four different characters in “Tangled” that play a prominent part yet never say a single word. For example, the king and queen of the land, who only have a few scenes, don’t speak but convey so much with so little. You can tell the emotional torment they are going through with just one look on their faces. 

Then there are the comedic side characters, such as a horse who is out to find the theft, and Rapunzel’s little chameleon buddy. The horse in particular has so many great comedic moments with his quick movements or just a simple jutting of an eye brow. The horse is probably the funniest character in the film and yet doesn’t say a word of jive or rap. 

“Tangled” is just one of those great examples of the power of animation. To create this in-depth and detailed world and give it so much life and energy is always interesting to watch, and nobody does that better than Disney. This film has everything you would ever want out of an entertaining animated film: Clever characters, intriguing story, a bright and colorful world, interesting and fun musical numbers and a film that is accessible to adults as much as it is to children.

Final Grade: A-

“The Big Chill” (1983)

Whether someone is willing to admit it, there are always certain types of movies that people are not comfortable with. Movies that rub them the wrong way or just don’t do anything for them. 

“The Big Chill” is one of those movies for me.

I can understand why this film is so highly received and acclaimed, but at the same time the film doesn’t accomplish anything for me. This comes to the type of movie that “The Big Chill” falls under: Plotless films.

There is no over arcing plot in this film. No rising action, climax or resolution. Just a series of events that are very loosely tied together and all happen to take place over the course of one weekend at a house in the woods, where a group of old college friends reconvene after one of their friends commits suicide. 
The cast discuss why their friend did that, develop love triangles, talk about why they’ve grown apart after so many years and their own individual problems. Each of these characters has something that gives them their own unique personality and you really do grow to enjoy most of these characters because of their flaws and weaknesses.

The problem is that the film gives you nothing to grab unto. Because of all of these events are just coming one after another and don’t have anything to do with the previous scenes, there is no flow or consistency to the film. Moments will just come and go and by the end I forget about half of the events that occurred.

Some might argue that the film is being accurate to life itself: That existence is just a series of events that aren’t necessarily connected or have nothing to do with one another. My problem with that has always been, that’s one of the key differences that sets life apart from movies. 

Typically, movies are about telling a story, much like a work of literature, except where books and novels deal in written words and paperback, films deal in images and celluloid. Life, on the other hand, isn’t always trying to tell a story. It usually is just random occurrences, but that doesn’t always make for an interesting premise for a film.

This is a problem that I have with all plotless films: Instead of giving the audience something they’ll remember through plot and character, the film decides to reinterpret the randomness of life and make for a disorienting work that is often hard to picture.

Alfred Hitchcock once said that film is “life with the boring parts cut out.” Well if Hitchcock were making a film like this, he would probably cut it down to about ten minutes... and add in a murder plot.

Still, “The Big Chill” does this style of film effectively and is filled with top-notch performances from Glenn Close, Kevin Kline and Jeff Goldblum, just to name a few. The characters are all relatable and there are some genuine good moments of both comedy and drama.

The film isn’t my cup of tea, but if you enjoy films that are meant to resemble life, “The Big Chill” will not disappoint.

Final Grade: C

Final Thoughts:

All three of these films demonstrate the differences between how film can used as a visual medium. While films like “Easy A” don’t always effectively use it, others like “Tangled” let the images speak for themselves. It’s not just about “show, don’t tell” but also realizing that actions speak louder than words.

Not to mention the power of having likable or interesting characters. While “The Big Chill” lacked a plot that lasted the whole film, it still had characters that had multiple sides to themselves that kept the film going. “Easy A” on the other hand was filled with unlikable or terrible people, and the film suffered because of that. 

So unless the film wants to filled with bad people who either get their come-upings or because the whole world is like that, similar to “Now You See Me,” having relatable characters is always the way to go.

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