Monday, September 23, 2013

Family Movie Night #2

Family Movie Night #2

It’s that time again. More movies suggested to me by family and friends. A few of these I also watched alongside my family, which is something that I haven’t done in a while. Good to know that a family can sit down and just enjoy a good hour and half of entertainment and forget about the troubles of the day, right?

Anyway, let’s get right to it.

“The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” (2012)

I freely admit that I was not the target audience for this film. I understood what the film was trying to say about growing up, especially after a tragic event, and trying to find a place in life, but it didn’t have any impact on me and I moved on fairly quickly afterwards.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is beginning his freshman year of high school, but doesn’t have a single friend and is nervous to make new ones. As the days progress and a few seniors who seem more outspoken than others, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) stand out to Charlie, and he connects with them through their similar tastes in music and awkwardness.

Now the trio must go through the rigors of high school life, while Patrick and Sam deal with getting ready for college and Charlie secretly battles the inner thoughts of his late aunt. 

While I have no problem relating to these characters and at times enjoy their journey through bullies, relationships and coming to terms who they really are, most of what happens doesn’t stick with me. 

There is certainly an overarching story involving Charlie and his need to overcome what happened to his aunt and make friends, this plot thread is rarely touched on and is vaguely explained. It isn’t until the end of the movie until we know exactly what happened, so we’re kept in the dark, unsure of what to make with the connection to Charlie’s aunt.

Outside of that, most events just happen with little regard for others. While that style of filmmaking has its place, thats never appealed to me. Moments come and go and some don’t seem to have any impact on the outcome. They might have a subconscious affect the characters, but not the audience. 

Overall, “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” did it’s job at portraying a coming-of-age story about a shy, awkward high schooler, but it really didn’t do anything impressive or different. Thus, nothing sticks out. It’s just kinda there.

Final Grade: C

"(500) Days Of Summer" (2009)

In my “The Big Chill” review, I talked about how the film attempted to capture the randomness and unpredictability of life and turn that into the plot. Or rather, the lack of a plot, because life itself rarely has a plot or story to it.

While “The Big Chill” took the plotless concept and still made for an interesting character piece, “(500) Days Of Summer” does something rather similar by being essentially plotless yet consistently entertaining and fun.

The movie follows Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting-card writer, who steadily falls in love with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), an assistant at the same company. The film is told in a nonlinear fashion, over the course of the 500 days in which Tom and Summer know each other. We see the full course of their relationship, from awkward beginnings, to passion lovemaking, to the bitter breakup and the aftermath.

The opening narration of the film clearly tells the audience this is not a love story. The narration is correct about that. While the movie is entirely about the relationship between Tom and Summer, it’s more-or-less about the day-to-day randomness and unpredictability of life. 

Yes, “(500) Days Of Summer” was able to capture what I feel “The Big Chill” could not achieve: Taking the plotless idea of life, and making an interesting and compelling story out of it.

Part of what makes “(500) Days Of Summer” work is that its told in a nonlinear manner, yet its impossible to get lost or confused as to where you are. The problem with films being told out of order is that you get lost rather easily. You’re not sure which piece goes where and if there aren’t any pieces missing that we’re not seeing. “(500) Days Of Summer” cuts all that out by giving each day a number. It’s a quick yet effective solution.

Second is believability between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel. Their relationship feels real, with ups-and-downs, good days and bad days, arguments, apologies, fantasy moments and even their little quirks and character weaknesses. 

Actually, with the framework of the movie and Tom’s constant hunt for “The One,” I can’t help but be reminded of “How I Met Your Mother,” which seems like a large inspiration for this movie. While “How I Met Your Mother” mostly uses the framework for comedic effect, “(500) Days Of Summer” uses it to demonstrate the progression and changes of life.

In the end, “(500) Days Of Summer” finds the perfect blend of the randomness of life, but also the emotions and sincerity of life as well. The framework is used just right and the relationship between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel is the structure that holds the film together.

Final Grade: A-

“The Bishop’s Wife” (1947)

I hate to do this, because I try to avoid comparing two films to one another, since one of my rules on film criticism is that a film should stand on its own merits without being compared to anything else. But I feel with “The Bishop’s Wife,” this comparison is unavoidable. Therefore, I must compare the film to “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Before anything else, I adore “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Easily one of my favorite movies of all time, it never fails to make me happy and yet cry at how everything comes together perfectly. That’s no small task, since I can only think of two other movies that have managed to make me cry. Yet “It’s A Wonderful Life” is one that does this with so much ease. Twice.

The reason I say comparisons between these two films is unavoidable is for a few reasons. One is how much the two have in common, with story, tone, atmosphere, attempts at messages and to a lesser extent, character. 

The other reason is how close these were released from one another. “It’s A Wonderful Life” came out in 1946, received quite a bit of praise and was nominated for several Academy Awards. A year later, “The Bishop’s Wife” was released.

For me, that has to be more than a coincidence. 

I can see Samuel Goldwyn, the producer of “The Bishop’s Wife,” attending a screening of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” falling in love with the film and immediately thinking about doing his own version of the film. In the 1940s, that was manageable, since Hollywood studios could make a movie in roughly three or four months.

While Goldwyn may have been able to understand plot points and characters of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” if this film is any indication, I don’t think he understood what made the film so fantastic.

The story follows Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) as he attempts to get financial backing to rebuild the local Cathedral during the holiday season. Henry is swamped with work and has no time for his wife, Julia (Loretta Young), or to enjoy all of life’s pleasures and the spirit of the holidays. That is until he is visited by an angel, Dudley (Cary Grant), who has come to help solve all of Henry’s problems.

My problem with “The Bishop’s Wife” is not so much that it attempts to copy and paste “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but that it does so by removing all humanity and heart from the initial classic. 

Where “It’s A Wonderful Life” would spend time building up the surrounding cast of characters in Bedford Falls and showing us the progression of George Bailey’s life, “The Bishop’s Wife” just meanders around while we watch Dudley perform miracles and acts of kindness and then quickly move on to the next act.

This would be fine if Dudley was an interesting or fun character, but he’s not. Everything he does in the film is done perfectly. Always with a smile, never anything wrong or a hair out of place. I’m sorry, but that’s boring. What makes a character enjoyable and everlasting are their flaws and weaknesses. To show they’re human and that they can change or fix problems in their lives.

Dudley has no flaws.

And it’s not because he’s an angel. Clarence from “It’s A Wonderful Life” was an angel (second-class) and he wasn’t perfect. He messed up at some things, but he still had a big heart and wanted to help George realize how great of a life he had. That makes him a far more developed and likable character than Dudley.

If anything, watching “The Bishop’s Wife” just made me realized how unbelievably well-made and heart warming “It’s A Wonderful Life” is. That even if you copied story elements and character motifs from a successful film, doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same results as that film.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” works because of a combination of simple morals and values that most people can understand, developing a world around the life of one man and showing just how many other lives he touches, and never losing touch with the kind and giving nature of humanity. This is something that Samuel Goldwyn and “The Bishop’s Wife” didn’t seem to understand.

Final Grade: D-

Final Thoughts: 

It’s interesting that this time around all three of these films made me feel something different and left contrasting opinions with me. “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” was just sort of meh and forgettable. Nothing too special, but nothing particularly bad either. “(500) Days Of Summer” showed me how to turn a plotless film about the randomness of life and love into something unique yet insanely fun to watch. While “The Bishop’s Wife” took all the great parts out of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” leaving just many acts of kindness.

Going into each of these movies, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that members of my family had enjoyed these movies. I can certainly see why my family likes each and every one of them. “The Bishop’s Wife,” while repetitive and nauseating at times, does have a generally pleasant attitude and Cary Grant is charming and usually brings out a smile.

So in the end, it really comes down to expectations. My level of expectations were set at the same point for each of these movies, yet I came out feel different about them all. Others might go into “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” expecting to feel something or to learn about themselves or how to a teenager in a difficult environment. While I may have not felt that, I can understand and respect that.

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